J. Kilburn's narrative style has been compared to those of Joyce Carol Oates, Virginia Wolfe, D.H. Lawrence, Hunter S. Thompson, and Nell Zink. His subjects and almost cinematic descriptions of setting have earned his work comparison to movies and television shows like Sons of Anarchy, Tin Star, Twin Peaks, and Thelma and Louise. Prior to Heaven's Door, a Novel and BEFORE, Kilburn's other published work was a feature-length investigative news article that got the whole page in his community newspaper.
Kilburn lives a quiet and private life on the shore of America's sixth Great Lake. He has lived and worked in Vermont, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Minnesota. During these travels, Kilburn has dabbled in law enforcement, private security, emergency medicine, truck driving, and horse-logging. Other occupations have included at-risk youth mentor, big-city process server, park ranger, and industrial wastewater treatment operator. Along the way, he's pedaled to 14,000 feet above sea-level in a major bicycle race, been marooned overnight on a deserted island, ridden a motorcycle from Chicago to Thunder Bay, and hiked Vermont's highest peaks to watch sunsets on both the longest and coldest days of the year. He currently maintains plastics processing machinery for a major manufacturing company. When not at work he and his wife enjoy life around a little urban farm complete with greenhouse, garden, and mini-barn. Their current flock is composed of four chickens and a cat named Sierra Feral.
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I'VE WORN MANY HATS OVER THE COURSE OF MY WORKING LIFE, AND NOW THERE ARE A COUPLE MORE, FOR WHICH I AM QUITE GRATEFUL: "WRITER and AUTHOR."
My moonlight career as an writer was accidental, and born of disappointment.
Done reading, I threw down yet another thriller novel where Our Hero "racks the slide on his revolver," then "binds a cloth over the bright red arc spurting from his severed vein" before "sweeping the hapless and helpless beauty off her feet" and off into the sunset. Et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseum. Eeek! We've all read them: well-pitched, heavily publicized stories that promise thrills, excitement, and adventure, yet all the while the story strains at or surpasses the bounds of the credible and the real. Not because it's fantasy-genre, but because the author hasn't a clue about real-world aspects of what they're writing about and hasn't done any research to improve that situation. My response to that latest and greatest hackneyed trope, way back then, was visceral and aloud: "I can do better than that!" And so I have spent the last many years attempting just that. I think I have; in the end you will have to be the judge.
I have only minor or tangential experience in many of the things of which I write, but I have tried to use that meager knowledge well. My first real job was a part-time gig working for a college campus police department as a safety associate: I was issued a shirt and a radio and thus equipped I shook doorknobs in some academic buildings, provided walking escorts, drove the campus taxi. I spent summers stump-marking trees for the U.S. Forest Service, sitting the security desk in a medical building, and working as a Crew Leader with At-Risk Youth. I leveraged those jobs and 285 hours of training and certification into a Level II Law Enforcement Commission and a summer patrolling in a canoe at a remote National Park. I liked the work, but not the transient nature of life as a park ranger, and ended up working in college campus security and public safety for twelve years. So no - I was never the "real police." But over the course of my career I received a LOT of law enforcement training - more than some of the local police did - and I saw some things, met some people, learned some stuff. My co-workers and I responded to criminal complaints, medical emergencies, domestics, vehicle incidents, and service calls. Lots and lots of service calls.
Yes, I was armed for some of that time I worked in public safety - I carried a gun. Sometimes because the job required it. Sometimes because maybe I needed to. Most of the time, simply because I could. I'm glad I don't anymore. Wearing a handgun is a pain in the ass, whether it's in a Don Hume retention holster on a good, stiff, Department of the Interior-issued, velcro-lined duty belt or a personal DeSantis IWB rig made of stiff cowhide. College campus administrators don't like their security employees pointing handguns at the students, so it was Defensive Weapons only, but I did like the work and the environment and it was a good hybrid of other jobs I'd had. Towards the end of my campus public safety career, firearms appeared in the picture again - in the pockets of some of those we interacted with. Campus officers began to wear Ballistic Protection. Not the real police, some of the same risks. Same job, same uniform, different scenery, different adjudication.
I got around on a motorcycle for much of that time. No, not a Harley or a big Indian; I rode a tiny Honda CB200 that wasn't too much larger than a scooter. But I rode that little trike all over Vermont and upstate New York and the U.S. Midwest. I didn't have two nickels to rub together to get a car, so when I needed groceries I would bundle up and ride thirty miles to the grocery store to stock up - in January and February, too. Awful trips, cold and worrying about patches of ice and perpetually sliding towards the side of a crowned road. In better weather I rode that little motorcycle from Chicago up to the top of the Arrowhead on the North Shore of Lake Superior to work at the Park Service job. All my stuff - everything I owned - was in two backpacks, one in front of me on the gas tank and one strapped to my back the right way. That job was so far north that the nearest box-store shopping and movie theater were in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Drove that little Honda around up there, too.
I found winter work in Minneapolis, serving papers for a law firm that specialized in Civil matters: law suits, Federal non-criminal cases, evictions. I learned about cities by immersing myself in one. I had two jobs and no place to stay in a housing market where the vacancy rate hovered around "negligible." By then I had my first car, a big old official-looking Ford ex-police car with a spotlight that was useful in more ways than one. I lived in my car briefly, and then was grateful for accommodations in a basement, next to a furnace. I spent my days exploring the Big City, working my second job driving a delivery van, and experiencing the wealth of ethnic food on Hennepin Avenue. I spent my evenings informing people that they were now ensnared in the legal system; winners, losers, to be determined, evicted. That a homeless Process Server was serving eviction papers on residents of six-figure homes and teenaged children of constantly-working parents in all manner of neighborhoods across and around that city now seems surreal. At the time I was more worried about survival: Will my car make it through the shift before the transmission quits? Gee, I don't need anybody to buzz me in here, all the glass is already kicked out of this front door. A dark, graffiti-decorated stairwell paved by broken beer and wine bottles means check the box "no one home or answering," because nobody in their right mind, and certainly not YOU or ME, would go up there.
One of the colleges I later worked at hosted a summertime intensive/immersive language program. That was where I met a police officer who was sent by their employing agency to learn the language of the foreign-now-resident "mafia" who were running the shady side of things in that large and complicated jurisdiction. No, those stories aren't in HEAVEN'S DOOR. But late-evening conversations with this undercover law enforcement professional opened my eyes to a world that exists in parallel with us, another dimension that we only briefly, occasionally see in headlines and grief and indictments, a universe where the Rule of Law is turned sideways and the criminal elite is sometimes better organized than the jurisdiction's government. I was awake now, and seeing. I realized that I did not live very far away from some pretty big doings in the industry of Organized Crime. I began to notice things, little things that had probably always been there, but now I was aware of their significance. Those Bad Guys are closer than you think, and sometimes They are Us.
And so I started writing what I saw. What I didn't see, or didn't know about, I researched. Books: histories, memoirs. Newspaper and magazine articles. The internet. I talked to people. A lot of folks have something really interesting to say about some really amazing or fascinating things - if only we listen. I heard, and asked questions, and remembered. I went back and did more research, and let all this information percolate in my mind. Then I started writing. What I didn't know about first-hand, or from the pages of record, or from what someone else had seen, I imagined. A short story about a notable moment in time became a series of them, incorporating the same made-up characters over and over in a continuous inter-connected thread of adventures and terrors. The short stories became chapters. The common theme and and flow of events with recurrent characters became a plot. Characters popping up here and there in new roles and old became familiar. I had a community. I had a novel. I kept writing. Now I have a series.
My Illustrator says that I also have a very expansive imagination. I can think of worse faults.