Here are a few snaps from the past weekend's Word On The Street Festival, where I read from my new book Pumpkin Eater (Dundurn Press) at the Amazon.ca Bestseller's Stage. I also had the honour of being sponsored ("friended") by Don Oravec and Jim Harper, as well as Webcom Inc. It was great to appear at the festival, but even better knowing I was a sponsored writer. If you want to show your appreciation to a particular writer next year, that's one way to do it!
At the VIP lounge. And yes, I felt special!
Amazon.ca Bestseller's Stage with my very own sign language interpreter.
With fellow readers John McFetridge, Andrew Pyper and Russell Wangersky. (The Globe's Jarod Bland was our moderator.)
With Shyam Selvadurai.
With Gilaine Waterbury of Webcom Inc.
And of course you always have to leave room for celebratory dessert afterward. In this case, a fun get together with friends at Mata Petisco Bar on Queen West near Roncesvalles, where I had the perfect trio: guava panna cotta, avocado creme brule, and dolce de lecche cheesecake.
Stop and say hello if you're at WORD ON THE STREET tomorrow. I'll be at the Dundurn tent from 1:30 to 2, Tightrope Books tent from 2:30 to 3, and reading at the Amazon.ca Bestseller's Stage from 4 to 5: http://www.thewordonthestreet.ca/wots/toronto/whatson/bestsellers.
A highly enjoyable interview with Lambda-nominated Jon Michaelsen, author of Pretty Boy Dead. Jon and I discussed mystery writing, of course, as well as such things as what winning the Lambda really means to an author, and being diagnosed with CPTSD: http://www.jonmichaelsen.net/?p=1966
2013 Lambda Literary Award Winner in Gay Mystery, Author Jeffrey RoundInterviewed by Jon Michaelsen © 2014
Jeffrey, thank you so much for taking time to answer some questions for members of the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook group.
Let’s start off with, where do you live?
I live in the now-fashionable neighbourhood of Leslieville, in Toronto’s east end. When I moved here, twenty years ago, it was very unfashionable. There were skinheads living at the end of my street and not a flower to be seen. My then-partner and I were the first to landscape our yard, front and back. By the following year, we seemed to have started a trend. The skinheads moved out and the neighbours began taking a greater interest in the appearance of their properties. Now we have trendy cafés, film studios and even gelato shops.
Without getting too personal, would you share a little about your home life?
I’m not sure there is very much to share. I lived with a partner and a hound dog for a number of years. Then we split up and my dog died. I was single for the past few years. Unexpectedly, last December, I met someone I am very happy to be with, though we’ve held off on the decision to move in together. He is a gay dad, the father of a 14-year old, just like my character Dan Sharp. It’s a clear case of life imitating art. As for the writing, I work in an upstairs office overlooking my backyard garden. It’s very peaceful. I can hear the crickets and see stars at night. It keeps me sane, otherwise I might not have stayed in the city.
What would you say is your greatest accomplishment to date?
I’ve been lucky enough to have eight books published. (That is as of this month, in fact. In the Museum of Leonardo da Vinci—my first book of poetry—has just come out from Tightrope Books.) I consider that an accomplishment, though when I measure it against everything I’ve wanted to achieve in life, it seems fairly insignificant. How I’ll feel about it all in another twenty years remains to be seen. I think if I were a father, I would see that as a much more important personal accomplishment.
Have you ever had to deal with homophobia after your novels were released, and if so, what forms has it taken?
Surprisingly little in any direct sense, which is fortunate. I prefer to fight for what I believe in rather than fight against what I don’t like. My writing is pretty direct in stating how I feel about the world around me. Indirectly, I suppose there are plenty of readers who won’t pick up my books because of the gay slant. There’s nothing I can do about that. I think if they did, they might be surprised to find some intelligent insights on what makes life worth living while being entertained along the way. They could only benefit from it.
I was recently introduced to your Bradford Fairfax Mysteries via first novel, “The P-Town Murders” and Dan Sharp Mysteries via first novel, “Lake on the Mountain”; the former features Private Investigator/Special Agent, Bradford Fairfax, and the latter, Missing Persons Investigator, Dan Sharp; both gay mystery series are polar opposites, including the main characters. Was this intentional on your part?
