The Hitchhiker

I have an odd relationship with this piece. Like most of my stories, I wrote this years ago, had it workshopped once, then let it sit. I tried revising it a year ago but didn’t get really far. Then I signed up for a short story workshop and knew this was the piece to work on and submit since it was finished. Well, working on it was frustrating. I knew what the flaws were. But every time I worked on it, I felt like it got messier and messier. I didn’t feel like I was resolving anything but rather making it more and more muddled. I was adding complexity to the main character in an attempt to make her motivations clear, which was good, but as I did, her feelings got more confusing to me.

Knowing I wasn’t going to get anywhere else on my own, I submitted it to the workshop as messy as it was. I needed fresh thoughts from my fellow writers. Well…they had thoughts. They interpreted certain aspects of the main character’s life and the whole ending of the story differently than I intended, and they all loved it…basically as-is, just a few minor tweaks needed.

The instructor wrote: This is about as close as it gets to being ready for submission. I’ve struggled to think of larger issues to consider and they’re just not there.

Which was…good? I still felt confused. If it’s not the story I intended, should I submit it for publication? Is this where the author has to let go and let the story become the property of the reader? Even if I’m not happy with it? I’ve never had this experience before. I decided to take the instructor’s advice and submit…and here we are. Published!

Although the road to publication wasn’t that simple either. I actually thought this was the first piece I wrote that wouldn’t get published. I submitted 10 places, and 10 places is my limit. If it’s not accepted, and I truly don’t see changes I want to make, I retire it. In September, I finally heard back from a journal I’d submitted to in May saying they wanted the story. Yay! I immediately withdrew my piece from the others and wouldn’t you know it, two other editors actually wrote back telling me they had wanted to include it in their next issue too but hadn’t told me yet! They both encouraged me to submit again. So now I feel great. I don’t know why those other journals waited so long to write and tell me they wanted the piece, but it’s awesome to know that three journals all wanted the piece I thought that no one wanted.

Even after all that, I haven’t changed my mind. I’m still not sure how I feel about this story myself. But now it’s up to you to decide.

Story Behind the Story: Like all my stories, this one started in reality. I got bedbugs after coming back from a vacation in Moab (though mine was a birthday trip, not an anniversary) in 2009. They attacked only me, not my then-husband, who worked night shifts. Part of the ending is true – what we ended up doing with the bedroom furniture. We met young, though not as young as the characters in the story. And while I wrote this, I was imagining the second apartment we lived in together in Denver.

But the similarities end there – everything else about Jess and Calvin and who they are and what their interests are and what they want out of life and how they relate to each other is fictional. After many, many drafts and more than a decade after the real bug incident that inspired this piece, the story morphed from an essay to a work of short fiction. So please enjoy it here, but like all my fiction, don’t bother trying to read into it!

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