How writing duo Christina Lauren went from fan fiction to best-selling romance novels

The co-authors, one of them living in Utah, set their latest book, “Something Wilder,” in Utah’s red-rock country.

If not for fate, and fan fiction, a successful author duo may never have teamed up to write their first novel — let alone nearly 30 of them.

For the last 13 years, Utah-based Christina Hobbs and California-based Lauren Billings have pooled their talents to write novels under the joint name Christina Lauren — and have amassed a cult-like fan base and reached the New York Times bestseller list in the process.

Their latest book, “Something Wilder,” is set to be released Tuesday, May 17, by Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.

“I think we are both now realizing the serendipity of it, and how naive we were to be like, ‘Do you want to write a book together?,’” Hobbs said in a recent interview.

They met in person in 2009 at San Diego Comic-Con, where Billings was putting on a panel about fan-written work and had invited Hobbs to take part. Billings and Hobbs had bonded online, over the work each had done writing fan fiction based on Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” franchise.

The two got along so wickedly well that they decided to try to write a fan work together — a “one-shot” short story. Nine months from there, they found an agent and started writing books together.

The duo said their work over the past 13 years is a credit to the strength of what originally brought them together: Their friendship.

(Gallery Books | Simon & Schuster) The cover of Christina Lauren's upcoming romance release, "Something Wilder."

Romance in the red rocks

“Something Wilder” is the pair’s third romance novel set in Utah. (“Autoboyography,” published in August 2018, is a coming-of-age LGBTQ romance set in Provo; “In a Holidaze,” published in October 2020, is a Christmas love story that happens in Park City.)

They started writing it in 2021, based on an idea each writer said they’ve had for a long time but never really knew what to do with until now.

The heroine, Lily Wilder, uses her father’s hidden (and fake) treasure maps to guide tourists through the red rock canyons of southern Utah. Then Leo Grady, a long-lost love, shows up with a group of friends to take one of her tours, and the spark of reconnection sets Lily and Leo off on a wild ride.

“I think we’ve had the most fun writing that book of any books that we’ve ever written,” Billings said.

When they started writing, the main characters’ roles were reversed, with Lily a city woman and Leo the makeshift treasure hunter. Their perspectives changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, when California — where Billings is based — went back on lockdown.

“We just couldn’t imagine writing a book that took place in an office or a coffee shop,” Hobbs said. “We knew we wanted to do something that was just fun.”

As they started writing the first couple of chapters, they could tell it wasn’t working. “Part of that is in that time, Lo’s kids were home, my daughter was home, and Lo just said, ‘I can’t write a book about a woman who puts her life on hold for other people,” Hobbs said.

Hobbs and Billings found inspiration from the opening scenes of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” when Indy was a Boy Scout (played by River Phoenix) on a camping trip through Utah’s red rocks. (That part of the movie was shot in southern Utah, including in Arches National Park.)

“Whenever we think of going on an adventure, you think of going to a city like London or Paris — [or] they take place in tropical jungle areas,” Billings said. “We didn’t want to go there. We wanted to embrace being outdoors and being in a space that felt kind of uncharted.”

They added that their Utah readers are always ecstatic to see the state represented.

For research, Billings said, Hobbs found a canyoneering guide to help. “He created a whole set of maps for us, wrote a bunch of menu plans,” Billings said. “He talked about what people would need in their backpacks to go on this kind of trip.”

How two authors work together

After 13 years, the duo said writing books together is very much the “same and different” every time.

“We’ve kind of learned how to be super-flexible with our process,” Billings said. That process usually starts with writing an outline together, in person, in California. Then they go to their separate homes and start drafting. Usually, they write alternating chapters, and switch off with one another when it comes to who is writing and editing.

“We spend a lot of time in edits because that’s where books shine,” Billings said.

“We’re the first people to say that it takes very specific personalities [to do this],” Hobbs added. “I couldn’t do this with anyone else.”

They’re aware that it sounds unbelievable, but they tend to never argue when it comes to a book. In fact, they joke that this is probably “our healthiest relationship” in their lives, because they immediately discuss any issues that may come up.

They also find joint activities to “level-up” the friendship. For example, they like to go to concerts together; they have recently seen BTS perform — and hope to soon see Harry Styles.

“We put just as much time into our friendship as we do our co-authorship,” Hobbs said. “That’s one of the reasons why it continues to work and grow.”

‘Twilight’ time

Billings and Hobbs’ first book, 2013′s “Beautiful Bastard,” was a reworked fan-fiction story, originally based on “Twilight.” Hobbs said fan fiction is where she learned how to write. But, at the time, there was a “huge kerfuffle” over it.

“We met when we were writing ‘Twilight’ fan fiction, and at the time that was sort of a laughable endeavor,” Billings said. (For context, the most successful “Twilight” fan fiction — E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey” — was published two years before “Beautiful Bastard.”)

“I have a degree in neuroscience, Christina was working at a junior high counseling office,” Billings continued. “We had these very real jobs, and, we also had this hobby that society would really look down on.”

The stigma over reworked fan fiction has decreased in the last decade. For example, Ali Hazelwood’s bestseller and “booktok” sensation, “The Love Hypothesis,” started life as fan fiction that “shipped” Rey and Kylo Ren from the “Star Wars” universe — aka “Reylo.”

Fandom-based friendships bring a certain sense of calm, the authors have found. They allow people to talk to each other about their passions, ideas and hobbies without inhibitions or fear of judgment. They allow people to connect easily.

“Immediately when we met,” Billings said, “there was a safety in that connection because we both were able to be vulnerable in this thing that we loved together, and I think that safetway and trust has carried through our relationship to now.”

Billings called Hobbs a “safe space.”

“Fandom gives people — especially women, but everybody — that safety space, because you have sort of self-selected a group that you can be vulnerable with,” Billings said.

Hobbs added that “you speak the same language.” And, like any language, if you don’t know it, you don’t understand when others speak it.

There’s a direct line, they said, between fandom and the romance genre — because of the way people outside those spaces tend to judge them.

Women who write romance, or are in “a romance-adjacent space like fandom” are frequently dismissed, Billings said. On the other hand, she added, “nobody is giving Stephen King crap for writing murders.”

Romance makes up a third of all fiction sales, the duo said, but stereotypes persist.

Hobbs is adamant that they never use the phrase “guilty pleasure” and they are strong supporters of everybody having something, she said, “that just makes them stupid happy, just gives them joy.”

“People love to mock girls for what they love,” Billings said. “The way we talk about books that are more male-dominated versus female-dominated is problematic, because we live in a patriarchy and it sucks.”

Every great work, regardless of genre, has some degree of romance or love in it, they said.

“If we just respected the things that girls and women enjoyed more,” Billings said, “we would have a lot more understanding of economic power, because women are happy to spend their money on the things that they love.”

Christina Lauren will appear at The King’s English Bookshop on Wednesday, May 25, from 6 to 8 p.m., for a discussion of “Something Wilder.”

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