I’m glad you got to see both sides of me. I think of Dan as the dark me and Bradford as the light me. Between them, I sort of balance out. Yes, it was entirely intentional once I got going. I didn’t start off writing mysteries at all, but after writing a novel about the Bosnian War (The Honey Locust) and not being able to find a publisher for it for several years, I started to give serious thought as to what might sell. I wrote and polished The P-Town Murders in six months and sold it in less than two weeks. I knew I was on track and quickly penned a sequel, Death in Key West. Seeing how fast I could do this, my former editor asked when I was going to “get serious about mysteries.” I was having so much fun writing the comedies, it took me a while to realize I had the potential to take things in a weightier direction. When I wrote Lake On The Mountain, I didn’t plan on writing a second series. My character, Dan Sharp, had other ideas, as it turns out.
The first Dan Sharp mystery, Lake on the Mountain, won the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Mystery in 2013. Congratulations on your Lammy! Did you ever expect such a prestigious award for your love of writing? Did winning the award help introduce Dan Sharp to more readers across the border?
Thanks, Jon, and congratulations on your nomination as well. The Lambda win was a much-welcome vote of confidence in my writing, though I’m acutely aware how many books out there don’t get the recognition they deserve, so it was also humbling. As for expectations, there are always hopes and dreams, and we all need those! I did, however, have an argument with my agent over the book. For some reason, she was reluctant to shop it around. (Maybe this is the homophobia you asked about. It is much more blatantly sexual than any of my previous books.) I kept insisting it was my best writing to date. We eventually parted ways over it and I sold it on my own. My editor at Dundurn said he thought it was a book with award-winning potential, and I agreed, so while I was grateful when it was nominated for and eventually won the Lambda, I was not totally surprised. Now the trick is to see whether I can live up to the expectation it has built for subsequent volumes.
As for whether the award influenced sales, I can’t give a definitive answer to that. I was told it was one of Dundurn’s four best-selling ebooks of 2012 before the nomination, so it was already doing well. I remember going around Manhattan the weekend I was there for the Lambda Award ceremonies trying to find copies to sign in bookstores. It was a depressing and dismal attempt. I think I signed two copies in total. Nor could I find a single Lammy nominees table. I think it’s deplorable for a city like New York not to recognize the event. While LGBT-themed books that sell well are somewhat more prominent in bookstores than they once were, it’s the lesser-known books that need the boost.
The Bradford Fairfax mystery novels have been identified as campy, somewhat humorous mysteries, and set in exotic locations such as P’Town, or Provincetown, MA; Key West, FL and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico? Where does your sense of humor come from? Are you as well-traveled as your protagonist?’
Ah, humour! It comes from the gods, I suspect. In high school, I was introduced to the classics: Laughing and Grief. I enjoy both equally. I am inspired by my travels, and can always be found laughing at (or with) something. I’m an ardent observer of human nature and consider myself a social critic. It’s the desire to make things better for the world and, at the same time, having learned to take life’s preposterousness with a grain of salt that ignites my sense of humour.
As for travels, I’ve been to all the places I’ve written about in both mystery series. I am often inspired to write because of the people I meet, the events I witness, as well as just by the sheer daydreaming that happens when I travel. The P-Town Murders was sparked by the realization that I was being spied on from next door by someone with binoculars while I lay naked in a Jacuzzi in my guest-house. As I like to say, I got out of the tub and flashed the guy, then had a flash of my own—that of writing a mystery about a guy being spied on in Provincetown. Bradford, incidentally, is named after one of P-town’s two main thoroughfares.
Much of what I write about in the mysteries comes close to being true, except for the so-called “main event.” It would not be too much of an exaggeration to say the books are memoirs of my vacations with a little murder thrown in. I certainly share many of Brad’s neuroses and can be just as goofy at times.
I must admit, I’m in love with Missing Persons Investigator, Dan Sharp. He comes across as so serious and professional, yet flawed with a darker, grittier side than Bradford Fairfax. Sharp is an alcoholic and suffers PTSD; I just want to pull him in and hold him tight until the sun comes up! But, I digress. What was your inspiration for penning such an outwardly masculine, yet complex and emotionally challenged protagonist?
Feel free to hug me. While I’m not much of a drinker (pretty much a complete washout, as far that goes), like Dan, I’ve been unofficially diagnosed with Chronic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I initially scoffed at the idea, thinking it was something only soldiers and people who experienced war first-hand could have, but that is far from the truth. In fact, it’s likely that many in the LGBT community suffer to various degrees from the disorder. The classic triggers include, among other things, fear for our own safety or the safety of someone close to us. With gay bashing, and coming from a generation of gay men who confronted AIDS first-hand, we’ve all got our own horror stories to tell. As I say of Dan, you don’t have to have been to war to live in a warlike state of mind. That’s where Dan comes from. There was a time when I found myself hating the world and being reluctant to get up and go outside and confront life every day. I knew I was miserable, but I didn’t understand why. I considered myself a good, caring person who tried to help others and make the world a better place, but that didn’t make me feel better. I suspect that many LGBT suicides are connected to the disorder. Once I accepted the diagnosis, it made all the difference in terms of dealing with what I was feeling and experiencing. I now consider myself a survivor, and take up the issue front and centre in the next Dan Sharp book, The Jade Butterfly. It’s very much at the heart of what drives Dan.
