Derek McCormack - a play script “séance”: a fashion show by the dead for the living. In the depths of the Civil War, in a theater in P. T. Barnum’s American Museum on Broadway, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln participate in a staged spiritualistic rite

Derek McCormack, The Well-Dressed Wound, Semiotext(e), 2015.
Derek McCormack Website

The Well-Dressed Wound is Derek McCormack's play script "séance": a fashion show by the dead for the living. In the depths of the Civil War, in a theater in P. T. Barnum's American Museum on Broadway, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln participate in a staged spiritualistic rite. But the medium conducting them has invited along another being: the Devil, disguised as twentieth-century French fashionista Martin Margiela (aka "King Faggot"). What follows is the most fiendish runway show ever mounted, complete with war dead, deconstructed couture, and gay ghosts infected with all manner of infectious agents, including oozy AIDS.

While his previous fictions have explored the darker corners of country music, high fashion, and camp, The Well-Dressed Wound is McCormack's most radical work yet, occultishly evoking the evil-twin muses of transgressive literature, Kathy Acker and Pierre Guyotat. The creation thus conjured is a gleeful grotesquerie, a savage satire not so much of fashion as of death, a work that, as Bruce Hainley observes in Artforum, puts "the 'pus' back in opus." Here death and life spin on a viral double helix of contamination and couture, blistering and bandages, history and hysteria, semen and seams. "Being dead is so very now," Hainley opines. "This tiny tome (a time bomb, a tomb) is to die for and radically alive."


Welcome to The Well-Dressed Wound

    The play is presented by P.T. Barnum. It's being staged in the theater at Barnum's American Museum on Broadway.

    The play depicts a seance that takes place in a parlor in the presidential palace, the White House in Washington, D.C.
    The characters:
    The Medium, a woman wearing a black shawl.
    Mary Todd Lincoln, the First Lady. She's in a black dress. She's in mourning for her son, Willie, who died when he was eleven.
    Abraham Lincoln, the President of the United States. He's in a sack suit. The suit's black for Willie's sake and for the country's sake -- the Civil War's made the shade de rigueur.
The cast: The Medium's played by Nettie Coburn Maynard, a clairvoyant who conducted a seance for President and Mrs. Lincoln at the White House in 1862. Mary Todd Lincoln's played by Mary Todd Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln's Abraham Lincoln.
    I'm Willie.

Joey: The villains are the heroes of your books, glamorous, funny, and often, like in The Show that Smells, the good guys are either idiots or sad sacks that get what they've got coming. Jimmie Rogers is constantly coughing up sputum and moaning, while Schiaparelli has page after page of glorious dead baby joke monologuing and these great insane dresses. What do you think is so compelling about evil? You first introduced me to Night of the Hunter, and Robert Mitchum owns that movie with his weird beautiful singing as he stalks those children. He's like Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight. He's bigger than the movie. Do you think that evil could be as compelling in real life? Do you think it'd be as fun, in real life? As much of a performance?
Derek: I dream of being evil. I have dreamt this dream since I was a child -- I wanted so badly to be the wicked witch from The Wizard of Oz. I carried a wooden wand around until I was, um, ten? A neighbour carved a wooden rifle for me so that I could play soldier or shoot-'em-up or whatever. I didn't mind playing with guns but I would always wind up waving the rifle around as if it were a wand. I wanted to cast spells. With The Show That Smells, I had a very clear vision: I wanted to write a book that was a spell that would destroy all the books in the world. Well, maybe not all the books, but CanLit at least. I love when the gays start making magic: I'm thinking of Kenneth Anger and others, but mainly of Jack Spicer and the incantatory tone of some of his stuff. I'm thinking of Jack Spicer because he was my patron saint! Gay, ugly, alone. Glamour's what guys like us dream of -- an evil glamour that doesn't make us beautiful but that changes what beauty is. I guess this is not what most people imagine when they imagine evil -- they think of serial killers and people who put poison in parks for dogs to discover. I think of The Joker, another childhood hero. Evil is art that can make evil real. Tell me, Joey, when you were younger, did you like superheroes or villains? I don't see much evil in your books -- there are monsters, but they're often there to test family ties, or the limits of fidelity, or so it seems to me. That said, the things you've been writing lately have certainly been more brutal and bananas -- are you digging into your dark side in a different way?
Joey: You don't seem particularly flaky to me, so when you say "a magic spell" I read that as a sort of trick. An illusion or sleight of hand. A glamourousness that makes it hard for the reader/viewer to recognize evil as evil, even when it's clear that this is the villain. The poor sap characters in the movie know that Freddy is the bad guy, but half the audience is getting bored whenever he's not on screen. Part of his evil is making evil seductive and fun. Evil is art that can make Evil sexy?
As for whether I liked heroes or villains, I'm not sure. When I was a kid I liked Spider-Man. The hero aspect of him didn't really interest me. I didn't care about great power coming with great responsibility. I liked his jokes and one liners. But that doesn't answer your question. I was never interested in comic book villains, I wasn't particularly interested in the heroes either. The first comic I remember LOVING was Sam & Max. They're villains pretending to be heroes, I think. Maybe vice-versa. Good and evil don't matter in that world. Those concepts are just helpful setups to jokes. The characters are complete unbridled impulse. ("What should I do with this bomb, Max?" - "Throw it out the window, Sam, there's nobody but strangers out there.") They're irreverent in the best way. Those are the kind of villains I love.
The book you mentioned that I'm writing, Bible Camp Bloodbath, has a villain like that. He's making jokes while murdering children. He's got no back story, no deep psychological motivation, he's just having a really good time. It was so much fun to write something like that. So giddy.
You've been working a lot with visual artists, and on visual art lately. Do you think it's possible for visual art to have evil in it? Or to express evil in a fun way without losing its impact? I guess I mean, is there a place for villains in art? Or architecture? That doctor's house in Chicago around the time of the Chicago fair was the site of dozens of murders. But with its trap doors and fake walls, it has the surreal fun of a grisly puzzle. I could hear the glee in your voice when you told me about that place. But that's a different kind of horrific. There's not really any glamour to that house, is there? Why is it so fascinating? 

