By Maureen Lee Lenker
July 31, 2018 at 10:00 AM EDT
Credit: Alyssa Michelle

With their sharp, witty rom-coms, Christina Lauren — the writing duo of Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings — have explored the vagaries of the untold embarrassments, hang-ups, and rewards of modern dating. Their uniquely hilarious and touching voice has made them a go-to read for anyone seeking a book that reflects the experiences and challenges of a woman looking for love.

Their latest title, My Favorite Half-Night Stand (out Dec. 4), takes them into uncharted territory and perhaps the greatest peril of those trying to find a special someone in the digital age: dating apps. Though both Hobbs and Billings are long married, they turned to a Google questionnaire they shared with fans on their Facebook page to gather extensive information and anecdotes about everything in the online dating world, from true horror stories to happily-ever-afters.

My Favorite Half-Night Stand, which EW can exclusively reveal the cover for below, follows Millie Morris, a UC Santa Barbara professor who is just fine being permanently single with four fellow male professor best friends. But when her circle of friends decide to wade into the world of online dating to find plus-ones for a special event at the university, things go awry when Millie’s secret online persona, Catherine, matches with Reid Campbell — the bestie she just happens to be having casual sex with. The book blurb references Roxane and She’s the Man in a tale of mistaken identity and romantic hijinks that also takes an unflinching look at how intimacy and fear can paralyze our love lives.

EW caught up with both writers, who are in the midst of adapting their 2017 hit Roomies into a feature film, to discuss their inspiration for Half-Night Stand, the sprightly yellow cover design, and more. Check out the cover and our conversation with Christina Lauren below.

Credit: Gallery Books

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This story deals directly with the woes of online dating. Why was that something you wanted to tackle?
LAUREN BILLINGS: It was less that we know so much about online dating — because we’ve both been married for a while — and more that we like to explore modern dating in all its forms right now.
CHRISTINA HOBBS: We weren’t sure how this one was going to unroll. It felt a little clunky because we had to do so much research into the different types of dating apps and how it really worked in real situations. We put out a questionnaire to our Facebook group, and we got like 40 different responses from women. It was a pretty extensive questionnaire, asking about what apps they used and what kinds of situations they encountered, what they liked, what they didn’t like, and what are some of their crazy stories. It was really helpful and fun.

Did you encounter a lot of horror stories, and did any of them end up in the book?
BILLINGS: Oh, yeah.
HOBBS: It made me very glad that I don’t have to do this, and if I did, I would just be living with Lo. Because I don’t know how I would do it. Some of them were about the person wasn’t who they thought they were, or the person is so comfortable with doing strange, weird things that all of us would be horrified by. That kind of stuff.
BILLINGS: There was one woman who said she had been matched with her brother, which just made me laugh so hard. That one went into the book.
HOBBS: It ranged from really funny stuff to sort of creepy stuff, where somebody went on a date with a guy and he wanted them to look at pictures of young girls and stuff. There’s just a range.
BILLINGS: We did hear about great experiences too. A bunch of the people who answered had met their significant other or spouse on an app. So it happens. It’s not all bad.
HOBBS: One part of the story is that Millie, the female character, knows that she’s matched with Reid, the hero, but she creates a separate account that’s a secret identity for reasons that are made clear in the book. He doesn’t realize he’s matched with her. Once that really starts, that takes on a specific situation, and then the stories came kind of from the C-Lo romance brain. But a lot of the fun, early stuff where they’re dealing with the things guys are doing and saying in response to Millie’s profile, those definitely came from stories people told us.… The funny thing is, Lo and I met online, so it feels like such a natural thing to be writing about. You always hear people say online friends aren’t real friends, and we are a perfect testament to how untrue that is.

You met through a writing website?
BILLINGS: We were both writing fanfiction, and we were reading each other’s stories. I asked her to come out to Comic-Con in 2009 to be on a panel I had organized about fanfiction and fan work because she had a really huge fanfiction at the time called “The Office.” She came out, and we met and decided to start writing together pretty much then and there. We’d been talking online for a few months, but you do form a deep friendship with somebody you can’t see because it’s based entirely on what kinds of stories they’re writing and what they have to say, versus what they look like or how they dress.