Do you have plans for another novel in the Bradford Fairfax series?
I’m a very analytical writer. I knew by the time I finished The P-Town Murders there would be at least seven books, and possibly an eighth. As it turns out there will be eight, if I have time to finish them all. There are three out now. Bon Ton Roulez is the fourth, and it’s already complete. It will probably come out some time next year. It takes place in New Orleans not long after Hurricane Katrina, which is when I first visited that city. The eighth book to be conceived (but fifth in order of writing) is Havana Club. It surprised me, coming out of nowhere a couple years ago after a trip to Cuba where I hooked up with a straight Aussie guy who became a good friend as well as a character. I realized it wasn’t actually in the series, but rather takes place prior to the series, not long after Brad completes his secret agent training. A final book, Toronto the Bad, will complete the series and answer a few questions I’ve purposely left dangling up to now, including who or what is behind the secret organization Brad works for. All the books take place in LGBT-friendly cities (Havana is the exception to the “friendly” rule, though it seems to be slowly warming up), so there will also be future volumes set in Palm Springs and San Francisco.
Last question; can you share with us a little about your current release and/or WIP?
I mentioned the poetry book earlier. It has just come out. It is dedicated to my father, who died recently. I was grateful to the publisher for printing a single early copy in time for me to give it to him. He couldn’t talk much by the end, but I watched him as he held it and thumbed through it with a great deal of emotion. (JM – what an awesome feeling you must have had to share such a labor of love with your father…)
Earlier this year, I had two mysteries published, the second Dan Sharp mystery (Pumpkin Eater) and the third Bradford Fairfax mystery (Vanished in Vallarta.) A third Dan Sharp mystery, The Jade Butterfly, is already edited and in the can, as they say. It’s scheduled for a February 2015 publication.
I am currently writing the fourth Dan Sharp book, After the Horses, inspired by a real-life event in Toronto where the owner of a gay country and western bar was murdered. His lover was charged with his murder but not convicted. I’m working on a slightly different take of the story.
On behalf of the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook Group, thank you so much for sharing your time with us and answering questions fans of the genre would like to know.
Many thanks for the opportunity! It’s inspiring to know such groups are active on-line. I wish you all happy reading and writing.
Find Jeffrey Round on the web:
If you're just tuning in, the sequel to my Lambda Award winner, Lake On The Mountain, has just been published. Here are some recent links to articles about PUMPKIN EATER and my writing, for which I am grateful.
One of my favourite literary festivals is the Saints & Sinners fest in New Orleans. It's a whirlwind of events, making it hard to choose this panel over that reading, one masterclass over another. Do I want to catch Christopher Rice discussing the ups and downs of book reviews or attend a reading by an up and coming author I've heard about? A panel on genre or a masterclass by someone like Felice Picano, whose life inspires me as much as his work? The festival is equally rewarding to lovers of writing as much as to us writers, whether aspiring or accomplished. What I love most about this fest, however, is the genuine camaraderie I feel here. (Just being in the city is a bonus.) My highlights of this year's festival were meeting and getting to spend time with three legendary writers from the Violet Quill: Edmund White, Felice Picano and Andrew Holleran. To meet the writers you grew up reading and get to chat casually with them about their works is the writerly equivalent of striking gold. And there has been plenty of that on this trip.
Let's face it -- writer's don't make a lot money. On the other hand, I agree wholeheartedly with that line in Babette's Feast, "An artist is never poor." Having friends and an amour who enjoys food as much as I do helps too. My friends are always inviting me out for dinner (or inviting themselves in for dinner -- it's all good when you have a grand garden and a BBQ on the back porch.)
What do writers do on their days off? I don't know, I don't get any. But what I often do between writing sessions is indulge in the rewards of other artistic disciplines. Today, for instance, I accepted an invitation to the McMichael Art Gallery in Kleinberg Ontario with actor Geordie Johnson to share his passion for the works of Fredericton-born painter Mary Pratt.
In addition, the McMichael is the adopted site of Tom Thomson's "shack", as it is called today, a wooden cabin where he lived and worked up until his death in 1917.
Although it's not open to public viewing, you can peer through the windows to see the recreation of his studio.
