By now, many fans of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele have fallen in lust with a new fictional couple: Bennett Ryan and Chloe Mills, the leading man and lady of Beautiful Bastard by Christina Lauren. Like E.L. James, Christina Lauren is a pen name ... The ladies (yup, there are two) behind BB are Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings, who met online through their shared interest in Twilight fan fiction, realized they were a writing match made in heaven, and are now getting giddy, gushing responses to their incredibly sexy book that doesn't take itself nearly as seriously as other erotica on the bestsellers' list. That tongue-in-cheek 'tude is what makes it so juicy and entertaining.
And that's just one of the reasons we felt super-lucky to sit down recently with the sweet and funny pair to go behind-the-scenes of the book and chat about what's next (a movie deal -- eek!). Check it out ...
How did you start writing together? Has anything embarrassed you along the way?
We started writing together in 2009 when we were both still writing fanfiction. A couple of our friends were hosting a one-shot (aka short story) contest, and we decided to collaborate and enter it together. It was well-received, and we loved writing together, so we kept doing it! Now we honestly can’t imagine doing it any other way.
You've written some pretty steamy scenes together. Has anything embarrassed you along the way?
Well, neither of us is particularly secretive about our fanfic past, and so we aren’t necessarily embarrassed by it per se, but when people want to know more about that first contest we entered together we always mumble and change the subject. Because the entire point of the contest was to write a sex scene with a male character who is uncircumcised. The best thing was, the contest was totally making fun of how many contests there had been at the time, and initially we intended to write something silly. But we ended up writing this really sweet, angsty story and the foreskin only plays a very small role ... ba dum dum!
The story started out as Twilight fan fiction, but Chloe and Bennett aren't much like Bella and Edward … Did anyone else help inform/inspire the characters? How 'bout the sex scenes?!
In early 2009, the fandom was a wild and thriving place, with lots of people writing and reading and discussing everything from narrative style to character development to plot arc. It was a great time for first-time writers to jump in and get their feet wet. Which we suppose is why some people wrote Twilight fanfic. Christina just wanted to do something ridiculous where she could write a lot of sex and see if the story could still be interesting even after the characters had done the deed. ... [No, really,] Christina was recovering for surgery and began writing to entertain herself and her friends. She never expected people to love the story as much as they did.
How have you been enjoying the reactions from readers -- both fans of The Office and newbies -- so far? What do you think is the strangest/funniest reaction?
We really do love hearing what people think, especially if they want to tell us through semi-NSFW gifs. Just saying. Most people seem to love the book, but of course some don’t and largely they don’t because they seem to either one, take issue with its fanfic origin or two, expect something a bit more sincere and ... responsible? Let’s be honest. Bennett probably shouldn’t have put his hand on Chloe’s ass in the conference room, but people do stupid things all the time, and in books, people can do really stupid things and have it turn out great! So go buy the book, and then, let’s have cookies.
The reactions that have made us laugh are the ones who seem confused about whether they should be laughing as much as they are. Yes, it’s okay to laugh -- whether you’re laughing because it’s outright funny or because it’s absurd, either way it’s fine. Our favorite reviews are the ones that note how much fun we must have had while writing it. We did. It’s not going to be a story for everyone, but we think anyone who enjoys (a) fun and (b) sex will enjoy Beautiful Bastard.
What do you think might be the biggest misconception about the book? How about erotic fiction in general?
There isn’t any BDSM-type stuff in Beautiful Bastard, other than the panty ripping. Oh, and that one ass-slap. Oh, and when Bennett bites her ass the elevator. And later when he says he’s going to tie her to the bed. Other than that, no BDSM-isms at all.* (*And besides, BDSM should be done with mutual consent and lots of communication, preferably some of it in writing. Bennett and Chloe can hardly speak to each other at first so they’d be put in the naughty corner if they tried to go there.)
It’s hard to say what misconceptions plague erotica in general. It’s likely we haven’t been present in the genre long enough to know what things stick that shouldn’t, but our guess would be the assumption that only certain people read smut. Everybody reads it. There is no phenotype, no predictor of who will enjoy it. And that’s fantastic. Romance has been around forever, but one thing Fifty Shades has done is brought erotica into the mainstream and made it okay to want to check out things that may have seemed taboo before.
What was the toughest part of reworking The Office to turn it into BB?
Knowing what to keep and what to toss. We really wanted to make it into something new, but at the same time we knew that we couldn’t make it unrecognizable. There was interest, for a long time, in seeing the story in print. The only way we felt comfortable doing it was if we cleaned it up. It was the first thing Christina ever wrote and of course we mature as writers over time, but part of the fun of BB is the accessibility of it; it’s a fast read. Also, there are some iconic things (such as the panty-ripping) that had to stay largely intact because they had become so ingrained in the history of the story, no matter how over-the-top they felt in hindsight.
How do you feel about comparisons to Fifty Shades of Grey?
Are you kidding? We’d be thrilled if fans of Fifty Shades wanted to read Beautiful Bastard. Preferably if all forty five million of them wanted to. That said, Fifty is much more of a journey, and a twisty love story. Bastard is mostly a silly, fun, wild ride. But we think it’s true that fans of Fifty will enjoy Bastard, even if it’s a quick read they fly through while waiting to hear the latest casting rumor for Christian Grey.
One of the biggest differences I found was how FUNNY BB is, how the characters are so over-the-top. What was your reason for writing it like that?
It was always Christina’s style with this story. You could tell from the very first chapter that she was having a blast with it. And when we started revising, we wanted to keep that feel, so that readers could laugh at these characters and shake their heads at how bull-headed they were being and then later, hopefully, swoon a little at the end. The next book, Beautiful Stranger, has a certain sweetness that only shows up toward the latter half of Bastard, but we hope that we kept the same lightness in the second book. There are a lot of books out there that will make you think for days. We just wanted to write something that would make you laugh and then go jump your significant other.
Congrats on the movie deal! You must be so excited. How hands-on will you be with the process? Do you know who you'd like to play Chloe and Bennett?
Thank you! Yes, we made some very loud, very high-pitched noises when we got the call from our agent that the film rights had sold. And then we had to zip it and not discuss it for almost a month. So we’d announce it to our husbands and children every night. Honestly, they didn’t do a very good job being surprised every time.
And we don’t know yet how involved we’ll be! The producer, Jeremy Bolt, is a sincerely nice human and said he wants to keep us in the loop at every stage. “Great,” we told him, “but it’s also fine to just tell us when to show up and we’ll get some pretty dresses and have someone help us do our hair!” That is, they trust us to write the books, we trust him to make the movie. So if Jeremy just wants to tell us once he has a screenwriter, and then a script, and then a director -- that’s just fine, too. As far as we’re concerned, this is all just ridiculously awesome and a good excuse to have champagne regularly.
Christina and Lauren are calling on fans on Facebook to "like" the official Beautiful Bastard page. Once they reach 7,000 likes, they'll write the outtake that fans have chosen. At 8,000 likes, they'll release it.
What did you enjoy most about Beautiful Bastard?
Image via Simon & Schuster