Louisville author Frank Bill’s latest book, “The Savage,” just hit shelves Nov. 14. A Kirkus review called his first book, “Donnybrook,” a novel “that guts the underbelly of Southern Indiana.” For “The Savage,” Bill returns to that world.
Insider spoke with the author by phone about how he got started and what we can expected in his new book.
Bill’s life as an author started in an unlikely place — during the night shift at a Louisville factory that makes additives for paint. He wasn’t a fan of literature at the time.
“I didn’t read a lot of fiction until around 1999 or 2000,” he said. “I’d always read non-fiction, and I read comic books as a kid, but I hadn’t really read any down-to-earth, classical Hemingway or Sylvia Plath. Nothing like that.”
A run-in with one particular author spoke to him — Chuck Palahniuk, writer of books like “Choke,” “Haunted” and, perhaps he best-known work, “Fight Club.”
“I was on nights, and I watched a movie called ‘Fight Club,’ and I see that it was based on a book by Chuck Palahniuk, and ended up liking the movie, so I wondered how the book was written, compared to the movie,” explained Bill.
From there, he branched out to many other authors. At first it was mostly Southern writers, but then he expanded to pretty much everything.
“From there I started picking up just a lot of different authors,” he said. “I kinda picked a book collection up and started reading all the time. And around that time I started trying to teach myself to write.”
While Bill’s success story of a factory-worker-turned-published-author may fill some with images of overnight success, he isn’t shy about admitting how hard he had to work to get from that first inspiration to his first publication.
“That was a long time — it probably took four to six years before I wrote anything that really made sense,” said Bill.
He learned to write by studying while he was reading.
“I basically started to understand and break down what I was reading,” he said. “The short stories help a lot, breaking the beginning, the middle and the end down … I would just read and reread a lot of stuff.”
It took a while, but Bill finally got published. And like many authors, he honed his skills writing short stories and getting them published before he started writing a novel.
“I had written quite a few short stories that had gotten published in print journals, and then online, and through some different friends who were writers, I ended up tracking down an agent and submitted some stuff to her,” said Bill. “She was interested in the stories but wanted to know if I could write a novel. And at the time, I was writing ‘Donnybrook.’ ”
The agent took “Donnybrook” and started working to find a publisher.
Bill began working on other projects, including what would eventually become “The Savage.” He initially didn’t know it was set in the same world as “Donnybrook,” which at the time was still working its way toward publication.
Instead, the new project was focused on the relationship between a father and a son, as well as examining the survival skills that Bill feels many modern Americans have forgotten.
“It was just about a young boy and his father, and it dealt with their relationship and this masculinity, and it was all the things you learn from your peers, or your family, or your ancestors,” he said.
The book started as 10,000 words but quickly grew to 100 pages. It considers what happens after these skills have disappeared — skills like hunting, fishing and living off the land — and it does so by placing the action in a certain kind of world.
Bill started getting feedback from publishers about “Donnybrook” and realized the two novels existed in the same world, one the author said some describe as “dystopian.”
“I just kept thinking, if everything went to shit, what would it be like if you were starting over and you lost all the power and everything? How would it be? Especially today, when young people don’t pick anything up unless it’s an iPhone,” he explained.
Bill will do some touring in support of “The Savage,” including a stop at Carmichael’s Bookstore in January. He’s also busy writing and has several more books finished, one that has been accepted by his publisher.
“It’s just a matter of when we start working on book edits, and then I’ve got two other manuscripts turned into my editor,” he said.
“Donnybrook” also is being turned into a movie, which is currently shooting in southern Ohio. The film is written and directed by Tim Sutton, (“Dark Night,” “Memphis,” “Pavilion”) and produced by David Lancaster (“Whiplash,” “Nightcrawler,” “Drive”). It also features several Louisvillians, making it a must-see for local film buffs when it’s released.
“The Savage” is available at local bookstores and online.