top of page


Back To The Dirt could be seen as Frank Bill's The Deer Hunter. It takes a look at how the Vietnam War affected working class America. However, since he is using it in a novel, he is able to go both broader and deeper. The author was kind enough to take some questions from me.

SCOTT MONTGOMERY : Back To The Dirt is influenced by your father's experience in Vietnam. What elements did you see in that part of his life that could make a solid story?

FRANK BILL : BTTD is influenced by my father’s time in Da Nang as a minesweeper in the Marines and my time in the factory. There were many elements. My father carried the horrors of war with him every day during and after his service. The battles he took part in, the loss of lives, the friends he’d make one day only to lose them the next. Growing up my father never spoke much about the war, but I was always around veterans. At the VFW, The American Legion, at my grandmother’s home as most her brothers served in the Korean War or Vietnam. But as I grew older and became a writer my father began to open up to me about why he signed up to become a marine, about the bus ride, about bootcamp, Paris Island, field training to be an engineer and his time with the tankard division. All of this in the book and the Afterward. The other part of the story is my time in the factory, the explosion I lived through and stories I either heard or encountered myself.

S.M. : Miles' experiences and memories of the war have an authentic feel. What kind of research did you do?

F.B. : I sat down with my father and had some long conversations, wrote everything down. I also have a lot of pictures from his time in Da Nang. The second part of the story comes from a book I read, Tiger Force, about a special forces unit that began killing everyone, not just the NVA but innocent villagers also. So my idea was to flip this upside down, and create a Recon Unit that hunts their own soldiers who’ve gone rogue.

S.M. : I felt that one thing you were able to do with the Vietnam war, that would be more difficult if it was the Afghanistan or Iraq war vet, were the characters of Shelby and Wylie and seeing the effects war can have on the following generation of those who served. Even though their past is very dark, were you able to draw from any of your experiences as the son of a vet?

F.B. : As I mentioned above and in the Afterward of the book, I was raised around veterans, listening to jokes and conversations. A good bit of the abuse that I use in the book comes from a combination of stories I’ve overheard of certain veterans and their siblings or stories I grew up with from my mother and grandmother when I was a kid incurred by my grandfather who was a WWII veteran and was very abusive. My father was always a cut-up, always joking around and still does to this day.

S.M : Even though you don't see them together much, I was really invested in Miles and Shelby's relationship. How did you approach them?

F.B. : The structure for those two was the film, Blood Simple. And by giving flashbacks to their relationship, you get their backstory and this build up and a connection without them always being together, because when I write books, I don’t write middles, they tend to be boring and slow everything down, so I ramp over that, and I have two bad ass editors who ask the right questions and offer spot on input and they really pulled a lot from me to give Miles and Shelby’s relationship a pulse.

S.M. : I hate to admit this, but even though I had a lot of problems with Nathaniel's actions, I often understood where he was coming from and even caught myself agreeing with some of his views. How did you go about constructing him?

F.B. : Nathaniel was based upon a cop that I’ve ridden along with over the years, a person’s brain I’ve picked to pieces with scenarios and actions, and how they would handle certain situations, so even if you have problems with him that’s how this particular cop would’ve handled things, he’s from the Midwest, the rural-watering-hole he drinks from is much different than other regions of the US, he was even part of a group that could’ve been labeled a militia group at one point, so constructing him wasn’t any different than any other character I’ve created as I always use real folks that I know and their thoughts and actions are very real. As I tend to write about what I know.


bottom of page