Wow--it's been a busy spring! February saw the long-awaited release of Vanished In Vallarta, third in the Bradford Fairfax comic mystery series. For fans of Brad and Zach, I can tell you that the fourth book, Bon Ton Roulez, has been finished for some time, while a fifth book, Havana Club (a prequel to the series) is in the works. Look for both of those over the next two years, with additional books set in Palm Springs, San Francisco and Toronto to follow.
As well, March saw the publication of Pumpkin Eater, sequel to my Lambda Award-winning Lake On The Mountain, and second in the Dan Sharp series. If Bradford Fairfax is the happy me then Dan Sharp is the dark side of my personality. I an currently editing the third book, The Jade Butterfly, scheduled for a spring 2015 release. The fourth book, After The Horses, is also in the works.
I hope that's enough reading for you! Oh, and by the way, I'd love to hear from people who enjoy my books, so drop me a line or find me on Facebook.
Yup, that's where I am.
There are so many great songs about this place, and I've been hearing a good number of them while here. (California Dreaming, If You're Going to San Francisco, and Joni Mitchell's anthem, "Will you take me as I am, strung out on another man? California, I'm coming home.")
My publisher tells me I don't post enough blogs for a boy with another book coming out. ;-) Hmm, well. That's largely because I post fotos on Facebook. If you're curious to see what I've been up to, try me there. All fotos and write-ups are open to public viewing.
Michel Tremblay is arguably Canada's best playwright and one of the world's great queer writers. Oddly, this play marks his first appearance at Canada's largest queer theatre. The reasons for his neglect are not easy to explain, but the clues are there.
Through the 80s and 90s, Toronto's theatre scene was a jealously guarded and highly competitive fiefdom. At the time, Tremblay was already a big enough name that his work overshadowed that of lesser artists. As well, he'd secured support at Toronto's Tarragon Theatre and because of that he may have seemed too mainstream for an indie theatre like Buddies. Last, but no means least, were his separatist leanings: he didn't like his work to be performed in English, however much English Canada showed a willingness to embrace him.
All of that aside, it's a pleasure to see his work again. He brings a glow and warmth to the lower-class Montreal neighbourhood he writes about in a way that makes Quebec culture charming to those of us who might otherwise find it an enigma. (He would hate that, of course, preferring to remain an enigma to the English "elite." Tant pis!)
Manon, Sandra and the Virgin Mary is Tremblay in his prime. Anger, irreverence and blasphemy crack open the facades of two bitter spinsters: the in-your-face drag queen Sandra and the religious fanatic Manon, neighbours in east-end Montreal, both of whom have quarrels to pick with the world and God.
Coming out of the theatrical revolution of the 70s, where traditional dramatics were being abandoned for a more declamatory style, Tremblay created a series of monologues for his characters to reveal themselves. With minimal onstage action, the drama is all in the words. The contrasts are jarring and explosive, with Manon describing her attempts, sometimes humorous and sometimes frightening, to purify herself for the coming of the Virgin, while Sandra narrates her efforts to purify herself for the arrival of her lover ... dressed as the Virgin.
The result is a mesmerizing collision of values and beliefs, with an apotheosis as moving as the descent into madness of Blanche DuBois, and hinging on a turn of phrase as slight as "the kindness of strangers" was to that femme.
In this production, Richard McMillan as Sandra almost literally takes flight, using little more than Tremblay's words to achieve lift-off, as the abused and misunderstood Sandra reveals her true nature beneath her gaudy fingernail polish and grotesque sexual fantasies. Meanwhile, Irene Poole gives us an emotionally stunted and frustrated Manon, groping blindly in her desperate attempts to find salvation in denying her human urges, while behind them a giant image of the Virgin Mary bleeds into view, overarching everything.
Manon, Sandra and the Virgin Mary. A Pleiades Theatre Production, translated and directed by John Van Burek, at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre. Running until February 2, 2014.
For Joni Mitchell fans, there is a rare treat in the December 2013 issue of Uncut Magazine. Known for revealing herself mostly through song, she seldom does so in print. In a remarkably unguarded and candid interview with Q's Jian Ghomeshi, Mitchell spouts some highly quotable comments on her pop superstar status ("We need goddesses--but I don't want to be one."), on celebrity ("...fame is a series of misunderstandings surrounding a name."), on her ego ("I'd rather have a real arrogance than a false humility."), and the creativity of van Gogh ("It's a lie so you see the truth.") The piece is refreshingly brash and fun and outspoken, even when she sounds cranky and curmudgeonly--which is often, but it's also when she is at her most entertaining and revealing. Enjoy this intimate moment with one of the greats.