SALT LAKE CITY — Local romance author Christina Hobbs met her future writing partner, Lauren Billings, in 2009 through online fan fiction.
Hobbs had written a "Twilight" spoof titled "The Office" that was so popular, Billings asked Hobbs to be on a fan fiction panel she was organizing at the San Diego Comic Con. After that, they became friends and decided to try writing together. At first, it didn't go well.
"We thought if we were going to be serious writers, we were going to be really serious," Hobbs said. "So we started writing this really serious story and it didn't feel like us at all. It wasn't any fun."
So, instead, they wrote a book that felt like them and filled it with kissing and skinny dipping — and that one got them an agent.
Thus Christina Lauren was born — the pen name Billings and Hobbs have written under ever since. They decided to combine their names in part to convey their efforts to present one, smooth, unified voice in their novels, Billings said.
Ten years later, the best-selling author duo is coming out with their 23rd novel on May 14, "The Unhoneymooners" (Gallery Books, 432 pages), which has received three starred reviews, something Billings called "a huge thing" for a romance novel.
"The Unhoneymooners" tells the story of Olive Torres, whose twin, Ami, gets horribly sick along with the rest of the wedding party on her wedding night and sends Olive on her Hawaii honeymoon in her place. The only problem is, Ami's brother-in-law and Olive's arch nemesis Ethan — the only other healthy member of the wedding party — is also going. Thrust together in a situation where they have to pretend to be married, sparks fly between Olive and Ethan despite themselves, and before long they're forced to confront the fact that their first impressions might have been wrong. As lies unravel between their mingled families, they're forced to decide whose side they're really on and how much of the truth about those they love they can stand to face.
The setting for "The Unhoneymooners" was inspired by a trip the authors took to Hawaii. Hobbs lives in Clinton, and Billings lives in Orange County, California, but despite the distance, the two try to get together as often as they can. That's included meeting up with their separate families on a Hawaii trip and going snorkeling together.
"I feel like that setting really stuck with us because the trip had been so fun," Billings said. "We wanted to base a book there."
She said some of her favorite parts of the book were recreating the beautiful scenery from the trip, and some of their humorous moments too. The hardest part turned out to be figuring the right balance of what they call "UST" — unresolved sexual tension.
The authors wanted readers to feel Olive's and Ethan's attraction, but they weren't exactly sure how much to reveal. "We had written a scene that was a little sexier," Hobbs said. "It was more graphic, but it didn't feel right."
So, they toned it down.
"It's our first book where everything happens behind closed doors," Billings said. "But it really works."
The pair have written both adult and young adult romances, releasing six books their first year (while both were full-time working moms), then averaging three or four books a year ever since. This year they're "only" coming out with two — "The Unhoneymooners" and one more in October titled "Twice in a Blue Moon," but that's just because they've been working on the film script adaptation of their 2017 novel "Roomies."
They agree that having two people definitely increases their productivity, though Hobbs added that Billings writes faster than her and sometimes that's hard.
But, Billings said, "We've been writing together for so long now that we've figured out ways to get around whatever is difficult."
In fact, they've never known what it's like to be without each other, so they don't have individual egos about their processes.
"Everything we've done together, we've built together," Billings said. "So we both want things for the Christina Lauren brand. It's not about me; it's not about Christina. It's about doing something almost for a business that we've built, so that's really cool because I think we're equally protective."
They've also made sure that they make time to cultivate their friendship outside of their working partnership, and overall they're thrilled that they get to have fun writing with their best friend.
"It can be really lonely and isolating to write," Hobbs said. "But we always have somebody. When things are stressful, we alway have somebody there who knows exactly what we need. And when it's time to celebrate something, we're right there to celebrate together."
Both authors have interests in other genres (Billings in fantasy; Hobbs in thrillers) that they could write about separately, but Billings said it's hard to give up what a good thing they have going together.1 comment on this story
"There's a magic that happens when we write together that we sort of lose when one of us tries to start a project on our own," she said. "I don't know what it is. Obviously people write alone all the time and they do a great job at it. I think we would be fine; it's just a lot more fun to write together."
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the story that brought writers Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings together was about the TV show "The Office." The piece was titled "The Office" but based off of "Twilight."