Thursday, January 29, 2015

Q&A with Author Lawrence C. Connolly about his Veins Cycle Novels

Gentleman, musician, husband, father, and friend to many, Bram Stoker Award nominated, Lawrence C. Connolly is the acclaimed author of the Veins Cycle. I’ve loved his incredible short fiction for years and recently binge read all three of his novels, Veins (2008), Vipers (2010), and Vortex (2014), in one awesome weekend.

Author Lawrence C. Connolly

The books are hard to classify, but I’ll call them modern fantasy set in the environs of a rural Pennsylvania coal mining town. Imagine the graphic novel/movie/TV Show, Constantine, crossed with the movie/novel, No Country For Old Men.

Yes, there are gangsters, angels, petty criminals, an Indian wise woman, a young man searching for path in life, and hit men—but most importantly in this case, a hit woman. There is a heist gone wrong, and supernatural factions that have been manipulating people for years as they advance their separate agendas to destroy the world. Are evil angels causing all this? Or are they not angels at all, but rather Native American spirits of the Okwe tribal mythology trying to protect the land? It all depends on which character’s point of view you’re in.

When I finished reading the books, I wanted to know more about this unique body of work. Mr. Connolly graciously accepted my request to ask him a few questions. There are some minor spoilers below, but you know you want to keep reading.

Question: How do you describe the way your three novels, Veins, Vipers, and Vortex fit together?

Lawrence C. Connolly: The Veins Cycle is not a trilogy, nor is it a series in the traditional sense. As the title states, it is a cycle, and as such the books can be read in any order.

True, the overarching chronology of the 24-hour period that frames the story begins in Veins, continues in Vipers, and concludes in Vortex. But the events are not always sequential. No character lives exclusively in the moment. Like us, they experience the world through a prism of memory, experience, and anticipation--a coexistence of past, present, and future.

A reader beginning the series with Vortex will encounter a different set of mysteries than the one who begins with Veins or Vipers. Nevertheless, in the end, the adventure will be the same. Different on ramps, same path.

Question: The Veins Cycle is filled with Native American myths, and Biblical references, including demons and angels. Will you please explain some of your sources and inspirations for the novels. Revelations welcome, good sir.

Lawrence C. Connolly: The Veins Cycle is about perceptions and the ways people view phenomena through filters of personal experience. One of the questions running through the story is: How much of what we see is a projection of each character’s psychological baggage? The character Axle, for example, attempts to understand his encounters through a prism of the Okwe stories passed down to him from his great-grandmother. Likewise, Sam views the mysteries through the veil of her mother’s religious fanaticism and her own sexual repression. These were things I was keen in exploring in the three books.

Question: I still haven’t quite figured out the true nature of the two opposing “angel” sides in the Veins Cycle, especially in book three, Vortex. Axle’s side tended toward being more “good”, but they were still quite gray. Both sides appear not to care much for the humans. Will you please elaborate, spoilers very welcome, on the two sides and explain their motivations?

Lawrence C. Connolly: The notions of “good” and “evil” are perceptions that the humans bring to the conflict, with each character convinced that he or she is working for the good of mankind and the world. Fittingly, the Cycle’s spiritual entities play on these notions as each side strives to achieve dominance.

You’re correct that the creatures do not seem to care much for the humans. To them, the humans are pawns, and we get the sense as the story moves along that the creatures are enjoying the game, finding clever ways of manipulating the humans to achieve some mysterious, cosmic end.

But to return to your question about which side has the moral high ground. I think we have to acknowledge that Axle, though flawed, is the nobler character. Although he starts the cycle by taking part in a heist, he does not like hurting people. Sam is quite the opposite. She causes harm, inflects pain, brings death. Nevertheless, her motivations often seem justified, an impression that is enhanced when one of the entities appears to her as a radiant angel.

Do you sense what I was going for here? Playing on expectations and preconceptions? I was trying to keep the reader grounded at the character level. There is no omniscient narrator in the Veins Cycle, no all-knowing voice to say, “This is how it is” or “I want to let you in on this.” The books are about the limits of human perceptions and the things we see when confronted with unknowable forces. That’s what fascinated me at the outset, and it’s was I endeavored to explore over the course of the three-book cycle.

Question: There are so many great characters in the Veins Cycle, but Sam, the female sniper, truly an Angel of Death, had to be my favorite. Will you tell us about how you crafted her, and was she your favorite as well?

Sam Calder in Veins by Star E. Olson
Lawrence C. Connolly: My goal with Sam was to create a character who is at once likeable and reprehensible. We should not care for her. She’s flawed in terrible ways, does terrible things, works consciously at putting walls between herself and other people. And yet we feel drawn to her. It’s a dynamic that I think echoes the duality at play in the book’s spiritual forces.

She’s fascinating, but she isn’t my favorite character. I suppose I could repeat that oft heard comment that my character are my children, and like any good parent I have no favorites. I could say that, but it wouldn’t be true. Some parents, in spite of themselves, have favorites.

My favorite Veins Cycle character is probably Maynard Frieburg, a.k.a. Bird – the rich kid on the hill who toys with the idea of leaving his mansion and finding enlightenment in the wilderness. He’s smart, funny, self-serving, and probably the most affable character in the book. If you met him on the street, he’d wave and invite you to have a drink (as opposed to Sam, who would probably turn and go the other way).   
Maynard "Bird" Frieburg in Vortex by Rhonda Libbey

Question: When you started writing the Veins Cycle, did you know from the beginning how it was going to end?

Lawrence C. Connolly: Yes. I knew the story needed to begin and end on the misty asphalt of Windslow Road, with the conclusion cycling back on the beginning like Ouroboros swallowing its own tail. The trick of course was dramatizing all the things that needed to happen in between. It took six years, and now it’s finished. Time to turn the page . . . and begin again.

Conclusion: Thank, Mr. Connolly, for your time and words. It’s been an honor and your last answer gave me chills. 

Thank you all for reading this post and if you haven’t already, please put the Veins Cycle on your reading list.

Lawrence C. Connolly’s books include the novels Veins (2008) and Vipers (2010), which together form the first two books of the Veins Cycle. Vortex, the third book in the series, was released in November 2014. His collections, which include Visions (2009), This Way to Egress (2010), and Voices (2011), collect all of his stories from Amazing Stories, Cemetery Dance, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Twilight Zone, and Year’s Best Horror. Voices was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award, Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection. He serves twice a year as one of the residency writers at Seton Hill University’s graduate program in Writing Popular Fiction. 

Visit Lawrence C. Connolly's website

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