By Stewart Grant
As the fourth-generation publisher of the St. Marys Journal-Argus, Lorne Eedy is undeniably ‘in the know’ when it comes to understanding small town life. This includes having a true appreciation for the array of characters that comprise our southwestern Ontario community, and for the retelling or reshaping of unique stories that remain in the memory banks of longtime citizens.
In his book “Gay Cheese”, which was released earlier this year, Eedy weaves a story involving the St. Marys we know, but with enough twists to make it truly fiction.
“Some people are convinced that they are in the book, but all the characters in the book are fiction, fiction, fiction,” Eedy emphasized. The background elements of the story however ring a familiar tone and help the reader vividly picture the scenes taking place…these include lively conversations by patrons at the Sunriser, the reporting of local happenings in the weekly St. Marys Journal, and encounters with local shops such as Bobby’s Soft Ice Cream, Dick’s Milk & Variety, and Scott’s Barbershop.
“This has always been an idea of mine, to do a book on what happens if a gay couple moves to St. Marys and buys a farm, you know because we have a large same-sex population in town, and I just thought, add a little twist to it,” Eedy told the Independent.
“I had this umbrella of a gay couple buying a farm with goats, and then I had to somehow ignite it. Then it was like an epiphany…I heard this story two summers ago about the squirrel hitting the lawn, I think it was on Rogers (Avenue) or something, and setting the lawn on fire.”
It’s classic St. Marys to involve a fried squirrel into the plot of this novel, creating the impetus for the goat farm to be put up for sale and for lives to change. The old farming couple moves from the country into the town, and for the guys from the city to adjust to rural life and all that comes with it.
“I like to use the quote…’nothing is invented, it’s all natural,” explained Eedy. “The book spoke to me, so I had to get it out.”
The initial draft of the book was written over a period of three months starting last August. “4:30 in the morning is the best time to begin writing, when the mind is clear,” said Eedy. The novel was then added to and refined through consultation with publisher Daniel Crack and editor Matthew Gooden.
“My editor said, ‘we’ve got to have a crisis’ and that’s what happened when the goats escaped,” as Eedy described one of the book’s key refinements. Although the book is quite ambitious at 140,000 words, this reader cruised through the final chapters to learn the fate of these runaway goats.
Eedy’s love of his hometown is evident throughout the book. The importing of a French-Canadian cheese maker to the story was an opportunity to describe how so many newcomers feel when they first lay their eyes upon the Stonetown:
The big-as-Kansas vista from the high viaduct carries Serge to the heart of St. Marys…
Many on the Via train sit up in response to the splay of splendour from a train that traverses a civilization of dumpy backyards and grimy industrial areas, in between patches of farmland. Citizens in St. Marys are never surprised by people’s surprise at the wonderful world of St. Marys: “Best kept secret in Ontario.”
The geography of Eedy’s St. Marys is every-bit as we know it, and the characters within the story ring a familiar tone. Small-town conversation is at the heart of this story, with nods to events of St. Marys’ past appearing as Easter Eggs to those who know the town best.
“People can really identify with it, and that just makes my heart sing when I hear that people enjoyed the local aspect because that’s what it’s all about,” said Eedy. “My neighbour thought it was hilarious because she could ‘get’ all of these characters.”
The official launch for Gay Cheese was originally planned to take place on April 25th at the Sunriser, oops I mean Sunset Diner, but the COVID-19 pandemic has put those plans on hold. In the meantime, copies are available on Amazon.ca and right here in town at the St. Marys Independent Newspaper, The St. Marys Museum, Stonetown Cheese, Sunset Diner and from the author for a personalized copy from the back door, for the cost of $20.
By Stewart Grant