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The City Park footbridge in Valley City is part of the scene of an unfortunate event in the novel “Chasing the Strawberry Moon: Hitchhiking (for girls).” While the incident really did happen, it did not occur in Valley City, fictionalized in the book as “Felicity.” Photo courtesy Judith A. Grout

‘Strawberry Moon’ novel features VC

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‘Strawberry Moon’ novel features VC
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People reading “Chasing the Strawberry Moon: Hitchhiking (for girls)” may not recognize Valley City in the novel, but it’s there, bridges, parks and all, under the name “Felicity.”

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Unlike Dawson and Oriska, which remained the same, and Spiritwood, which shifted only slightly to become Spirit Wood in the book, Valley City’s name was altered for a simple reason.

“I wanted to change that name because I had some unsavory characters in my story there,” said author Judith A. Grout, who lives in Arizona. “… I wanted to preserve the goodwill of anybody who read the book that lived in that era.”

The book tells the story of Patsy Schwartz and her best friend Virgie, who as teenagers in 1939 decide to leave their little Minnesota town and hitchhike to Hollywood, where they fully expect to become rich and famous.

Along the way they meet helpful people as well as dangerous ones, sometimes even in the same town.

The novel is based on the memoirs of Patricia Schwartz Peterson, who really did hitchhike across the country with her best friend in 1939.

And the scary event that takes place in the novel’s Felicity really did occur, too — just not in Valley City.

Grout said she had to put some villains into the text somewhere, but felt bad about it and decided to change the town’s name because of it.

By contrast, the kindly nun who helps the girls in Felicity had a genuine counterpart in Valley City, giving the girls a good meal and a pair of shoes each before sending them on their way.

Peterson, who passed away in 2009, was Grout’s mother-in-law.

“My mother-in-law … had done some foolish things in her time. She wanted her story told, but she didn’t want to write it herself. She asked me if I would write this book,” Grout said.

Grout’s self-published novel is a little less than 500 pages long, and Peterson’s published memoir was only about a fifth that length. Conversations with Peterson often resulted in more detail.

“My mother-in-law gave me a lot of ideas,” Grout said. “She would call me and say ‘Well, this is what happened, and I remember this now. I didn’t put it in my memoir, but this is what I remember.’”

Another source for the novel was Grout’s own imagination — the book’s more fictional sections include a bit of romance as well as a subplot about an organized crime plot that dovetails with the girls’ trip. 

Those sections, too, are rooted in reality — Peterson’s bootlegger father had been involved with organized crime and had indeed served time in prison.

After Grout had finished her first draft, she resolved to drive along some of the route Peterson had taken in 1939, going so far as to purchase some 1939 road maps of the area.

Her stop in Valley City led Grout to think that it was a perfect place.

“I’ve got to put these bad characters in the town, and I feel terrible about it, so we better change the name!” Grout said, recalling how she felt at the time. “I thought ‘Felicity’ sounded like a pretty good name for a city that was a nice place that had some pretty bad characters in it.”

Grout’s book has sold between 100 and 150 copies in the two months it’s been out.

“Chasing the Strawberry Moon: Hitchhiking (for girls)” is available at Amazon.com for $12.62 as a paperback and $2.99 as an electronic book.

Sun reporter Kari Lucin can be reached at (701) 952-8453                   or by email at klucin@jamestownsun.com

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Kari Lucin
Kari Lucin joined the Grand Forks Herald as a multimedia producer in August 2014. Previously, she worked for a few years at the Jamestown Sun in Jamestown, N.D., as a staff writer, and prior to that, for about six years as staff writer and later online content coordinator, at the Daily Globe in Worthington, Minn. A graduate of Jackson County Central High School and Augsburg College, she has a bachelor's degree in philosophy and English. Find more of her writing at her blog, Oh Look, a Shiny Thing! or on Twitter at @karilucin.
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