Interview with J. Kilburn

Published 2022-04-12.
When did you first start writing?
I started writing some short stories back in the 90's, just for my own enjoyment. Some of them were well-received in the confines of home. The subject were varied; humor, tragedy, God. I sent one out to a magazine; this magazine had an editorial policy of returning un-used manuscripts after not more than 60 days. They held on to mine for 6 months, which I took as a compliment.
What's the story behind your latest book?
There are multiple stories all interwoven into one plot. Some tragic, some merely informative: a biker war up in the neighboring provice captured headlines off and on for years; a body found beside a road here in Vermont; a person gone missing; a body found in a basement of a falling-in farmhouse. There was a common thread: voilence, loss, death, grief, tragedy. I decided to follow that thread, heavily fictionalize it, and devote it to the victims. You will see that the story is both thrilling and cautionary; I do that to make it entertaining in order to keep the reader's interest, but the notes of caution are there, nevertheless. That was hard to do correctly - I'll have to let you, the reader, let me know if I got it right.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Large publishing houses are going dinosaur on us, unfortunately. There are fewer and fewer. E-commerce, E-books, more choices for readers, changing entertainment platforms, better TV, better streaming... There are a lot of reasons, most of them good for us as consumers, but awfully hard on the Finance, Business, and English degree majors who run traditional publishing houses. Indie is the future, according to the tea leaves. I also looked around and realized that even if I DID get picked up by a large publishing house, the process would be slow and largely controlled by them (rightfully so, putting a book out there is a HUGE and risky investment for a traditional publisher). After much research, I finally decided to self-publish, paper-back style, in small lots, so that I could distribute my novel to Indie bookstores in the region myself. I was just about to hit the "GO" button, but then Covid-19 and it's travel restrictions hit. I looked around and discovered E-book self-publishing, liked what I saw at SMASHWORDS, and pivoted to an E-book. I am grateful to SMASHWORDS for giving me the platform on which I could easily self-publish and distribute a book by a first-time author.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Seeing my characters come to life - sometimes in ways that I had not anticipated - has been very surprising and rewarding. Joy is knowing that a reader has met my characters, one or more of them has become "real" to them, and my characters or the story has reached someone. Some of my readers have gotten very angry at me; those are the ones I know I've really reached. They have empathized with a character so much that they feel the character's emotions and come to despise the Creator. Whups. But no, that's a good thing! Some of these stories have hard parts, or hard endings; that's life, that's real. And that is what I'm trying to bring to the reader: a genuine, honest, truthful adventure full of thrills, fun, choices, consequences, laughs, love, surprise, loss, horror. You'll let me know if I've gotten it right.
What do your fans mean to you?
A fan is someone who I want to entertain at the same time as I also enlighten. People read for adventure, education, distraction, enjoyment... So many reasons. So many readers! A fan is an opportunity to connect with someone on a deeper level, and I try to put a variety of ways to do that in each book so that no matter who the fan is, there will be someone or something in the novel that they can identify or empathize with. A fan is also a customer who feels they have received the service they expected - or better. After all, when I write and publicize a book, I am making an offer: Purchase this. It will meet a need you have for... (blank). A reader who becomes a fan is someone who I came through for. Then I can make another offer: Here, try this...
What are you working on next?
I am in the middle of editing and laying out a "prequel" to the thriller/horror "Heaven's Door, a Novel." The book was inspired by actual events, so it's an action/suspense read and of necessity somewhat dark. I wanted to examine some of the same characters in the light; I put them in different circumstances with different mentors, more opportunities, other choices, and a whole different environment. They end up totally different people, of course, but they surprised even me. So this next novel is a chance to meet the undercover police officer before he even knows he's going to do that for a living, and to meet the loved ones that wait for Our Hero to return from the world of undercover policing. These loved ones are alter-egos of the victims in the first novel, immersed in a different world. We meet them just a few years before the events that take place in the first book. I think it's a very fine story (of course I would), and it's also lighter: "Before, a Prequel" is a coming-of-age story and a romance story and a small-town life story. "Heaven's Door, a Novel" was for crime fiction and thriller/horror genre readers. "Before, a Prequel" is for everybody, or at least everyone with an Open Mind.
Who are your favorite authors?
