One of the most satisfying recent trends in publishing is the STEMinist love story—a charming sobriquet for contemporary romances and romantic comedies that feature diverse heroines from diverse, often nontraditional backgrounds working in STEM fields and breaking barriers as easily as they might break hearts.
These kinds of stories are not just about women falling in love, but about tackling any number of timely and relevant issues, from sexism in the workplace to issues of equity and inclusion, and the fact that even today male opinions are often privileged over female voices not because they are right or more experienced, but simply because they are male. Plus, if you’ve ever had a weakness for nerds who get hype about solving problems, this is absolutely 100% the genre for you.
Author Ali Hazelwood has become well known for her STEMist romantic fiction: Her debut The Love Hypothesis is a New York Times bestseller that became a viral sensation on BookTok and her second novel, Love on the Brain seems well on its way to similar success. (Turns out neuroscience is actually really sexy, y’all!)
We got the chance to chat with Hazelwood herself about Love on the Brain, her unique background as an author, her favorite romance trope, and what she’s working on next.
Paste Magazine: You took such an interesting path to become an author—I know you have a personal background in STEM and were very active in fanfiction communities. Can you tell our readers a little bit about how those things have played into your journey of writing both The Love Hypothesis and Love on the Brain?
Ali Hazelwood: I have taken a lot of inspiration from the settings I find myself in every day, and from my career in academia. I started writing fanfiction when I was in grad school as a way to de-stress, and then ended up writing romance books about people in STEM academia.
I think fanfiction is honestly an amazing medium and gets such an unfair bad rap from people who don’t value or understand it. Good fanfic is art! How did being a fanfic writer shape the professional writer you became?
I had never written fiction before fanfiction, so everything that I know on writing I’ve learned from fic! To me, it’s an easy way to approach writing for those who aren’t experienced writers, but I understand that some people don’t like it and to each their own!
Paste: One of my favorite things about your books is that they don’t require their heroines to be lesser in any way—Bee is smart, career-focused, ambitious, and successful in the sort of careers we don’t often get the chance to see women excel in on the page. Talk to me about Bee’s character and her journey through this book.
Hazelwood: I think Bee knows what she wants, but she’s had a few hiccups and hasn’t been able to get it quite yet. The book is very much the story of her going after what she wants—and managing to find love in the process.
Paste: Enemies to lovers is one of my all-time favorite tropes (second only to marriage of convenience!), but I love how you sort of wink at and subvert that a bit in this story. (Are they really enemies? Have they ever been?) Tell me a bit about how you conceptualized Bee and Levi’s bond.
Hazelwood: One of my favorite tropes is miscommunication, and I really love stories in which everything could be cleared up with a simple conversation, but the characters don’t have that conversation because they’re at a point in their lives where they just aren’t able to have it—usually because of things that happened to them, or misconceptions they have, or their emotional wounds. I think Bee and Levi are just that: two people who are, or were, not in the position of having an honest conversation but are slowly growing into that.
Paste: What do you think it is about some of the specific romantic tropes and themes that show up in (enemies to lovers, the You’ve Got Mail communicating without knowing it thing) that appeals to readers no matter how many times they encounter them?
Hazelwood: I’m not sure about other people, but I’m definitely a mood reader, so being able to select a book by the trope helps me make sure that I’m going to love it, and that I’m getting exactly what I need for a specific moment.
Paste: The thread of Marie Curie fangirling throughout Love on the Brain was so good and felt so fresh. (And I admittedly knew very little about the story of her life beyond the fact that her bones are still radioactive from her work with polonium and radium, so I felt like I learned some things!) What made you choose her as a sort of major avatar for this story?
Hazelwood: I got the idea by watching Never Have I Ever, in which Devi’s story (the main character) is narrated by a famous tennis player, John McEnroe. I wondered: who would Bee choose to narrate her story? And how would Marie Curie’s life resonate with Bee’s?
Paste: What’s the one thing you hope readers take away from this book?
Hazelwood: I hope they have a few hours of fun!
Paste: According to Goodreads, you’re working on a third book that’s slated to come out next year. Can you tell us anything about it?
Hazelwood: Love, Theoretically is a fun twist on the fake dating trope: what if the main character, instead of ending up with the person she is fake-dating, ended up with his brother?
Paste: What are you reading right now? What kind of books do you tend to gravitate to as a reader versus an author?
I read a lot of romance novels and thrillers! Right now I’m reading Before I Let Go by Kennedy Ryan, which is a second chance romance, and enjoying it immensely—the writing is beautiful and I’m feeling all my feelings!
>Love on the Brain
is available now Books.
Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.