Saturday, October 30, 2010
It is a real pleasure to bring you this interview with Frank Bill. I really believe he will be a key voice in the future of crime writing. His short stories can be found all over the place at Thuglit,Plots with Guns, and Beat to a Pulp, amongst others. He is a midwesterner, a "Hoosier" and he writes from the heart and leaves blood on the page. I for one, anxiously await his debut and it's my pleasure to welcome him to "Signs & Wonders". The interview below was done all the while as Frank continued editing and writing and somehow still found time to squeeze this in. It is with great appreciation that I give you Mr. Frank Bill.
Q: I think everyone is excited about your debut. What's the title, the publisher and when can we expect to see it on the shelves?
A: Crimes in Southern Indiana, will be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, it’ll be my first book. It’s a group of stories connected by characters surviving within a small town. There’s not a tentative date, but it will hit shelves sometime in the Summer/Fall of 2011.
Q: Do you have anything else already in the can or are you already working on the next book?
A: As of this writing I’m working on edits for CISI. I’ve another novel written that needs some polishing and is very personal, my agent has it. And I’ve another I’m about 30 or 40 pages into called HOUSE OF FLIES and two other projects on the back burner.
Q: With your debut set to be released soon, will you be doing any book tours in promoting it & if so where will the first signing be?
A: Well the debut is still a ways off. I’m hoping to do a book tour but as of this writing I do not know when or where. That’ll be something discussed with my Publicist, Editor and Agent. But when I know more I’ll let everyone know.
Q: I asked this same question to Stuart Neville, but would we be seeing Frank Bill getting published, (thank goodness we are) without the short story? I mean you already have a following based on all your short stories that have been published all over the place.
A: I think so. My shorts and the characters that evolve within them were coming out on the page and regardless of the short form or the long form, they were looking for a home.
Q: Why is it all the really cool & crazy people are from Indiana? Did I mention we're both Hoosiers.
A: Every state has its share of interesting characters. Indiana has David Letterman, Woody Harrelson, James Dean and Steve McQueen and by Murder by Death (Great band).
Q: This isn't a very original question but I have to ask it because I really want to know. What writers have influenced you the most or made you want to be a writer?
A: My influences came in phases. I never read a lot of fiction growing up. As a kid I read Outdoor Life Magazine and books about Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Sandy Koufax and a lot of comic books. In my teens I read a lot about serial killers like Ed Gein, Henry Lee Lucas and Gary Heidnik. In my twenties I read books on Taoism, Buddhism (eastern religion or philosophy) and weight lifting. Sometime around 98 or 99 a movie came out called Fight Club. I read in the credits that it was based on a novel by Chuck Palahniuk. The bookstore I went to didn’t have Fight Club, so I ordered it and found out he’d written two other novels, one of which was on the shelf. I bought it, Invisible Monsters. After that I was hooked on Chuck’s work and style. And I began reading every interview on Chuck that I could find. I wanted to understand where his writing came from, understand his tone and style. I began writing like mad, mostly about things I knew little about. Filling up notebooks.
During this time period I read Irvine Welsh, Brett Easton Elliss, Jason Starr, Jim Thompson, Andrew Vachss, Craig Clevenger, A.M. Homes, Hunter S. Thompson, Will Christopher Baer and Larry Brown. There were others, but these writers molded me with style and mood.
I finished my first novel, Acting Out, in 2003. And it’s now in the Beat to a Pulp Anthology. It represents my anger as a young man during my twenties, in many ways I was still maturing as a writer. I hadn’t found my niche nor my subject matter. I’d found my voice but I was far from being mature.
The writer who really stuck with me was Larry Brown. I kept going back to his books cause I could relate to his stories, the characters reminded me of growing up around my grandfather, father and mother and cousins and all of the people I’d interacted with. I began rereading Larry’s work and searching out interviews with him while looking for similar writers and digging deeper into my own roots.
Eddie Little, Tom Franklin, Dorothy Allison and William Gay were next and they like Larry showed me that I could write about things I knew and where I came from but also things I didn’t. Cormac McCarthy, Daniel Woodrell, Silas House, Ron Rash, Chris Offutt, Pinckney Benedict, Gurney Norman and Chris Hollbrook came later. And in 2008 I discovered Donald Ray Pollock, Neil Smith and Kyle Minor.
Looking back, I’d say Larry Brown’s JOE, Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina, Ron Rash’s One Foot In Eden, Chris Offutt’s The Good Brother, Tom Franklin’s Poachers, Chris Holbrook’s Hell and Ohio, Harry Crew’s A Childhood and William Gay’s The Long Home, those novels really shaped my mind and told me you can do this. They brought back a lot of characters, stories and life experiences from when I was a kid.
