Delving deep into a wellspring of determination, author John Stover has overcome drugs and alcohol, a paralyzing accident and homelessness to finish his latest novels
By Michael Aushenker
John Stover was not only a man on a mission, he was a man in a mission. His “Love Rescue Me” trilogy, a series of quasi-autobiographical adventure novels, was written two hours at a time on Los Angeles Central Library computers while living out of downtown’s Midnight Mission.
The novels are the culmination of three decades of a rollercoaster life that has seen success in the clothing industry fade to homelessness due to alcoholism, drug abuse, and an accident rendering him briefly paralyzed from a broken neck.
The former Marina del Rey resident reads from his “Love Rescue Me” series on Thursday, April 10, at Book Soup in West Hollywood.
As Stover tells it, he arrived in California from Boston in 1976 and worked as an aide to then Democratic Party treasurer Edwin W. Pauley, who had been chair of the University of California Board of Regents.
“While with Big Ed Pauley, I met Presidents Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter,” Stover said. “At one presidential dinner, I was so drunk, Chip Carter had to drive me and [Pauley] home.”
After Pauley died, Stover “got married, bought a house and a lot of commercial real estate. I owned the building where my clothing factory was housed,” he said.
Things were looking up in 1989, the year he became sober and opened a clothing business. His daughter, Katy Stover, was born a year later.
In 1994, Dr. Clark Espy met Stover at a party. From 1996 to 2000, Stover lived with a girlfriend in the same Marina del Rey building as Espy, who remembers Stover making an eye-opening statement at one of their frequent get-togethers.
“All of us were drinking wine,” recalled Espy, who tried to coax Stover into partaking. “John wouldn’t drink. He said, ‘If I have a glass of wine, I’ll end up in the gutter taking heroin.’”
Despite his struggles, Stover found continued success, donating clothing to homeless missions and writing his first book, the memoir “The Road Runner,” in 1998.
Katy Stover became an academic child prodigy and earned a scholarship to UC Santa Barbara.
“Growing up, I was a lot more aware because of those [substance abuse] issues,” said Katy Stover, who draws a connection between her father’s alcoholism and her current work as a teacher at a rough-and-tumble inner city school in Washington D.C.
A few weeks before Katy Stover left for college, John Stover’s life took a hard left turn.
“He was boogie boarding and the board was broken and it took him down to the bottom of the ocean,” Katy Stover recalled of that fateful day at a beach near Marina del Rey. Her father emerged from the water bloodied and collapsed.
During her first year of college, Katy’s mother temporarily went missing during a schizophrenic breakdown, and Stover’s addictions worsened.
“His girlfriend kicked him out. She dropped him off at the Midnight Mission one day,” Espy said.
Meanwhile, Espy had segued from John Stover’s friend to his doctor.
“I helped get him off of heroin,” recalled Espy, who said he had prescribed Suboxone to block Stover’s withdrawals.
Stover wound up seeking shelter at Midnight Mission and L.A. Mission, the very downtown locations, Stover said, “where I had donated so much clothing, time and money. Ironic, huh?”
Elements of Stover’s traumatic life are woven into the “Love Rescue Me” trilogy.
Comprised of three books “Love Hurts,” “Love Scars” and “Love Is All You Need”— Stover’s novels chronicle the globe-trotting adventures of Jack St. Clair, who, while a student, is wrongly accused of participating in a terrorist plot. Forced to go on the lam, St. Clair leaves behind true love Diane Dante. Unbeknownst to him, Dante is with child. She flees to Paris to raise her daughter as St. Clair escapes the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Surviving 9/11 haunts St. Clair into a relapse into alcoholism, he loses everything he has, and winds up living in a downtown mission. That’s when St. Clair’s life intersects with the daughter he never knew.
“He’s a real authority on the street life. It’s brilliantly described in his books,” Espy said.
“My father is honestly a genius. He knows every single song lyric, cross-reference, poem, writing. The references he can remember are amazing,” Katy Stover said. “Everyone knows what my dad is capable of, and it’s really frustrating.”
The years 2012 and 2013 became a particularly rough patch for her father.
“Three times the paramedics found him dead and had to resuscitate him,” said Katy Stover, who flew back and forth from D.C. to L.A. for each of those emergencies. “With my aunt passing away last October, my mom going through her schizophrenic break, and [working with] Teach for America, I kind of shut him out of my life.”
Her father’s self harm was simply too much to bear.
“Everybody has a breaking point. He has a daughter who really cares about him,” she said. But “I’ve learned that unless he wants to be sober, he won’t be sober. No one can stop my dad.”
As of the past eight months, “I am fine now — drug- and pain-free,” said Stover, who has moved into a government-subsidized unit downtown but hopes to one day return to Marina del Rey.
Tapping his firsthand experiences, Stover plans to moderate a panel discussion about homelessness at the Central Library’s Mark Taper Auditorium in August.
Though his trilogy of novels is now complete, Stover’s life remains an open book.
“I read a lot, and his stuff is as good as anything I’ve seen. I’d like to see him succeed,” Espy said. But “If he goes down again like this, he won’t survive it.”
John Stover’s reading is at 7 p.m. on April 10 at Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. Call (310) 659-3110 or visit booksoup.com.