Fleeing from what should have been a perfect crime, four crooks in a black Mustang race into the Pennsylvania highlands. On the backseat, a briefcase full of cash. On their tail, a tattooed madman who wants them dead. The driver calls himself Axle. A local boy, he knows the landscape, the coal-hauling roads and steep trails that lead to the perfect hideout: the crater of an abandoned mine. But Axle fears the crater. Terrible things happened there. Things that he has spent years trying to forget. Enter Kwetis, the nightflyer, a specter from Axle’s ancestral past. Part memory, part nightmare, Kwetis has planned a heist of his own. And soon Axle, his partners in crime, and their pursuer will learn that their arrival at the mine was foretold long ago . . . and that each of them is a piece of a plan devised by the spirits of the Earth.

Available from Fantasist Enterprises, Veins is Lawrence C. Connolly’s debut novel. I had a chance to sit down with Larry at GenCon and run a few questions by him:

What is your spiritual background/journey?

I’m from western Pennsylvania, where forests fold into valley and rise along mountain crags. Enter those forests, start walking, and sooner or later you’ll come to a place where the earth opens into an unnatural valley of sumac, hemlock, and weedy grass. These are the wounds that never heal, the deep man-made scars left behind after the veins of the earth have been carted away for heat and industry. My spiritual journey begins in such places.

I’m not an environmentalist. That term doesn’t go deep enough. It doesn’t begin to reach the level of spiritual connection that I feel to this part of the world. My spiritual journey is one of discovering how I connect to this place, why I feel at home here, and why I sometimes sense the pain of cleared forests and leveled mountains.

What do you see as the power of myth?

Some truths can’t stand the weight of fact. They can only be grasped through metaphor, allegory, parable. The great prophets knew this. They were storytellers, after all. They understood the transcendent power of a well-told tale.

What is the mythology behind your novel?

The protagonist in Veins is a young man who calls himself Axle. He’s the hub, the center of something he does not understand. His great grandmother tries guiding him with half remembered stories from her childhood, fables about the land. One night she leads him to the brink of a machine-scarred valley, and there he begins to understand … but the understanding frightens him. He dismisses her teachings as lies. And for a while, until the threat of death forces him back to that same valley nine years later, he believes he was right to dismiss them.

Mythology is like that. We hear the stories as children, learn to doubt them as we approach adulthood, and ultimately return to them when we develop the wisdom to see the truth within their fiction.

I like the idea of people seeing the same images yet they are interpreted through their different
spiritual perspectives. What is your spiritual take on your novel?

I intend to play with this premise of multiple interpretations throughout the next two books in the Veins series.

In Veins, the first book, Axle’s great grandmother tries explaining the mysteries of the land by telling young Axle the stories she learned as a child. She believes that her stories are authentic American Indian tales, but her memory is foggy, and the things she knows are actually amalgams of second-hand myth and false memory. She passes these versions of her stories onto Axle, who in turn comes to his own understanding of them.

Eventually, Axle realizes that it doesn’t matter what he chooses to believe. He can rationalize and reinterpret the old stories all he wants, but reinterpretation doesn’t change his growing realization that the earth is alive … and it has plans for him.

You use Native American culture as a backdrop and use the spirits of the Earth. How do they work in the context of your novel?

The reference to Native American culture in the novel is an attempt to acknowledge that there are forces in the land that transcend contemporary culture.

Axle is a rural American kid with dreams of fast cars and open roads. As a child he longs to hit the highway and race off for parts unknown, but as his story progresses he realizes that his own front yard rests in the shadow of the biggest unknown of all.

The book’s allusions to indigenous cultures serve, I hope, as a reminder that our personal beliefs may be short-sighted, that we must look beyond ourselves for the big answers.

Your story hints and wrestles with the idea of something beyond this world. How does this idea work itself out in your writing and in your characters?

We live our lives in a moment of geologic time, and yet we consider ourselves masters of the earth. In Veins, Axle comes to realize the folly of such a conceit. The realization changes him. Indeed, it may very well kill him if he isn’t careful. I dare say no more. This element of the book is best discovered in the reading.

What are you working on? What can we look for next from you?

I’m also a musician. For the past few months I’ve been working on a collection of trance, rock, and ambient compositions designed to enhance the reading of Veins. Fantasist Enterprises plans to release the CD this Fall, but a nice preview is available at the novel’s promotional website: www.VeinsTheNovel.com. Beyond that, Fantasist is talking about bringing out a two-volume set of all of my previously published stories, nearly three decades of fiction bound up in two illustrated editions. Then there’s Vipers, the second novel in the Veins series, which is due to come out sometime next year.

And there are lots and lots of new stories and novelettes in the pipeline, things due out from Cemetery Dance, PS Publishing (where I’m doing music-inspired stories for anthologies based on the songs of Bruce Springsteen and Nick Cave), Ash-Tree Press, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Dark Hart Press, and others.

A lot of the new stuff is set in western Pennsylvania. The more I write, the more convinced I am that I’m getting close to something … a revelation of place … an uncovering of deep truths hidden right underfoot. That truth is out there somewhere, just beyond the point where the ground opens and the forest falls away. When I find it, I’ll let you know.

If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say “hi”, feel free to stop by my message board. We always welcome new voices to the conversation.