Derek: Oh, but there was glamour to the murder castle – there was a jewelry shop on the first floor! The murder castle is evil because of the murders that took place there, sure, but that’s not so interesting to me. The machinery of the castle – trap doors, sliding walls, dead-end corridors, etc – that’s what kills me. I’ve written about it before – it seems to me to have influenced the development of carnival dark rides and amusement park haunted houses. It’s not the murders I love, it’s the murder castle as tourist attraction. It’s the carnival haunted house that can’t possibly be as scary as it pretends to be.
It's like: when I was a kid, I would consult the Ouija board, which I knew was a dumb board game -- still, I would play it late at night with friends and we'd scare ourselves. And in that late-night fright I would always feel the hope that it could be real, even though it couldn't be real, but what if it could? The evil I care about is Disney evil, it’s Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty – what if that type of evil, which is so operatic and elegant, could come out of the cartoon and into the world? That would be crackerjack and catastrophic. That’s the black magic I care about, that I try to conjure in my books. It’s a laughable dream I have, laughable and probably impossible, but it’s still better than dreaming of winning the ReLit Award or getting a Canada Council grant, don’t you think?
Joey: You don't think a Canada Council arts grant would help out in the quest to create that perfect Disney evil? 
Derek: Sure it would. I could get new glasses. I could get dental surgery. But Canada Council grants aren't for such as I. Anyway, I'm going to write the books I want to write whether or not I get grants. It'll just take me longer. And I won't be able to see very clearly. And I won't be able to chew. Seems to me you've got a good thing going: the web comic is profitable and pays for your writing time.
Joey: I am not complaining, it's great to be able to just write. But I have friends around me who followed other career paths that I kind of turned away from. I used to program computers, for instance. There's money in that. So I have friends who are doing very well. They're buying houses, or condos, you know. And I'm week to week hoping that I have enough for food or rent, but I turned away from those careers for a reason. That lifestyle wasn't for me. If I'm gonna work ten hours a day, I want it to be on something completely crazy, and yeah that doesn't pay as well. I get jealous of the security my friends have. Or I get jealous of their sweet TVs. But I convince myself that it's a fair trade off because I can fuck off for the day to go skateboarding if I want. And I have time to write.
Derek: There's nothing I'd rather do than sit and write, but I don't get to do it too much. I have to work. All in all, work is a boon: I've had to learn to write non-fiction, and all kinds of non-fiction, newspaper columns, magazine articles, essays. I've written art catalogues and worked at a gallery and collaborated with visual artists, all of which has been a blast. I've spent a lot of time in retail. It's tiring, but it's in my blood -- I've been working retail since I was a kid. It's the thing I do best. The bookstore I work at now is terrific and also trying. It's a strange time for bookstores. The business is changing, and everybody's trying to figure out which way it's going to go. -

The premise of Derek McCormack's new novel, The Well-Dressed Wound, is pretty simple on its face. A play presented by P.T. Barnum at his American Museum on Broadway in New York City (a location that burned to the ground in 1865), in which Abe and Mary Todd Lincoln take part in a séance in a parlor of the White House. The medium is played by Nettie Colburn, a woman who actually performed such events for Mrs. Lincoln in the 1800s. Colburn channels Willie Lincoln, the third son of Mary Todd and Abe who died at age 12. When he appears Colburn is wearing a suit by the notorious fashion designer Martin Margiela. Margiela is then also channeled into the room, in the form of Satan, "the king of fashion in Hell." After that, things start to get weird.
What transpires over the 71 pages of The Well-Dressed Wound evoke a wide range of effects and not-quite-nameable emotions. Margiela's ghost unveils his latest line, which features mostly repurposed clothing all painted white, with a runway show. As the models strut the designer stands spouting furious monologues about death, sickness, gay sex, war, pronouncing everything he's made and everything around him both haunted and plagued with AIDS. The ongoing spectacle feels intense, bending the lines between the historical and the fantastical, the reverent with the spiteful, the high-end aesthetic with blood and cum. It's like you're laughing and then the laughing hurts and then you aren't laughing anymore, which as an experience delivered on paper couldn't feel more immediate.
But for as wild and spastic as this book seems, it exudes the feeling of intense desire, one that surpasses hate and terror by throwing confetti in death's face. It doesn't try to explain the anatomy of terror, but to embody it, dress it up in costumes. For the reader who feels like nine-tenths of everything is already underwater, this book brings the heat.
Derek McCormack took the time to answer some of my questions about his book in the context of his battle with cancer while writing it, the effect of fashion in the face of death, and his fury both for and against writing.
VICE: It's clear from the first page of The Well-Dressed Wound that it takes on a tone and scope unlike almost anything else that has been put on paper. Where did the conception of this book begin? Derek McCormack: I don't know how novel what I wrote is. At times I think of it as a fashion book—like the promotional literature designers send out as publicity, or like the statements that designers distribute at fashion shows or leave on the seats for editors to read. When I was writing it I was thinking of it as a publicity project for Maison Martin Margiela. I don't understand why the Maison hasn't bought boxes of it!
The conception, well, I wanted to write about Margiela, whom I adore. I had written about Nudie and Hank Williams in The Haunted Hillbilly, and about Schiaparelli and Jimmie Rodgers in The Show That Smells, and this was supposed to be the third book in a trilogy about country music and fashion. I never publicized that it was a trilogy; I never told my publishers that it was a trilogy. The third book would be Margiela and Stephen Foster.
Then I got cancer, and the cancer almost killed me, and then the cancer treatment almost killed me, and then I spent a year lying in a bed waiting for an infection or complication to kill me. And I was writing but I needed the book to be more than the other books had been. The book had to save me, or show me a way that I could be saved. I do have that feeling with fashion sometimes—that a brooch can make my life better, or that a bracelet might turn my world around. So I wanted to write a Margiela book that was a Margiela brooch—stunning and useless and in on its own uselessness. I feel that I succeeded in that way. The book could be pinned to a coat and worn as a brooch, or be strung with a chain and worn as a necklace or bracelet. It could be a purse—a terrible purse, but a purse.
Anyway my book brooch has saved me so far.
I'm glad you found a way for the brooch of the book to be a place of focus during such a hard time. And I'm not surprised this book emerged at least partly from such a complex emotional condition, because for as beautifully bizarre as its conceit is, there's a great deal of energy lurking here, a kind of fury and ecstasy at the same time. Did this come out during the shift between your beginning the book and then getting sick? And how did your approach to writing it (or writing at all) at the edge of death change? I think that fury and ecstasy is an incredible description of what I was going through. The cancer changed the way I wrote in obvious ways—I had all these new holes and I kept leaking pus and blood onto my laptop.
I thought: I might have only a little time left. Should I spend it writing? I decided that the answer was yes, mainly because I was too broke and weak to do anything more exciting. It was hard to live life to the fullest when I was shitting constantly.
I decided that my book had to be brief, briefer than my other books. My other books suddenly seemed wordy to me. I decided that I didn't have the time to write something wordy, and I didn't have the wherewithal. I was not going to write about a struggle with cancer because it was no struggle. I capitulated completely to it. It fucked me completely. Writing the book was totally ignoble. My book wasn't going to be a triumph of my spirit; it was going to be a trifle of my spirit.
Which was fine because I love trifles!
I have always loved fashion for its capriciousness and its cruelty. I mean, I love that fashion destroys individuality or identity. I always dreamed of disappearing in designer clothes. What a way to go! I was aware that cancer had the same effect—it had so much power, a Satanic-seeming power, to make me disappear. Somebody suggested that the cancer was a fashion, that I was wearing it, but the truth is it was wearing me. I was a fad that death fell for for a while. Which is why I say in the book that death is a form of fashion and AIDS is a form of death—fashion is at the top, it's all-powerful, and there was a thrill when I was swept up in it. It was magisterial. Also, it was ghastly.
Writing in the face of death seems like a rebellion somehow, which I like, because the book itself feels like a rebellion—not only against the idea of death (there are zombies and ghosts everywhere), but against books themselves, and against patriotism, or war. Margiela says, "Faggots love to die!" and Mary Todd Lincoln's response is just: " !" Certain passages of the book feel like a machine gun shooting exclamation points and the words "faggot" and "AIDS" into the face of the reader over and over. I wonder if you would talk about the choices of those words and what they inflict? A rebellion against books sounds right in a way, though I don't have a reason to rebel against them, or I don't have a good reason—only a general anger or disgust or something. When I was writing The Show That Smells , I dreamed it would somehow have the power to destroy all books. Why would I want that? Because I want it.
The things you said about the word faggot are as close as I can come to a clue. I'm a faggot, I always preferred faggot to queer or gay. I've been called a faggot my whole life so I don't feel bad about using that word—it's mine. When I was a kid, and kids called me faggot, and adults called me faggot, I always said: "Yes, I am. I'm as vile and perverted as you think I am. I'm even more vile." I mean, I've always thought of myself as disgusting physically and mentally. I still do. It seemed stupid to deny it, and it seemed smart to push the faggotry as far as it would go, to make myself worse than worse. I make my violence against myself worse than any violence against me, and maybe by doing so I do some violence to the world.
I guess what I'm saying is that I don't know if I'm staging rebellions so much as I'm siding with death and encouraging a catastrophe against books. I sort of picture fashion replacing books, and that's another catastrophe, but it sure would be stylish!
I like the idea of "a catastrophe against books," which for me always came out of a feeling of wanting more from them. Do you ever imagine the reactions of readers as you are writing? Are you directly addressing an audience, dead or alive? I wanted to impress Martin Margiela, wherever he is and whatever he's doing. The guy's a ghost, so I'm trying to impress a ghost. The book's a sort of seance that way. He's living and dead.
I do like to picture reactions to the book. I want readers to be repulsed by it, and by me, but I want them to be impressed, too. The book is a fuck you to literature and to life and I want readers to get that, and then to admire the gall of it. I want to piss people off and to have them praise me for it. It's been like that with all my books—I always want to write stupid and shiny things that have to be admired for the artfulness of their stupidity and shininess.
I'm performing, really. I like to think of my books as performances—like magic shows, or fashion shows. I like them to be short and shocking and maybe sickening. Thanks to the disease, this book is an especially effective fuck you, I think. When I was writing it, I thought it could only be published posthumously, so I went all out. I always try to write all out but I have to tell you, it's easier to do when you're at death's door and a little demented. - Blake Butler

