Voss is a surprising book. Initially bored with its historical aspects, I eventually found myself intrigued by its visionary qualities. The title character, a German who sets out to explore the harsh Australian Outback in the mid-1800s, is presented as both godlike and demon-like, and therein lies the book's powerful spiritual imagery. Voss's most charged relationship grows from a brief meeting with the rebellious niece of a man who funds his explorations, and with whom he melds emotionally and spiritually during his travels. The descriptions of the perilous desert passage are interesting enough, as is the depiction of aborigines as nature's innocents, but the metaphysical exploration of Voss's inner struggles are riveting.


Biographies don't get much better than this one. Nor do their subjects get more interesting. Leeming does a great job of animating his friend and mentor, the black, gay writer-activist, a leading figure in the 60s American Civil Rights Movement. Placing Baldwin's life and work in an historical context, Leeming allows one to illuminate the other, while building a complex and compelling portrait of the man himself.


Baldwin has written far more controlled works, but it's the raging fire at the core of this one that brings it to life for me, despite its technical shortcomings. A surprisingly frank portrait of bohemian New York in the late-1950s, its prose is infused with the language and rhythms of the Beats, which tends to give it an aura of experimentation. But this is a hold-nothing-back sort of book, and that's exactly what sets it apart from Baldwin's smoother works, like Giovanni's Room, where the holding back gets in the way of the story. Centered around the lovers, friends and relatives of a young black jazz musician who kills himself, the book's charged and highly explicit sexuality (gay, straight and bi), the descriptions of alcohol and drug use, and its despairing vision of pre-liberation America is quite stunning for the era. Baldwin's anger with the racial-sexual hypocrisy of his times drives this story, even while he sermonizes to his readers and unapologetically uses his characters as pawns to dramatize his themes.


Dashiell Hammett, along with Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald, are considered the three pillars of classic American hard-boiled writing. Hammett came first, however, and pretty well perfected the genre and writing style when it was still in its infancy. As much as the latter two authors leaned on him, to my mind they never surpassed him. He was the best.

I am not the first to note the curious fact that Hammett published five mysteries in five years, one of them among the greatest novels ever written, then never finished another book for the remaining 27 years of his life. No one ever really figured out why, including Lillian Hellman, his companion during those 27 years, though alcoholism, tuberculosis, and persecution by the US government (Hammett spent time in jail due to his political beliefs) are among the chief suspects. (A new collection of his short fiction, The Hunter and Other Stories, reveals that Hammett may have been hoping to shake the tough-guy image and write something completely different, but the stories failed to interest editors, hence their publication now for the first time.)

His first novel, Red Harvest (1929) has a standard-issue feel at the opening, when an unnamed private investigator arrives in Personville (aka "Poisonville") at the behest of an influential client whose life has been threatened. The client is killed before they meet, but his father hires the PI to find his son's killer. The suspects number a greedy girlfriend, a crooked chief of police, the victim's wife, and several of the town's gangsters. So far, so ordinary. But that's where things start to change, and before long you realize you're in the hands of a master of two of America's favourite themes: violence and vengeance. The PI quickly learns he can't trust anybody, including his employer, who first asks him to clean up Personville then orders him to leave town. After one-too-many assassination attempts, however, the PI is unwilling to vacate: now it's personal. "All in all it's one swell dish," is how one character sums things. And that's how the nameless PI deals it, serving up first one gangster after another in his unbending quest to restore law and order. The protagonist has strong similarities to Sam Spade, Hammett's most famous creation, but other characters from his third and best-known volume, The Maltese Falcon, also find their prototypes here, in this powerful and highly engaging story.

The Dain Curse followed the same year, in what may have been an attempt to cash in on the success of its predecessor. For his second book, Hammett threw everything into the cauldron: family curses, religious cults, drug addiction, stolen jewels. You name it, it's there. And not to the book's credit. Perhaps Hammett felt paralyzed by his beginner's luck and tried to figure out just what makes a book work with this second volume. Another nameless PI serves as the writer's alter-ego, making him sound at times like an author in search of a convincing psychology of character and event, voicing the story's apparent contradictions while testing some possible plot permutations. All in all, it's one big mess. But, what's more intriguing: that this book is one of the least enjoyable works of detective fiction of all time or that Hammett's next would be the greatest?

