It has been four months since the release of The Love Hypothesis, and its overwhelming success is making author Ali Hazelwood feel “incredibly verklempt” about it. 

Along with being an immensely talented writer, Hazelwood is a cognitive neuroscientist. She hails from Italy, and lived in Germany and Japan before moving to the U.S. to pursue her Ph.D. Before The Love Hypothesis was a full-fledged novel, it was fanfiction centered on Star Wars characters Kylo Ren and Rey Skywalker, one of the author’s favorite ships. I had the honor of conversing with Ali Hazelwood about her experience writing fanfiction, scenes she had to edit out of her book, the similarities she shares with her characters – and her next book, Love on the Brain.

The Love Hypothesis was born during a fanfiction exchange with her friend Frankie, recounted Hazelwood. “A friend wanted to read a fake dating story. I’d just watched the Netflix adaptation of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, so I was really feeling the trope. And I decided to set the story in academia because academia is all I know!”

The Love Hypothesis follows the story of Olive Smith, a third-year Ph.D. candidate who doesn’t believe in romantic relationships unless it has anything to do with helping her best friend Ahn be in one. To convince Ahn to date her own ex, Olive lies about seeing someone else. But right when she’s about to get caught red-handed working late in the laboratory, she panics and kisses Dr. Adam Carlsen, a 30-something hotshot professor known for being set in his ways. They eventually enter a fake relationship because they both have something to gain, and thus begins one of the most fun books I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. The Love Hypothesis is brimming with romance tropes, and yet, it tackles everyday problems in academia and makes sure you laugh out loud from time to time. I suffered from a massive book hangover after turning over the last page. I looked for fan art. I signed up for Hazelwood’s newsletter, which included a bonus chapter. I tweeted ferociously. I got my friends to read it. 

Writing a story against the backdrop of STEM could be a challenge for anyone, but not Hazelwood, a cognitive neuroscientist by profession. “I look at the relationship between brain structure/function and behavior,” she says, adding, “I’ve always been interested in what makes people the way they are, and whether we can find some answers in their brains, so I use a lot of neuroimaging (MRI, fMRI, ERP) to look at individual differences in personality and behavior.”

Hazelwood’s academic career inspired her setting for the novel. “I feel like academia is the only setting I can reliably write, because it’s what I know best,” the author shared.

Fanfiction helped Hazelwood find her voice as a storyteller and novelist, and she had great things to share about her experience. It helped her work with ideas without worrying about her story and introduced her to a cohort of friends who supported her writing.

“Fic writing is amazing and it really allows to flex writing muscles without some of the constraints of traditional publishing (like length and story structure). More importantly, though, what fic has given me is amazing friends who have supported me and encouraged me and constantly read my writing even when it’s at its crappiest and help me make it decent, and I’ll be forever grateful for them!”

When I asked Hazelwood if she had to cut out a favorite scene from the final version of the book, she spilled on Adam and Olive’s relationship, revealing that the characters had breakup sex in the hotel. Hazelwood still mourns the deletion of the scene, and so do I!

“There were more sex scenes that just kind of ended up not really fitting into the last version of the book (and I’m weak, I always cry when I have to cut out sex scenes…) In previous versions of the book Olive and Adam actually had breakup sex in his hotel, but it turned into a kiss in the final version, and while it fits better with the tone of the story, I do mourn the extra sex scene a bit….” said the author. 

We also talked about the supporting characters in The Love Hypothesis, Olive’s roommate Malcolm, and Adam’s colleague, Holden, and the relationship they eventually enter. If Hazelwood could write a spin-off follow-up to The Love Hypothesis, she’d love to revisit their story.

“I would love to write the Malcolm and Holden Go to Ikea to Buy a Table novella. They would spend half of the time bickering, the other half making out in the model rooms. It would be beautiful,” she said.

The Love Hypothesis isn’t just a romance novel — it also details the abuse of power and the sexism women in STEM face on a daily basis. I asked Hazelwood about what inspired her to address that in her novel, and her answer reveals she decided to draw from her personal experiences.

“It’s something I’ve seen so much around me, and experienced so much of. When I started grad school I was the only woman in a cohort of eight, and the only non North American person. Sometimes it felt really isolating. Plus, the structure of academia almost actively promotes toxic power dynamics. It was nice to explore some of my feelings about all that stuff in a work of fiction.”

In the past, Hazelwood has enjoyed reading Star Wars, Star Trek, and Pride and Prejudice fanfiction. She’s a Jane Austen superfan, and that is why, we can expect to see some major Darcy/Lizzie vibes from her upcoming novel, Love on the Brain. The bestselling author is also excited about writing modern adaptations of her favorite Austen novels — Emma, Persuasion, and Pride and Prejudice set in academia, in the future.

Hazelwood further shared some details on her upcoming book, expressing that Love on the Brain was her love letter to everything she loved about neuroscience. Her research as a neuroscientist isn’t similar to that of Adam and Olive’s, and she might not share Olive’s love for pumpkin spice (she HATES it!), but she weaved her personal experiences into building the characters of her second book.

“The main character in Love On The Brain, which will be out in August 2022, is a cognitive neuroscientist who uses transcranial magnetic stimulation (a technique I also used when I was in grad school). It was a lot of fun to write, a love letter of sorts to my favorite parts of neuroscience!” she revealed.

In terms of Hazelwood’s favorite romance tropes, there are three. “Enemies to lovers, soulmates, enemies that oh noes, just happen to be soulmates.” And in terms of the tropes included in her upcoming book, the author shared a list that will make anyone set up a calendar reminder to pre-order in time.

Love On The Brain includes:

  • Enemies to lovers
  • Secret pining
  • Forced proximity
  • Emotionally constipated main character
  • You’ve got mail
  • Size difference
  • Broody, protective love interest
  • Misunderstandings 

If you’re yet to read a romance novel that surprises you and makes you laugh and smile all at the same time — The Love Hypothesis is it. Teeming with vibrant characters and refreshing romance tropes, this is the kind of book you want to end the year with.

  • Fatemeh Mirjalili is an entertainment writer based in Mumbai, India. Her work has appeared in publications such as TheThings, Film Companion and Times Knowledge among others. She loves writing about pop culture, watching Disney musicals and re-reading Pride & Prejudice for what may seem like the millionth time.