Ali Hazelwood, LOVE ON THE BRAIN

Ali Hazelwood, LOVE ON THE BRAIN

New York Times bestselling author of The Love Hypothesis Ali Hazelwood joins Zibby to talk about her latest romantic comedy, Love on the Brain, which is the inaugural title for the new Walmart Book Club. The two discuss Ali’s journey to publishing through online fandoms and crafting fan fiction, as well as how her experience as a neuroscientist finds its way into her novels. Ali also shares why she likes to keep her writing and science life separate, which relationships have offered her the most support, and what she is currently binge-watching.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Ali. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Love on the Brain.

Ali Hazelwood: Thank you so much for having me.

Zibby: It’s my pleasure. Would you mind telling listeners what Love on the Brain is about?

Ali: Love on the Brain is my second book. It’s a rom-com about Bee, a neuroscientist who has been having a few issues in her career recently. She gets assigned to this amazing project at NASA that is going to be life-changing for her. She’s going to lead a very important project that has to do with astronauts and really complicated technology. Then when she’s over the moon because she just found out that she got this project, she finds out that the person she’s going to lead the project with is someone that she knows from grad school. It’s someone that she has a little bit of a past with. The book is the story of how they figure out how to work together in order to finish this project.

Zibby: Wait, what was your funny nickname for him again? Super Brag or something? What was the sister’s nickname for him?

Ali: For him, . I didn’t even remember. It’s been so long since I wrote that book. Now I’m deep into my other books. I think that’s what it is.

Zibby: You’re like, am I really still talking about this? Yeah, the . Amazing. There aren’t a lot of books, a rom-com where the lead woman is a neuroscientist. I love that. You have all of this description of her in the lab. Her mom wore a wedding dress to her — wait, who wore the wedding dress?

Ali: The wedding dress was Marie Curie.

Zibby: Marie Curie, yes. Not her mom. What am I talking about?

Ali: To be fair, it was a different time, but the story of Marie Curie. The main character of the book is a Marie Curie fangirl. She’s obsessed with Marie Curie. Who wouldn’t be? Come on. She was super cool. There is this story of Marie Curie, which is that when she got married, at the time, Pierre Curie, who was her soon-to-be husband, was going to be the one who would buy a wedding gown because she didn’t have the money. Marie Curie was like, all the money goes into science. He was going to buy her the wedding gown. She was like, you know what? Let’s not buy me a wedding gown. How many times are you going to wear a wedding dress? Only once. Instead, buy me a gown that I can actually use in the lab. In modern days, she basically got married in her lab coat, which I kind of love. It’s so Marie Curie, really.

Zibby: That’s awesome. I love that. At the time of this recording, I’m reading this about Marie Curie and then looking at the J.Lo-Ben Affleck wedding pictures on Instagram. I’m like, how different can these —

Ali: — Wait, did they get married?

Zibby: Yes.

Ali: Oh, my god, are you kidding me? I missed that.

Zibby: It just happened. Sorry for the timeliness. People will —

Ali: — I’m so glad they did it. I want this for them. Sorry.

Zibby: You’re going to go on a deep dive afterwards.

Ali: I’m so excited. I don’t know why I missed it. I’ve been very deep in K-drama, so I haven’t been on social media a whole lot. I’m glad. I’m so happy for them. It’s the second-chance romance that we all want to see in the world.

Zibby: It’s another rom-com. Twenty years later, here we go.

Ali: I love this. They’re older. They’re wiser. They’re both still super attractive. This is happening. I’m glad.

Zibby: Yes. Now you can write a book about that. How did you get into writing in general, but particularly, writing rom-coms?

Ali: I never really wrote fiction growing up. I would write for school and for essays and stuff like that. Then around 2017, I actually saw a movie at the cinema. It was Star Trek: Beyond. I had always been a lot into Star Trek when I was a kid. Then growing up, there had been school and other things. I had kind of let go of my fangirl spirit. When I went to the movies, I was in the last year of my PhD. I saw Spock again. I was like, oh, my god, I am obsessed again. That was how I got into fandom and fan fiction. I think part of the reason why I was never into fandom before, and fan fiction stuff, was that I didn’t grow up speaking English, so a big part of the internet was just kind of off limits to me because I couldn’t understand what was going on.

Zibby: Where did you grow up?

Ali: I grew up in Italy. I grew up speaking Italian. I come from the very north of Italy, so the second language in our schools is German because we’re so close to Austria. English just wasn’t really a thing for me for a long time. Then in high school, I started studying English. Then I started doing some programs abroad. I started learning it. Fast-forward, I’m in my late twenties. I am finishing up my PhD. I see this movie. I’m like, I need to know more about what is going on.

