Meet the Best Friends Behind Bestselling Romance Author Christina Lauren

christina lauren the paradise problem
BFFs Behind Christina Lauren on Their 30th BookBrystan Studios/Gallery Books; Design by Michael Stillwell
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Since 2013, romance author Christina Lauren has written and published 30 books. It's not one über-productive author, though—in fact, it's two best friends, Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings, who met in 2009 writing Twilight fan fiction online.

"Every day we get DMs that are like, 'I feel like the last person to know that there's two of you!'" Billings tells Town & Country. "A., no, we get that all the time. B., that is the best compliment you can give us. We work so hard to have our books feel like they were written by one person." The suggestion to write under one name came early on from their agent, and they haven't looked back since. Hobbs, the other half of the duo adds, "We always joke, maybe one day we'll write something under Lauren Christina. In a way, Christina Lauren doesn't exist. She's not real. Everything we do is for Christina Lauren, and there's no ego."

Ahead of the publication of The Paradise Problem, Christina and Lauren chatted with Town & Country about the evolution of their writing partnership, what fan fiction taught them, and why romance novels are aspirational and escapist.

Does it feel like there's a boundary between you individually as Christina and as Lauren, and Christina Lauren, the romance author?

Lauren Billings: Yeah, it's this company we've created. Obviously, we are both just as invested in the reputation of the business, and we are both just invested in the quality of the work that we put out. But at the end of the day, it isn't me and it isn't her. It's something that we made. Every author needs to find a way to have that emotional distance from the work once they put it out. It's really hard because it is so personal—you have this thing that you created in your mind and you put it out to the world hoping that somebody likes it. So when people criticize it, it can be hard sometime— but we have that extra layer of separation because have each put something into [Christina Lauren]. It's like this thing that we made.

Christina Hobbs: Sometimes if I'm dressed up at home, I'll be like, 'I don't like this. This is a Christina Lauren outfit. I wouldn't wear this at home!'

LB: It's like Mr. Rogers putting the sweater on.

How did you meet? How has your partnership evolved since your first book?

CH: We met writing fan fiction online in 2009. We were both writing and reading each other's stories, but we hadn't met in person. And then Lo was putting on a panel on fan works at San Diego and invited me to come out. I had a story that was popular at the time, and so I came out. We met and liked each other instantly. Fan fiction is super collaborative, so we were like, 'Hey, do you want to write a one shot together?' We did that and it was really fun, and then very naively, we were like, 'do you want to write a book?' So we wrote a book. Well, we started writing a terrible book. It was just not us at all. We thought we had to be really serious. We soon [decided]: Let's write what we want to read—which is kissing and skinny dipping and swooning and all those things. It was really fun.

And here we are 30 books later, and our process is very different. In the beginning, we were very careful that everything we did, we each did 50% of [each book]. We always outlined together, that is still the same, and then we divide stuff up. We divide stuff up and go to our separate places and write, but now with life changes—our kids are older, we have other things going on—one of us might draft and the other might revise, or we might be doing two separate things at once. But whatever it is, we're both equally invested and both in it just as much. The biggest thing we've learned is we have to be really flexible about our process because it's just going to be different every single time.

a group of women sitting on stools in front of a large screen
Christina (left) and Lauren (center) celebrating the release of The True Love Experiment at Barnes & Noble Union Square with Tessa Bailey (right). Gallery Books

How do you think the world of fan fiction prepares you for the genre of romance? I mean, I was a fan fiction reader; I'm now a big romance reader. What do you make of that path for many readers and writers?

CH: We call fan fiction 'writer's bootcamp.' I don't think I could do this job without the things that I learned in fan fiction—you learn how to be online and interact with readers, how not to show your ass, how to accept criticism and praise. Also, how to write! The great thing is that fan fiction readers will tell you they're very generous with their advice.

As we built [Christina Lauren], we had this community of friends and writers that we were all doing the same thing because we sort of loved it just for the joy of doing it. So much of that has carried through; Sally Thorne was writing fic with us, and she's writing [romance novels] now. We still have readers that will come to us at signings and say, 'I've been with you since Twilight days.' We always give them a big hug.

LB: Fan fiction, for a long time, has been doing what romance readers really want: Getting immediately to the love story, and fixating on these characters, how they feel, what they create together, and their chemistry. Around maybe maybe 2008 to 2012, fanfic really informed a lot of publishing about the stories that romance readers, largely women, wanted to read. I do feel like it has had a really huge influence on publishing, and that's something that hush hush at the time. Back in 2011, 12, 13, fan fiction was a bit shaded. But now you look at the bookstores, and Ali Hazelwood is openly from the Reylo fandom and people are looking for books that have basically Adam Driver on the cover. A lot has changed in that way, and that comes directly from those fan fiction roots that came before.

Reflecting back on the start of your career, I know you both continued your jobs while you started writing. What was it like to transition from being a neuroscience researcher (Lauren) and a junior high counselor (Christina) to full-time romance writers?

