by JANET MANDELSTAM
Frank Bill was working the night shift at a factory in Louisville, Kentucky, when he saw the movie Fight Club. The experience changed (and didn’t change) his life.
Today Bill, 45, is the celebrated author of a short story collection and two novels, one of which has been made into a movie. And he’s still on the night shift at the factory, which makes paint additives, where he’s worked for the past 24 years.
Bill, who lives in Corydon, Indiana, says he grew up reading nonfiction crime and murder stories. But he liked the Fight Club movie so much that he bought the novel on which it is based. “I was blown away by the way the guy (author Chuck Palahniuk) wrote,” he recalls. “I found other similar authors. Many led pretty hard lives and wrote about it.”
The self-taught author says he studied those writers. “I’d read a book two or three times and put notes in the margins,” Bill says. “That got me into writing.” He started with short stories. His collection, Crimes in Southern Indiana, was published in 2011. Like all of his work (all published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux), the stories are set in a Midwest where factories are closing, farms are lost, and drugs are rampant. It’s written in a style one reviewer called “shotgun prose.”
The work drew attention. “An agent saw the stories and asked me about a novel,” Bill says. “I had started writing one and sent her the first 25,000 words.” Those words grew to become Donnybrook, a novel that later became a movie shown at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival. The donnybrook of the title is a three-day fight. Twenty men fight until only one is left standing.
Bill calls his newest novel, The Savage, “sort of a follow up” to Donnybrook. Critics have used words like “apocalyptic” and “dystopian” to describe the story. It’s set in a world where the dollar has lost its value and the grid has collapsed. “It’s about survival and what we’ve lost as a people,” Bill says. “It reminds me of what’s going on now. People don’t build things with their hands anymore. People in power don’t think of leadership, they just think of power.”
In February, Donnybrook had a second premiere in Corydon. It played at the local theater for three weeks. “Everybody seems to think I’m a celebrity now,” Bill laughs. “But I have a mortgage, and I still go to work.”