I first met Judith nearly ten years ago when she enrolled in a writing class I taught. She stayed with me for a number of years then felt she was ready to finish the book on her own. Chasing the Strawberry Moon is an amazing coming of age story that will touch the heart of everyone who reads it.
I invited Judith to be interviewed today as she launches her first finished novel. I am so proud of her and her accomplishment and I invite you to join me in wishing her success with Chasing the Strawberry Moon and with the many more books yet to come from her.
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Patsy Schwartz knows she has bigger problems to deal with than the Great Depression, the raging Dust Bowl, or another looming world war. Forced to disappear from Baywater, Minnesota to avoid an arranged marriage to the local sheriff’s son, Patsy hits the open road with her best friend, Virginia Burg. Chasing the Strawberry Moon, Hitchhiking (for Girls) is an account of the adventures of a young woman as she makes her way west, running from conniving parents, the mob, and corrupt local law enforcement.
The novel weaves together the frustrations of young adults on the move surrounded by countrymen scrambling for survival. The Big War is waiting in the wings ready to take the best and brightest. Dust from the Great Plains is scratching their eyes and filling their nostrils, while Chicago hoods are trailing them along with the sheriff’s son from back home.
Chasing the Strawberry Moon, Hitchhiking (for Girls) is based on the true story of Patricia Schwartz’s journey across the western United States during the sultry summer of 1939. Accompanied by her best friend, they thumb their way across the country, riding with truckers, ranchers, Communists, preachers, artists for the WPA, women motorcyclists, and Civilian Conservation Corpsmen, to name a few.
Judith, Welcome to Imagination Gone Wild. I can't wait to hear about your book. I know you have devoted years of your life to writing this book and I’d like to start with asking how you found that perseverance and what it feels like to finally be publishing something that has to be so close to your heart?
Life is filled with weak and dangerous moments: car accidents, pregnancies, deciding to write a book. Good thing one starts as a dewy-eyed optimist because it’s tough work ahead. Fortunately, I was well-served by my natural curiosity about how to write a good, solid story combined with my innate stubbornness to stick with it. I learned to plot, character develop, research, question, agonize, and revise until my brain ran out of ideas. So I decided this must be the end. Now I feel contented, satisfied, but also a bit apprehensive about exposing my inner thoughts to public scrutiny. And once again my head fills with ideas.
So what inspired you to become an author in the first place?
I spent the first half of my working life employed in the logical, analytical, objective, left-brained world of laboratory science. Then I decided to awaken my intuitive, thoughtful, creative right brain side. I think it worked. Guess I’m center-brained now. Oh, and I promised my mother-in-law I’d write her story. (What self-respecting daughter-in-law could refuse?)
Have you developed a specific writing style?
I started out sloppy: redundant, ambiguous, wordy, telling rather than showing, oogobbies of exposition, adverbs, adjectives, prepositions. Fortunately, your writing classes and my critique group, a gaggle of Spartan minimalists, helped me tighten and fine-tune so now the reader’s brain does more work than my pen.
How did you come up with the title for your book? Tell us your process.
For several years my working title was plain old “Patsy and Virgie.” Then my beta readers revolted, demanding a better title. Their comments forced me to search for a key defining moment in the story when my heroine experiences an epiphany; a place where the momentum for this journey rests. Indian moons fascinate me; they have a mystical, spiritual quality based on Native American beliefs. That was a start. Then I searched for a good action verb: Running after? – No. Following? – No. “Chasing?” - Perfect. Following some manuscript tweaking, a title was born.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
My mother-in-law lamented what she called a skewed opinion about the Great Depression. She reminisced, “We were kids with everyday concerns: dating, restrictive parents, yearning for adventures you didn’t find in a small town. We didn’t know we had it bad. We made our own fun and I never felt deprived.” That is what I tried to convey.
Are there any characters or scenes in the book based on true life experience or on someone you know?
The story is based on my mother-in-law’s actual travels. She gave me a written summary of her 1939 journey. Her details contained Grand Canyon-sized gaps which provided me many opportunities to embellish, add tension, and create interesting, quirky, colorful characters.
What challenges did you encounter in writing this novel? How did you overcome them?
Real life can be phenomenally boring. Readers want excitement, romance, and adventure – something spicier than what they read in the morning paper. My biggest challenge was taking daily, routine events that happened – eating breakfast, doing chores, listening to the radio – and making them interesting. I used your “Twenty Things that can Happen” exercise to devise outrageous events and then sifted through the choices, picking the best to embellish real-life facts. And I resolved a bad case of “talking heads” by learning to pull the reader’s attention to the setting, adding the embroidery that makes places and lives interesting.
Which books/authors have influenced your life and your writing direction?
Wow. So much to read. So little time: [Connie's comment: So true, so true, sigh]
• My Antonia by Willa Cather. She describes pioneer strengths.
• Giants in the Earth by O. E. Rolvaag. He tells of new beginnings and the lonely early days on the plains.
• Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquirel. How to cook foods with mystical powers that go beyond simple sustenance.
• The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. A search for goodness and courage in ordinary people.
• Sacre Blue, A Comedy D’Art by Christopher Moore. Artists’ lives are manipulated by that elusive Muse.
What books do you personally read? What are you reading now?
I prefer novels that have a historical bent although I jump from genre to genre. I cannot read a series boom, boom, boom, all in a row. Mixing it up with a YA hot seller, then a sexy memoire, next a romance novel or a thriller seems to keep my attention alive. Currently on my desk:
• Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. I love his fascinating, youthful POVs.
• The Pearl Diver by Jeff Talarigo. Japanese life out of control in WWII.
• Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose. How close we came to living in Little France, Little Spain, or Little Great Britain.
Are you in the process of writing or developing a second book? What else is coming up from Judith Grout? Can you share a little bit about your upcoming work?
Either a short story collection about one Minnesota town from settler days to current times or a continuation of Patsy’s adventures.
Who is your favorite author and what really strikes you about their work?
Jon Hassler. I’ve read all his works about small town life in Minnesota. He writes from a north country perspective which can be a bit severe: a Norwegian bachelor farmer stoicism that comes from living through long, dreary, cold winters armed with resignation yet overlaid with the hope that someday soon the land will provide.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Relish new words. Research them. Store them away for future use. Then pull open the threads of a seam that holds your sentence together and tuck the newbie in. [Connie's comment: very inventive and poetic, Judith]
Is there anything you’d like readers to know about you and your book?
The “real” Patsy would be pleased to read this story. She meets a lot of scoundrels but at last finds a good and decent man. This story shows she overcame a numerous obstacles and maintained her positive outlook on life.
Connie Flynn Website
Know When to Run is now available