And others I’ve got on my shelf and plan to read are Alex Taylor, M. Glenn Taylor, Benjamin Percy and Chris Holbrook’s new book of shorts.
Let me add this, one of the best books I’ve read in the past few years was Philipp Meyer’s American Rust. My father and uncles are form Pennsylvania and my grandfather worked in the steel mills. So this book was a real treasure.
Q: Keith Rawson ( someone I really respect) said that he felt the future of crime writing or noir was going to come from the backwoods, not the classrooms. When I think of that description I think of William Gay, Larry Brown etc... What do you think of that comment and what is it these writers bring to the table that other "schooled or trained writers do not" ?
A: Keith is a true friend and great supporter much like Neil, Jed and Scott. I think what Keith was saying is that the future of crime writing or writing in general will come from a natural person not schooled. Someone who has been or is down in the shit and dirt, who knows real problems associated with loss, dysfunction, abuse and acceptance. Rather it be a laid off factory worker in the unemployment line or the town sewage worker who drops a dime every evening at the local bar cause his wife left him for meth. They’ve lived and viewed scenes within life that others have not and they can relate this raw human condition through words on the page.
William Gay and Larry Brown bring the same thing Earnest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac and Erskine Caldwell brought to the table, a natural style from their everyday surroundings. It’s something a writer learns without direction but through hours and years of reading, writing and paying attention to life.
There’s nothing wrong with learning to write in a classroom but if you want to be a writer, you have to have a lot of life experience to draw from, you gotta ask questions and know how to make others see and feel your answers. And you have to make it interesting from the first word and each and every word that follows.
Q: Who's the craziest amongst you, yourself, Matthew McBride or Anthony Neil Smith or Jed Ayres?
A: Probably McBride.
Q: You participated in the very 1st Noir@ Bar in St. Louis, Mo. along with Anthony Neil Smith. Tell us about that experience, were you nervous, pumped, etc.?
A: That was a good time. Neil was and always will be a great a friend. He, Jed and Scott Phillips have helped me out in ways that I can never repay them. But back to the question. To be honest I drove 4 hours with my big buddy Don The Law Dog. And I was nervous because I’d never read my work to other people, let alone an audience and I’d just drank two double espressos back to back and when my turn came my nerves were rattled. My arms were shaking so bad from the caffeine that I had to hold the story I was reading with two hands. But it went well and I made some friends for life. Scott, Jed and Neil were great hosts and they killed it with their reads.
Q: I know you're planning a little book signing, or get together next year in Indiana ,with Jed, Anthony, Matt, and John Rector I believe. Can you share a little about that here? It sounds like a don't miss event to me.
A: At this point it’s only an idea. I’ve spoken with Rector, Smith, Ayres, Minor and Pollock. They’d like to do it. And if we do it’ll be at my buddies’, Thad Holton and Scott Alford’s family pub, Beef O’Brady’s here in Corydon. Have the local bookstore, Arlston’s Booksellers supply the books. Just a night of reading, drinking, hanging with friends, family and hopefully selling some books.
Q: What did you think of John Rector's debut novel " A Cold Kiss" and have you read his next novel "The Grove" yet? Oh, and thanks for the heads up in regards to John's work.
A: Rector’s ‘A Cold Kiss’ is AMAZING! I read it two or three sittings. It was one of those books you hated to put down, a cross between Raymond Carver and Cormac McCarthy. And I have not read ‘The Grove’ yet.
Q: Matthew McBride, wow...this guy is absolutely crazy and I mean that in the nicest way. You've read some of Matthew's work. Do you think Matt has what it takes to be the next big thing in crime fiction? He reminds me of Hunter S. Thompson to a large degree.
A: I’ve read some of his work. He’s hitting it. My belief is he’s got the chops but he’s still a ways from writing to his full potential. His writing tone and style are still maturing. That takes a good long while to do, you gotta waste a lot of pages to find the few that matter. But he’s on his way. He’s lighting fires at the heals of Ayres, Bardsley and Shea. Some others to watch are Patti Abbott, A-9, Nolan Knight, Chris Benton, Jimmy Callaway, Jason Duke, Matthew Funk, Michael A. Gonzales, Dan O’Shea, Steve Weddle and even the editor writers/reviewers David Cranmer and Keith Rawson. There’s an entire underbelly of writers waiting to explode. It’s pretty damn amazing.
Q: I know you are a big film fan. I also know you have a very dark since of humor. Can you tell us some of your favorite films or some of the directors work who really grab you?
A: Man, that’s a long list. But here are a few.
