If E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey opened the door for fan-fiction novels in the publishing world, Christina Lauren's Beautiful Bastard may well nail that same door to the wall.
Like Fifty Shades of Grey, Beautiful Bastard recasts Bella Swan and Edward Cullen of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series from chaste teens into libido-charged young adults. Unlike Grey, Bastard sidesteps James' erotic scenes of dominance and submission. Instead, it charges full steam ahead and we do mean steam to forge a catty relationship between an intern, Chloe Mills, and her demanding, hard-driving boss, Bennett Ryan. While not exactly smitten at the emotional level, they're positively magnetic at the physical end, perpetually consummating their attraction in the fog of carnal pleasure despite nagging reservations each holds for the other.
Salt Lake City native Christina Hobbs conceived the characters as part of her online novel The Office in 2009. Then, after she met writer and California neuroscientist Lauren Billings at San Diego's annual Comic-Con, the two took up a mutual pen to supercharge Mills and Ryan for the publishing world.
The pair inked a two-book deal with Simon & Schuster's Gallery imprint late last year, proving that fan fiction's practice of crafting new characters and scenes from older, original cloth is nothing to sneeze at. Hobbs, who guards details of her personal life given Beautiful Bastard's subject matter, took time out from a book launch for a phone interview from Anaheim, Calif. She says she also has plenty of non-erotic young-adult novels of her own in the works.
Are the characters Chloe Mills and Bennett Ryan based on people you know, have met or even your own experiences?
They're over the top. They say things that most people would never say. That's what was so fun about writing this book to make characters do and say things I would never in my wildest dreams think of doing or saying. Part of the fun of writing is that you get to write outside of your own experiences. Chloe is a little like Lo [Lauren Billings] and I, however, in that she's strong-willed. It's fair to say I don't know anyone like Bennett.
'Beautiful Bastard' is almost a fantasy book, then, even if it's a different kind of fantasy from imaginary worlds of elves and orcs.
It all comes down to the fact that things that make a story authentic aren't the things we want to live in real life. Waking up next to someone you respect in the morning doesn't really make for a compelling read. That's why this book is fiction. I'm about the polar opposite of Chloe in that I'd never want to date or marry a jerk. This isn't my fantasy it was just fun to write and collaborate with back and forth with Lauren.
How big is your debt to Stephenie Meyer and her "Twlight" series?
[Billings and I] never would have found each other if it hadn't been for that. It's brought so many people together. I'm meeting a friend today who lives in Nashville. I didn't know I had a voice, or had a story to tell, until I met this community of women who were writing and reading each other's stories. When we say "fandom" we don't necessarily mean Twilight, though. It's also Harry Potter or Sherlock fandom, "Doctor Who" or The Vampire Diaries that also brought writers together in the world of fan fiction.
One online review described the book as "detailed without being obscene" and "sexy but still has a high level of romance." How do you pull off a trick like that?
It's not just physical actions taking place that are important, but also the reactions between characters. It's not just how "a" slipped into "b" it's everything going on. That's always been really important to us. A lot of it is also in the language that's used. Sometimes the sexiest thing isn't what you say, but the scene you paint for the readers.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions people have about fan fiction?
That there's a specific type of people who read and write fan fiction scientists, business professionals, teachers and people who are well-educated to people who haven't gone to college are all part of it. It's not just women. It's not just men. It's not a certain age group. You have this huge group of people who want to write and read for others, and that's what's so amazing about it.
The words "hot" and "sex" invariably show up in reviews of this book, and there's a lot of debate about what women and men readers are drawn toward in books. The standard line is that men prefer the visual of pornography, while women overwhelmingly prefer romance novels. What's wrong with those assumptions?
Fan fiction has taught me to never assume, never to generalize. Because the people I thought would never like the book like it, and people I thought would take to it often did not. You think you're writing for women, but then I've met men who loved it. That's something we never anticipated, and we were thrilled.
What's the best feedback you've received from fans regarding the book?
One reader said she could tell how much fun we had writing this book, that it really came through on the page. That's exactly what we want to hear. We don't take ourselves seriously. If someone can escape for two hours to read our work, we're high-fiving each other. … The fact that I wrote this [book] surprises no one more than me. Lo always tells me my Utah is showing whenever I say "Oh, my word!" or "Oh, my gosh!"
Christina Lauren launches 'Beautiful Bastard'
When • Friday, Feb. 22, 7 p.m.
Where • The King's English Bookshop, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City
Info • Free. Call 801-484-9100 or visit www.kingsenglish.com or Beautiful-Bastard.com for more information.
Pages • 320
Price • $15