A Conversation with Carol June Stover
Author of Current River Redemption
Q. You were raised in New Jersey, attended Cornell University, established
a successful career in Boston hotel marketing for almost 30 years, and
now you're in Chicago writing non fiction. What possessed you now to
write a novel about the rural South?
A. The thread running through all those endeavors is my love of research
and writing. And, what you didn't mention is that my mother and father
are from Texas and Arkansas respectively. These factors spawned my passion
to research and write about my Southern roots at some point. Now is
Q. Did any one person influence you more than others in writing
A. Yes, it was definitely my Grandmother Ora Adams from Corning, Arkansas,
who, without realizing it, inspired me to spin my "yarn."
She passed away a few years ago. She used to visit NJ often and helped
my folks raise me; I spent most summer vacations visiting her in Corning,
and I even lived with her in Arkansas where I attended second grade.
Anyway, over the years, she told such fascinating stories about her
.especially about her Grandfather Sharp, a well known
(even famous) preacher in northeastern Arkansas from a line of preachers
dating back to the 1800s. Eventually, I started writing her stories
.you can't make these things up! Just fascinating.
Q. So did you use her story exactly?
A. No, but I did use the thread of her story as the base for my main
character, fifteen year old Amy Blackwell. Like Amy, my grandmother
did have a famous pioneer preacher grandfather and great grandfather
in Northeastern Arkansas, she did have a beloved little sister, her
mother did die tragically of pneumonia after putting out a brush fire
in a storm, she did marry at 16, her husband was schooled in business
college in bookkeeping, and he did die tragically, leaving her alone
with two children. She was a courageous woman, and a very colorful character.
However, I changed the time line, embellished her story, created my
own sub plots and added situations and characters for angst, suspense
and interest. I even made up a long-kept family secret. I actually made
up a lot
.that's why I like to call it a "yarn." Sometimes
I picture my grandmother up there in heaven mad as a hatter about the
stories I added
and even changing her thinking on some points.
But, I also like to imagine that she's pleased with the positive, hopeful
outcome at the end of my tale.
Q. What role does religion play in your novel? Will it have wider
A. This story is basically about a dysfunctional family and clashing
generations in rural Arkansas society c.1917. Because I used my Grandmother's
story as a backdrop, the tale definitely reflects her strict religious
upbringing and passions. However, the same passion could play out in
any religion and culture. It's really about the people, their pride,
their convictions and how they manage and cope.
Q. Was your teenage Amy Blackwell figure, the most interesting to
A. Actually, I had the most fun writing the character of Amy's grandmother
Gert whom the town folks called "nuts." We all know someone
that's too nosey, too bossy or too pushy for our own taste. This character
let me put all those annoying people together for a most amusing and,
admittedly, sometimes "over the top" kind of person. Grandma
Gert was a real "trip" and super fun to write.
Q. Were there any dilemmas in your own background that inspired
A. Having a deeply religious, southern Grandmother's influence on one
hand, and the influence of not-so-religious, transplanted northern parents
on the other hand, set up conflicts for me growing up. The southern
Grandmother side was full of "thou shalts." However, neither
my northern culture nor my parents supported this type of fundamentalist
thinking in my everyday life. This set up all sorts of childhood confusion
and guilt for me
though I found out years later that friends from
so-called "stable" families acquired their share of childhood
guilt too, aside from nationality or faith. Anyway, my grandmother's
story became my forum to rehash troublesome religious and moral issues
and to reach my own bottom line. Having Amy's character in her teen
years was a natural time for inner turmoil and reflection, too.
Q. Amy's grandfather, Preacher Holloway Blackwell, is an interesting
figure. Where did you get him?
A. Again, I've known people so absorbed in a cause or belief that they
try their family's patience and loose their overall audience. It's hard
to explain, but there's a fine line between having your own strong beliefs,
and yet allowing others the dignity of their beliefs too. In my story,
the grandfather's intolerance for other's ideas is an issue that the
characters have to work through. His strong influence affected all of
serving to bond some and devastate others. That's
how life is. A friend who read freshly written chapters said, "The
preacher is a tortured soul." She got it.
Q. Where there any places you really had to "stretch" your
A. Writing the old recluse, Mrs. Isay, involved the world of spirits.
That was definitely outside of my experience, yet fun to think about
and play out in the story. And the subject fascinated the sisters, Amy
a subject so taboo to the adults in their lives. It was
a real quandary for them and, truth be told, has fascinated me from
time to time too.
Funny how that happened!
Q. Did any subjects in your novel come directly from your own experience
rather than from your Grandmother's?
A. Most definitely. As I said, while my home was in NJ, I did spend
considerable time visiting my Grandmother in Arkansas during impressionable
years. I remember one time my grandfather bought a live chicken for
my grandmother to "fry up" for supper (just like Grandmother
Gert's character did). After we got home, I walked around to the back
yard and found the headless foul running around until it finally dropped
dead, my grandfather standing there, axe in hand. I was horrified. I
just had to use that scene in my story. But I remember the wonderful
many about special bonds among neighbors and friends.
Many everyday scenes were my own Corning experiences transported back
in time. My aunt, Dr. Lea Queener, lent me some too, as well as my father...hope
they don't mind. Interestingly, many things remained from my Grandmother's
growing up for me to experience. My grandmother still had her old pump
working out on the porch
along with her modern day faucet in the
kitchen! She still canned preserves, sewed her own clothes (and mine),
and gardened. Not to mention trotting over to church every time the
door opened. These stories are all in the plot line. Yes, a lot remained
from her "old days" for me to experience too. And she passed
along such fabulous stories. It all got used.
Q. What are you going to write next?
A. My next work will probably be set in the '50s - I've always had
a fondness for that era of Americana. I have something outlined already
and have part of a chapter written. Can't wait to get going!