Full Metal Jacket, Pulp Fiction, Fight Club, A Perfect World, The Getaway (Old version),
Buffalo ’66, Chopper, Straw Dogs, Narc, U-Turn, Your Friends and Neighbors, Five Easy Pieces, Cool Hand Luke, Deliverance, Indian Runner, Cold Mountain, Chrystal, Sling Blade, 21 Grams, Devil’s Rejects, Come Early Morning, Audition, Old Boy, Bonnie & Clyde, A History of Violence, Frontiers, I Stand Alone, Big Bad Love, Crank 2, Hostel, High Tension.
I like drama and horror and directors who write their own material. Two films I recently caught, That Evening Sun and Winter’s Bone.
Documentaries like, Searching For The Wrong Eyed Jesus, The Rough South of Larry Brown, Born Into This (Bukowski), It’ll Be Better Tomorrow(Hubert Selby Jr.), are also of interest.
Television, which I watch less and less of, but Deadwood, The Wire, The Shield and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia are great.
Q: Let's talk music for a moment here. Who do you listen to and does it have any place in your writing regiment?
A: I grew up listening to my mother’s 45’s of Elvis Presley or my grandmother’s boyfriend’s 8 tracks of Johnny Cash and Hank Williams Sr.. But it took me years and years to rediscover this.
Here are a few that I listen to:
Drive By Truckers, Hank III, Ryan Bingham, Hayes Carll, William Elliott Whitmore, Son Volt, Hank Williams Sr., Johnny Cash, R.L. Burnside, Blue Mountain, Bob Dylan, Todd Snider, Scott H. Biram, Justin Townes Earle, Tom Waits, Dock Boggs, CCR, Fred McDowell, James McMurtry, John Prine, Lucero, Lightin’ Hopkins, Lucinda Williams, Malcolm Holcombe, Old Crow Medicine Show.
Really too many to name. But like books, music has to be something that I can relate to. I’m more into singer/songwriters or real old country or Delta Blues. I’m not a fan of new country which isn’t even country music anymore. I can’t relate to the sound nor the voice. It’s too damn clean and flashy.
For me, music sets the canvas when I’m driving around and hashing out characters, actions and scenes for landscape or memory. It’s my soundtrack. When my cousin, Denny, comes in from Michigan the first thing we do is get the drinks going and listen to tunes, catch up and go over the old days and all of the crazy shit we used to do.
Q: What writers, publishers, people in general have reached out to you on your way to getting a book deal? Surely there has been help from someone along the way?
A: The following Editors, Lady D of Thuglit, Anthony Neil Smith of Plots With Guns, Aldo Calcagno of Darkest Before the Dawn, Elaine Ash and David Cranmer of Beat to a Pulp have all been really good to me. Really supportive. Neil and Lady D really helped me see the writing on the wall. Made me take more time in the realm of editing. Neil and Scott Phillips have been great friends and mentioned an agent to me. Jed Ayres, Kyle Minor, Kieran Shea, Greg Bardsley and Keith Rawson have offered a great amount of support, advice and friendship and they’re also great writers.
Q: Have you always wanted to be a writer, and at what time in your life did you first start putting pen to paper?
A: I’ve always kept a journal. I started trying to write fiction when I was twenty eight or twenty nine. And pen to paper is how I write. I keep notes in a leather bound journal and I carry a Mole Skin in my back pocket at all times. I’ll be at work on my fork truck and that voice will render it’s self and I gotta stop and write it down. Same goes in the car or at the grocery.
Q: Do you "put pen to paper" or do you write on your computer solely? It's funny how pen & paper and the typewriter are starting to disappear these days.
A: I write pen to page. Compile notes. Take it back to my computer and work it all out. Print it to hard copy and edit. Then compile more notes and ideas and brainstorming. It’s a vicious circle.
Q: Up to this point in your life you have had to make a living another way other than writing. What kinda jobs have you done to pay the bills? You can make up another name for hit man if you like?
A: Well, I still don’t make a living at writing. But I started washing dishes at a restaurant when I was fifteen. Delivered pizza when I got my license. I’ve worked in a lumber yard, a Home Quarters, a rent to own store (loved that job), then when I turned twenty one I got a job in factory and I’ve been doing that for 15 years. It pays well and I got insurance. But if a person can do what they love and make a living at it, I say go for it. Life goes too damn quick to waste it on the mundane.
Q: Why is writing important to you?
A: Telling a story and being able to show the flaws and frustrations of a person and the depths to which he or she will sink is interesting to me. Especially when the story is un-predictable. So to me it’s important to create fictional lives that represent a class of people who’ve struggled all of their lives and show what they come up with or don’t. I wanna give a voice to real people and tell their stories regardless of fault with no apologies.
