Fittingly, the love story of You Hit Me with Your Car’s inception opens with a scene of three friends getting brunch, which has a very archetypal 2000s-2010s rom-com vibe, if you ask me. To be more specific, it’s November 2018, and Paige Pinto, Manahil Bandukwala, and Alicia Haniford (that’s me—hi!) are meeting at Ottawa’s Elgin Street Diner.
As Manahil explained in her recent post, the three of us know each other from the emerging writers circle that Paige and I ran in our undergrad. Since Carleton University’s English lit community is small and incestuous, there are some other ties between us as well (Paige and I took Brit Lit I and an MA course on Virginia Woolf together; I was Manahil’s manager during her second co-op term), but the writers circle was where we bared our hearts and souls by sharing excerpts of our poetry and prose and opening ourselves up to the criticism of our peers. Scary stuff.
Paige, Manahil, and I didn’t meet at the Elgin Street Diner to talk about writing, but that’s inevitably where our conversation ended up. I don’t remember who proposed that we do a project together—it thrown out as an idle suggestion, the way one empties the last inch of water from a drinking-glass into a nearby plant with wilting leaves—but I do remember seizing on the idea like an overenthusiastic terrier and exclaiming, “WE SHOULD DO A ROMANCE ANTHOLOGY.”
I’ve always had a weird relationship with romance as a genre. Saccharine sappiness gives me a stomachache and leaves a bad taste in my mouth. On top of that, I went through a big romance-is-gross phase in my youth when I was internalizing misogynistic narratives about femininity and trying to distance myself from anything that could be seen as too “girly” (you know how it is). I was also bored stiff by about 90% of mainstream fictional romances. Then—and please, please suspend your judgment here for a moment—I watched Glee, got heavily invested in Kurt and Blaine’s budding romance, started reading Star Trek fan fiction, discovered I might be gay, and began a torrid affair with my roommate that morphed into a four-years-and-counting relationship. I mean, we’ve all been there, right?
Anyway, from there, my interest in romance EXPLODED. I wanted ALL the romance fiction, ALL the time. But I was picky (“discerning,” one might euphemistically say). I liked romance stories that featured queer characters who didn’t read like caricatures. I liked romance stories where the characters were walking disasters (i.e. people to whom I could relate) who miraculously fumbled their way through to happy endings. I liked romance stories that intersected with my other literary interest—humour, absurdity, adventure, mystery, fantasy, sci-fi. I did not necessarily want to partake in romance in its pure form, like a connoisseur of fine wines, but rather to indulge in a sort of literary jungle juice.
If you’ve ever tried to read queer fiction in any form, you will probably be able to guess the snag I encountered. Namely, The Void. Finding fiction that fulfils half of those criteria is hard enough. Finding fiction that checks all the boxes is nearly impossible. Where were my Futuristic Disaster Lesbians, falling in love as they hijacked spaceships and saved the galaxy? Where was my Genderfluid High Fantasy Chosen One, forced to work alongside the Archnemesis They Knew Was Bad News But Just Couldn’t Resist? (Sidenote: If you find either of these books, let me know. Please. Please.)
The point here is that, faced with this dilemma, I obviously had no choice but to start writing queer fiction myself.
Going back to that brunch at the Elgin Street Diner, I was thrilled to see Paige and Manahil just as pumped about the idea of creating a romance anthology as I was. It’s more than a tiny bit intimidating to put an idea out there in front of people you respect and admire (I might add that both Paige and Manahil are incredible poets too, and there is nothing more intimidating to a prose-only writer than a really good poet). You know how it goes. What if they don’t like it? Or they do like it but they don’t “get” it? Or they do like it but they don’t like it with the same obsessive fervour you have for it and everyone loses interest and nothing ever materializes and you’re left screaming, “WAIT! BUT THAT THING WE WERE GOING TO DO!” into the uncaring abyss?
But none of that happened. In retrospect I should never have doubted that Paige Pinto, in particular—the most dedicated Jane Austen lover I have ever met—would let the opportunity to put together an indie romance anthology pass her by.
The concept was simple: we would get the band back together, as it were, i.e. reach out to the original members of the Carleton writers circle. We would first see how many of them were interested in participating (answer: all). We would then task them with writing one romance story each (some were so excited they ended up doing two, in the end). The original prompt—dug out from the dank depths of my unorganized Google Drive—was as follows:
Ah, love. From Romeo and Juliet to the swooning half-naked lady and the hunky shirtless beefcake gracing the cover of your favourite drugstore bodice-ripper, people in states of lust, passion, infatuation, adoration, and devotion have fascinated writers and readers alike for centuries. Nothing quite compares to the vicarious thrill of a classic meet-cute, a forbidden tryst, a brutal breakup, or just some good old-fashioned sexual tension.
Here’s your prompt, OG writers circle gang: write a love story. It can be traditional, unconventional, romantic, platonic, comedic, tragic, cute, weird, wacky, poetic, ridiculous, or a combination thereof. Fill it with meaningful reflection, self-realization, satirical commentary, or as many overdone fan fiction tropes as you can physically fit. Go wild.
That was about the extent of the direction we gave. We didn’t want to impose genre rules. We didn’t want eight different versions of the same tried-and-tested story you can find a thousand times over in any big-box bookstore. We wanted the romance stories we wanted, the ones that made us laugh at the ridiculousness of love even while our hearts melted a little, the ones that made us say, “YES, this is ME, I’ve BEEN THERE, I’ve DONE THAT, I’ve FELT THIS, FINALLY someone wrote it!”
That was the goal, anyway. To do a project that was meaningful and relevant to us, but also just, well, fun. And we hope you’ll enjoy reading our romance anthology just as much as we enjoyed writing it. See you in November!