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Sampling Frank Bill’s Crimes in Southern Indiana

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Rebecca Forster, the best selling independent author of The Witness Series, recently wrote a blog post about “The X-Treme Novelist,” naming four of her favorites including yours truly, Anonymous-9, Arthur Levine and Tim Greaton. She classifies these types of authors as those who “shred boundaries” and who are not afraid of market demands upon their creative processes.

Reading the comments under her article, I noticed a post by Frank Bill, author of the short story collection, Crimes in Southern Indiana, so I felt compelled to check out his work as I did the other writers that were mentioned.

After downloading a sample of the Kindle eBook version, which is published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux and sells for $9.99, I read the first three stories in the collection and made up my mind to buy Arthur Levine’s, Johnny Oops, for only 99cents instead. Price had nothing to do with my decision.

From what I could tell, Crimes in Southern Indiana, is to crime fiction what the film, Saw, is to horror movies — a mindless string of sensationalism connected by the thinnest of thematic threads. I felt insulted as a reader by the clipped, non sequitor dialogues and two dimensional characters that reminded me of porn stars. Yet this tripe attracted the attention of a major literary agent and secured Mr. Bill a contract with a giant in the publishing industry. Congratulations to him and sour grapes to those who embrace this new trend.

These authors, who write like Bill and who are featured in popular crime fiction ezines across the web, don’t have the stamina to write a full length novel because there is no suitable framework to contain continuous splashes of blood on page after page.  But a society numbed by violence feeds upon these stories like frenzied sharks or masturbatory adolescents unable to control their urges or to satisfy their needs. 

Sex and death. That’s always what sells. Ask any freshman Marketing student.

A collection of short stories, and especially a novel, should be something more. It should construct a world based upon an author’s intuition and intellect and impart an observation of the human condition which true art has always attempted to do. Anything less, in my opinion, is better left for map makers and cartoonists who draw brief superficial reflections that momentarily glitter and then, ultimately, become useless when landscapes and topical trends inevitably change.

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About John H. Byk

  • http://www.deadendfollies.com Benoit Lelievre

    I know from experience than writing an agressive book review is about the worst move you can even make, John or should I say Conrad. You might want to think this twice and pull this review or even better, read CRIMES IN SOUTHERN INDIANA one time over. Frank Bill is a great writer and if you don’t “get” him, there’s no reason to insult him like you did. I made observations in my review of CRIMES about violence being a little overbearing, but if you only saw the violence in Frank’s writing, you owe him another reading. His stories have a lot more to offer than a few exploding faces. This review will haunt you for a long time, Mr. Johnson. The internet is an unforgiving place.

  • The Shakedown

    So we got ourselves a smart guy, eh? Thinks he has a right to express his opinion as he sees fit, eh? Well let me tell you something, buddy boy. You only have a right to express the CORRECT opinion, and WE decide what that is. So here’s what’s gonna happen, see? You’re gonna have a change of heart, see? You’re gonna become a big fan of Crimes in Southern Indiana. You don’t know what you were thinking before. And then we’re all gonna be friends. You got that? I know you do. You’re a smart fellow. See, we’re getting friendly already. Some might call this intimidation, thuggery, even cyberstalking. We just call it looking after our pals.

  • http://www.sarajhenry.com Sara J. Henry

    Lacks the stamina to write a full-length novel? Um, guess you didn’t notice that Frank has a novel coming out, DONNYBROOK.

    And for the record, crafting short stories can be more demanding than novel writing – me, so far I’ve lacked the stamina.

  • http://www.nomoralcenter.blogspot.com Alec Cizak

    First of all, who are “These authors, who write like Bill and who are featured in popular crime fiction ezines across the web”? I think you should name all of “these authors” so that “these authors” may respond to your thin, unfounded (and, in your own article, unsupported) ‘criticism.’

    Speaking of criticism, are you aware of the difference between ‘constructive’ and ‘destructive’ criticism? You’ve provided us with an example of ‘destructive’ criticism. In short, you’ve said nothing helpful to readers or to the writer. Instead of turning your criticism into a personal attack (your sour grapes comment was appropriate, seeing as how you seem to have a mouthful of them), why not explain to readers and Frank Bill how the writer might improve his work (but that’s not really the point of your article, is it? I refer you back to the sour grapes you must be choking on at this point).

    Finally, a word about Frank Bill’s book. I’ll grant that it’s not for everybody. Frank has his own style (something that bothered you, though you failed to pick up on the fact that it was a matter of style). You either like it or you don’t. There are better ways to state it than you did. In Frank Bill’s defense, I find that his writing accomplishes the establishment of a particular culture the way Jim Thompson’s early novels attempted (but, unlike Frank Bill’s collection) and failed (Thompson is one of my all-time favorite writers, but his first couple of novels are almost unreadable). Your failure to recognize Frank Bill’s attention to a southern Indiana culture (whether made up or not doesn’t matter since Frank has done such an excellent job of making this culture authentic within his work) most of us would not have the stones to go experience ourselves demonstrates that you indeed only took a glance at the work (which cancels your entire review as it is based on shoddy homework) and that you do not read closely enough to warrant the title of ‘critic’ in the first place.

    PS– What in the world does stamina have to do with writing a novel??? If that’s what you think it takes, then it makes sense you’ve had to self-publish…

  • http://www.RosesSpanishBoots.com Christopher Rose

    Several comments to this article have been deleted by me as they were beyond what we will accept in terms of personal attacks.