Final Question: Was Bouchercon in Indy your first one & what was it like to you? Your impressions and did you use it at as a means of making connections or were you there just hanging out, and taking it all in? Will we see you in St. Louis in 2011 for Bouchercon?
A: Yeah, Indy was my first. I was a bit awe struck. I mean I’m walking around as a fan but being introduced as a writer. I hung out with Neil Smith all day. Met and hung out with Stacia, my super agent, we had drinks and lunch with Joelle Charbonneau, Dan O’Shea, Victor Gischler and Kieran Shea. Neil introduced me to Gary Phillips, Megan Abbott, Sean Doolittle, Christa Faust, Craig McDonald and a lot of others. I met with John Rector and long time friend on-line Greg Bardsley. The night before Jed stayed down at my place and we got to hang out and drink and discuss life, it was pretty surreal. Only thing I hated was not getting to stay longer and share drinks with Scott Phillips. But I plan on being at the Bouchercon in 2011 and hopefully making another Noir at the Bar.
Posted by Rod Norman at 4:25 PM
Friday, October 29, 2010
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
I just wanted to give everyone a heads up on some exciting interviews soon to hit this site. I am very excited about both of them. The first is with Martin Strel a.k.a. "THE BIG RIVER MAN". Martin has swam the entire length of the Amazon, Danube, Yangtze, and Missississippi River and he is a fascinating man with quite a story to tell. The second is with a truly amazing debut author, Frank Bill. It won't be long till he's a household name, because he's that good. I'm just like everyone else here, I can't wait to here what they have to say. So stay tuned, it won't be long now!
Posted by Rod Norman at 7:23 PM
I was in St. Louis a couple weeks ago & I was browsing the shelves of Subturranean Books in U. City when I stumbled onto an unusual looking book called "I AM NUMBER FOUR". I didn't buy it at the time but I did order a library copy to check it out later. I didn't know much about it other than it involved aliens living amongst us here on earth, and that the story was being told through #4. There were 9 to start with and 1-3 had been peviously killed. Now #4 was being hunted and on the run. If they die, then we die as well. I started reading it out loud to my wife and within 50 pages I was totally engrossed in the book. I am not a big sci-fi guy either, but the story is well told, fast paced, with lots of interesting characters. Half way through it I didn't want to put it down, but the biggest surprise was that as I finished the book I couldn't wait to read the next book in the series. It was that good. I'd highly recommend it to you, but I do have one disclaimer, it's for teens. Please don't let that stop you though. Yeah I know, it's kinda embarassing admitting you're reading teen lit but its a worthy indulgence. Dreamworks and Steven Speilberg must have liked it as well since they're hard at work on the movie version. I for one can't wait to see it and this may very well be the next Harry Potter, or Twilight series. Just remember you heard it here first!
Posted by Rod Norman at 6:48 PM
The fall is usually my favorite time of the year. This fall has been particularly beautiful, so why can't I shake those summer time Blues? I guess it's because I'm one of those people who get depressed when there is nothing going on that makes you feel alive. I need a reading event, a concert, a movie...something to be excited about or something to look forward to. This fall has offered none of those. I had to sit and listen to others rave about how wonderful Bouchercon was this year in San Francisco. Next week, I'll get to hear about how killer Noir Con was in Philly. Yes, I'm stuck here in the Midwest dreaming I was there. I finally had something to be excited about when I heard William Gay was making an appearance in Franklin, Tn. I've been waiting about 5 years for William to make an appearance and I wasn't going to miss this one. I even found sidekicks in Jed Ayers & Scott Phillips to go along. So, naturally he cancelled the day before the event. Then I missed my first Noir@ Bar in St. Louis since the first one, due to work. I missed Crime Factory's Cameron Ashley & Jonathon Woods as well. I've been waiting for weeks on a couple interviews I was excited about as well, so it's like Groundhog Day...everything seems in limbo lately..a perpetual holding pattern. I'm waiting on something or someone to break me out of these doldrums. Anybody got any good news to pick this downtroden fellow up?
I mean come on, there's only so much a guy can take. This summer I caught "Winters Bone" (twice), The Killer Inside Me, Animal Kingdom, Mesrine, both Dragon flicks, and now...NOTHING! Last year, I caught Tom Russell, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Slaid Cleaves, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Levon Helm while Lucinda Williams & Tom Waits hit St. Louis as well. This Fall, "NOTHING" NADA, ZIP !!
Someone please give me something, throw me a crumb, give me something to get excited about. I do know that Murder & Mayhem in Muskego is rapidly approaching (Nov. 13th) and I plan on attending before the guys in the white jackets and butterfly nets show up looking for me.
