Jeffrey Round is an award-winning writer, director and playwright.
His first novel, A Cage of Bones, was published in 1997. The book garnered acclaim and topped bestseller lists around the world. His comic mystery, The P-town Murders, first in the Bradford Fairfax series, was published in 2007. Both titles were listed on AfterElton’s Top 50 Greatest Gay Books in 2008.
In 2009, Cormorant released Death In Key West, the second Fairfax mystery. The Honey Locust, Jeffrey’s literary novel about the Bosnian war, followed in the same year. Both received high praise from reviewers.
Jeffrey’s fifth book, Lake on the Mountain, is the first in his Dan Sharp mystery series. Published by Dundurn in spring 2012, this literary-thriller continues to garner critical acclaim. Fans will be glad to know a sequel, Pumpkin Eater, is awaiting publication by Dundurn. Jeffrey is currently completing The Jade Butterfly, the third and final book in the series.
Jeffrey directed Agatha Christie’s long-running hit play, The Mousetrap, for three of its twenty-five record-breaking years at Toronto Truck Theatre. The Canadian production received its highest critical acclaim under his direction. He also founded a multi-media theatre company, Best Boys Productions. His first full-length stage play, Zebra, about the real-life murder of librarian Kenneth Zeller, won the Gay and Lesbian Appeal’s “Right to Privacy Award” and was nominated for a Pink Trillium for Best Play.
In 2005, Jeffrey was nominated for the KM Hunter Artists Award for Literature for “a body of work” that includes fiction, poetry and literary criticism. In 2002, his short film, My Heart Belongs to Daddy, premiered at the prestigious Director’s View Film Festival. It won awards for Best Director and Best Use of Music at the Hollywood North Movie Festival.
Jeffrey also founded The Church-Wellesley Review, Canada’s first print journal for LGBT creative writing. The CWR ran for ten years, expanding into an on-line quarterly and reading series. In 2008, Jeffrey began the short-lived salon, Proust and Company, hosted at Glad Day Bookshop in Toronto.
Jeffrey has also worked as a producer and writer for Alliance-Atlantis and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. In addition, he is a songwriter and has composed and recorded songs with acclaimed Canadian soprano Lilac Caña.
An alternate and slightly more fabulous bio note…
I was born in the wagon of a travellin’ show…Erm, no, that was someone else, actually. I was born in Sudbury, once known as Canada’s ugliest city. (They have trees now, so they lost the title.) Sudbury sits in a crater formed by the impact of a giant meteorite. When I lived there, it was the nickel capital of the world. It may still be. There were rumours the downtown was built on quicksand or possibly in a swamp.
As a kid, I used to run along the slag heaps with my dog, Tammy. When I was four, my parents gave Tammy away. Later, Tammy ran away from her new owners to look for me. For years, I wandered the railway tracks hoping to find her, but I never did.
Sometime later, we moved to Windsor, where I first heard Motown music, which I still love. In 1967, two important events occurred: I wrote my first poem and Detroit burned. It was the Summer of Love and Motor City was convulsed with race riots. My friend Sherry King and I would sit in her bedroom watching the smoke rise and listening to gunfire across the river. It was better than television. Not long after, my poem, Raggedy Anne, won Honourable Mention in a school poetry contest. I can still recite it, if you ask nicely.
Time passed. We moved back to Sudbury, where I grew my hair then took up drawing and playing guitar. Not much else happened then. Eventually, we moved to Dartmouth, then renowned as Canada’s most depressing city. My high school was so poor it couldn’t afford an art program. Bad news for my artistic ambitions. Worse, I didn’t blend in with the other kids. I talked about Picasso, George Gershwin and Led Zeppelin in the same sentence when fishing, coal mining and Anne Murray would have been more apt.
Fortunately, I had a brilliant music teacher, James Farmer, and an engaging English teacher, Sarah McRae, who encouraged my weirdness. Through James, I discovered a love for classical music and began to write songs. Through Sarah, I discovered The Great Gatsby and had my first literary orgasm reading the passage where Nick discovers Daisy and Jordan lounging on the sofa. “Wow!” I thought. “You can do that with writing? Oh!”
At Dalhousie University, I enrolled in theatre classes. There, I experienced my first bout of depression. Like many of my idols—F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sylvia Plath, James Dean—I suffer from debilitating emotional swings. I was also freaked out by my fellow thespians. I thought they were pretty weird. Some of them even seemed to be trying to be weird. I went back to writing. It wasn’t till years later that I realized out of all the creative types writers are the weirdest.
