By Tara Fowler
Updated May 24, 2013 at 06:00 PM EDT
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Beautiful Stranger

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The first holiday of summer is upon us and we’ve got just the steamy romance to spice up your Memorial Day weekend: Beautiful Stranger by Christina Lauren. The follow-up to the best-selling Beautiful Bastard is already available on Kindle, but hits shelves in paperback May 28. We took the time to speak to the two lovely ladies behind the popular erotica novels, Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings (together, they make the pen name Christina Lauren), about their latest release, their thoughts on the fan fic phenom, and their foray into YA.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’re speaking to us from Paris while promoting Beautiful Bastard. What’s the reception been like over there?

CHRISTINA HOBBS: Well, it was really funny because both our husbands went sightseeing today while we were working and they went into this little random drugstore in Paris and saw fifty copies of Beautiful Bastard. It’s crazy! Even at home, every time I walk into a Target or something and see the book, it doesn’t feel real.

Beautiful Bastard originated as Twilight fan fiction much like Fifty Shades of Grey, but your new book Beautiful Stranger is 100% original. How did the experience differ from writing Bastard?

LAUREN BILLINGS: I think for Beautiful Bastard, we really liked the revision process. In fact for BB, that was all I had to really do. I came in, just for the editing part — tore it up, re-wrote the ending, that kind of thing. It was really different because it was just revisions. We didn’t really have expectations for what was going to happen with it. With Stranger, the pressure was on because we sold it in this deal to Gallery Books and we wanted to really deliver and make sure it was something that would show that we had grown as writers. So, while the drafting and revision stage were both a little more stressful, it was also more fun. We felt from the beginning this might actually be a good follow-up.

What’s the idea behind Beautiful Stranger? It’s not a direct sequel to Bastard.

BILLINGS: We had a few different ideas that had been bouncing around, and when we got the deal with Gallery, we weren’t really sure which to go with. So we proposed a few and the one that ended up being Stranger was one that Christina had come up with, which was based off the idea of, what happens if you meet someone at a bar? At first, I was like, where are we going to take that? We started talking about it and it just grew from there. Interestingly, the other one that we had loved the most became Beautiful Player, the third book in the series.

So tell me, have you ever had a kinky dalliance with your boss? Or taken home a tall, handsome stranger from a bar?

BILLINGS: [Laughs] I have. In grad school. [[Pauses] Before I met my husband, I definitely had some flirty hook-up nights. But nothing quite like that.

HOBBS: I haven’t because I am married to my high school sweetheart.

How does Max, the protagonist of Beautiful Stranger, compare to Bastard‘s Bennett?

BILLINGS: We say Max is the sugar. Max is just this big, charming sugar. He doesn’t have any pretenses; he doesn’t need to be defensive about his feelings. In that sense he’s very different from Bennett, who is caught off guard by how he feels for Chloe, so it comes out in defensiveness and anger, that sort of heat that a lot of people really love. Max is the opposite of that — he feels what he feels. He doesn’t have the need to explain it away.

What I love about this series is that it’s not really serious. Despite the comparisons, it’s really nothing like Fifty Shades.

BILLINGS: I’m so glad you say that. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We write these books quickly and we have a really good time. We just sort of let them come, ha ha. Pun intended.

HOBBS: We just really want readers to laugh and blush and swoon. If it gives them a few hours of escape, then we feel like we’ve done exactly what we’ve wanted.

Since Bastard started as fan fic, it’s obviously somewhat polarizing. Can you talk about the reaction you’ve gotten from readers?

BILLINGS: I think it’s a sticky issue. A lot of fan fiction out there, it either has a root in the sort of vampire world of Twilight or it has the same emotional beat as Twilight: the stalker-y male, the demure, shy female. And I think that is sort of where it gets a little sticky. The thing about fic is that there’s a whole world of fic out there that has writers that explored their own ability to write things, but it really had no root in the Twilight world. Those are the ones that are in more of a gray area. It didn’t have that much of a connection to the original work. What happened was when Fifty Shades of Grey published, there was a lot of backlash because that was the first really big one. It wasn’t the first one to publish, but it was the first really big one. And it was the first one to hit it huge, obviously. So people had a lot of feelings about that. With our deal, we had some of that same reaction because people felt that we were exploiting them in some sense. The point is that people who really don’t like the book tend to be the ones that also have strong feelings about the origin and don’t really see it for being separate from the original. People who come into it not really knowing the background, I think they think it’s fun. With Stranger, which is completely original, I think most people, at least as far as I can see, just really love it. It’s a fun, swoon story and they’re having a good time reading it.

Finally, talk to me about your upcoming YA novel.

HOBBS: For both of us, the thing that we love so much about YA is that it’s such a time of self-discovery, when you’re learning who you’re going to be. You have all these amazing things, like first kisses and first loves and first heartbreaks. At our heart, we’re romance writers, so our YA is always going to reflect that. This one, though it’s pretty steamy for YA [laughs.]

The paperback edition of Beautiful Stranger hits shelves May 28. The Kindle edition is currently available.

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Beautiful Stranger

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