Your heroine is a UCSB professor. Why did you select that setting and/or profession?
HOBBS: Lo was raised in Northern California, and I spend a lot of time in California with her. We tend to have a bunch of stories happen on the West Coast. Millie’s profession in general was inspired by my reading a book on female serial killers. She teaches criminology, and that came from being fascinated by female serial killers.
BILLINGS: She’s a really fun character because she is the first female character we’ve written with serious intimacy issues. She really is very hard for Reid to get through to in some ways, and that presents a lot of the conflict in the book. It was fun for us to explore that because neither of us is like that at all. We were exploring her profession and how studying criminology makes her a little bit more guarded, but maybe she chose criminology because she’s guarded anyway. It was a fun little puzzle to play with.

Did you talk to professors to craft her career path?
BILLINGS: I know a lot of professors around the area. I live very close to UC Irvine, and I used to do academic research. When we first started writing this, we had dinner with a few of our friends who are professors over at UCI, just talking about the hours they work to get a sense of what it’s like when you’re a new professor and how it takes over your world and you don’t have time for anything else. The idea of trying to meet somebody when you’re a new young professor is both exciting because you have a lot of people around you, but also daunting because you need to put your research first.

UCSB is a particularly fraught place for that as well because it’s such a small town with such a party atmosphere.
BILLINGS: Absolutely. You have the tension of State Street and all the bars, and then you have the beach. But it’s a UC school, and so as much as you want to play, it’s still an incredibly rigorous academic institution. Hopefully we captured some of that in the book.

Is mistaken identity a favorite trope of yours?
HOBBS: I don’t know if we’ve ever written this before?
BILLINGS: I don’t think so. Sometimes we like to take our little twist on something to see how we would play with it. When we first started writing, we had this book that had mythological undertones and then we found out a similar book was coming out and we were freaking out, like, “Should we just scrap this? Why even bother?” We realized 100 different authors can take a stab at the exact same trope and do it completely differently. This is just one we wanted to try because we’d never really done it before. It was complicated because when you have someone who is very close to someone else in real life and they’re hiding something, you have to figure out a way to do it that doesn’t make them an enormous jerk. At some point they will be lying to the person that they’re close to. That’s just the way this story has to unfold, and it’s hard to do that with nuance without making them irredeemable.

Your blurb mentions Roxanne and She’s the Man; were those direct influences on the story?
BILLINGS: The Roxanne thing is great for the letter writing.
HOBBS: But it’s a modern twist on it. Nobody is handwriting letters and reading them outside of a window, so it’s taking a trope and putting it into modern times.
BILLINGS: She’s the Man is so fun. That movie has been on all the time in our house lately because my kids absolutely love it.… But the whole going incognito thing, that has been really fun. And the mishaps that can happen when you’re trying to hide a really big secret like that.

Do rom-coms and these types of movies feed your writing a lot?
BILLINGS: Sometimes it’s a good way to fill the well. One of the things we suffer from as a genre is making sure there’s enough story to the story. It’s very easy to put people together and get navel-gazey about how these two people interact and how they fall in love, and the kinds of conversations they have, but you need to make sure the world is big enough to sustain the whole book. It can’t just be two people in a room being talking heads together the entire book. Movies are good for that because in a movie you have to have enough other things going on and enough story there to keep the audience’s attention. It’s a really good way to remember how to make your world a little bit bigger than just these two people.

So the cover, let’s talk about how that design came to be: Did you want it specifically to reference texting or online dating? Your covers all have vastly different but colorful looks.
HOBBS: We’re really lucky that Gallery lets us have so much input on our covers. Normally Lo likes to doodle a cover on a napkin. Like with Sweet, Filthy Boy, our publicist Kristin forever had this drawing that Lo had done, and it worked perfectly; it was so much like that. Lo and I were talking and were like, “What if it just looks like the iMessage screen?” because that’s essentially what’s happening in the book. Our books traditionally have brighter colors, so it just worked. Somebody actually said the other day, “Oh, I wish you would have had the little thing at the bottom, the dot-dot-dot that shows somebody’s typing.” That would have probably made it perfect.

What makes a perfect rom-com, in your mind?
HOBBS: We always say that if our readers tell us that our books let them disappear from the world for a little bit, that we’ve done our job. I want to sit down and laugh and swoon and maybe have my heart hurt just a little bit and know there’s going to be a happily-ever-after.
BILLINGS: I’m such a sucker for chemistry between the leads. Whether they have the love-hate dynamic, which is my crack — I love the bickering banter, it’s my favorite thing. But whether they have that or are just really good friends and they make each other laugh, if I’m sitting there smiling at my television or my book, that’s such a success. My favorite thing in the world is that feeling where your heart is dropping into your stomach. I love that feeling.