By Maureen Lee Lenker
May 20, 2019 at 05:24 PM EDT

Alyssa Cole is a romance author who has her finger on the pulse of the moment — from her Reluctant Royals books, which tap into contemporary issues surrounding royalty, agency, feminism, and science, to her Loyal League series, which potently uses its Civil War setting for searing stories that feel more pertinent than ever. In fact, EW has named her work to our top 10 romances of the year for two years running.

Now Cole is branching out into a new space, writing her first ever Audible Original, The A.I. Who Loved Me, EW can exclusively report. As the title suggests, the audiobook-only title offers readers a romantic comedy with a sci-fi twist: a relationship with a robot.

The story follows Trinity Jordan, a young woman whose life is disrupted when her neighbor’s drop-dead-gorgeous nephew, Li Wei, comes to stay. When an emergency leaves Trinity tending to Li Wei, she realizes there’s something a bit off about him — and it’s that he’s an example of the most cutting-edge artificial intelligence technology available, tech that blurs the line between human and machine. But can he do the most human thing of all and fall in love?

Further details, including cover art, narrator, and release date are still to be announced, but Cole will be talking about penning an Audible Original at an upcoming panel on audio and romance at BookCon in New York City.

EW recently got in touch with Cole to discuss the differences between writing for print and audio, why she’s fascinated by science fiction, and what she would think about love between human and machines in real life.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did this project come to be? Were you already mulling the story idea and this deal came your way? Did you pitch to Audible?
ALYSSA COLE: It actually is one of those weird strokes of luck. So, last summer I’d reached a point where I was so busy that I didn’t have much time to sit and read. I started listening to lots of audiobooks, and also to scripted podcasts. I fell in love with the idea of writing something just for audio — a novel or scripted podcast series or SOMETHING — and I composed an email to my agent, Lucienne Diver… which I didn’t send. Then, I swear, a couple of days later Lucienne contacted me to say that Rose Hilliard from Audible was interested in working together. I was extremely confused and had to double-check that I hadn’t accidentally hit send on that email, but it was still in the drafts folder! (And still is!) So I spoke to Rose, who had enjoyed my other books, and I pitched her an idea I’d been excited about, which was basically: What if the hot guy next door was the hot A.I. next door?

Is writing exclusively for an audiobook different at all? Does it change your writing process?
It is different! I tried to think of techniques I could use that I typically wouldn’t in my usual writing that would make it more immersive for listeners, and also tried to incorporate aspects of script writing — some sections of the story are transcripts, for example. I tried to think of sound effects that would affect the reader, make them laugh or signal something to them because it’s a sound they hear in everyday life.… I generally write in a way that makes visualizing each scene somewhat easy for the reader, and hopefully that comes through even more with this project.

You explore a sci-fi subject here, the nature of artificial intelligence and its role in our lives. What about that subject intrigues you?
Oh, I’ve been obsessed with robots since I was a kid! I was super-into the show Small Wonder, and annoyed my family by wandering around repeating, “My name is Alyssa. I am a robot.” But movies, TV shows, or anime with robots and A.I. building relationships with humans have always held a particular interest for me. I enjoy exploring the complexities of relationships in general, and how emotions develop within relationships, so maybe that’s why? The robot boyfriend trope (and its related subgenre, the monster boyfriend) are ways of exploring humanity, personhood, power dynamics, and belonging.

Do you think tech could ever get to a point where A.I. could be a fair substitute for human love and compassion? Would you want it to?
Hmm, I think it’s possible on some level. I’m not sure how I’d feel about it outside of fiction, though. It’s much easier to navigate moral and ethical quandaries when you’re creating your own world than in the real world, where there will generally be people or systems intent on doing the awful things even with technology created for the greater good.

You write in so many subgenres: contemporary/royal, historical, sci-fi. Does one interest you more than others? Does your process change significantly between each, particularly as it comes to research?
I’m not more interested in any one subgenre. My books do all have areas of overlap on a Venn diagram: social justice, emotional exploration, inclusivity, nerd stuff (and sexiness, of course). My research process actually doesn’t change very much between subgenres because I always end up researching a ton of stuff whether it goes into the book or not — I’m generally always trying to find the right tools to build a specific world, and that doesn’t change, no matter the subgenre.

Why do you think romance is a good space to explore moral quandaries, as I would assume you do with the A.I. issue here?
Romance authors often incorporate moral quandaries (for example, how many romances explore the ramifications of lying? SO. MANY.) in our work. I think the focus on crafting emotional connection makes it the ideal place to explore what happens when love and fast-evolving technology collide.

A lot of your readers have probably mostly found you on the physical page or e-reader. Why would you encourage them to give audiobooks a try?
I’ve actually been hearing from more and more people who have found me through audio (shout out to Karen Chilton, who has done such an incredible job narrating my books). When my books weren’t in audio, I had people asking me to get them recorded. I didn’t quite understand what the hype was at first, but (and I know this sounds like an infomercial or something), when I finally started listening, I realized I could read all the time!? Like, when I was cleaning, when I was driving, while walking the dogs. I also use audio as a sleep aid — I put on a book as I’m falling asleep. I, of course, still read ebooks and physical books; audiobooks allow me to read way more. It’s just another way to read, although I will caution that if you’re listening to a romance novel you should probably wear earphones in an office setting or be careful while driving (as one of my readers told me she almost crashed her car while listening to one of my sex scenes!).

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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