    We welcome passionate debate but please confine yourselves to ideas not personalities.

    Thank you.

    Christopher Rose
    Blogcritics Comments Editor

  • http://www.deadendfollies.com Benoit Lelievre

    Mr. Rose, I’d hate to point the elephant in the room, but it’s hell of a double standard to publish such a violent, pointless review (J. Byk admits NOT reading the book) and then censoring comments?

    Anyway, I did a similar mistake in the past and believe now that it really takes a shitty, corrupting-the-morals-of-society book to warrant such a review. Even then, if there’s nothing constructive to be said about the book, things are better left unsaid.

  • http://www.RosesSpanishBoots.com Christopher Rose

    Mr Lelievre, there is no elephant in the room, nor is there any requirement on the writer of any article to write anything other than what their own thoughts are, whatever they may be.

    For what it may be worth I think people should tell the truth as they see it regardless of any other considerations or consequences.

    As to the comments that were deleted – not censored – they were nothing other than personal attacks.

    I’ve no idea why Mr Byk holds the views he does of Mr Bill’s work but he is perfectly entitled to them and to express them.

  • Chris Rhatigan

    I’m going to read the first fifty pages of a 300-page novel and then write a scathing review of it that doesn’t recognize any potential merit it might have.

  • http://www.anonymous-9.com Anonymous-9

    I worked with Frank Bill as an editor on three works dating back to 2008, so I know his work pretty well. His voice was the freshest, most exciting thing to come out of the online scene. In fact, I called him “the Ornette Coleman” of short stories at the time for his fresh, staccato bursts of prose. It surprised no one when he landed a deal with FSG. I don’t have a copy of CRIMES IN SOUTHERN INDIANA so I can’t tell if FSG editors watered down the fresh voice that so attracted me in the beginning. But I do know that Frank has written novel after novel, at home, into the wee hours, after shift work at his day job. I edited one of them, ACTING OUT, into a novella for Beat to a Pulp’s first print anthology. Frank Bill never shied away from polishing, crafting, rewriting and “playing well” with editors. He lacks any of the arrogance about his prose that lesser writers hold when confronted with evidence that their work still needs more labor. This quality alone would distinguish Frank Bill from legions of others.
    Anonymous-9/Elaine Ash

  • http://www.anonymous-9.com Anonymous-9

    PS Christopher, I think you’re doing a good job of moderating the comments. Bravo.
    Anonymous-9/Elaine Ash

  • http://pdbrazill.blogspot.com/ Paul D Brazill

    Give ‘em enough petard and they’ll hoist themselves.

    Frank Bill is a wonderful writer. One with a voice so strong it can cause avalanches.

    I suspect the aptly named Mr Byk lacks such such qualities. Of course, since I’ll never read him, I’ll never know.

    Zycie jest brutalne.

  • Nell Baker

    Frank Bill has talent- truth not opinion. His criteria and presentation may not be for everyone. I have followed Frank’s writing for quite some time and see him, dedicated to the craft and the telling of the story. Check him out, if you find his material or style to be out of your comfort zone- fine…read something else. Don’t bash a writer or his style just because you can. Be valid, be fair or be quiet. Opinions are much like buttholes…we all got em!

  • Anonymous-9

    CORRECTION: I do have a copy of CRIMES IN SOUTHERN INDIANA and Frank’s publicist kindly sent it to me back before the print copy was even out. However, I’m going to Amazon right now to buy a copy of the print book to refresh my opinion.
    Anonymous-9/Elaine Ash

  • Jack

    Come on guys, all you have to do id go out to Amazon and read the sample pages of John H Byk’s “novel” and you’ll see. [Personal attack deleted by Comments Editor]

  • Stanley Rutgers

    Good call, Jack. Someone who bathes in cliche’ should probably avoid discussing the work of more capable writers.

  • http://2012writersalive.blogspot.com John H. Byk

    Another giant YAWN. “Gentlemen, it’s ONLY literature for God’s sake!”–quote from a scene in the TV series, Northern Exposure.

  • http://www.pluckyoutoo.com Thomas Pluck

    To quote David J. Schow, if you can’t stand the meat, get out of the abattoir. I thought Crimes was one of the best story collections of the year, and I’m eager to read Frank’s novel.
    You are of course welcome to your opinion, but your review is hardly a review. You mention prices, then claim price had no bearing on your opinion. Then why mention it? Then you resort to personal attacks about “stamina.”
    Hardboiled fiction has been around for nearly a century, depending on how you define it. It has always been violent, and has always dealt with the underbelly of society.

    Not all crime fiction is mystery, and not all is bloody and violent. You can certainly dislike the stark brutality of the region that Mr. Bill brings to light, and not want to read about it. However, calling his talent into question, and that of the entire hardboiled subgenre of crime fiction, is rather childish and reeks of an agenda, or trolling.

  • http://2012writersalive.blogspot.com John H. Byk

    Word.

  • Gareth Spark

    Personally I found Crimes in Southern Indiana to be a powerful, beautiful work. Its poetry does what all great writing should do – makes you see things better and clearer and nothing can ever be the same after. Its certainly changed the way I personally view the short story, and has informed my own writing. I await Donnybrook eagerly. Frank Bill has genius, and its nice to see the dunces still have their confederacy.

  • http://2012writersalive.blogspot.com John H. Byk

    Word up.