Twenty-five books is a milestone that few writers reach, and doing so in little over a decade is nearly superhuman.
The partnership between Lauren “Lo” Billings (pictured above, left) and Christina Hobbs (right) began over fan fiction but quickly transitioned into a whirlwind publishing career under the name Christina Lauren, which both the authors and their fans affectionately abbreviate as CLo. “We didn’t have time to think or do anything besides keep our heads down and write,” Billings says, laughing about those early publishing days. “We were just drinking from the fire hose at that point.”
A “fugue state” is the best way to describe their original expeditious schedule, which saw them release four novels and two novellas in the span of just 10 months, beginning with Beautiful Bastard in February 2013. Hobbs quips, “If there’s anything I’d tell early CLo, it’s to not eat at your desk. Take care of yourself more.”
The Honey-Don’t List follows a hero and heroine who are roped in to playing mediator for a golden couple of home-renovation reality TV.
This isn’t the first time I’ve talked with CLo. I’ve interviewed them several times and attended a few of their signings. They once even located the house keys I didn’t know I’d lost at a book convention. Billings is the more talkative of the two, while Hobbs interjects with a one-liner or funny aside. Their conversation flows easily, and both take turns acting as either wingwoman or playful provocateur to the other. When I tease Billings about her bemusement at Adam Driver’s heartthrob status, Hobbs is quick to note that she’s indifferent either way but won’t miss a chance to rile Billings up. This push-pull also appears in their books, keeping readers laughing whether it’s between friends, siblings or lovers.
Their latest novel, The Honey-Don’t List, follows a hero and heroine who are roped in to playing mediator for Melissa and Rusty Tripp, a golden couple of home-renovation reality TV whose once loving relationship has totally devolved. Carey Douglas has worked for the Tripps for years, and the downward spiral of their marriage has taken a toll on her. Engineer James McCann was brought on to help with the Tripps’ new show but is quickly pushed into the role of babysitter for the philandering Rusty. Put them all in close quarters during a stressful book tour and show launch, and it’s a powder keg waiting to go off.
Dedicated fans of the authors’ work may notice a pattern of forced proximity. “We make their worlds stressful and small. . . . It’s like putting them under a microscope,” Billings says, though she insists they “don’t do it by design.”
But Carey and James were created by design—specifically, the way they complement one another. “When we’re writing romance novels, we want to think about why this person is perfect for this other person,” Billings says. “[James] is really perfect for Carey, and that pairing comes through really clearly. You can see why he is perfect for her.”
CLo wanted to show the layers of Carey’s vulnerabilities, both in inhabiting a toxic workplace and living with dystonia, a movement disorder that affects the muscles. Billings speaks candidly about her experiences with movement disorders, a chronic condition that affected her late father and currently affects her sister.
“Dystonia was part of Carey’s story from the get-go,” she says. “I think the reason why we put this in the book was not necessarily to shine a light on dystonia, although that will be a nice side effect to have more people aware of it. . . . When I look at my sister, she’s this incredible person who just happens to also have a movement disorder. It doesn’t define her or change the deep romance she has with her husband. I think sometimes we forget that people are not their illnesses. Dystonia isn’t who Carey is; it’s just part of her day.”
“When we’re writing romance novels, we want to think about why this person is perfect for this other person.”
While the authors establish some things early on, like characterization and setting, their process changes from book to book. It also never gets any easier. “We were outlining our 27th book, and we just had this feeling of, ‘What are we doing?’” Hobbs says. “‘Maybe we should use Post-its and just put them all over the windows. Do you think we need dry erase markers? Oh, my God, we could just write on the windows!’”
Billings adds, “I think that when people ask us how we write together, they expect to hear a bulleted outline of how a book gets done, but we honestly don’t know. We do it a little bit differently every time. Part of that is because we have different things in our lives going on when we start a book, and our process has to be a bit fluid. And part of it is because I think we are 80% idiot, and we just don’t know how to write a book.”
With their 26th book publishing in October (a holiday romance titled In a Holidaze) and their 27th in the editing process, it’s clear that Christina Lauren has plenty more stories left to tell. And despite Billings brushing off their planning process as luck, their partnership is undeniably something special. “We put in just as much time making sure our friendship is strong as we do our business partnership,” Billings says.
“Lo is my best friend and my favorite person in the world, aside from the one I’m married to and the one I gave birth to,” Hobbs says. “We love each other as friends, as much as we love each other as co-authors.”