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Accidental Hitchhiker: The Story Behind the Story

hitchhikerPeople often ask writers where we get our ideas. Mine come from anywhere and everywhere—a dream, a snippet of conversation overheard in a bar, a walk with my husband. After that initial burst of inspiration, I build on the idea. Expand and improve it as only a romance writer can, making it more. More exciting. More funny. More romantic.

My first published work was a short story in Woman’s World magazine. I’d decided to try my hand at short stories, and when I sat down to brainstorm, the first thing to come into my head was a decidedly unromantic incident from my college days, in which I’d managed to get into a car with a strange guy because I thought he was my ex-boyfriend.

See, my sophomore year in college, I had dated this guy, Troy, who drove a blue Toyota Camry (name, make, and model changed to protect the innocent). Things didn’t work out, and we went our separate ways, but every time I saw a blue Camry, I’d find myself looking closely to see if the driver was Troy. This got to be pretty annoying, because there were a lot of blue Camrys on the road.

One day, as I was walking home from class, I saw yet another blue Camry. I did my usual check. The car was going pretty fast, but the driver looked like he could be Troy–same color and length hair, eyes disguised by sunglasses. As the car passed me, I turned around to see if the sticker Troy had on his car was on the bumper. It wasn’t.

Yet another blue Camry that wasn’t Troy’s, I thought, and continued on my way.

A minute later, the Camry pulled up next to me. “Want a ride?” the driver asked.

Oh, I thought. It was Troy after all. Why else would the driver have turned around to offer me a ride?

I was so convinced it was my ex that I was in the car with the door closed and my seatbelt fastened before I realized that the reason Troy looked so different was because he wasn’t, in fact, Troy. He was a complete stranger who had stopped to give me a ride because he thought I’d been checking him out.

Let me stop right here to explain something–I am not an adventurous person. Take the least adventurous person you know, and then imagine someone way less adventurous. That’s me. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t even make eye contact with strangers, much less get in their cars.

Cue total freak out. I was certain my life was over. I was speeding down the road with some random guy. He could be a rapist. He could be a murderer.

But, as it turned out, he was a perfectly nice person who drove me straight to my apartment. As he dropped me off, he said, “Well, at least you got a ride home out of it.”

But, actually, I got much more, because as I thought back over the incident, my romance-writer brain kicked into gear, massaging the chain of events and the characters until I had something totally different. Something funny and romantic. Thus was born my first Woman’s World short story, in which the heroine thinks she’s getting into her brother’s car, but is actually getting into the car of the hot neighbor she had been crushing on. If you want to see how the two versions of the story differ (in just about every way possible), you can read the fictional version at my website.

And that’s one of my favorite things about being a writer. I can take a terrible real-life experience and reimagine it in a totally different, infinitely more satisfying way.

What’s your favorite part about being a writer? Are there any crazy real-life stories you’ve fictionalized?

12 responses to “Accidental Hitchhiker: The Story Behind the Story”

  1. Oh man, what a great story. Thank God, it turned out like it had and you’re safe.

    Most of the time, my stories come to me when a first line pops into my head. Then I look for character pictures and start asking them questions. Crazy, huh. However, two of my romantic suspense stories (HIS WITNESS TO EVIL and IN THE PRESENCE OF EVIL) were based on true events when the Russian Mafia tried to use my family’s trucking business and had the FBI knocking on my office door. I took notes. Lots of notes.

    BTW I didn’t know you wrote for WW. Cool. Writing short is hard for me.

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    • The Russian mafia??? Wow. Great story inspiration, but I’m sure the real-life version was not fun.

      Writing short definitely took a change in mindset. It wasn’t something I thought I could do until I did it. 🙂

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  2. I’m with Autumn – thank goodness that story had a happy ending! 🙂

    I haven’t fictionalized anything real life, but I’m sure tidbits here and there have snuck in. And I certainly draw on my experiences with people and their emotions.

    Favorite part about being a writer? The flexibility. Both in the schedule and in what I can work on. I get bored if I can’t pick and choose what I work on each day (and when). Yes, I have to get the work done, but how and when is up to me. 😉

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  3. Tamara Hogan says:

    I’m glad the car ride had a happy ending, Ava!

    My third book, TEMPT ME, was set in Minnesota in the dead of winter, coinciding with the timeline of the annual St. Paul Winter Carnival. I wrote a couple of scenes featuring the carnival, one in which the villain gets dragged along to hunt for the Winter Carnival Medallion when it’s well below zero Farenheit, and another where the Sebastiani family has pizza delivered to the lake where they, and hundreds of others, are ice fishing.

    I received a reader letter asking about the ice fishing pizza delivery, but yep – it’s a real thing!

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  4. Rita Henuber says:

    I’m writing a collection of short stories to be published in a single book. Each story has at least one RL event or was inspired by something that happened to me. People do ask where authors get ideas. I had to stop saying I bought them on Amazon because too many believed me. It’s quite amazing to me that others don’t see stories everywhere. That characters don’t inhabit everyone’s brain, take over their thoughts, or wake them at night to discuss a plot. I mean what are they thinking when they stare off into space?

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    • Hahaha. I’m not sure other people stare off into space nearly as much as us writers. I know my husband uses his downtime to stare at the screen of whichever electronic device he has with him rather than making up stories in his head. So weird. 🙂

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  5. I love this story! My Golden Heart book was actually a (very liberal) fictionalization of a weird trip on my BFF’s then-boyfriend’s yacht with a few of his snobby friends. I might have added a murder to vent my frustrations… and a romantic hero to spice things up. 😉

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