In a year that saw sprawling epics like Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life and Larry Kramer’s The American People, Volume 1, Search for My Heart, Derek McCormack’s latest, The Well-Dressed Wound, is contrastively petite; as anorexic as a runway model, or the runaway ghost of a runway model (who died from anorexia). It can be read and digested in one sitting, no problem. It feels even slenderer than his previous, and comparable, book The Show that Smells. And like The Show that Smells, it can be wrapped up to pass as fiction but is really something else. In the strange case of The Well-Dressed Wound, it could be typified as a closet drama. It is a play being presented by P.T. Barnum at his American Museum on Broadway. The play concerns a séance performed by Nettie Colburn Maynard for the benefit of Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln, who desire to be reunited with the spirit of their “faggot” son Willie (here played by Derek McCormack).
Okay, so a few things. First of all, apparently such White House séances with Nettie the clairvoyant are a matter of historical record. They probably weren’t dramatized by P.T. Barnum, however, and they couldn’t have unfolded quite as McCormack envisions them. For, while poor departed Willie does step out of the spirit cabinet, he is followed by none other than the Devil, here embodied by the fashion designer Martin Margiela. There is no plot beyond that. Plot is irrelevant. It’s not fashionable. The text is divided into five acts, comprised of many scenes of various lengths, but they serve more as punctuation than anything that structures a narrative. The acts and the scenes, the acts and the scenes, “Act Two // Scene One // I step out of the spirit cabinet. // Scene Two,” recall Gertrude Stein’s dramatic writing more than anything else. Also, the text continues after the “play” is over. There is quite the curtain call. More on that later.
McCormack’s creation is also like Gertrude Stein’s plays in that it has no concern for the traditional conceits of drama and does not represent something that could be dramatized without considerable interpretation. There’s a lot of what could be called stage direction, narrated by Derek—who, remember, is also playing Willie, the dead faggot son of the 16th president of the United States. Abraham Lincoln and his wife, for their parts, speak mostly in exclamation marks because their words are white (thus invisible to the reader, since they’re the same color as the page). When asked whether he agreed that his book is a closet drama, the author replied: “I’d love to typify it that way, though I have only a glancing knowledge of closet dramas. I mean, I’ve never read a real closet drama—though maybe I wrote one? I never thought for a second that my book would be performed, though I held out hope that someone could figure out how it could be performed—how to make the exclamation marks come to life, how to make ghosts appear, how to get all the original Margiela garments that the ghosts are wearing. It’s a closet play in one sense but it could be a theatrical spook show of some sort, with illusions.” At this point, the Pepper’s Ghost illusion was suggested to Mr. McCormack. That’s how all the ghouls float around in the ballroom of the Haunted Mansion attraction at Disneyland. It’s called the Pepper’s Ghost illusion. “Pepper’s Ghost, perfection. And maybe Phantasmagoric tricks: images projected on smoke or translucent scrims. Something to punctuate the stage the way that my punctuation decorates the pages. It’s a closet play that could become a stage magic show.”
The Well-Dressed Wound is at once minimal and decadent, which is an interesting feat, and which aligns it with the fashion design that McCormack loves. While he might reject that idea (“There’s no way a big rhinestone brooch can be minimalist”), his work has a creepy duality to it, where it’s both weightless and full at once, empty spaces riven with blood and guts, semen and shit, then adorned by costume jewelry. It’s required reading for those who could not be called the usual suspects. A neoconservative perfume-obsessed chunky Texan fag with a penchant for the pornographic novels of Samuel R. Delany. A redheaded ex-twink stoner who wears haute couture t-shirts and makes his friends sit on his hideously uncomfortable Eames sofa while lecturing on Comme des Garçons, Jean Harlow, or the 1964 film Lady in a Cage. Semiotext(e) published it as a trade paperback, but a version was also released as a limited edition art object—very fitting. It’s wrapped in gauze, bandaged, bleeding out a ruby. Inside the dressing, things are cataloged, listed, repeated. It is a book of fixation, desire, longing, and death. This has yet to be mentioned, but here it is: it’s a text of disease and dying. It’s a text of disease and dying wrung through the stylized lenses of camp, of adoration, of queer satire. As the Devil (aka King Faggot) says, “Faggots love to die!” but “If there’s anything faggots love more that death… it’s fashion.”
The blood-drenched parade of faggot ghosts that is this book is was totally informed by McCormack’s own brush with death (the bristles of the brush were made out of broken glass, plastic tubing, and hanks of wire)—a few years ago: he was very sick, it was cancer, it was surgery, it was pain, it was his insides oozing out of new holes in his body, getting all over his computer as he typed, which he once said he thought was “beyond Genet.” In an interview that touched on writing the book through this near-death ordeal, he said that he found himself realizing, “I’m really angry, and nothing interests me that doesn’t sound offensive to me, that isn’t screaming at myself or screaming at someone else.” When the spirit cabinet opens and the ghosts and demons emerge, he mashes up the AIDS plague with the body horror of Civil War casualties. Everybody has AIDS; everything has AIDS. “The walls have AIDS! The chandeliers have AIDS! The mirrors have AIDS, so all the reflections are the same: AIDS!” All the dead soldiers, Union and Confederate, are faggots killed by AIDS. They might be all wearing Margiela, but they’re “blasted so full of bullets that they’re wearing their suits on the inside.” Holy shit. Of course, humor suffuses this gruesomeness, as with the joke, “What’s it called when clothes commit suicide? Deconstruction.”
When the Devil appears to the Lincolns, he doesn’t terrorize but wow. Even the spirit of young Willie is astonished. Even Stephen Foster, the old songwriter who pops onstage from his seat in the audience, is transfixed and aroused by the brash depravity that Margiela pulls with him out of Hell. “I want AIDS! I want more AIDS! I want my AIDS to die of AIDS!” bellows Stephen Foster (author of ditties like “O, Susanna!” and “Camptown Races”), begging for the Devil to fuck him into white death. Everything is colored white, from cum, to the virus within it, to the clothes and accessories modeled by spirits, to the president’s words, to the house he lives in, to the inside of a hangman’s hood. There is much white space on the page, which is otherwise littered with the words faggot, AIDS, and fashion. During the curtain call (the curtain is white), all the Union dead, all the Confederate dead, all the “unknown” dead rush the stage for their standing ovation. All they have to say is “faggot”—over and over and over and over and over. McCormack writes, “I cheer. It’s patriotic.”
What does it all mean? That is, maybe, an unanswered question—which is okay. Like how the text pauses near the end to bluntly ask, “What did they die for?” before moving on as if the inquiry was either never made or is so important that it is imprinted in the DNA of every inky sentence and every white field. When asked, “What is your relationship to white? Why is everything white?” the author replied: “White was Margiela’s signature—white shopping bags, white boxes, white labels. Clothes painted white. White is mostly medical for me—bandages, gauze, surgical gowns, nurses’ shoes. Whiteness and its supposed sterility. And then: pus.” McCormack realizes a white Warholian slipperiness tinged with terminal honesty, uncomfortable humanity at its most gross. Warhol as painted by Neel, post Solanas assassination attempt: his whitewashed body lumpy and covered in painful scars (which once, to be sure, were sutures that oozed white pus).
What a coincidence it is that this is not the only book this year that portrays Abraham Lincoln as a faggot with AIDS. Larry Kramer technically got there first, in his scathing, queer, revisionist opus The American People. Similarly to McCormack, with Kramer all the men are faggots, all have AIDS. (Kramer sees the syndrome as so anachronistically ubiquitous that he calls it “the Underlying Condition” of American legend.) George Washington is a “big queen” because, “He decorated everything. He designed all the uniforms, the buttons.” Kramer has a unique and convoluted theory about the Lincoln assassination, having to do with murderous obsession, sexual jealousy, and the deformed penis of John Wilkes Booth. As McCormack tells it, Abe declaims some bland platitudes about the meaning of the Civil War before getting shot in the head by Margiela, after which he has very different things to say: “I’m dead! … I’m a dead faggot! … I’m a dead faggot from AIDS!” and “I finally see the Civil War for what it is … a war fought by faggots for the glory of fashion … It’s a ghost war.” It seems as if both McCormack and Kramer are taking the trauma of having death inside and around them and exploding it into the fabric of history. The results are very different, but true to form for each author.
McCormack is an odd duck who produces gorgeous mirror mazes through which his fancy and brutal themes romp and multiply. Something a la Grand Guignol spectacle but with a lot of down home North American heart thrown in. He has been lauded by the likes of Dennis Cooper, Guy Maddin, Kevin Killian, Edmund White, John Waters, and Bruce Hainley. Withstanding stiff competition, The Well-Dressed Wound might be the best queer book of the year. McCormack once mentioned that when it looked like he might not survive cancer, his greatest wish was to finish writing a last book before he died. One wonders if he also hoped it would be an amazing book. Here is proof that sometimes, not always but sometimes, dreams do come true. - Lonely Christopher