Time passed. I moved to Toronto and fell in love. That ended disastrously. I escaped to Europe to become a fashion model. All that time I had the strangest feeling I was living in somebody’s novel. I was—mine. The people I met and the experiences I had seemed to be adding up to something. When I came home, I decided to do what I’d always wanted to do: write.
A Cage of Bones was turned down by every publisher in Canada—some twice, if I waited long enough for a change in editors to slip it into their slush piles again. At the time, I couldn’t understand why. That word would be “market.” I hadn’t a clue what sold, just what I liked to read, usually dreary books by suicidal authors whose acclaim was far greater in death than in life.
I don’t recall who asked (but bless you, bless you, bless you!) if I’d tried to sell my book outside Canada. What? Me, a Canadian writer, go elsewhere to publish? Not on your life! (On mine, maybe.) But it began to sink in: the Canadian market couldn’t support writers who wanted to earn a living writing fiction.
I fired off two letters, one to the States and the other to England. Within two months I had a “yes” from the American publisher and a “maybe” from the Brit. Being masochistic, I took the “maybe,” reworked my manuscript, and got my first book contract.
I scored nicely with that little novel, watching it climb onto bestseller lists in places as far away as Australia and Iceland. I also got some good reviews internationally from people who liked what I was writing. Tellingly, my only scathing review was from Toronto’s Globe (Boo!) Clearly, mainstream Canada was not ready for gay writing. I’m still not sure it is.
Patriot that I am, I slogged my second novel around to the same Canadian publishers. I’d proved myself, hadn’t I? Cage had sold well around the globe—small potatoes for some, but not bad for a first time Canadian author. My new book was the great novel I’d always intended to write. Surely people would see that. But the chorus of No’s grew louder than Handel’s Hallelujahs!
It’s one of the cruelest questions a writer can ask. I had no answer, so I got on with my life, thinking I’d failed to live my dream.
In 2003, my then-partner and I drove to Provincetown, a place I invariably end up in on Labour Day. (I love the crowds, I hate the crowds, so I stay away in summer. It always seems to be Labour Day when I arrive.) Somehow (long story omitted), I ended up in a beautiful palazzo belonging to a man named Ned Bradford, whom I have never met, but whose great-great-whatever grandfather arrived on the Mayflower. (They first landed at Provincetown, right?)
One day while showering in Ned’s marble tiled bathroom, I looked out the window to see a pair of binoculars trained…on me. I flashed the guy and exited, but not before I had a flash of my own—one of being spied on, shot at and so on. I was in another novel, but this time it was in a genre I’d never considered: comic mystery. I already knew the title: The P-Town Murders.
Did I struggle with it? Me, a serious literary author writing for fun and profit? Yes, of course. For about three seconds. That was all I had before the ideas came burbling out and I started scribbling. Once again, I kept meeting people I felt belonged in a book: good guys, bad guys, and plain old weirdoes (P’town’s full of them.) And pretty soon, they were.
I wrote for 18 days straight, producing a first draft at a phenomenal (for me) rate of about 2,500 words per day. I polished it over the next five months and sent it off to my now ex-agent, a woman with a very stubborn, conservative bent. She gave me heart failure when she insisted we try it on Canadian publishers first: “After all, you’re Canadian, dear!” she said. “No way,” I replied. “I’ve done that shit already.” Glowering didn’t work. She wouldn’t budge—it was Canada first, or else.
OK, I thought—there’s more than one way to skin a stone, or two birds, or whatever it is. Something told me that a book about P-town conceived in the home of a descendant of one of its founding father’s had more than a shot at success. I contacted the Haworth Press, who had recently published my short story, A Perfect Time To Be In Paris. No doubt the Americans would be looking for something hot, fun and consumer-friendly, even if Canadians were out to lunch. They were.
The only problem was telling my agent, but I’d lived in the CanLit ghetto far too long to let that stop me. I told her I’d heard a rumour they were looking for a book exactly like P-Town, and could she please send it. She refused again. I persisted, and so it came to pass that I finally sold my second novel. And, yes, that woman is no longer my agent. (The moral of this story, kids: don’t get stuck in the CanLit ghetto.)
In the meantime, I continued writing. Death In Key West, second in the Bradford Fairfax series was released in summer 2009. A third volume, Vanished in Vallarta, and a fourth, Bon Ton Roulez, are complete, with more titles in the works.
Happily, my literary writing seems to have come round as well. The Honey Locust, my novel about a Canadian journalist who goes to the Bosnian war, was also published to acclaim. Recently, Dundurn books published Lake On The Mountain, a decidedly dark book, and first in my new Dan Sharp mystery series.
Now, of course, I worry about being slotted. Which side of the fence will I sit on—genre writer or literary writer?
Until I decide, please indulge me while I be both.
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