Bestselling author Christina Lauren is actually two writers—best friends Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings. I got the chance to meet them in person in Seattle a few months ago, and while describing them as separated Siamese twins might be going too far, I was amazed by how in sync they were about their work and their craft. And we laughed a lot as well.
After I read and fell hard for their new standalone novel, Dating You/Hating You, Christina and Lauren jumped on the phone with me to talk about their Hollywood-based story of two talent agents who start tiptoeing into a romantic relationship…until they realize that they are in competition for the same job under a powerful but sexist boss.
Amazon Book Review: Your awareness of today’s romantic challenges is so spot-on. What sparked the idea for this particular scenario in Dating You/Hating You?
Christina Hobbs: Originally it was going to be completely different. It was going to be in San Diego, and it was going to have Will from Beautiful Player…and then I don’t even know how that totally changed.
Lauren Billings: Initially we were going to have Will open up a company in San Diego, and there were going to be two people who had gone on a date together who really liked each other and who didn’t realize that they’d applied for the same job. But then we had this idea to have them be agents in Hollywood because of the dog-food-bar story at the beginning of Dating You/Hating You, where Evie gives her boss a bar that’s meant for his dog and he eats it without realizing it’s for dogs—that’s a true story. That’s the first story we ever heard [when we were in Hollywood, working on the film option for Beautiful Bastard], and we were like, “Hold on, we have to work that into a book somehow.”
Christina: Huh. Your recollection is better than mine.
Lauren: I had forgotten about Will until you said it. These things go through so many permutations.
There’s a moment partway through the book when Carter and Evie go to war, and the pranks they pull on each other are hilarious. How did you come up with the ideas, and was there anything you came up with that was just too awful to actually put in the book?
Lauren: There were a couple that we took out, and I’m trying to remember what they were now....
Christina: Evie and Carter have to be redeemable. They couldn’t do anything terrible. The things they did to each other had to be just bad enough but not too bad. In fact, we had one that we took out, and it was where they change [Carter’s] calendar around so that he misses all his appointments. That went just too far. The other things they do are all fun and games, but they could never actually cause the other person to be fired.
Lauren: You know, Evie is such a controlled, together person, and the fact that she goes to such a wildly vengeful place with Carter was really fun for us, because she had never seen that side of herself before. He made her so crazy that she completely lost it. And then he willingly went down that road too. It was like Christina and I going down a road we hadn’t gone down before, and we were like, “Let’s just be a little ridiculous.” And it was really fun. But yes, [the calendar prank] went too far. I think Adam, our editor, said, “So, what do we think about this schedule thing? He misses all these important appointments. How do we feel about that?” And we were like, “Yeah, that was pretty nasty.” [Laughs]
Evie suffers sexism in her job. As you were talking to people about working in Hollywood, was this something that came up as a subject, or was sexism something you always thought would be part of the story?
Lauren: Both. When we were first talking to people for the book, we spoke to three women in particular, and each of them had very blatant sexism [experiences] that were so egregious that we were bowled over. Pay disparities that we so corporately terrible that you can’t imagine that they ever actually happen, and things like a boss knocking a woman’s lunch into the trash because he thinks she doesn’t need it. A lot of the things in the book actually happened. We have Brad knocking Evie’s doughnut into the trash, and he’s like, “C’mon. What are you, depressed? You don’t need that.” Someone actually said that to a woman we talked to. I think there are a lot of people, particularly men, who don’t believe those stories actually happen. Dating You/Hating You is sort of an over-the-top book, but this part is not. This is real life. When I was working in research, I would have men that were technically subordinate to me in the reporting structure, and they called me “kiddo” and “sweetie” and “sport.” Those kinds of things just drove me crazy. I’m sorry: My name is Dr. Billings.
I think that at one point, Carter says, “Well, I’ve never experienced pay disparity.” And Evie’s response is like, “Uh-huh.”
Lauren: “How nice for you!”
Christina: As women writers, we get asked questions that male writers would not get asked—
Lauren: Oh, absolutely.
Christina: People ask us if the things we write about in our book are the things we’re interested in or the things we do. Nobody’s asking Stephen King if he murders people.
Right. And I’ve heard people say to male writers, “Oh, it’s amazing how you can get into a woman’s mind,” but you rarely hear anyone say that to a woman writer about male characters. Speaking of point of view, my understanding is that each of you takes a single character’s point of view when you write. Is that right?
Lauren: Yes, generally. We have a couple books that are female point of view only. But when we have dual point of view, we alternate.
Lauren: Sometimes it depends on if we have a character who is more like one of us. For example, Hanna in Beautiful Player is very much sort of the loving, lighthearted personality of Christina, so it felt like a natural fit. Versus Niall in Beautiful Secret, who’s a neurotic, uptight person, and that fits my voice a little bit better. But sometimes it’s just [based on] who wrote the male last....We’ll just trade.
Christina: This book has literally been twelve different books.
Lauren: Oh, yeah.
Christina: We’ve probably worked on this book longer than we’ve worked on any book. And the sections have been rewritten and rewritten and rewritten so many times that I don’t think that either of us is either point of view any more.
Has your way of writing together changed throughout the years?
Christina: It definitely has. We’re busier now. We sometimes will be writing one thing and revising another and promoting something else. But Lauren is faster than I am, so we’ve started shifting things around. There are so many things to do and so many things that each of us are good at, that it’s just been easier to just be like, “I’m going to take this, you’re going to take this, and then we’ll switch when we’re done” as opposed to feeling like every single thing has to be split right down the middle.
What do you read in your downtime?
Lauren: Christina really loves mystery and crime; she loves thrillers. I love reading nonfiction, and I love literary fiction. I do love reading romance, but we read a lot of romance for what we consider work—for blurbs, for example. So when I want to “cleanse the palate,” I read a lot of nonfiction.
Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings have written fourteen New York Times bestselling novels under the pen name Christina Lauren, and they write both young adult and adult fiction. They are published in more than 30 languages, and their books frequently win spots on the Amazon Book editors' list of best romances of the month.
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