Derek McCormack, The Show that Smells, ECW Press, 2009.

The Show That Smells is the most SHOCKING story ever shown on the silver screen! It’s also the tale of Jimmie, a country music singer dying of tuberculosis, and Carrie, his wife, who tries to save him by selling her soul to a devil who designs haute couture clothing! Elsa is a powerful Parisian dress designer, and a vampire. She wants to make Carrie look beautiful, smell beautiful—and then she wants to eat her! Will Carrie survive as her slave? Will Jimmie be cured? Starring a host of Hollywood’s brightest stars, including Coco Chanel, Lon Chaney and the Carter Family, The Show That Smells is a thrilling tale of hillbillies, high fashion, and horror!

The Show That Smells is the most SHOCKING story ever shown on the silver screen! It tells the tale of Jimmie, a country music singer dying of tuberculosis, and Carrie, his wife, who tries to save him by selling her soul to a devil – a DEVIL WHO DESIGNS HAUTE COUTURE CLOTHING! Elsa is a powerful Parisian dress designer, and a vampire. She wants to make Carrie look beautiful, smell beautiful – AND THEN SHE WANTS TO EAT HER! Starring a host of Hollywood’s brightest stars, The Show That Smells is a thrilling tale of HILLBILLIES, HIGH FASHION, AND HORROR!

Read an essay by Derek McCormack about The Show That Smells here.

The Show That Smells was published in Canada by ECW Press; purchase the Canadian edition here. It was published in the United States by Little House on the Bowery/Akashic Books; purchase the American edition here. The covers of both editions feature art by David Altmejd. The Canadian edition was designed by Ian Phillips; the American edition, by Joel Westendorf.