Of his third and most successful book, The Maltese Falcon (1930), I cannot say enough. Its story of greed and treachery, as characters play one another off in quest of the famed "black bird" of Malta, has inspired me and countless others to imitate its perfection and mastery. It is at times funny, cruel, compassionate, bleak, insightful, and riveting. Many will know the John Huston-Humphrey Bogart collaboration that also made it one of the most famous movies of all time. And rightly so. To Hammett's everlasting credit, much of the filmscript was lifted straight from the book, and it all works beautifully even now. The combination of oddball characters, wickedly funny dialogue and immaculate plotting make this the perfect noir masterpiece, as PI Sam Spade avenges the death of his partner Miles Archer and makes the world seem right in a cock-eyed, cynical kind of way. It was ranked 56 in Modern Library's 100 Best English-Language Novels of the 20th Century.

Hammett's fourth book, The Glass Key (1931), is an oblique tale written in a completely different tone from his earlier work. It's as though abstract expressionism has infected his style. Tension is rampant, but with little or no emotional anchoring between reader and characters. Here, all is ambiguity: Ned Beaumont, a racketeer, is asked to investigate the death of a respected senator's son by his best friend, a crime boss who wants to marry the senator's daughter. Politics and crime intersect and bisect repeatedly as the story grows more and more convoluted, until nearly everyone's motives are suspect. The purposeful withholding of the characters' rationales contributes to a sense of overall unease, where the reader never knows whom to trust, though both the story's end and the murder reveal are neatly fitting. This was said to be Hammett's favourite of his books.

Three years passed before the publication of The Thin Man (1934), Hammett's last novel. His sense of humour is back and smarter than ever, but there is an additional element in the work: love. The writing of this book happened to coincide with his relationship with playwright Lillian Hellmann, Hammett's companion for the last 30 years of his life, and to whom the book is dedicated. Here, the protagonist is Nick Charles, a former-private investigator who spends his time partying and drinking with his clever young wife, Nora. Against his will, Nick is drawn into a murder investigation along with Nora. The couple are fun and lively and seemingly free of sexual inhibition, as their frank (for the times) sexual banter--including comments on male genitalia--proclaims. The relationship is also refreshingly free of traditional sex role stereotyping, another miracle for its dour era. This is Hammett's happiest book and a fitting epitaph for one whose life would eventually take a permanent downslide into illness, incarceration and disillusionment.

Jeffrey Round is a writer, playwright and filmmaker. Lake On The Mountain, his first Dan Sharp mystery, won the Lambda Award for Best Gay Mystery in 2013. Pumpkin Eater, the second Dan Sharp mystery, is to be published in March 2014. Round is also author of the Bradford Fairfax comic mystery series and other books. Visit his website: http://www.jeffreyround.com.


A night on the town with Luba Goy, star of the Royal Canadian Air Farce, invariably turns into a Magical Mystery Tour. Last night, singer-actor Dorothy Post and I joined La Goy at one of her fave hang-outs, the Wish Cafe on Charles Street East, where she soon had the staff bending over to accommodate her every, erm, wish.

After a tasty meal, plus a brief interlude that consisted of a comparison of luxury lingerie (with Dorothy, not me, but who knew you could spend so much on a brassiere?!), we were off to catch Luba's friend and colleague Bruce Dow deliver a bravura performance in Tim Luscombe's Pig, given its impressive premiere at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre under the sure hand of director Brendan Healy. (If the MORE link doesn't work, click on BLOG above.)

In search of dessert and further adventure we soon landed at a Toronto landmark, Fran's on College Street, where we found ourselves sitting next to film/television actor Eve Crawford, who dropped in with artist/videographer Max Deans. That was how we chose our next stop in the night's madcap roundup: Max's Cancer Is Our Story, a riveting video installation featuring multiple hands and arms in tightly choreographed movements. The video, which repeatedly won applause from passersby, was a major Nuit Blanche exhibition on University Avenue across from Princess Margaret Hospital.

While there, La Goy was mauled by media-guru George Stroumboulopoulos, just one of thousands roaming the streets and checking out the artistic offerings on display. (BTW, Luba is a scheduled guest on George's show this Wednesday night on CBC--don't miss them!)

Of course, the night couldn't end there. We next grabbed a cab and swung all three blocks over to the Eaton Chelsea to round up my friend Eslam, who had just texted to say he was free. (The more the merrier!) Eslam, a veteran of the Libyan civil war, is currently receiving medical treatment in Toronto and has become a big fan of all the city has to offer. He knows Canada is a very cool country!

Cabbing it again, the four of us trekked off to city hall to view the extraordinary large-scale Ai WeiWei work, Forever Bicycles, made up of 3144 interlocked bikes erected at the centre of Nathan Phillips Square. Having seen the full Ai WeiWei exhibition currently on at the Art Gallery of Ontario, this final piece capped for me the work of one of today's most impressive and relevant living artists.

