A Conversation with Carol June Stover
Author of Surviving 26th Street
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 pursuing a writing career. What possessed you to write a novel about a family in Northern New Jersey?
A. The thread running through all those endeavors is my love of research and writing. And, what you didn't know is that my mother and father were from Texas and Arkansas respectively, and that my father moved my family to Northern New Jersey when I was very young–-a move that didn’t turn out as he’d hoped at first. These factors inspired me to write about what life was like for a transplanted Southern family. As it turned out, I didn’t have to look past my own family for most of the storyline, including the angst, the conflict, and lots of dark humor.
Q. So, is this an autobiography?
A. No, but I did use my family’s story as a base for my storyline because it was both intriguing and troubling. Set in 1954, the story unfolds with Justice family in turmoil after the father’s New York City advertising agency failed. However, the story has many differences from my own. I changed the time lines, I embellished the story, and I created sub plots and added situations and characters to build the interest. Actually, I made up a lot….that's why I like to call it a "yarn." This time I got to change past events to the way I wanted them to work out when I was nine years old.
Q. Was your nine year old character Jane Justice, the most interesting to write?
A. Actually, I had the most fun writing the character of Jane’s grandmother Ruth. She came up to New Jersey to help out the family for all the right reasons, but she ends up adding to the chaos. She was quite a woman and a fun character to write.
Q. Were there any dilemmas in your own background that inspired your story?
A. Again, living in a family with my parents and household in daily conflict, I had a lot of material to work with for Jane’s character…actually for all of the other characters too. Also, 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 provided ready-made scenes for jumping off points. This story gave me the forum to play those days over again and to figure out what went right and what went wrong. Then I could either rewrite them, warts and all, or turn them into comical scenes if I wanted.
Q. Where there any places you really had to "stretch" your imagination?
A. My father actually hired an employee to work in his basement business that was every bit as annoying as the Hubert Hubley character in my story. However, I knew nothing at all about his home life, so I had to invent it…and my imagination went a bit wild.
Q. What are you going to write next?
A. I am working on a novel entitled “Kenmore Square” set in Boston in the 1960s about a family with mob connections. I am drawing on the time I lived in Boston after college—minus the mob ties!