Interviewed 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.
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