Thanks to the great weather, the square was packed well past 2 AM. I don't think it's ever looked so good. Come to think of it, the city hasn't been this much fun either for a very long time. But that's just what happens when you venture out with Luba Goy.

(All fotos by moi, except for the promo shot of actors Bruce Dow and Paul Dunn. Oh yeah, duh, and the one with me in it, taken by the Lovely Luba.)


Readers often ask where I get my characters. The truth is, I don't know. While I may steal a visual from life once in a while--a nice head of a hair, a good jaw line--I don't use real people when it comes to personality. Nor are they all some version of me. If I made a list of what my character Dan Sharp and I have in common, it wouldn't be long. I am not a single dad, a private eye, or a kid from the wrong side of the tracks. Nor did I ever sell my body for sex, though I have slept on a park bench.

Growing up in Sudbury, as Dan I and did, there was no small share of potential characters: boys whose fathers were alcoholics; a girl named Shirley who had a boy's haircut and wore dungarees and came to school looking alternately frightened and angry; another girl named Pelka, whose father emigrated from Yugoslavia and who drank battery acid to try to kill himself. I knew that world and mingled with it every day at school. I never thought any of them odd--merely interesting or dull, dangerous or friendly. Nor did I ever look down on any of them.

On the other hand, like Dan, there is a little of the sleuth in me. I recall Miss Kristakos, my grade three teacher, who had polio and limped, and who I secretly followed home one day to find out where she lived so I could surprise her with a drawing of Daisy Duck the next day. Or Rex, my best friend of two months, who had no father and whose mother was so poor all she could afford to serve when I came to lunch was Kraft Dinner, which I refused as politely as I could. Rex vanished as suddenly as he appeared. The adult me still wonders how I could trace him to learn how his life turned out, as would Dan.

While I'm not Dan, I admire him and like to spend time in his company. That's why I write about him. I've had an easier life than he has, and that's one of the reasons I admire him, because he upholds principles despite the difficulties they sometimes cause him. If I knew him, I would be proud to call him my friend. I hope he would say the same of me.


The Beast Without by Christian Baines (Glass House Books)

I'd never seen True Blood or read a vampire novel. Never wanted to. Not out of snobbishness, but simply lack of desire. The only vampire film I ever enjoyed was Andy Warhol's Dracula (which is actually Paul Morrisey's Andy Warhol's Dracula, but I won't belabour that.)

After a recent Pride reading, however, I was approached by an attractive young man. He complimented me (I like being complimented by attractive young men) and said he'd just published his first novel, a supernatural fiction story. I said I would read it. (Yup, that's all it takes, Sorry.) Happily, surprisingly, I enjoyed it. In the hands of a born storyteller like Christian Baines--especially one with such a wickedly subversive wit--I suspect any story would come alive.

Baines' book gives credence to my theory that genre is the new playground of the literary imagination. (Nothing truly new, of course: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is a great novel and was so long before we knew there were genres.) Likewise, The Beast Without is sexy, sassy and fun. The story never flags as we follow Reylan, an "out" Blood Shade, as he roams Sydney's gay community.

Ironically, Reylan unintentionally finds himself attracted to a closeted, homophobic werewolf named Jurgas whom he has vowed to kill. What's a boy to do, even if he's 153 years old? The tension and intrigue just keep ratcheting up. Kudos to a new writer who will leave his marks on the publishing world, if not on your neck. If genre fiction is in the hands of writers like this then long live the new genre. No stake through the heart can put an end to it.


This year's Pride was one of my most enjoyable ever. I watched Sunday's parade with Susan G Cole of NOW Magazine, and my young friend James, who I met through Supporting Our Youth (SOY), an LGBT youth mentoring program run by the Sherbourne Health Centre. Both Susan and I recalled the first Toronto Pride in 1981 (I still have the orange souvenir invitation), while James enjoyed his first ever this year. (He really scored big on the souvenirs tossed from the various floats.)

Earlier, I read at the Proud Voices Program hosted by Glad Day Bookshop, the worlds oldest--and best!--LGBT bookstore, alongside Liz Bugg, Cathi Bond and JP Laroque. Some terrific readers, let me tell you! The event was hosted by the charming Michael Erickson, one of the store's new owners. I read from my Lambda Award winning novel, Lake On The Mountain (Dundurn), and followed it with a snippet from the sequel, Pumpkin Eater, due next spring.

Please -- if you're a fan of LGBT writing -- remember to support the store. They deserve it and need it now more than ever.

Here's to next year's World Pride! Cheers, Queers!