Farely Mowat really knows how to bring a good story out of an actual event, whether it be history, cultural biography, or memoir. Howard Frank Mosher absolutely captured the Vermont that my mother grew up in. Archer Mayor writes AWESOME mystery/detective books from a very well-informed perspective. Robert B. Parker's mystery/thrillers are a favorite go-to on a rainy Saturday afternoon. And I very much enjoy going to Europe with Francis Mayes, Peter Mayle, and Ian McEwan. I would heartily recommend you go on a trip with any of these authors!
Howard Frank Mosher and Ian McEwan are both authors who "reached me." I have tried to do as well in my own writing.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Well, the day job, most of the time, for one thing. Writing is not a full-time occupation for most of us; its a nice hobby or outlet or supplemental income. (One of my favorite authors is wildly popular and one of his series may be made into a TV show. He was asked if he was going to quit his day job. "No, but hey, I might get to buy a new truck!")
There were many years when I DIDN'T want to get out of bed each day. Somewhere along, I found my center, and my Inner Peace. That sense of self is what gets me out of bed, earlier than necessary, most days. I am lucky to have found things - and people - in my life that I truly enjoy. I have discovered how to make the right things important, and that "happy" is closely related to that. Every morning is an opportunity to immerse in something important: the garden, a loving spouse, on-line community (I'm somewhat of a hermit), a sunny day in the woods, a successful trouble-shoot at the Day Job. I am grateful to have so many happy things in my life that inspire me to get out of bed. I know I am extra-lucky in that.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
Sometimes you just take a look at what's new, and pick something intriguing. A lot of my book purchases also come from listening to public radio - if I hear an interview with a particularly intriguing person or about a book that sounds interesting, I might pick up my E-reader and take a closer look.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes. It was a story about God. I saw an old man come into the laundromat to fill the coin-op candy dispensers that benefited a local camp for Special-Needs kids. The owner of the laundromat tossed him - and the candy dispensers - out. It was quite a show, actually. God was pretty angry about that in my story - a vengeful God indeed!
What is your writing process?
I'm inspired by something, then I imagine for a few years, then I start setting it down on paper. I do some research in books or on the web, talk to some people who know some things, and try to work in some hard facts here and there - even into the most fanciful of fiction. Then I go back and revise and add with what I've learned. Somewhere between the second and fifth drafts, the characters take over and do the work for me - and the size and complexity of the story bloom exponentially. It usually comes out really well, with a series of really good inter-connected short stories that make up a larger plot. My last book started as about a hundred pages in the first draft, ended up 900 pages once the characters took over the plot, and then I took out the Red Pen and got it down to about 500 pages of really good story. I'm very lucky in that. (And I'm glad I don't have to pay my characters for the work they seem to do all on their own!)
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I was lucky as a child - I had a mother who read to me every night. "Green Eggs and Ham" by Dr. Seuss. Every night for a year and a half. Then "Where the Wild Things Are" by the age of six. There was something called "The Giving Tree." I thought that was a pretty nice story, with a good ending. I don't actually remember the first non-picture book that I read on my own. I'd read most of what the local library had for Zane Grey (Westerns) by the time I was seven, so maybe that's why I spent a lot of time playing "cowboy" and "marshall" and running around with a cap gun.
How do you approach cover design?
Hmmm. Still working on that.
I DO know that I don't like the pre-packaged CGI/photoshopped look. I want something unique, that speaks to the nature of what's inside.
Covers are very expensive, so I'm still doing my own. Better that way, I suppose - they're not going to be confused with Marketed Covers!
What are your five favorite books, and why?
"Around the Bend," by Neville Shute. That's a wonderful book. I won't spoil it, but let's just say it gives me great hope.
"Requiem for a Wren" by Neville Shute. Bittersweet ending that makes everything come together. Masterfully done!
"Atonement" by Ian McEwen. Oh, that book made me so sad and mad! I cried for two hours after I put it down. The book moved me... job done.
Anything by Farley Mowat. He's an amazing writer and biologist who really SEES and can really convey. And he's funny as all hell.
"Among the Bone Eaters" by Marcus Baynes-Rock. What an amazing story. I re-read that a couple of times a year. If you like animals or learning about foreign cultures, this book will bring you on an adventure you won't be able to put down!
What do you read for pleasure?
When I just have to get away for a bit, I read anything from the "Spencer" series by Robert B. Parker. I keep a few by the bed, and the library (thankfully) has lots more! I also like John Grisham (especially "Playing for Pizza") and I keep a few other European-setting books close by: the Inspector Montalbano books by Andrea Camilleri; Peter Mayle's books ("A Year in Provence," etc.); whatever sweet, cute, or interesting books I can find by New Authors.