Posted by Rod Norman at 6:13 PM
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
I really thought about keeping this a secret, so maybe I would be one of the few to attend. However, I know how much this rare opportunity means to me and I'm betting there are others like yourself out there who would be just as excited. William Gay, author or "THE LONG HOME", "PROVINCES OF THE NIGHT", and "TWILIGHT" will make a very rare appearance at Landmark Books in Franklin, Tn. on Sun. Oct 10th at 5 p.m. William Gay will be signing along side author Sonny Brewer, both will sign Sonny's new book "Don't Quit Your Day Job". This book is actually about authors who have done just that. Maybe we'll get lucky & Tom Franklin will show up as well. Tom is also featured in Sonny's book. If you are a huge William Gay fan I highly recommend this event, but do yourself a favor & show up early to have some time to explore Landmark's wonderful shelves and walk around beautiful historic Franklin. If you do go, come up & say hello...I'll be the one with a smile that just won't quit.
Posted by Rod Norman at 5:00 AM
Friday, October 1, 2010
Jonathan Safran Foer, was in St. Louis on Thursday giving his last ever reading from his latest book "EATING ANIMALS". Foer spoke to a packed house at Graham Chapel on the campus of Washington University and then hung around to meet and greet and book signing. J.S. Foer is the author of two previous novels, "EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED" and "EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE". His latest novel "EATING ANIMALS" takes a good hard look at Factory farming and all it's evils in regards to animal cruelty and Foer's own decsion to become a vegetarian. Personally, I loved his first two novels but have not yet read his newest for a reason...I LOVE MEAT. I'm sorry but I do, I could, and often do exist on chicken, pork chops or steak in one manner or another. Vegetables, I can take them or leave them. So, the thought of a life without meat makes me cringe just thinking about it. However, on this night I was intrigued by Foer's witty insights and humor. He impressed me to the point of selecting "Eating Animals" for my book clubs first selection of this year. His passion wooed me and I do love animals so the least I can do is read it, contemplate it, and see what happens. The worst thing that can happen I suppose, is to follow Foer's request and cut out out meat at least one day a week. I mean is that really too much to ask after all. I'll keep you posted on this one. By the way, Jonathon Safran Foer published his first novel at the age of 25 and has been selected for a list of the greatest 20 writers under 30 alive today throughout the world. He is definitely one to watch.
Posted by Rod Norman at 6:47 AM
When my wife and I get to over to St. Louis, (as often as we can & afford) their are several places we usually try to get to while we're there. Those special places include Ted Drewes, Left Bank Books, Blueberry Hill, Big Sleep Books, Subterranean Books, The Tivoli Theatre, Plaza Frontenac, St. Louis County Library, The Fox Theatre, Vintage Vinyl, U. City, Central West End, The Hill. They all hold a special place in my heart and my wife Judy & I , have shared many special moments there. On Thursday evening, we headed over to St. Louis on an absolutely gorgeous evening to hear & meet Jonathan Safran Foer at Washington University at 7 p.m. We were running a bit behind due to a fender bender before we left town, so we didn't get into town till about 5:45p.m. Nonetheless, as were driving over to Wash. U., there it was. The neon "Open" sign of BIG SLEEP BOOKS, and like a moth to a flame I was drawn inside for a chance to say hello and visit with the stores dear owner, Helen Simpson. Even if I didn't buy a book (and I always do) it's worth it to just stop by and listen to Helen regale stories of her 20 + years in the book business and especially the mystery field. She knows her product and the authors who produce it. Over the years she has led me to many wonderful books. She has always been courteous and kind, a smiling face. She has even appeared in one of Robert Randisi's books as herself. How many booksellers can make that claim? On this night, I was rewarded as I knew I would be, as we spent a half hour just discussing writers, bookstores, book events, and exchanging stories from the past. Helen has many wonderful stories from a long career in the mystery world. I won't give her age, or I might become a casualty the next time I'm in the store...but I only can hope and pray that I'm as sharp, clever, witty, and as lovely as she is when I reach it. Helen does more, much more than sell books...she has lived a life immersed in the mystery world, she has transcended it. If you want to find out for yourself and make a new friend, drop by Big Sleep at 239 N. Euclid in St. Louis, or you can look for her at Printers Row in Chicago, or Bouchercon or the book event in Muncie,In. She'll be there, selling books, promoting authors and turning book lovers on to a new author. In my opinion she is an Institution herself in the Mystery World. p.s Thanks for the D.W. story! Just another wonderful night in St. Louis.
Posted by Rod Norman at 6:45 AM