Now I know what it feels like to win something that has meaning for me. Thanks to the folks at the Lambda Literary Awards, I am the recipient of a beautiful crystal tablet inscribed with my name and the title of my most recent book: LAKE ON THE MOUNTAIN. It's meaningful to me for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the award is juried by my peers, people who know what it takes to labour over words in an attempt to create something meaningful and beautiful, inspiring and wise. When I got home, I put it on my mantlepiece to remind me why so many of us continue to write even when the rewards and the acknowledgements are few and far between. That's why I'm so grateful for this particular award.

The ceremony, held in New York on June 3, was an uplifting celebration of talent and labour, as well as a testament to the perseverance of the LGBT community itself. We need no reminder that this community has had more than its fair share of fights to exist and prosper. I'm grateful to have been so honoured and hope I can continue to do what I love while contributing to the community in return.


Ever wonder what it's like to be gay in other countries? It's not always so easy, as I discovered during several recent trips to Cuba. In North America and Europe, we take a lot for granted that other LGBT folk can only dream about. Here's my first-hand report from the streets of Havana, as published in the Xtra!: http://www.xtra.ca/public/National/Finding_gay_Havana-13525.aspx


A very fab! night at the McCallum Theater in Palm Desert, where I was the guest of producer and celebrity photographer Michael Childers for his One Night Only. In the audience (front row, if you please) sat Broadway legend Carol Channing in trademark gold lame and probably a few diamonds. (I don't mean rhinestones...) Also attending was Mrs. Barbara Sinatra. Now an annual fund-raising event, Childers' show features some of the best Broadway and film talent, showcasing music from various chapters of his life as the longtime partner of director John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy.) Everything from Bob Dylan through Evita to Mozart. Highlights? Yup, plenty of them. Too many to choose, in fact. (Though I have to say, Kaye Ballard still sounds amazing at 87. Not kidding! It must be the desert air.) More, please.


Time warps can be fun, especially when they take you back to your formative years. It's also interesting to see those times recreated by a younger generation. Who would have thought that attending an indie gallery opening in Puerto Vallarta in March 2013 would find me contemplating the ghosts of 1978 as rendered by six visual artists, some of whom were not even born then? But there they were, lingering on the walls and in the corners of the Starving Artist Studio Gallery. This was not just a slavish recreation of an ethos, however, but an unofficial reinvention of a controversial period in art, one that's not easily refined, like putting boulders in a blender and expecting them to come out smooth and polished. Yet here was Keith Haring revisited, with traces of Jean-Michel Basquiat and David Wojnarowicz reflected back in thoughtful, intriguing ways, photographic images that Cindy Sherman or Robert Mapplethorpe might have contemplated in the aftermath of punk's corrosive vision. Here, too, was Pop art without all the irony, and layered over with a queer twist. Even the casual, seemingly artless approach to appending work to the gallery walls (here sometimes painted directly on the walls in DayGlo colours or projected onto a loosely blowing screen) speak of punk and Pop's disdain for things too refined or carefully considered. Not quite as transgressive as the originals, still it's a brave choice amid all the decorative elements Vallarta churns out endlessly. If you missed it back then, here's your chance to see it now.

The Starving Artist Studio Gallery, Aldama #209, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico



Wow, it was quite a day. First off came news of my Lambda Award nomination for Lake On The Mountain. (Yay, thanks!) Ceremonies in New York in June. Then I met up with poet/novelist Jim Nason at a fun and funky west end bar, No One Writes To The Colonel, for the launch of The Acrobat, an online zine from the hard-working folks at Tightrope Books, promising fabulous visual, aural and written art, and put together with a lot of love and enthusiasm. As if that weren't enough, writer Keith Garebian and I took in Mary Walsh's bombalistic Dancing With Rage at the Panasonic. All Canadian, All The Time, this is comedy at its best, as Mary tromps through her favourite characters and gives Canadian politics its comeuppance. ("I don't like political jokes anymore," Marg Delahunty laments. "I've seen too many of them elected.") Marg's search for the love child she gave up decades ago takes her to Ottawa, where she faces her fears that it might just turn out to be that "crypto-nazi" Stephen Harper. I'm with Marg when she laments that things get soft in middle age. Marg is referring to her body; I'm referring to my cultural heroes. I doubt Mary Walsh will ever get soft. As we say in the Maritimes, "She got some mout' on her, that girl!"


Seems to be my week for being coaxed out of the house to see things I might otherwise not experience. First up, with writer Farzana Doctor, I attended artist and agitator Gita Hashemi's fine piece of political dialogue at the A Space Gallery, Time Lapsed, about the British-US derailing of Middle Eastern democracy when the legally-elected Iranian leader Mossedeq was ousted in what was to become the blueprint for American political interventions that continues to this day. Then, no less trenchant, last night I went with friend David Tronetti to the Hart House production of Martin Sherman's epoch-making play, Bent, to see our friend Edward Karek as a very unpleasant Nazi. Edward, we hereby crown you The Queen of Nasty.