Derek McCormack has written the most delightfully innovative charmer of a book –– a mini-masterpiece that keeps swelling with invention long after you’ve put it down. I can’t believe the smell of this novel!!!– Guy Maddin

If you only read one country-and-western horror novel, make it this one. - New York

Derek McCormack's new novel of cursed crooners, murderous fashion designers and homosexual vampires is an exercise in campy excess ... [T]he latest in Dennis Cooper's Little House on the Bowery series, McCormack's slender little sendup is funny and frenetic as all get out ... [T]his will repulse some and titillate others, but it's never boring. Like a carny barker, McCormack promises thrills and chills, and The Show That Smells delivers grotesqueries galore.– Jim Ruland, Los Angeles Times

Derek McCormack is the mutant spawn of Bram Stoker and the Grand Ole Opry, a fashion junkie who effortlessly channels B-movie dialogue and Caligula’s gifts for cruelty ... McCormack’s latest, The Show That Smells, is a joke-studded phantasmagoria ... [T]he prose is amusing, lightning-fast and loud ... The Show That Smells is deeply entertaining and devoutly perverse—a serving of cotton candy laced with blood and arsenic.– Michael Miller, Time Out New York

This thoroughly hilarious, strange and altogether ghoulish little freak show of a book ... reads more like a combination of prose poetry and avant-garde drama in which people stand around in a hall of mirrors having witty conversations, most of them riotously funny ... [A] book like The Show that Smells -- not that there are many books like it -- reminds us that much of our most eviscerating contemporary literature is coming courtesy of the small, indie and university presses. It demonstrates that innovative literature, if such a thing still exists, can be accessible and even fun, especially for those of us with a dark sense of humor.– Andrew Ervin, Miami Herald

A] book that'll have you shaking your head in an odd but energizing combination of admiration and annoyance. This is a one-of-a-kind glimpse into a clever and devious mind.– Publishers Weekly

Perhaps a first in literature, McCormack, besides prose, has come up with passages that could be by Lesage, the legendary French embroiderers, with asterisks as crystals, dots as beads and opening parentheses as sequins.– David Livingstone, Toronto Star

Derek McCormack's cruel and unusual novella is the only ticket you'll need to buy this year ...The Show that Smells reeks of genius and is the author's most original work to date...his trim, vicious sentences make Gordon Lish look verbose and chubby in comparison.– Brian Joseph Davis, EYE Weekly

Smells good...probably the creepiest, funniest, most inventive and, yes, smelliest blood-spurtin' novel you've ever read. And it's funny... In short, there are many ways to get floored by McCormack's imagination and technique ... If the Canadian publishing industry weren't infested with scaredy-cats, [McCormack would] be a much bigger deal.– Zoe Whittall, NOW

McCormack has created something innovative, entertaining, and quite possibly (dare we say it) ground-breaking. With its biting beats of refined prose and inventive storyline, it would certainly be easy to label this release as one of the best books of the year...the book is a hell of a lot of fun. The Show that Smells is a showcase for an innovative writer who has perfected his technique, and there is no denying that McCormack is an extraordinary talent.– Stacey May Fowles,

(A) freaky-gorgeous concoction. McCormack's deft wordplay sometimes reads more like poetry than prose. Sublime.–

[T]his charged novel is given pace by McCormack's tightly honed style...there's humour, too, in his clipped delivery...McCormack knows how to mine his obsessions to create truly unusual - and memorable - works of art.– Stuart Woods, Quill & Quire

Chirpy, repetitious, and minimalistic, The Show is a slow-burning captivator about carnivals, high fashion, and Van Helsing-ing hillbillies ... McCormack's playful wordage, freak-show sensibilities, and droll topography make for a charming grammar-geek experience, like doing the word jumble with the cast of Freaks.– Courtney Ferguson, Portland Mercury

McCormack weaves an intoxicating web. Once you drink the Kool-Aid moonshine and wholeheartedly embrace McCormack’s world, his sense of gory whimsy is infectious. Reading him is like purchasing a ticket to the fun house or the house of horrors—either one, it’s all the same. He is a commanding ringmaster of an imagination run wild.– Jamie Gadette,

Dzing! It’s a French perfume. I wet my wrist.
---Dzing! by L’Artisan Parfumeur. It smells like shit. It’s an animalic, a type of perfume with a fecal fragrance. When I sniff myself, I get a whiff of wet fur and asshole.
---Dzing! smells like a circus animals – lions, elephants, bears – and the shit they shit. I smell other smells in it, too. Sawdust. Leather saddles. Something sweet – cotton candy, caramel apples, or nuts.
---The scents of a circus in a bottle. But can they be captured in a book?

“The Show That Smells” – this is what carnies and circus folk call an animal show. It’s also what I named my new novel.
---The Show That Smells is set at a circus.
---There’s a midway: the story’s set entirely in a mirror maze.
---There’s fashion: Elsa Schiaparelli, the fabled fashion designer, is a vampire; Coco Chanel, the fabled fashion designer, is a vampire hunter.
---There’s perfume: Schiaparelli is selling Shocking!, a perfume whose base note is blood. When humans wear it, vampires can home in on them. Chanel is selling Chanel Nº 5, a perfume impregnated with holy water. When humans wear it, they’re impervious to vampire assaults.
---I’m in it. I play a writer for Vampire Vogue magazine.

Vampires, carnivals, couture – The Show That Smells is full of these things, as was my previous novel, The Haunted Hillbilly.
---In The Haunted Hillbilly, a vampire named Nudie made Hank Williams a star. He did so by making Hank Williams's suits: garish gabardines gussied up with sequins. The suits proved irresistible to the public: they glittered like the chalkware dolls that carnies used to give away at carnival games. Nudie made the sequins by boiling human bones.
---In The Show That Smells, Elsa Schiaparelli sells Shocking! It’s made with with blood from babies. Her haunt is a mirror maze, the perfect place for a vampire to prey on people. Like a scent, she has no reflection – no one can see her coming! I like to think that the maze’s mirrors are akin to facets in a crystal flaçon. Is being in a mirror maze something like being in a perfume bottle?
---The Haunted Hillbilly starred Hank Williams, country music’s most famous singer. The Show That Smells stars Jimmie Rodgers.
In 1927, a nobody named Jimmie Rodgers walked in a hat warehouse in Bristol, Tennessee. He had on a business suit and a boater.
---He’d come to sing, not to shop. The Victor Recording Co. had set up a recording studio in the warehouse, hoping to find local hillbillies to make hillbilly records. Jimmie wasn’t local. He hailed from Meridian, Mississippi. He was, however, a hillbilly.
He sang some sentimental songs that sounded folksy. Victor released them. They sold strongly. At a Victor studio in New Jersey, he sang several more. “T for Texas” – also known as “Blue Yodel” – was one of them. It became a monster, a million seller. Jimmie Rodgers became a star. He toured with Will Rogers. He recorded with Louis Armstrong. He shot a short movie in Hollywood: he strummed and sang before a backdrop of a railroad shack. Before being a singer, he’d been a railroad man, a brakeman on the Mobile & Ohio. “The Singing Brakeman,” Americans came to call him. Also: “The Mississippi Blue Yodeler” and “America’s Blue Yodeler.” He yodeled the same yodel in almost every record he cut.
---He wasn’t the only act discovered in Bristol. Days after he recorded his first records, a singing family showed up at the studio: the Carter Family.

