Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Derek McCormack answers rob mclennan's questions

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Derek McCormack answers rob mclennan's questions

Ottawa writer, editor and publisher rob mclennan has started the second series of his 12 or 20 questions and here is his recent interview with the ever-amazing Derek McCormack.

Derek McCormack's latest novel is The Show That Smells (ECW Press, 2008). His previous novel, The Haunted Hillbilly (ECW Press, 2003) was named a best book of the year by both the Globe and Mail and Village Voice, and was nominated for a Lambda Award for Best Gay Fiction. He lives in Toronto.

RM:

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

DM:

Dark Rides was my first book. It didn't sell so well, but because of it I got to meet some pretty great people. The Show That Smells is my most recent work. It's night and day different than Dark Rides. In Dark Rides, I was trying to capture real-life scenes, emotional situations I'd experienced. In The Show That Smells, I was trying to cast a spell, create a book that would somehow destroy all books. It didn't work.

RM:

2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?

DM:

I love to read poetry, but I can't write poetry to save my life. My poems are putrid. My stories are so full of useless facts — about carnivals, fashion, department stores — that I feel they're not fiction, or not completely not fiction.

RM:

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

DM:

I'm slow. When I sit down to write, I have a head full of ideas. When I write them out, I discover that my ideas are dreadful. A great idea in my head always turns out to be terrible on the page. So I discard my ideas and start from scratch. I write a paragraph at a time. A paragraph can take me weeks and weeks to write. I write a dozen drafts of a paragraph, and then keep the one that I loathe the least. At the end of writing a book, I have tens of thousands of dead words.

RM:

4 - Where does fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

DM:

I'm working on a book from the beginning. I have a set of obsessions — sequins, say, and country music, and perfume — and I spend months and years dreaming up a structure that will accommodate them all.

RM:

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

DM:

Readings aren't counter to my creative process, nor are they part of the process. They seem unrelated. It's awful when an audience turns on you.

RM:

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

DM:

I have theoretical concerns. They are way behind my writing, way, way in the background. That's where they should stay. I will say this: I want to write something Satanic.

RM:

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

DM:

I hope writing becomes fashionable again with young fags. Then maybe I can be a Daddy?

RM:

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

DM:

I love to be edited. I love seeing my stuff transformed and deformed by someone else. I learn about writing every time someone works on my writing.

RM:

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

DM:

Ken Sparling: "Write what you like. Don't write anything else."

RM:

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (fiction to critical/creative prose)? What do you see as the appeal?

DM:

I write fashion pieces for the National Post. I write to a deadline — sometimes I have to turn a piece around in a couple hours. The pressure is good for me: I must trust my instincts. By instincts, I'm referring to a bag of tricks I've accumulated over the years.

RM:

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

DM:

Coffee, toast, some internetting — then writing. I try to write four or five hours a day. I've done this since 1867.

RM:

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

DM:

There's nothing to turn to when I'm stalled. I pace, I wander the streets, I lie face-down in bed and berate myself. I beat myself up until something breaks.

RM:

13 - What fairy tale character do you resonate with most?

DM:

I don't like fairy tales.

RM:

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

DM:

I am envious of friends who are visual artists. They are braver and bolder than me.

RM:

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

DM:

Jack Spicer's on my mind these days.

RM:

16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

DM:

I wish I were an accessories designer.

RM:

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

DM:

I had it in my head from an early age that I was a writer. Someone should have smacked some sense into me.

RM:

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

DM:

Au Bonheur des Dames by Zola.

RM:

19 - What are you currently working on?

DM:

I'm starting the third novel in my "Country Music" trilogy. Book One: The Haunted Hillbilly. Book Two: The Show That Smells. Book Three (tentatively titled): Toys That Don't Care.

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