The Conscious Interview of Eric McCormack

Eric McCor­ma­ck the first.

Eric McCor­ma­ck is known for his blend of the absurd and the exis­ten­tial, of crime and the goth­ic. His 1997 nov­el, First Blast of the Trum­pet Against the Mon­strous Reg­i­ment of Women, was short-list­ed for the Gov­er­nor General’s Award for Fic­tion. Inspect­ing the Vaults (1987) was short-list­ed for the Com­mon­wealth Writer’s Prize, and The Par­adise Motel (1989) won the Scot­tish Coun­cil Book Prize. Eric has been laud­ed by The New York Times Book Review as “a mas­ter styl­ist.” His first nov­el in more than a decade, Cloud, is a dark sto­ry about the nature of love.

Let’s get the obvi­ous ques­tion out of the way: why the twelve-year wait for a new nov­el?

Dur­ing the twelve year gap, there were a num­ber of dif­fi­cult changes for me. I moved away from Water­loo, where I’d lived for thir­ty years, to Kingston. A year or so after­wards, I retired from acad­e­mia and, thus, from the very sup­port­ive envi­ron­ment writ­ers find there. Oth­er, per­son­al mat­ters (I know you’d love to hear all about them!) cropped up. So, plug­ging away at the nov­el-in-progress (Cloud) became an enjoy­able dis­trac­tion-in-progress, and I wasn’t all that keen on get­ting it fin­ished.

How did Cloud come about, sto­ry-wise?

Cloud began with an image from a dream—which, in turn, spawned a nar­ra­tive.

The cloud of Cloud refers to an obsid­i­an cloud that pur­port­ed­ly descend­ed upon a Scot­tish town­ship, lead­ing to rumors of explod­ing eye­balls in chil­dren (among oth­er unsub­stan­ti­at­ed events). What does the cloud rep­re­sent, if any­thing?

Who knows what, if any­thing, the cloud rep­re­sents? I’m not say­ing that just to be obtuse. But the nice thing about these images that emerge out of the uncon­scious, ful­ly-formed, is that they don’t respond much to log­ic. No mat­ter how hard you chip away at them, they nev­er seem to reveal much except oth­er ways of say­ing the same thing.

Cloud revis­its many of what I’ll call your “McCor­ma­ck­ian” tropes: unex­plained phe­nom­e­na, orphans, moral­ly dubi­ous sci­ence, South Pacif­ic locales, trag­ic deaths, mis­tak­en iden­ti­ties. Is there a secret (hope­ful­ly scan­dalous) rea­son behind this? Enquir­ing minds want to know!

Any read­er, after the first few pages of a nov­el, can’t help think­ing: What kind of per­son would write such a book as this? The ques­tion is soon answered, for even the var­i­ous devices and dis­guis­es used in the book don’t real­ly con­ceal the writer’s obses­sions. Hence, a per­son with just such obses­sions is the per­son who’ll write just such a book!

Sim­i­lar­ly, many events of your past works weave their ways through your var­i­ous nar­ra­tives. The one-legged min­ers of Inspect­ing the Vaults, the unnerv­ing speech virus of The Mys­teri­um; do you see your nov­els and sto­ries as pieces of one larg­er sto­ry?

This goes back to the ear­li­er ques­tions. Some images are so per­plex­ing and entic­ing, I enjoy going back to them, turn­ing them around, look­ing at them from dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives to see what emerges this time.

You tend to poke fun at your past works, e. shelves of books with titles such as Last Blast of the Cor­net and A Dutch Wife (instead of First Blast of the Trum­pet and The Dutch Wife). Why the self-inflict­ed wound­ing of your out­put?

It’s amus­ing (sort of) that these nar­ra­tors should be much more per­cep­tive than the writer who sup­pos­ed­ly ‘cre­ates’ them.

Your work has been described as “Cana­di­an goth­ic.” What does the term mean to you? How do you feel about the term? Is it accu­rate?

My pub­lish­er and I have gone through this prob­lem with each of my books, try­ing to fig­ure out how to cat­e­go­rize them. The places I’ve lived in and been affect­ed by—the Dick­en­sian slums of old Glas­gow, the in-bred min­ing vil­lages of the Scot­tish Uplands, the super­fi­cial­ly respectable towns of South­ern Ontario, the exot­ic Coral Sea area of Aus­tralia, the south­ern parts of Mexico—all do have “Goth­ic” pos­si­bil­i­ties. On the oth­er hand, I was nev­er a big fan of tra­di­tion­al Goth­ic nov­els. Prob­a­bly these labels are always too restric­tive.

What does Eric McCor­ma­ck read?

I very much enjoy read­ing the old stuff, even books I’d trou­ble with when I was too young to appre­ci­ate them, for exam­ple, Proust’s Remem­brance of Things Past (they’ve changed that icon­ic title in new translations—now it’s In Search of Lost Time!), or Thackeray’s Pen­den­nis, or James’ Ambas­sadors. I also re-read Con­rad and Hardy. I dab­ble in phi­los­o­phy (still look­ing for truth in all the wrong places), from A.J. Ayer to Hilary Put­nam, and phi­lo-socio-anthro-psy­cho guys like Clif­ford Geertz, James Hill­man, etc. I try to keep up with con­tem­po­rary writ­ing: late­ly I espe­cial­ly liked Javier Marias’ novels—very creepy stuff.

Eric McCor­ma­ck the sec­ond.

If Cana­di­an author Eric McCor­ma­ck ever met Cana­di­an actor Eric McCor­ma­ck, would the world cease to exist? Or would the union result in an überEric?

Over the years, I’ve received emails and inquiries meant for the actor, Eric McCor­ma­ck. I’ve seen clips of Will & Grace, but pre­fer movies to reg­u­lar tv. When he was an actor at Strat­ford dur­ing the ‘80’s, I was teach­ing at Water­loo. One or two peo­ple actu­al­ly thought I was that Eric—or he was me. He’s obvi­ous­ly a fine actor!

Would you have any rec­om­men­da­tions for hol­i­day gift-givers starv­ing for ideas?

Give some­one a good bot­tle of scotch and a gift-cer­tifi­cate to a local inde­pen­dent book-sell­er.

Com­ing soon: The Sub­con­scious Inter­view!