“He loved the hillbillies, the same as he loved the common people everywhere,” said Carrie Rodgers in her memoir, My Husband, Jimmie Rodgers, “and loved to be among them and with them.”
---More than that, Jimmie loved circuses and carnivals.
---As a kid, he ran off with a circus. The big top: bedsheets he borrowed from his brother’s wife. The big act: him, singing. He sang in Meridian, then tramped to another town. By the time his brother caught him, he’d made enough to buy new bedsheets. He ran away again. Local children were the circus acts. His tent was store-bought, charged to his father’s account without his father’s knowing it.
---As an adult, Jimmie owned a carnival. In 1925, he was a struggling singer, driving around Dixie with a street show. Having bought an interest in the operation, he brought a carnival on board. It included a Hawaiian show: girls in grass skirts dancing daringly. Did it include games or rides? Did it include a freak show? An animal show? Books about Jimmie don’t say. What they do say: the carnival was destroyed in a blowdown, which is carny slang for a big windstorm.
---“Big Circus Tent” – this was the name of a show he headlined in 1930. He toured it through the south. He shared the bill with “Miss Helene, Mentalist.” The big top was red and contained a calliope, a “colored orchestra,” and, of course, hundreds of seats. Beyond the bigtop was a complete carnival, including rides, a midway, barking barkers and minstrel shows. Jimmie’s dressing room was a tent with screens and roll-up walls. And a bed. After a show, he had to rest. It took him an hour to remove his make-up. He was dying of tuberculosis. He had a pricey collection of perfumes from France. He would sniff them – it killed the stink of sick rising from his lungs.

Narcisse Noir by Caron.
---It was Jimmie Rodgers’s favourite perfume. In the United States, it was sold as Black Narcissus. The top note was orange blossom; the bottom, black narcissus.
---Jimmie’s nose was full of the fragrance of his liquefying lungs. I’m sure he would have loved a perfume that smelled like something sweet from his life. Like Carrie, or Carrie’s vagina. Or a carnival.

Shocking! by Schiaparelli. It wasn’t her first perfume, but it was her most famous. Introduced in 1937, it included notes of narcissus. Its animalic scents came courtesy of ambergris and civet. Ambergris is a waxy substance found in the stomachs of sperm whales. Civet is oil from the anus of a civet cat.
---Schiaparelli intended it to shock. Shocking! was supposed to smell like panties, like post-coital pussy. She titled her memoir, Shocking Life. She named her favourite shade of pink, “shocking pink.” Shocking is also a sideshow word – “Shocking and Amazing! See the Living Vampire! See the Human Worm! See a Beautiful Girl Become a Gorilla!”

In 1938, Schiaparelli staged a circus in the street in front of her shop in Paris. Tightrope walkers trod high above the Place Vendôme. Fire breathers breathed fire. Acrobats acrobatted.
---In the shop, Schiaparelli showed her Circus Collection. It included a coat stitched with dancing horses, and closed with acrobat-shaped buttons. Buttons on other ensembles were clowns. Handbags were shaped like balloons.
---Sideshow freaks were Schiaparelli’s main muses. She put monkey fur on boots and bracelets, an homage to the Girl-to-Gorilla sideshow act. The act is accomplished with mirrors. She printed crepe dresses with lobsters, which I interpret as a paean to Lobster Boys, men born with claws for fingers. She showed a Tear Dress, a dress with a trompe l’oeil pattern of tears and rips, as though it had been torn by a tiger in an animal show. The Skeleton Dress was a black dress that seemed to have bones – a spine and ribs stuck out from the fabric, making the wearer seem like a skeleton wrapped in a shroud. It was an homage to the Human Skeleton act. At a carnival or circus, the Human Skeleton was a man who was wasting away with tuberculosis.

What kind of couturière turns her clients into freaks?
---Schiaparelli had a sinister sense of humour, for sure. In my novel, I make her a vampire. Is it so far-fetched?
---Schiaparelli hated Chanel; Chanel hated Schiaparelli. Bad blood doesn’t begin to describe it. Chanel refused to say Schiaparelli’s name, let alone speak to her or of her. Which is why it shocked tout Paris when Chanel approached Schiaparelli at a costume ball in the 1930s. Chanel asked Schiap to dance. She waltzed Schiap across the floor. She dipped Schiap so that Schiap’s hat came into contact with a candle. Schiap was on fire.
---Burning a foe to death is barbaric. Unless your foe is undead.

In The Show That Smells, Schiaparelli is a vampiress who dresses the world’s wealthiest women.
---For her Carnival Collection, she shows apparel inspired by Human Skeletons and Lobster Boys. When the world’s wealthiest women are dressed as sideshow acts, she will put them in a sideshow at a vampire carnival.
---Her carnival will feature rides that vampires can revel in – haunted houses full of priests and nuns. It will feature games with prizes that vampires can prize – dolls made from dead babies stuffed with sawdust. Jimmie Rodgers will sing beneath the bigtop. She makes him a Faustian offer: he will be able to sing forever, so long as he becomes a vampire. What choice does he have? He is dying of TB. What makes his life bearable: the smell of Chanel Nº 5, and Carrie.
---Carrie Rodgers attempts to protect her husband from the vampires. It’s a futile task, until the cavalry comes: Coco Chanel and the Carter Family. The Carters are formidable foes. Their signature song is Keep on the Sunny Side. Chanel is the designer who made beachwear and suntanning fashionable. She made cross-shaped brooches and bangles fashionable. Coco was her nickname; her given name was Gabrielle, as in the archangel. Only Christian Dior had a holier name. Then came Christian Lacroix.

In The Show That Smells, I describe Shocking! as smelling the same as Dzing! – sawdust, sugar, animal spoors. And blood. When women wear it, they smell like a vampire’s supper. Vampires wear it, too.
---Vampires love perfume, as they have no scents of their own. They don’t have bad breath; they don’t respire. They don’t have body odour; they don’t perspire. They’re dead, so they carry a trace of cadaverine. Dogs detect it. Vampires prefer perfumes that camouflage them: scents that smell like living rooms, or libraries, or late nights.
---Vampires are perfectly suited for perfume. Perfumes flower on people – they’re transformed by the heat of bodies. Perfumes stay the same on vampires. Vampires have no blood, no body heat. They’re white. They’re absorbent. They’re smelling strips. Do this: Smell The Show That Smells. It doesn’t smell like paper. It smells like vampires perfumed as paper.

Derek McCormack, Grab Bag, Akashic Books, 2004.

Grab Bag is comprised of two interrelated novels, Dark Rides and Wish Book, from one of Canada’s most important young writers. Both books are set in the same small rural city, in different eras (1950s, 1930s), each characterized by McCormack’s spare and elliptical prose.