CH: I don't think that we ever thought that we would quit. We had no idea how long this would last. I don't think if you would've said to us, 'Hey, in 2024, you guys are still going to be writing together,' we would've replied, 'Shut up!' We don't remember a lot of those early years because everything was happening so fast. We were writing so many books a year and working. Our kids were small. At some point, we realized that we were not giving a hundred percent to anything and had to make that decision. This is the dream—to get to do this as a job. And we realized how lucky we are. But I never thought that there was going to be a time where I was only going to be writing.

christina lauren
Christina and Lauren speaking about romance at Simon & Schuster’s Centennial event.Don Pollard

Do you have a favorite romance trope?

LB: We both love enemies-to-lovers!

CH:Enemies-to-lovers can be really funny. It's easy to be funny when you can be a little bit mean, so it's a really great premise to crack each other up. A lot of times that's what we're trying to do: Get a response out of each other. Lo really loves brother's best friend, where you've been pining for somebody your entire life. I was thinking the other day, what haven't we done? I am not even sure what we haven't done yet.

Is there one trope you'll never tackle?

LB: For us, we're not going to write a dark romance. There's a big push in that direction right now, and people are loving it. It's just not really our voice. When we were joking about that we could never write a kidnapping book, we had an author friend who was like, 'I don't know, I would love to see a Christina Lauren take on an accidental kidnapping and a bumbling kidnapper...' So it is true, you can put your spin on anything, but I think as a sub genre of romance, we're not likely to do something that's twisty and dark, just because it doesn't come naturally to us.

What would define as your signature style, or something that pops up in all your works?

CH: We have books that are more lighthearted, some that are angsty, some that are more serious. The one thing we want is for our books to feel like an escape. So no matter what is going on in your life, if you have an hour to sit, you really feel like you got to disappear into something.

LB: One of our signatures that we like to put in is strong female friendships and building a really supportive community that can be the scaffold for that happily ever after. We like the readers to feel like, of course the romance is there and solid, but we also want them to feel like this person is going to succeed in life no matter what. They have a community that supports them.

How are you feeling about the fact The Paradise Problem is your 30th book together?

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LB: Surreal.

CH: Fake.

LB: The idea of 30 books still feels really monumental, and especially when I look at my shelf, it's like, how and when did this happen? How do these books all come to be? And I think The Paradise Problem is the perfect one for our 30th because it has all of those things that make our books fun. It has great sex scenes, it has a lot of banter. It has a heroine that feels very relatable and down to earth. It has this swoony, but also incredibly progressive and thoughtful hero. We put everything in it that we like to put into our books.

What were your inspirations for the Paradise Problem?

succession
The final season of Succession aired last year.David M. Russell

CH: This book was a journey. The original idea started out as a holiday book for two people who were married and divorced, but he [the protagonist] never told his family. Then his family wants to get together and he's like, 'Oh, by the way, my parents don't know that we're divorced. Can you do this with me?' The problem with that is that if you have two people who are in love and they have been apart for however long, that is sad. We wrote [thousands] of words, got rid of them, and finally we were like, 'This is not working. We have to start over.'

LB: Every book of ours gets a little bit of something that we're obsessed with. When we were writing this one, I was totally obsessed with Succession. But we write rom-coms, we're not going to write a Succession book. But that definitely found its way in, because the idea of this super rich, but disastrously toxic family was a delicious thing to add to a romance.

I feel like there's something in the air—we're all obsessed with these tales of succession in wealthy family. What is it about that idea is so grabbing for readers?

LB: I think romance as a genre is always aspirational. Whether it's about super wealthy heroes, or heroes that are always 6'4" or taller, or having the Friends apartment in New York City, having these things that are a little unrealistic in the every day, but they feel aspirational and they're escapist—this is something that romance does, because that's what we love to read. We want to escape into this dream world.

With the Succession-esque twist [in Paradise Problem], the truth is that most billionaire families are probably pretty terrible. I don't think that great wealth does amazing things for the character all the time. So it's a fun to play with the billionaire trope, but also keep it grounded. I know people really love billionaire romances; those are totally back in style now. Ana Huang is somebody who's writing a lot of billionaire stuff and people just eat it up. That's something that romance embraces and they should, that aspirational escapism is part of romance.

What's your dream is for the next 30 Christina Lauren books?

CH: Oh my God! [To Lauren] Can you even imagine 30 more books? That feels crazy. It certainly needs to take longer than 10 years.

LB: I love the idea of us still writing what we're writing now, but also maybe we have a few things that are just completely different and wacky. Maybe we do something that we've never done before; we try a genre we've never done before and we get to stretch a little bit, but it still feels like us. I love the idea. I love the idea of what comes next.

CH: I hope we still are at events and people are like, I've been reading you since Twilight!

LB [jokingly]: Yeah, when we're 70 years old at signing, we're like, 'Thank you, you little pervert!'

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