Monday, May 19, 2008

Down the Shore with...Justin Catanoso

If you've read my book, you know that I'm a big fan of Avalon Campground. I've spent many summers there (and will be there this weekend). Justin Catanoso, author of My Cousin the Saint: A Search for Faith, Family, and Miracles, is part of the family that has run the campground for 40 something years now. Even though he now lives in North Caroline, he'll be doing a signing down the shore on Saturday.

1. I feel odd asking a shore native what his 'favorite' shore town is. So why don't you tell us instead what it was like growing up down the shore?
I surely didn't realize it at the time, but I loved the smallness of it. Growing up on an island, just three blocks from the ocean, is something people dream about. But that's what we all did in the Catanoso family. Whatever wasn't within walking distance I could ride my bike to, including my cousins' house, my dad's business, my elementary and high school, my sports practices and games, even some dates (the boardwalk in winter if a great place to take a teen-age date!). I took growing up in North Wildwood for granted until I got to Penn State for my freshman year. When I would tell people where I was from, they would almost always respond: "You're from Wildwod?! I didn't think anybody actually lived there!" Of course, half the campus seemed to own a kelly green Shamrock Cafe tee-shirt, which was owned by the Ward family in Wildwood Crest. Eileen Ward was a good friend in high school.

2. What do you think has changed the most?
Everything, at least in Wildwood. Growth and development over time does that. Some of it's good, like ripping out the ill-conceived pedestrian mall on Pacific Avenue. Some of it not-so-good, like the quickly built condos crowding every available lot and corner. But the Morey family is to be commended for taking what is unique about Wildwood -- it's amusement piers and small, unique, non-chain motels -- and building a brand around it.

3. How did this book come about?
On Oct 20, 2005, I had a commentary on National Public Radio titled Our Cousin the Saint. It aired three days before the canonization of Padre Gaetano Catanoso at the Vatican. My commentary raised questions of what it meant to have a saint in the family when you're in need of a miracle. A wonderful literary agent, Randi Murray, was listening in California. She called and asked if I would be interested in writing a book based on the commentary. I was skeptical , at first, that there was a book there. But with Randi's help, I began to think otherwise. We had a book contract with HarperCollins within five months.

4. How did you end up in North Carolina?
I am a journalist and have been writing for newspapers since high school, when I used to cover local sports for The Wildwood Leader. I studied journalism at Penn State and dreamed of one day writing for the New York Times or Philadelphia Inquirer. In the 1980s, North Carolina was known for having great daily newspapers in Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro, places where you could make a mark in a few years and move on to bigger things. I was hired by the News & Record in Greensboro in April 1987, after having worked at papers in State College, Pa., and Knoxville, Tenn. I thought I would stay a few years, make my mark and head back to the northeast. It didn't happen, for many reasons. The Triad region of central North Carolina is a wonderful place to live and raise a family. My three daughters were born here. As a journalist, I have always found the work here challenging and rewarding. My wife, who is a singer and songwriter, has found wonderful opportunities here as well. After a while, place starts to feel like home. That's what North Carolina has been for us.

5. Tell us the details of your signing.
My brother Lenny owns the Woodland Village on Route 9 in Clermont, adjacent to the Garden Greenhouse & Nursery, just a short drive from the island resorts. My entire family has been enormously supportive of me during this entire book-writing project. When we talked about how to get the word out in Cape May County, where much of Part I of the book is set, Lenny suggested a book discussion and signing at his retail village. I loved the idea. We'll get started around 1 p.m. on Sunday, May 25. I plan to talk about my experiences these past few years, perhaps share the videos I made with the help of a friend while visiting Italy two months ago, maybe even read a passage or two from the book. Lenny will have books for sale, of course, and I would be honored to sign one for whomever would like to share in this story.

6. What are on your 'must do list' while you're here?
It's a quick visit, just two days. Much of that time will be spent visiting with my parents, my brother and sister, and if I can catch up with him, my best pal since birth, my cousin Anthony, who runs Steel Pier in Atlantic with his brothers City. Since I don't live near the beach now (the NC coast is four hours from my home in Greensboro), I always try to make time for a walk along the shoreline. And if I can tear Lenny away from his work, we love to go kayaking in the sound behind Avalon. It is one of nature's most amazing wildlife preserves. Simply beautiful.


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Nancy said...

I spent quite a few wonderful summer vacations at Avalon Campground with my family in the 1970's. I was lucky enough to have met Justin during one of those trips. Even as a teenager Justin was a great writer- someone you knew was going to "make it big"! I just received my copy of the book a couple of days ago and can't wait to read it. If I had know about the book signing I would have made the trip down the shore to get my copy signed! Congratulations to Justin- a great writer and a wonderful person! Best of luck with the book!

Justin said...

Hello Nancy. Jen Miller brought this comment to my attention. It was really generous of her to post this interview. Thanks for buying the book and I'd love to hear from you when you finish. You can reach me at