New Authors are a lottery ticket - you have to scratch off a whole bunch, but once in a while you find a new, refreshing voice that you know you are going to want to hear from again. I'm living kind of carefully, so I'll buy them as 99-cent E-books, and if I find one I like, maybe I'll re-visit that author's work in the Used Section at the bookstore. "The Dry" by Jane Harper is one of those. What a story!
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I read on a large tablet if it's from the Internet - investigative reporting, non-fiction, etc. For novels, I turn to a trusted friend - first-generation NOOK reader. It's battered and faithful and it's been everywhere I have!
Describe your desk
The writing desk... Oh, that's a TWO-parter! I have this old library desk from an antique shop, it's big and huge and heavy and probably really from the 80's, but it looked old so I didn't quibble. Took a lot of work to get that up 28 steps and into the place, I can tell you! But it's got room for two printers and a computer, so there's that. And it looks and feels right. Do I actually WRITE there? Not much. Printing drafts, storing stuff. That's about it. I use a laptop, thank goodness, so I have "free-range" writing going on.

Where do I actually do my writing? I've been known to bring a stack of legal pads or the laptop to city parks to set up a little office under a tree, sometimes with a second laptop or tablet right there for on-the-spot/in-the-moment research. (I like to write very true-to-life and credible fiction.) My favorite writing and editing spot is something my wife set up - our first purchase together was a stuffed chair at the thrift store. We set that up next to two windows in the bedroom, put an Ottoman right next to it, and then we had our sunny winter writing spot! Can spread out all the resources on the bed, sit in the sun, and the feet and the cat are on the Ottoman. Oh, we're living the life! And we are kind of opposite shift, so we can time-share the chair. Oh, how lucky! So I guess the real answer is: "My writing desk is the top of the bed?"
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up right here in Vermont. I am very lucky in that respect, fiction and writing-wise: Vermont is smack-dab in the middle of everything. The Adirondaks to the west, Mount Washington and Kinsman Notch to the east, the Long Trail and Appalachian trail right here, that Big Water lake right over there an hour to the west.... I don't travel so much now, but I used to drive up to Montreal after work sometimes, Quebec City is only a few hours away, Boston is four hours south, Portland and the Maine Coast are four hours to the east... I've been known to wake up early, decide I want real lobster chowder, and drive to a truck stop "Down East" to have lunch. Lots of places to inspire fiction. And lots of nefarious activities: all those places? They figure into my crime fiction - and also into real-life smuggling, both historical, and what is happening right now. There's plenty of international crime passing through to seed my imagination for many, many books. Folks just don't see it, because they're not looking. Believe me, the DEA and BATF are seeing it - and I am writing about it.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
Smashwords makes publishing and distributing even your first book easy! My first book was a "finish the bucket list quick" project. Covid was just becoming a thing, I got sick with some sort of weird lung thing and got quarantined. When I recovered, I was still quarantined - and VERY tired, physically. So I spent a lot of time in the Home Office (yes, that chair by the window) reading about how to publish an E-book. I had a manuscript in the drawer, on disc and paper, that had been lingering there for years. Then Covid - "the world is ending!" Of all the publishing options I looked at, Smashwords seemed like the easiest and quickest - and the Style Guide was comprehensive, easy to follow, and effective. I had an E-book out, from the existing manuscript, by the third week I was locked down. Amazing!
I just wish there was a Smashwords Style Guide for EVERYTHING on my Bucket List!
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I work as a mechanic/electrician in the plastics industry. Tell me that twenty years ago and I would have laughed, referred you for psychiatric help, or maybe taken you into P.C.
How the future changes us!
I go for hikes, walk in the woods, read good fiction or non-fiction about somewhere I haven't yet been, watch a lot of Youtube videos about places I'll never go (but am lucky to be able to visit vicariously... grateful, Youtubers!). I really like just going to a city park and watching the world go by. My Spousemate and I get dressed to the Nines sometimes and just go sit in a city park. It's a good cheap date, especially with a picnic from the garden. Thanks, Spousemate!
