The townhouse on Eden Park was our first venture into home ownership. It was in a great little complex, shaped like a large H with a closed end, and we were in the middle of the cross bar. It actually had six levels if you count the basement, each one offset by five or six steps, so it was a bummer if you were at the top and forgot something from the kitchen, although back then the knees worked and it was great exercise. The back yard was the size of a postage stamp but it opened into the closed part of the H, where there was a good sized parkette with swings and iron horses that rocked back and forth. The Clone was two and a half when we moved in and fifteen and a half when we moved out and some of the friends he made in that neighborhood, through bowling etc, he still has today. It’s a bit of a shock to be standing in the bowling alley which the Clone now owns and have some 6ft+ hunk walk up and give me a big hug, and me remembering him as a 3ft runt with a runny nose.
Eden Pit (named that after a letter came to the house with Park spelled Pit) was where we discovered slush drinks and irish coffees, cooler floats and…ta dah…ceasars that came through the fence. In the summer I used to sit out the back while the Clone was in the parkette, sometimes scribbling away, sometimes reading. When the neighbour next door, Woody, came home, he’d head out the back and if he saw me out there, a hand would come through the fence with a Caesar at the end of it. Caesar’s are marvellous Canuck drinks, an aggrandized version of a Bloody Mary if you will, made with clamato juice, lemon juice, Worcestershire, tobasco, lemon pepper, and vodka. Woody made the best Caesars on the block and I think of him every time I get out a flower vase and mix one. Yes, they came in giant size glasses, and since we could never find glasses big enough, we used fish bowls, flower vases, even small glass ice buckets…whatever was most creative. The joke, of course, was that we were “only having one drink”. Woody moved out to BC and we lost touch after a few years, but I think of him often…the Ceasars…and the evening of the Wild Turkey when he and Stupid decided to flood the park out back for a skating rink. They went out about 7ish on a freezing cold night, armed with hoses and a 40 oz bottle of Wild Turkey. The first layer of flooding went fine, as did the first half of the bottle. About 11, Jan and I went out to see where they were and the two were sitting on the park bench, both holding hoses with the water frozen into large curved icicles, both huddled into their ski jackets, beards frosted with ice, the Wild Turkey almost gone. Neither one knew the water had frozen coming out of the hose, or that they were nearly frozen solid themselves. We hauled them inside by the scruff of their necks and the next morning, the hoses were still there, standing upright with the frozen spigots of water stuck to the rink. I don’t think either one of them ever touched Wild Turkey again.
Eden Pit was also where the Clone discovered that not everything on TV is real. The Six Million Dollar Man was a favorite show back then, and all the kids zoomed around on their Big Wheels pretending to be Steve Austin. The Clone took it one step further one day and climbed a six foot retaining wall then jumped off onto the asphalt road. Luckily he didn’t break both legs, but when I asked him why he did such a dumb, dangerous thing, he just looked at me through the wails and tears and said, ” But mom, I made the tch tch tch tch sound like the “Minion” Dollar Man does when he jumps.” I guess I was lucky he didn’t try going off a roof.
Ours was one of the larger units, and because we had the finished basement, it was party central. At least once a month the music would be blaring and the house would be vibrating. Halloweens were the best…everyone went overboard making costumes. One year we had a Frankenstein who nailed chunks of 2×4’s to the bottom of his shoes, painted himself green, then clomped around the street scaring the nostril hairs out of all the kids. Another time I made a large milk bottle (yes, milk came in bottles back then) out of bristol board, complete with the bottle cap. Dressed Stupid in it and tried to get a refund for him in at the local variety store. The owner of the store was pretty good natured, wouldn’t take Stupid, but he did give us a pack of gum.
Eden Pit was also where I started writing. One of the neighbours, Dianne, was an avid reader of Harlequin Romances. Those were the days when boxes of laundry detergent came with a bonus gift of a Harlequin romance. I think they were 99 cents, about 200 pages long with big print and nothing more scandalous than a kiss on the last page. I was reading War and Peace in the park, and she was reading something about a girl (the heroine) finding a baby calf on the road, taking it back to her hotel room, then pouting and arguing with the manager (the hero) because he wouldn’t let her keep it in the room. No shit, I swear that was the entire plot of the book and by the end, they were kissing and swooning and declaring undying love and keeping the calf as a pet. No thought to the fact the calf grows into a cow and tends to fertilize wherever it feels like it. When I gave it back to Diane, laughing so hard there were tears coming down my cheeks, she got all huffy and said: “Well, if you can do better, why don’t you write one.” (By the way, if anyone recognizes that sterling plot and knows what book that was, I would totally love to get my hands on a copy)
So I hauled out my dad’s old underwood typewriter and started punching the keys. I wrote what I thought was a brilliant tome, with drug dealers and a murder and hair raising fights on the top of a lighthouse tower. Dianne was suitably impressed with the effort and I, all puffed up and certain I had the Next Great Canadian Novel in my hands, submitted it to Harlequin. I guess the editor who read it was suitably shocked as well because she actually wrote a note on the bottom of the standard rejection letter that said: “I can’t remember ever, ever having so much as a death in a Harlequin Romance, let alone drug dealers and murder. I think you should be writing for a different audience.”
Whilst I was awaiting that little rejection note, I happened to pick up Forever Amber at the library and devoured it in a single day. I went back and picked up a Rosemary Rogers, and a few others in the teeny tiny section set aside for romance novels. I re-read Gone With the Wind for the umpteenth time and Captain Blood, and Thomas B. Costain and had an epiphany of sorts…THIS was what I wanted to write. Blood and action and adventure! Errol Flynn swinging out of the rigging! Rhett Butler saving Scarlet from Atlanta while it burned…
Back to the old underwood I went and wrote fast and furious. I chose the Civil War period for my first full length foray into historical adventure because even then I had this wierd desire to create a heroine who was not the weak, simpering, swooning type of heroine common in those days. She was a spy, who lived and slept with a Yankee officer while passing along his secrets to a heroic Confederate officer, who ended up having to save her when she was discovered. It was 500 pages long by the time I typed the end, and the characters had gone through every type of angst I could think of, run through a dozen plot twists, travelled the length of the war torn States….again, a brilliant masterpiece, the next Gone With the Wind for sure!!!!!!
Uh huh. I gave it ten rejections before I bundled it up and stuck it on a shelf and concentrated on the next adventure. There were, in fact, three more great adventures, all of which earned enough rejection letters to fill a large file folder. Dianne never lost faith in me, and if nothing else, I had converted her enough that she had given up on the laundry box romances and moved onto thicker, bigger and better Historical romances. I was getting more discouraged than she was, in fact, and just as I was about to accept the fact that I might never get published…Stupid came home one day, saw me pounding away at the underwood, and scoffed at me. Actually scoffed: “You’ll never write a book. You’re just wasting your time.”
Three months later, I typed the end on a manuscript I had started the day of the scoffing. I typed out the title: China Rose, and sent it off to Avon Books. An overworked editor’s assistant, Malle Vallik (who, ironically, holds a very high editorial position at Harlequin these days) started reading the manuscript in the back of a theatre while she was waiting for the movie to start. She passed it along to her editor, Maggie McLaren, who sent me a nice little letter saying she would like to acquire the book for Avon. They were starting up a new line, called Ribbon Romances, and China Rose would fit right in for the launch along with a book by another unknown Canadian author, Virginia Henley.
And, as all full circle stories seem to go, I received that letter while I was in the hospital having knee surgery, so I couldn’t even jump up and down. Tomorrow, I head off to the ortho’s office to find out when that same knee will undergo surgery to replace it.