King of the Wild Frontier

When I was a little girl, TV was in its infancy. On the Canadian prairies, where I grew up, it was barely taking its first breath. I was lucky to have a teenaged brother who was instrumental in persuading my family to make the big purchase.  If my young memory is correct, we were the first family on the block to have a set. I can still see it, rabbit ears and all. We even had a TV light that sat on top. Apparently watching TV in the dark would hurt your eyes, so you were advised to buy a special source of illumination. Ours was a ceramic black panther (don’t ask), with a bulb tucked in behind the prowling body.

Any of you who were around at the time will probably remember the early programming as vividly as I do. Not only was the whole thing a novelty, but let’s face it, there weren’t that many shows. I watched as much as I was allowed, and being a tomboy, I enjoyed anything to do with the Wild West. One of my favourites was Davy Crockett. Not only was I a regular viewer, but I had a lot of the fan paraphernalia that was manufactured for kids: t-shirts, rifle, gun and holster, coonskin hat. My imaginary world was filled with adventures, based primarily on what I was watching on such shows.

I still have a vivid imagination, but now instead of running around the neighbourhood with my plastic rifle and hiding behind telephone poles, I write novels. My main character, Calli Barnow, stalks her prey through the urban jungle and fights the bad guys, albeit in a tamer fashion than Davy. Sometimes my imagination gets the better of me, however, and I get Calli into a situation that requires more than my imagination, or whatever knowledge I already possess. Then I have to do some first-hand investigation of the activity or the location.

This happened yesterday. When I was writing Oranges and Lemons last winter, I got a little carried away, and I took Calli outside Toronto to Niagara Falls. That in itself is not a problem, since I’ve been to the city several times. Calli, however, visits the casino, and that’s somewhere I have never been. In fact, I don’t gamble at all. I was in a casino once for about five minutes. A number of years ago the Regina Train Station was turned into a casino, and my sister, believing I should see the transformation, gave me a quarter for a slot machine, dropped me at the door, and instructed me to go and look around for five minutes.

Five minutes in a casino in another province fifteen years ago in conjunction with Internet research didn’t make me feel secure enough to write a scene in a book. I had planned to visit Niagara Falls last April before submitting the manuscript to my editor, but that fell through. Having started revisions this last week, the trip could no longer be put off.

Going to Niagara Falls from Toronto doesn’t seem like such a big deal. I’ll admit that up front. But during the seven months I’d been putting off the trip, it took on monumental proportions. I became skilled at coming up with excuses not to go. July was too hot, and I don’t have an air conditioner in my car. Maybe the book wouldn’t be published, and then the trip would be for nothing. Maybe I should wait to get notes from my editor, so I know what changes need to be made. Eventually I ran out of excuses and time.

I seriously contemplated taking a Casino Coach which is cheaper than driving, and certainly more restful, but I don’t like being tied to someone’s  schedule, and I needed to follow a certain route. Yesterday, when I didn’t have to teach, I did the deed. I felt as if I were setting off to the wilds with only my notebook and digital camera to defend me. A big part of my trepidation was due to the questionable state of my trusty steed. I drive a 1997 sub-compact which I love dearly. It’s never let me down, but I can feel its pain. It needs new tires, a wheel alignment, a tune-up and god knows what else. As a result, when I’m on the highway it’s not only the traffic that makes me tense, but the fear that at any moment a mechanical problem could arise.

I did make it there and back successfully, however. I wandered around the casino with my notebook. I talked to a bartender and a security guard. I drove the route and only got lost once.  I found out that 98% of what I had already written would work, and I found ways to change 2% of my ideas to make them more authentic.

The whole day was an adventure. The setting and conflicts were different, but deep inside me that little Davy Crockett was battling the Wild Frontier for the greater good.

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1 Comment

  1. Loretta

     /  November 13, 2011

    Enjoyed reading it – brings back memories for me. I had forgottenabout the black panther T.V. light. I feel like a real scrroge – only gave my sister a quarter for the casino


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