Tell us more about your recent novel: "BEFORE"
Ahhh. That one was a surprise. The novel BEFORE was actually just supposed to be character development, but it went a little long, and I realized it might be a novel in its own right. That was fifteen years ago, actually. I set it on the shelf, thinking maybe it would be a Prequel for my first novel. When I picked it back up for revision and editing, that wasn't what was happening - instead I was writing MORE. The characters took over, and invented parts of the plot I'd never imagined. A little more thoughtful revision allowed me to tie some things together and really add depth and complexity in all the right ways. Really, "BEFORE" is just a series of inter-connected short stories that all lead from a beginning to an end. I've been very lucky - once the characters started directing the plot, things just fell together. And it's no longer a Prequel - "BEFORE" is a whole story, a whole novel - a long one - that stands as a complete work by itself, on its own two feet. I never saw THAT coming!

BEFORE has a larger theme and purpose, too: There are a lot of young people, and some not-so-young-anymore folks, too, that made choices or were forced into behaviors in their youth. Some of those choices and behaviors were unwise, or risk-taking, or immoral by today's adult standards. But at the time? That teen or young adult did what they thought was right, or right for the moment, or what they had to do. And a lot of teens don't live that down later - there is guilt, or shame, or "once a (whatever), always a (whatever)." Stigma. Identity. Shame. These are complex things that are hard to let go of, and hard to live down. And if you look at teens that have engaged in risky or illegal behavior, most of the books written for them are either Self-Help books, or books where they star as the victim in a horror or drama. I wanted to make a NICE story for someone who has made some of those bad or ill-advised early choices. I wanted to write a character that At-Risk or Self-Victimizing young women could identify with, but have it be a NICE story and a LIGHT story and one that had, if not happy endings, then at least happy moments and supportive, positive people in it. A bed-time story for that person who was working the street as a runaway five years ago, or a quiet afternoon read for that person that's incarcerated for stealing a car. Maybe they can see themselves in a NICE story, and it makes all the difference? Who knows?
Why did you write your first book? What is it about?
"Heaven's Door, a Novel" started as a visceral reaction to a local murder. Actually, we never knew the victim was murdered until later - he just disappeared. Three years later, bones were found in a shallow grave, and after a little dental and DNA work, the victim was identified. It's still an Open Case, by the way. No killer was ever apprehended or charged, or even publicly identified as a suspect.
That person whose bones ended up in an unmarked and unconsecrated grave died for Doing The Right Thing - he was serving the Greater Good in some fashion, and that's all that I can say about that. That first book was an ode to his bones. I imagined his end, because he was no longer here to speak of it himself. Of course, I couldn't tromp all over an on-going homicide investigation with my fiction, so I did a lot of research, talked to some folks for a couple of years, came up with a couple of theories about what happened to the victim, and tried to figure out how to go forward. Eventually, I created a VERY heavily fictionalized plot that hardly resembles actual events - but it is, never-the-less, the victim's story. As close as you can get to it and still have it be fiction. What is fact and what is fiction - THAT is the mystery here. I'm told the detectives (retired) involved in that long-ago (and still unsolved) case have read it, and labeled it pure fiction in all respects. Good. Job done. Some folks have read the book and figured out which murder inspired it. Good. Job done there, too.

This novel also serves as an homage to all those who work in undercover capacities, serving the Rule of Law. I realized early on that I could make this one victim stand for undercover police officers everywhere. There are a whole lot of investigators who are putting their lives and family ties at risk, every day, on behalf of all of us. Bad things can happen to them - and sometimes do. We should remember them more often.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author or publisher.

Books by This Author

Before, a Novel
Price: $6.99 USD. Words: 180,300. Language: English. Published: February 20, 2022. Categories: Fiction » Literature » Literary, Fiction » Coming of age
(5.00 from 1 review)
Think you know the kids next door? Think again! BEFORE both celebrates and indicts the sweet and sordid in small-town, everyday life. This Crime Fiction and Coming-of-Age mashup by J. Kilburn will leave you howling... while the questions and answers posed by this novel will have you re-examining the sunny streets and wildflower-filled lanes of your own neighborhood. 500 pages of adventure!
Heaven's Door, a Novel
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 47,570. Language: English. Published: April 29, 2020. Categories: Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Crime thriller, Fiction » Historical » Canada
InD'Tale Magazine gives this noir crime thriller FOUR STARS!!!! Heaven's Door, a Novel, by J. Kilburn, is the story of a Girl accidentally caught up in big-city organized crime and an undercover police officer tasked with infiltrating an outlaw biker gang. The book introduces the fictional TOPDOGS Motorcycle Club, its members, and their victims in a "heart-stopping tale" of intrigue and suspense.