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 the time!

Q. Did any one person influence you more than others in writing this novel?

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 growing up….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 down….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 appeal?

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 write?

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 your story?

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 the characters…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 imagination?

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 and Effie…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 stories too…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!


 

Copyright © 2005-2013, Carol June Stover