Attended Gita Hashemi’s Time Lapsed at the A Space Gallery last night with Farzana Doctor. It was a last-minute invite from Far Out Farzana, so I didn’t know what to expect. Turns out it’s a performance work-in-progress about an important period in history that I’ve been writing about tangentially in a book that deals with, among other things, American intervention in the destinies of other nations. Iran, 1953, was the first time the US government, with help from Britain, removed a democratically elected leader from office in what would become a blueprint for interventions that continue to this day: first comes the financial and political destabilization of the country, followed by the demonization of the leader, and ending with his ouster. Sound familiar? When America complains bitterly about the current Iranian monster-president, Ahmadinejad, it strikes me as ironic since their interruption of the democratic process is the reason he’s there now.


Went to see On The Road last night, drawn by the promise of cheap movie night and the chance to see a couple of cuties make mincemeat of the Beats. I prefer to confront my art unarmed and without foreknowledge, just to give the semblance of a fair fight, though I went with a healthy dose of skepticism that much could be made from the long, rambling drama of Kerouac's book, which I read in my teens. I'm not much of a Beat fan, though I'm somewhat fascinated by all those artsy intellectuals, many of them queer, trying to live their lives tough. Still, I hadn't read any reviews, so went without expecting much, certainly not to be mesmerized. What a thrill then to see the era brought so richly to life (at least as much as it can for someone like me who wasn't around in the 'forties) and the characters evoked so convincingly. The casting is magical all around. Garett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty (Kerouac's buddy Neal Cassady in real life), the bisexual rebel with Jack Nicholson's voice and young Marlon Brando's sex appeal, draws focus almost effortlessly whenever he's on screen. Kirsten Dunst as Moriarty's wife Camille (and Hedlund's real-life amour) fares equally well. Either I missed it at the beginning or it wasn't there, but when I finally caught the director's name at the end, I understood why the film was so rivetting. Brazilian Walter Salles first came to world attention in 1998 with the haunting Central Station. He later drew from Che Guevara's memoirs (as undramatic as Kerouac's book) and spun them into The Motorcycle Diaries. This is one not to be missed, unless your idea of a great film is, oh, I don't know … Titanic?


Many thanks to Dundurn Books for the vote of confidence in backing my application for a Writers' Reserve grant from the Ontario Arts Council, as well as for contracting my third Dan Sharp mystery, The Jade Butterfly, even before it's finished. I look forward to working with the folks at Dundurn again on this title, as well as on the second book in the series, Pumpkin Eater, currently scheduled for a spring 2014 release. Stay calm and read on!


Glad to be meeting up with my writer friend Peter Dube for an evening of rocking readers! Pete will be reading along with Dani Couture and Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall. Monday, Feb 4, 7-9, at the Victory Cafe, 581 Markham St (south of Bloor, west of Bathurst.) It's a great series. Come out and support them.


Here's looking forward to another great year!

My 2012 was rounded out by two trips to Havana, the first in January and then again this December. Both trips spawned book ideas, as well as articles on the lamentable state of LGBT rights in Cuba and on the country's outstanding success with its literacy drive. Fans of Bradford Fairfax will be pleased to know there is a series prequel in the works that has the intrepid Brad traveling to Havana. I've also been working on a literary novel that takes place during the Cuban revolution. Last month I visited several historic sites that feature large in both books, including the stunning Hotel Nacional de Cuba, now a World Heritage site, set on Taganana Hill overlooking the Malecon.

In November, I was in Palm Springs following a fun- and adventure-filled drive down the coast from San Francisco (yes, I was there the night the Giants won the World Series, in case you're a fan), where I was a featured writer at the Authors' Village during PS Pride. A great event!

Earlier in the fall, I learned from my new publisher that my first Dan Sharp mystery, Lake On The Mountain, was consistently one of Dundurn's top-selling ebooks. Thanks to those of you who made that happen! And just a reminder that Dan Sharp will return in Pumpkin Eater in spring 2014.

Last year I also had the pleasure of being a featured blogger on Unvailed.com, a site dedicated to the pursuit of ideas and the unfettered imagination. I hope to continue contributing to the site in future.

And finally, I just heard that a poem I wrote about the James Dean film Rebel Without A Cause has been selected for an upcoming collection entitled I Found It At The Movies, to be edited by Ruth Roach Pierson and published by Guernica Editions.


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