K Y L E B I L I N S K I
i n t e r v i e w
COMP: “Stained Glass” is chock-full of details about buildings, home inspection, woodworking, exercise, food. How does this kind of specificity contribute to the development of character and plot?
Kyle Bilinski: Building inspectors pay close attention to blueprints, connections, and craftsmanship for a living, and this kind of specificity bleeds into every aspect of their lives. In the first paragraph of my story, details of the pipework and timber trusses reveal my narrator looking up, as everyone else in line for the butcher looks down at their smartphones. This is early character development. She is also waiting for salmon filets, and takes farmed over fresh-off-the-hook. This is more development for her and her father and husband, and fishing and buildings continue to weave throughout the story as—pun not intended—building blocks for language, setting, backstory, and propulsion.
C: Is the composition of a story—especially a story as compressed as “Stained Glass”—similar to the construction of, say, a picture frame?
KB: I’ve been working with wood and words for over a decade, and carpentry and writing are so similar in so many ways, but I would say that compressed story composition, for me, is more like building a tiny house. A picture frame can really only be looked at as a picture frame, whether ornate or simplistic, whereas houses and stories look and feel and mean so many things to different people—whether big or small, or from the inside-out. I also think of homes and stories in terms of: A) transparency (how many windows and doors have been hung? How much is the reader allowed inside?); B) story arc (is the roof A-framed, a simple rise and fall? Or a series of valleys and ridges? Or one gradual rise, like a modern mono-truss design? I always think of Richard Bausch’s “Unjust” for this less-common yet dynamic arc). I probably think and write this way because I am a visual person. It helps get words and paragraphs underfoot in a general direction, which move and grow and breathe as I write, so long as I am open. Being open is where the fun comes in, where things fatten up and words turn three dimensional.
C: How, in general, do stories come to you?
KB: I’m primarily interested in blue-collar fiction, so I pay attention to actions and jargons in the working world around me. The options are endless. Yesterday, the trash man came banging down our street, an internet company sent a technician scooting up a power pole in my neighbor’s yard, and a delivery driver from a local supply house offloaded a bunk of sheetrock for my basement remodel with a remote control and truck mounted crane. Physical movement and language spark interests and ideas that later become entry points into characters or stories. Occupations also root me in setting, class, common struggles, and needs. Tim Gautreaux’s “The Furnace Man’s Lament” and Ha Jin’s “The House Behind a Weeping Cherry” are great examples of why I love to read and write about work.