Grab Bag culls the best of the perverse and innocent world of Derek McCormack. The mystery of objects, the lyricism of neglected lives, the menace and nostalgia of the
past – these are all ingredients in this weird and beautiful parallel universe.– Edmund White

Grab Bag will grab you, all right; plain, simple and hard.– John Waters

[A] rare treat ... Weird, inventive, wonderful.– Jorge Morales, Village Voice

The first U.S. outing for the sexy, edgy Canadian novelist, steered your way by the gratifyingly dark-souled Dennis Cooper.– The Advocate

Every once in a while, however, I'll find a novel ... which serves as a reminder that there is relevance and substance out there. Derek McCormack's Grab Bag is one of these rare gems.– Emily Schambra, Punk Planet

McCormack's prose is ... remarkably and deceptively simple. Grab Bag grabs you in its steely grip almost without you noticing, and the hard, plain language delivers the stories straight to the core of your being.– Joe Storey-Scott, Gay Times

[A] kaleidoscopic look at a world of cheap furbelows and carnival flash, a place where childlike wonder goes hand in hand with cruel cynicism, and where even the promise of heaven appears as tawdry as an eyeshadow case.– Ryan Brooks, Chicago Reader


Derek McCormack, The Haunted Hillbilly, Soft Skull Press, 2003.

The Haunted Hillbilly is an historical first-person narrative, told by Nudie "The Rodeo Tailor" (perhaps most famous for dressing Elvis Presley) a gay couturier who, in Derek McCormack’s spellbinding world, also happens to be a vampire. As the story evolves with its magical poetic cadence, Nudie, in grand Svengali-style, makes, then breaks, the career of Hank, a country-and-western singer at the Grand Ole Opry. A blend of fact and fancy, The Haunted Hillbilly conjures the seamy gay underside hidden beneath country music’s sparkly, sequinned surface.  

The Haunted Hillbilly is an historical first-person narrative, told by Nudie "The Rodeo Tailor" (perhaps most famous for dressing Elvis Presley) a gay couturier who, in Derek McCormack's spellbinding world, also happens to be a vampire. As the story evolves with its magical poetic cadence, Nudie, in grand Svengali-style, makes, then breaks, the career of Hank, a country-and-western singer at the Grand Ole Opry. A blend of fact and fancy, The Haunted Hillbilly conjures the seamy gay underside hidden beneath country music's sparkly, sequinned surface.

Read an essay by Derek McCormack about The Haunted Hillbilly here.

Derek McCormack's fiction is one of the world's most divine, precious, and deliriously beautiful things. The Haunted Hillbilly is McCormack with all of his special powers blazing. Such refinement, innocence, wit, and complex feeling in one exquisite and crazily entertaining package -- what an amazing gift.– Dennis Cooper

[A] great work of genius...McCormack is to world literature as Cormac McCarthy is to U.S. literature, except more inventive and with a stronger narrative voice one can't get out of one's head.
– Kevin Killian

[C]reepier than a witch's neck-flab, The Haunted Hillbilly pushes the boundaries of fiction in a way that, frankly, knocked me a bit off my feet...McCormack's style is not minimal, not spare. It's precise. It's jam packed and simple at the same time -- not an easy feat...The Haunted Hillbilly is one of the most skillfully crafted and entertaining books I've read in a while. McCormack has recreated an alternative version of Hank Williams that is sometimes disturbing, often unsettling and always captivating.–Steven Galloway, Globe & Mail

By turns star-spangled, dark as pitch, and bleakly comic, The Haunted Hillbilly is like checking into the morgue at the Heartbreak Hotel.– iD (England)

The Haunted Hillbilly is as precise and perfectly fitted as the clothes it describes, nipped and tucked in all the right places, with a seamless final effect.–Brian Pera, San Francisco Chronicle

With a morbid comic vision and a delightfully twisted imagination, McCormack delivers a one-two knockout punch that establishes him as one of the best new voices of the year. –Village Voice

So here's to country legends, decadent vampires, big, round bubble butts, and McCormack's umpteenth book of creepy goodness: all worth their weight in gold.– Jim Piechota, Bay Area Reporter
McCormack's tiny, violent book ... is a wonderful blend of the supernatural and country music history (which seems just ripe for the gore, incidentally), and is fascinating for the clipped, extreme language.– OUT Magazine

The Haunted Hillbilly is a dark, funny and ultimately twisted read.– Joe Galliano, Gay Times

The Haunted Hillbilly takes noir into the truly black.– Adam Lewis Schroeder, THIS Magazine

You want to scream, 'Watch out! Can't you see how evil Nudie is!' But you also want more of the couturier's devilish exploits. That's what makes this taut little creepfest such an excellent read.– Dave McGinn, NOW

To borrow a phrase from Ogden Nash, Derek McCormack is an 'acrobat of simplicity.' More importantly, he is a writer with a vision, and the guts to see it through. We need more writers of McCormack's skill and audacity in Canadian literature.– Jon Paul Fiorentino, Matrix

The Haunted Hillbilly runs through the Country Music Hall of Fame with a baby sledgehammer, smashing all those prettified displays that have been covering up the somewhat uglier and grittier face of country music.–

The Haunted Hillbilly – Derek McCormack’s first novel – demonstrates with style and sardonic wit that it’s not about the length, it’s all in how you use it. McCormack ... is an artisan who prefers working in miniature and consistently produces bijoux-like texts of Byzantine complexity.– Darren Wershler, Quill & Quire


Derek McCormack and Seth, Christmas Days, House of Anansi Press, 2006.

What do the doors of Advent calendars conceal? Chocolates, sometimes, or toys. Sometimes there are illustrations of chocolates and toys. And holly. And snow. Things that make Christmas Christmas.
Derek McCormack's Christmas Days is an Advent calendar in words and images. The chapters are doors, each wittily illustrated by Seth, and each offering a behind-the-scenes look at the making of something quintessentially Christmassy. Wrapping paper, toy stockings, tree stands. When did they become part of Christmas? Where were they made? Who made them?
A blend of history and reportage, Christmas Days includes a cast of incredible characters and a sampling of festive holiday treats from the past and present.

Christmas Days is a unique Advent calendar that uses words and images to lead us through the twenty-four days before Christmas. In each of its charming chapters, McCormack tucks an inventive story that is quintessentially Christmassy and wittily illustrated by acclaimed cartoonist Seth. From toy stockings to Santa Claus to holly and mistletoe, Christmas Days offers a delightful sampling of holiday treats.

'What are the things that make Christmas Christmas in Canada?' Derek McCormack answers this question in his first non-fiction title ... McCormack's brisk, clipped prose style complements the sting of his sardonic sense of humour ... Seth's many illustrations, bold yet whimsical, take their inspiration from McCormack's prose.– Christopher Johnson, Quill & Quire

Meticulously researched, and beautifully illustrated and designed by nostalgia-driven illustrator Seth, the book makes it abundantly clear that for all the wonders of Christmas in Canada – for all the toy trains and the dolls and the mistletoe and holly – there's a darker side, too.– Chris Nuttall-Smith, Globe & Mail

Christmas Days has something for most Christmas observers. The dyspeptic will enjoy Seth's illustrations. Those with nostalgia for the Christmases of their childhood, those who like trivia or social history will find lots to their liking in this charming curio of a book.– Katherine Ashenburg, Globe & Mail
You'll be awestruck by McCormack's delicious recounting of the golden era of horrifying yuletide spectacles, from lethal attempts to make snow out of crushed glass and asbestos to the late-1920s practice of enacting the nativity with casts of 'live Indians.'– R.M. Vaughan, National Post

McCormack is interested ... in revealing the cheap glue behind the glitter, the carny in the Santa suit, the crushed glass in the fake snow. Exposing it, yet revelling in it too. - Nathan Whitlock, Toronto Star
An evocation of Christmas past, perfect for stockings and hostess gifts, yet shot through with steely wit.– Georgia Straight

Derek McCormack is nuts about Christmas. But it's a joyful sort of nuts. There's no other way to explain why he wrote Christmas Days ... The outcome is good: The book oozes a fervour and giddiness normally reserved for kids on the morn of December 25. – Matthew Firth, Ottawa Xpress

In Christmas Days, McCormack playfully depicts our holiday history with both glory and warts.
– Samantha Grice, National Post

Christmas Days is a fascinating look at the history of Christmas in Canada.– Sandra Alland, Xtra!


