This month I corresponded with J.C. Laird, Author of Dead, But Not Gone and winner of the October 2020 Horror Story contest. Laird is a published author, retiree, and former policeman living in Florida. He has written numerous short stories available on Bookrix.com and Amazon. When he’s not writing, he stays busy with landscaping, chess, and of course, reading
Admin: So, Laird, you and I have been a part of the same writing community for quite some time now, but I usually I only see that silhouetted man you use for your profile picture. It’s good to put a face to the name and to learn a little more about you. So, first of all, who is J.C. Laird? Do you write professionally, or only as a hobby? What do you do when you’re not writing?
Laird: I write as a hobby and enjoy creating something from nothing, from the imagination into reality (albeit only to the written/digital page). Although I’ve published two novels and a collection of short stories, it was done primarily to check off items on my bucket list. I wanted to see the books sitting in my bookcase among other authors.
I am retired after 31 years in law enforcement and besides writing, I enjoy reading, a good game of chess (currently playing by email with a Canadian friend), jogging, and riding my bike. Living in Florida I can do it year-round. I also putz around with outdoor landscaping projects around our house.
Admin: Do you typically write horror? If not, what do you typically write?
Laird: I wouldn’t say I typically write horror, although I’ve written a couple that would fall into that genre. The majority would be classified supernatural to varying degrees, many with a romantic angle. And I’m also fond of a “twist” at the end.
Admin: I’ve seen you produce a story here and there for the past few years. Who do you write for? Do you only want a small audience, to get published in a few literary journals, or do you strive to be a bestselling author?
Laird: Small audience. At this stage of the game, I don’t aspire to great heights, although I wouldn’t turn down becoming a bestselling author.
Admin: Yeah, the book business is more cut-throat than ever. It’s difficult to break into unless you have an audience already waiting for you somewhere, but getting yourself out there and winning a contest is a nice accolade. So, what can you tell us about the inspiration or process behind Dead, But Not Gone?
Laird: The genre required for the contest was horror, and it was only a few days before Halloween when I wrote it. I remembered an old, unfenced cemetery in my hometown, the old gravestones, and just let my imagination run from there, wondering about ghosts and the undead.
Admin: Nothing wrong with that. The point of monthly genre contests is to encourage writers to explore and to promote a diverse group of talent.
So, in the short, the main character starts waxing nostalgic about previous Halloweens and produces home-made popcorn balls to feed to his victim. Is there a significance behind the popcorn balls?
Laird: Yes. My grandmother really did make popcorn balls for Halloween, and I loved them!
Admin: (Laughter) Well, I hope your grandmother and the one from the story didn’t share too many commonalities beyond that! Why does the protagonist’s grandmother participate in a ritual consuming of flesh? Is there something supernatural going on? Did that root that condemned the victim act under some dark will?
Laird: I alluded to the grandmother being a participant in the pagan ritual of All Hallows Eve, and since she raised the protagonist from early in his life, possibly having taught him unknown rituals. As for the tree root: yes, it was not an accident, but activated by the will of the grandmother–or maybe by, or in conjunction with, other members of the Ziegler family buried there.
Admin: Were there any ideas that you edited out of the story?
Laird: No, although I made a conscious effort to not resort to using any blood and gore, instead relying on innuendo to convey the idea.
Admin: How long have you been writing?
Laird: I began writing short stories in high school and through the first two years of college, before getting sidetracked by the realities and vicissitudes (love that word) of life. I didn’t get back on track for good until 2011.
Admin: Can you tell us anything about the earliest piece of fiction you remember writing?
Laird: It was a science fiction piece in high school. Two subjects spying on a spaceship and its crew from a hill and talking about the grotesqueness of the aliens. By the end of the story you find out the observers are the grotesque aliens and the spaceship crew are the humans.
Admin: Ah, like an old Twilight Zone Episode! Is there a book or other media that you feel has greatly informed your current style?
Laird: I’m a Stephen King fan and have all his books. I love his attention to detail and his powers of description. I only wish he could influence my writing style.
Admin: And definitely his work ethic, right? So, what would you say is your favorite book? Not just Stephen King’s work, but any book that has significance to you.
Laird: Wow, that’s a toughie; there are so many. One that had an impact on me was The Black Rose by Thomas B. Costain, written in 1945. Geographically, the story spans continents, from England to Asia and points between. It’s a historical romance and demonstrates that great love can persevere and overcome great trials and tribulations. I don’t know why it plucked my heartstrings as it did. Another great book was The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, 2005. It’s a historical fiction piece following the rise of Nazi Germany in 1939, narrated by the angel of death, and following a female protagonist’s journey through that turbulent time.
Admin: Those sound incredible. I want to go looking for The Book Thief right now. I haven’t heard of either. It’s amazing and terrible that so much great art has been lost to time and fallen out of the popular social consciousness.
So, when you write something eerie like Dead, But Not Gone, do you have a method to get in the headspace of horror?
Laird: No, not really. A hook, an idea, may snag my imagination and, as it unreels, morphs into the realm of horror.
Admin: Fair Enough. I ask because I always go on Youtube and try to find a compilation of appropriate music. My favorites for horror are orchestral soundtracks inspired the works of H.P. Lovecraft.
The style and voice of your writing is very mature and professional. What’s the most common failing you’ve seen in others’ writing? What should other writers watch out for?
Laird: Failure to capitalize words and to punctuate. The misuse of words such as there, their and they’re. Writers should check their work for those failings, as well as being too verbose–using too many adverbs, etc. Double check your work again and again.
Admin: Thank you, Mr. Laird, for participating in this interview and in the contest. I’d like for more people to find your work, so where should they look?
Laird: On Amazon under books: search J C Laird. Individual stories can be found at Bookrix.com, also under J C Laird.
Admin: Thanks once again, Mr. Laird. I hope you find increasing success with your writing and I hope you win your chess match.
If you would like to participate in a Prose Opiate writing contest for a chance to win cash, a cover design, and participate in an interview just like this you can click right here. Even if you don’t win, you will receive guaranteed feedback on your work and professional editing. I hope to see an entry from you soon.