For a long time I preferred science fiction to horror and dark fantasy. Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury were among my favorites, still are, actually. Clarke taught me how to keep readers turning the pages by appealing to their sense of wonder, while Bradbury clued me in to the power of place. I like to think that those things still influence my writing today.
It was Stephen King who first got me interested in horror and dark fantasy. His collection Night Shift had a tremendous influence, particularly in the way it merged the uncanny and the mundane.
Today I am reading a lot of Cormack McCarthy. The Road is a masterpiece.
Can you tell us a little about your Veins series? How about This Way To Egress?
The title Veins refers to geologic formations that are sometimes called "veins of coal." These are horizontal deposits pressed between layers of rock. In western Pennsylvania, where Veins is set, these formations are frequently exposed on hillsides that have been cutaway to make room for roads and buildings. They are also laid bare during surface mining, and it is that process that lies at the heart of the Veins Cycle. The narrative takes place in and around an abandoned surface mine in western Pennsylvania.
The title also relates to life and blood. The Veins Cycle presents the earth as a living thing, an organism capable of being wounded beyond healing. That's the crux of the story, and the title gives us that.
I’m working on the third Veins book now. When it’s finished, the three books – Veins,Vipers, and Vortex – will form a cycle rather than a series or a trilogy. The result will be something fairly unique, a set of three linked supernatural thrillers that curve and intertwine as well as follow in sequence. That’s all I’m willing to give away at the moment. All will be revealed when the third book is released in late 2012.
This Way to Egress collects my horror stories from the past 30 years, reprinting tales from Amazing Stories, Twilight Zone, Cemetery Dance, Year’s Best Horror, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. It also features an essay titled “Ingress,” which talks about how the stories came to be. The book is available from Ash-Tree Press – a Canadian publisher known for uncompromising quality. It’s a beautiful edition.
You also composed a soundtrack for the series, how long have you been writing music? How is music part of your writing process? Every aspiring writer reading this will also want to know: which gets you more chicks: writing or being a musician?
Terrific questions. I’ll take each in order.
I started writing and performing music in high school, got serious about it in college, and have more or less stuck with it ever since, although lately my writing deadlines are keeping me from doing much in the way of live performances.
Not long ago, music was a big part of my writing process. For years I played a mix of German techno, new-age jazz, club and classical music while writing my stories, but I stopped doing that around the time that Fantasist Enterprises commissioned Veins: The Soundtrack (the CD of instrumental tracks inspired by the novel). I still listen to a lot of music, but these days I prefer writing to the music in my head.
As for the last question. Writing or music? Definitely music.
2nd person writing is not something a lot of people do well, but I thought Aberrations was nice creepy piece. What made you decide to use second person?
“Aberrations,” the lead story in my collection Visions, is inspired by the openings of the classic television shows The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. The collection is kind of a tribute to both of those, as is evidenced by the television on the book’s cover.
“Aberrations” is also a bit of an homage to the Bob Leman story “Instructions,” which first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and has since been reprinted in Bob’s retrospective collection Feasters in the Lake. The book is currently out of print, but I recently saw a copy available on Amazon for $225.00. Worth every cent!
Bob was a Pittsburgh writer. He lived for many years in the South Hills, and I finally got to meet him after I had been following his work for many years. The resulting friendship continued until his death in 2004.
I write about Bob in my forthcoming book Voices, which will be a collection of stories and memoirs. Very excited about that book.
There's always a lot of talk about how horror as a genre is on the upswing or the downswing in terms of both sales and quality. Where do you feel the genre is in terms of the quality of writing? Who is pushing the boundaries of the genre in your opinion?
I have never worried about trends, or whether the market is shrinking or booming. I just write what I want, and fortunately I have never had a problem selling my work to publishers.
Where is the genre in terms of quality? Well, if we’re talking about professionally written and edited material (versus the glut of unedited self-published books that seem to be flooding the market), the quality is pretty much where it has always been.
People today like to talk about pushing boundaries, and I suppose that’s good. Art is all about experimentation, trying new things, seeing what works – but the pushingisn’t as important as the breaking through. There’s no glory in trying and failing. But trying and succeeding, setting out to do something and actually pulling it off? That’s what matters.
Who’s doing that today? Cormac McCarthy, to be sure. And James Morrow, too. His books are really something special. Go back ten years, and I’d point to Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, an intriguing blend of form and content.
This weekend you were on a panel about making your readers squirm, and there were definitely a few scenes in Vipers that were squirm-worthy! Where do you think the line is, for you as a writer, that you won't cross? Do you think the rising focus on extreme violence in horror movies has changed where horror writers draw that line?
Yes, that panel was at GenCon in Indianapolis. What a convention! Over 30,000 people. Very exciting!
At the panel, I shared highlights from the opening essay in my forthcoming collection Voices. The essay is title “The Haunted Attic: 1961,” and it deals in part with why I prefer dramatic tension to overt violence. I plan on sharing those same highlights from Voices when I visit Eljay’s next month.
As for horror films, the ones that really work for me are the ones that avoid extreme violence. I think that David Slade’s Hard Candy is a masterpiece. Talk about squirm inducing!
Finally, the best interview question I was ever asked for a bookstore job: How long should a book be?
Long enough to resolve the plot, but short enough to keep the reader wanting more.
Lawrence C Connolly will be signing his works and discussing the craft of writing at Eljay's Books in Dormont on Saturday, September 24th at 3pm. For more information you can email Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the store at 412-344-7444.