Debut Author Interview: Frank Bill, Author of DONNYBROOK

I love interviewing debut authors on my blog. It’s because the path of debut authors is a great roadmap for others who are trying to get their books published and/or find a literary agent. That said, today we meet novelist Frank Bill.

Frank Bill’s March 2012 debut novel, DONNYBROOK, is about “The Donnybrook, a three-day bare-knuckle tournament held on a thousand-acre plot out in the sticks of southern Indiana. Twenty fighters. One wire-fence ring. Fight until only one man is left standing while a rowdy festival of onlookers—drunk and high on whatever’s on offer—bet on the fighters.” Frank’s previous story collection, Crimes in Southern Indiana, was one of GQ’s favorite books of 2011 and a Daily Beast best debut of 2011. Frank lives and writes in southern Indiana. Donnybrook is his first novel.

(Do you need different agents if you write multiple genres?)


author-frank-bill-writer        donnybrook-donny-brook-novel


What is the book’s genre/category?

DONNYBROOK crosses or rather blurrs the lines between literary, noir, crime, working class and something called GRIT LIT. A term coined by Larry Brown or rather given to his work.

Please describe what the story/book is about.

The surviving class getting by the only way they know how.

Where do you write from?

Everywhere. At work on my tow motor. On my break. In my car when driving. In the movies. At the grocery. I compile words, sentences, ideas in my moleskin or my leather bound journal. Put everything together in my writing area in my house, where I live in Southern Indiana.

(How much money can you expect from selling your first book?)

Briefly, what led up to this book?

I’d written two previous books. Each one getting a bit better than the next. One was straight forward. The other a bit more literary. I found my voice by writing these two books, teaching myself how to write, no schooling or MFA. Focusing on style, form, structure and movement. I’d been writing short stories since 2004 or so. Then in 2008 things started to click, two magazine’s latched onto this, THUGLIT and PLOTS WITH GUNS and I began getting published and gained a small following. The other thing was METH. It was eating a hole in the heartland. The other thing was my fighting background and my working class roots. I fused all of this together and wrote DONNYBROOK.

What was the time frame for writing this book?

I wrote DONNYBROOK in about a 3-6 month span. This includes sending it to my agent. Getting her notes and me adding things or cutting. Mostly adding as I tend to write really tight and I short changed myself on the original ending. My agent wanted a more. After we got it all done, she shopped it to editors.

How did you find your agent (and who is your agent)?

What I see as my mentor, Anthony Neil Smith and a damn good friend, Scott Phillips, these two guys mentioned the same agent, told me to send my manuscript of stories to her. I did. Her name is Stacia JN Decker. She dug the stories. Wanted to see a novel. I had about 25k done on a 50k story. I sent the 25k. She signed me. I finished the book. We did a few rounds of editing. The rest is history.

(Read an interview with Frank’s rep: Literary agent Stacia Decker of Donald Maass Literary.)



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What were your 1-2 biggest learning experience(s) or surprise(s) throughout the publishing process?

That editors are your best friends and biggest fans. I’d heard so many horror stories about editors and publishing houses. I haven’t had that. FSG and my editors have given an overwhelming amount of support. But then again they’re the BEST and they’re very passionate about their writers and it shows.

Looking back, what did you do right that helped you break in?

I never gave up. No matter how many rejection slips I got, I kept writing, reading and learning. I pushed myself to be better and better every time I put words on the page.

On that note, what would you have done differently if you could do it again?

I would have done a lot more proof reading and re-writing/editing.

Did you have a writer platform in place? On this topic, what are you doing the build a platform and gain readership?

After 2008, I had a small online following through Twitter, Facebook and my blog. And I still have all of that but I also have a publisher and they give that extra reach and it’s growing bit by bit.

Best piece(s) of advice for writers trying to break in?

Don’t give up. Don’t get pissed off about being rejected. Editors at the journals get 1000’s upon 1000’s of stories, and they only have maybe 5 or 10 spots each quarter. Maybe less. That means as a writer, you have to write something different, moving and more active than anyone else. That also means developing your voice and your craft as a writer. Trust me, I still get rejection slips, though I get more comments than I once did.

(Why writers who don’t have a basic website are hurting their chances of success.)

Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

I’m a dog lover.

Favorite movie?

21 Grams, Frontiers, Cool Hand Luke, Devil’s Rejects, Deadwood (HBO Series), too many to have a favorite….


And I’m on Facebook and twitter (@HouseofGrit)

What’s next?

Two more books from FSG, The Salvaged and the Savage & Back to the Dirt. A project I can’t mention yet but I’ve signed on to do it, should be announced over the summer and a few nonfiction things I’m working on.



Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:




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