Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

At the Desk: Jeffrey Round

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Jeffrey Round

A burned-out slaughterhouse is rarely the setting for happy discoveries, but even missing persons investigator Dan Sharp (who's seen a lot) isn't prepared for what he finds there. A murderer is targeting known sex offenders, and Dan's search for the killer takes him into a community of Toronto's misfit underground, a group of activists living off the grid. Throw a terrified rock star into the mix, and you've got Pumpkin Eater (Dundurn), the most exciting Dan Sharp mystery yet from author
Jeffrey Round.

Today Jeffrey joins us as part of Open Book's At The Desk series, in which writers speak about their creative processes, the workspaces that inspire them and their newest projects.

Today he talks with Open Book about writing on Kleenex boxes, what he learned from Jack Kerouac and James Dean and why David Bowie was his writing soundtrack for Pumpkin Eater.

Oddly, my desk is usually the last place I end up when I'm writing. That's partly because I'm an inveterate scribbler and traveler. I find inspiration everywhere and can write almost anywhere — planes, trains and subway cars are just as convenient as the waiting room of a doctor's office. My thoughts end up on sales slips, Starbucks napkins, even the flaps of Kleenex boxes, as much as in small, pocket-size writer's notebooks. For some reason, the act of shutting out the world helps me focus my thoughts. Where other writers shrink in horror from outside distractions, I welcome them.

When I finally arrive at my office with my scribbles and ideas, I seldom use visual aids. If I'm writing a mystery, then a day-by-day breakdown of scenes helps me structure the material quickly. That goes on the wall in front of me, but otherwise my blinds are down and my visual field is reduced to reminders of things I have to do "out there" in the world — a calendar with deadlines, for instance. I don't want the world to intrude or I might be tempted to go and sit in my garden or worse: get on a plane and leave — always a great pleasure, but one I can't afford to indulge as much as I would like.

My one exception to the rule of non-visual stimulation lies in my tendency to choose a location-appropriate photograph for my computer desktop background. Recently, while writing about Cuba, I chose a panoramic shot of teenagers hanging out on the Malecón in Havana with the Capitolio in the distance. It served as a reminder of things I had seen and done while there. The downside is the travel fever it inspires, especially in the long winter months.

On the walls, out of my line of vision, are framed blow-ups of some of my book covers. My office used to be lined with book shelves. Recently, however, I moved them to other parts of the house. The ones that remain tend to be filled with CDs as much as books. Of talismans, to which writers are particularly prone (or so I'm told), I have but two: a small photograph of Jack Kerouac in a football uniform and a rock taken from the crash site where actor James Dean died. The first is to remind me that you never know who might achieve success as a writer, while the second is a memento mori — a reminder that death can come early or late, but that it does eventually come and I should not waste my time. (If you look, you'll see a part of each in the photograph of my desktop.)

Apart from my laptop, the most important item in my office is a stereo. While I shy away from visual stimulation, I almost invariably write to music. The choice is of paramount importance. I tend to select music without English lyrics, so my mind doesn't get tripped up by what I'm listening to. Rhythm is good: the Creole Choir of Cuba or Dizzy Gillespie, if the piece I'm writing has a jazzy feel. With The Honey Locust, my literary novel about the Siege of Sarajevo, I used dark modern pieces by composers like Arvo Pärt and Henryk Górecki to help me access the emotional depths that work required. For my most recent book, Pumpkin Eater, which features a faded rock star, I played a lot of David Bowie, but that was an anomaly in terms of my musical choices. For some reason, Bowie's singing doesn't distract me from my internal word processing.

During the final phase, editing, I tend to leave my office again. I generally park myself downstairs at the dining room table, where I can spread out a bit more. Editing requires both an on-screen and an on-paper phase, both necessary in their way, and my desk can't accommodate the space requirements. I also find that changing environments helps me shift to a different mode of creative thinking. For this phase alone, I require both silence and the non-distraction that other writers require for their writing, focusing on the minutiae of word choice and the rhythm of sentences offsetting one another as I listen for their inner music.
— Jeffrey Round

Jeffrey Round latest book is the Dan Sharp mystery Pumpkin Eater. Lake On The Mountain, the first Dan Sharp mystery, won a Lambda Award in 2013. Jeff was founder and artistic director of Best Boys, an independent multi-media production company. He also directed the Toronto production of Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap, the world's longest-running stage show. His music has been recorded by soprano Lilac Caña. His blog, A Writer’s Half-Life, is syndicated online. He lives in Toronto. Visit his website at

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