Derek McCormack, Wild Mouse, Pedlar Press, 1998.            

Wild Mouse is a collaboration with the poet Chris Chambers. It includes three short stories by McCormack, a suite of five poems by Chambers, and scores of vintage photographs from the Canadian National Exhibition Archives.

Wild Mouse by Derek McCormack and Chris Chambers includes sumptuous vintage black and white photos of the Canadian National Exhibition—a tacky but much loved carnival set up at the end of each summer in Toronto. Derek McCormack's series of stories adopts an insider's vernacular and offers street-wise, behind-the-scenes retrospectives featuring encounters with other carny-hustlers secretly rigging and working their huckster games and rides. Conversely, Chris Chambers looks back from an outsider's perspective. His suite of poems begins with a portrayal of a child visitor to the CNE, and moves to a day, much later, where he finds himself a young man, still surrounded by candy-floss and candy apples. The nostalgia of Labour Day and milling holiday crowds is tempered with an awareness of passing summer and youth.– Carole Turner, Canadian Literature


Derek McCormack, Dark Rides, Gutter Press, 1996.            

A gay teenager named Derek McCormack describes life in a small town in 1952. Unable to voice his forbidden desires to himself or anyone else, Derek moves like an automaton through a world that notices him only when he self-destructs. He is an ephemeral being obsessed with ephemera - fireworks, midway rides, holiday ornaments, country music stars. Illustrated with period photographs of midways, Dark Rides is an unprecedented exploration of the production of identity and the machinery of desire.

In this dazzling first novel, a gay teenager named Derek McCormack describes life in a small town in 1952. Unable to voice his forbidden desires to himself or anyone else, Derek moves like an automaton through a world that notices him only when he self-destructs. He is an ephemeral being obsessed with ephemera-fireworks, midway rides, holiday ornaments, country music stars. Illustrated with period photographs of midways, Dark Rides is an unprecedented exploration of the production of identity and the machinery of desire.

A fresh, thrilling, perfect book. Derek McCormack is an extraordinary writers and a great discovery.
– Dennis Cooper

Derek McCormack's first published work, Dark Rides, was released in Canada this summer to little notice. It had three problems: It was slim, it was issued by a small press and its writer was unknown. Fortunately for McCormack and his readers, Dark Rides received more ink in the U.S. where, to be fair, there is more ink. Detour magazine even included him in its 'Top Thirty Artists Under Thirty' list. Why? Well, cynics might dismiss the book as trendy – a gay coming-of-age story. But anyone who reads the book closely will attribute the success to his skillful, tight-rope walking prose.
– Laura MacDonald, Globe & Mail

In Dark Rides, 28-year-old Canadian Derek McCormack wastes not a comma, wielding his pen like a surgeon, slicing through the skin of language to expose feelings yet unmapped by words ... Like a white dwarf in a literary night sky full of gaseous supernovas, Dark Rides is a slim volume, but it weighs a ton.– Lawrence Schubert, Detour

Dark Rides ... is more like a series of peculiar and oblique and compelling photographs which, when you're done perusing them, seem absolutely to have been placed on just the right pages in just the right album.– Bill Richardson, Quill & Quire

Derek McCormack brings to his 'novel-in-stories' all that makes a book worth losing sleep over. The writing is sparse, lean, and strikingly honest. Direct, forward-pressing dialogue and a narrative packed with clean, arresting images makes Dark Rides an intimate tour of that forbidden county of adolescence: the blossoming of same-sex desire.– Brian Kaufman, sub-TERRAIN

This is the novel that will make a reader glad to have read what boils down to a 'coming out story.' But one of the best of them. It is not his story that makes Dark Rides special, it is McCormack's intimacy with it and talent in detailing it.– Thom J. Doorhy, Lambda Book Report

This first 'novel-in-stories' about the coming-of-age of a gay teenager in rural Ontario moves in connected pockets, like vignettes, with controlled and straight-ahead prose.– Marcus Robinson, Saturday Night

Between its covers is some of the best writing I've seen in a long time, and writing is really what this book is about.– Robyn Gillam, Paragraph

Dark Rides is an auspicious debut that offers much and promises more.– Brett Josef Grubisic, The Georgia Straight

McCormack gets in some fine lines, some ambiguous ones, for example, that work both ways. And there's a fair bit of fun, too. But to call the laughs you do get from this book the product of wit would probably be a mistake. There's little artifice here: what laughs there are ... come not from a hypertrophied sense of humor, but from keen and honest introspective reportage.
– Bert Archer, Toronto Star

No other form of amusement has ever been devised that appeals as strongly to the public and raises the excitement to the highest pitch as Wish Book.Popular and fascinating, this book is a high class article, not a cheap junky affair. A varied collection of the best and latest rube jokes, tramp stories, monologues, funny sayings, etc., Wish Book will attract and hold the reader, and is far more popular than the ordinary book. Order today. This book makes a hit anywhere. A very good souvenir or favour. Always a big seller. Always popular. Collapsible. The author of this successful book is one of the most prolific authors of his generation.

Anyone interested in the more wicked, crafty and inventive forms of Canadian writing would be well advised to spend time with McCormack.– Philip Marchand, Toronto Star

A delightfully twisted collection of McCormack's linked fiction, it is set in the closing years of the Depression and is illustrated with Phillips's fine line drawings to look like a 1930s mail-order catalogue. There's even a page at the back to send away for the bizarre and only partly-imaginary items mentioned in the stories.– Andrea Curtis, Toronto Life

Wish Book's sleight-of-hand evocation of small-town life is perhaps more William S. Burroughs than Andy of Mayberry, Robert Mapplethorpe rather than Norman Rockwell. It's a disarming anti-saga with a weird, witty edge.– Mark Anthony Jarman, Globe & Mail

But for the rest of us, who think Timothy Findley's overrated, Dennis Cooper's underrated and that Joyce Carol Oates doesn't write too much at all, McCormack's an evil little blessing.– Bert Archer, NOW

'Talking turkey with author Derek McCormack'

Derek McCormack's article @ Fanzine