Zibby: Wait, what was your PhD in?

Ali: My PhD was in neuroscience.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. All right, keep going.

Ali: It was here in the US. Totally unrelated to Star Trek. I just bring it up because I think I really needed a distraction at the time. I had been hyperfocused on my work and my school and my research for so long. I rediscovered that there was this amazing thing that I loved, which was fan-ish spaces and sci-fi and love stories. I went back to that. That’s how I discovered fan fiction. First, I was just reading it. Then I started getting some ideas for fan fic writing. I started slowly posting stories, first, really short stories about these Star Trek characters where the scenario’s mostly very romantic in tone. I had a bunch of ships, so a bunch of characters that I wanted to be together and stuff. Then that’s how I started writing. I wrote fan fiction for three or four years. Then I met my agent, Thao Le, who is amazing. She actually reads fan fiction. She found some of my fan fiction. I had written a note at the end of one of my fics saying, “If you are interested in this story, please download it because I might pull it one day. I might decide that I want to try to publish it. Just make sure that you download it if you want to have it because it might not be here.” She saw this note. She was like, “It sounds like you’re interested in publishing. Why don’t we work together?” That was amazing. She’s the one who taught me how to write a rom-com. She helped me so much. She’s amazing. That’s how the books started happening.

Zibby: It basically was just your agent being like, transition from fan fiction into this.

Ali: My agent is amazing. Not just that. She didn’t just do it with me. She’s done it with other people too. She’s taken a lot of artists. She does both illustrative books and graphic novels and regular books, just writing. She’s also very into fan-ish spaces and fandom. She’s a nerd. I love her. I like her as a person, aside from everything. We have so many things in common. She reads fan fiction. If she sees potential and if she sees interest in someone being traditionally published — she doesn’t barge in and say, you should stop writing fan fiction because you’re just wasting your talent. You should come and try to publish. If she sees interest, she helps you. She’s amazing.

Zibby: Got it. Who is this amazing agent?

Ali: Her name is Thao Le. She is with the Sandra Dijkstra — I can’t even pronounce the name — Literary Agency. I’m actually very excited because I’m going to Comic-Con this week. That will be in San Diego. That’s where she lives, so I’m going to get to hug her. I’m so excited.

Zibby: I was just with Evangeline Lilly, who is from Ant-Man and the Wasp. She was at my book fair. She’s going to be at Comic-Con this week.

Ali: There’s going to be so many cool people. I am just going to pace around hoping to meet . That’s what I’m going to do.

Zibby: You’re so funny. I have to say, you would not know or assume any of this backstory about you from reading this book. Yes, I knew there was some neuroscience background, but it could’ve just been research. You could’ve just googled extensively or interviewed people. You have the most amazing background. It’s really awesome. It goes to show, you just never know.

Ali: You really don’t. I never would’ve thought five years ago that I would be doing this. This is amazing. I’m super grateful. I never would have pictured it. You really never know.

Zibby: You have a great voice. From the very beginning, I did not want to stop reading. It’s super relatable and conversational and funny and current in all the slang. Especially that you don’t have English as a first language, shame on all of us who are native-born Americans who cannot write books or cannot like this.

Ali: I get so much help, though. I have a lot of friends that I actually met from my fan fiction days. They help me so much. They’re like, “This is not English. This is not a real word. You made it up,” stuff like that. Then I have, of course, my editor at Berkley who also helps so much. I have to be honest. The first version of anything that I write, it has to be in the vault, locked, cannot be seen by anyone.

Zibby: Do you also have a sister you’re close to or just a best friend? Who do you call at two in the morning?

Ali: I have a sister. We’re fairly close. I have a bunch of really, really good friends. My best friend, Kate, actually, my first book was dedicated to her, whom I met through fandom. She is my fangirl twin, as in, whenever I get excited about something, she’s the one that I go to. I also go to her when I have problems, when I want to cry, and stuff like that. For me, the whole getting excited about things is so important. I really just want to have someone to share this with. She’s the one that I can go to. For example, I really got into K-drama so hard. She was like, “You know what? If you like them so much, I’ll check them out.”

Zibby: Wait. This is embarrassing. What is K-drama?

Ali: I am ready to talk about them. K-dramas, they’re basically these miniseries. They usually have sixteen to twenty episodes. There are a bunch of genres of them. They are produced and written in Korea. You might have heard of Squid Game. I think it was the biggest one. It’s basically Squid Game, but the ones I like are usually more romantic in tone. They have a bunch of love stories. It’s just such an incredible storytelling medium. They are different from US TV shows, of course, because they’re the product of a different culture. I really, really enjoy them. There are so many. That’s what I spend my life doing right now. I just watch them all the time.

Zibby: Guilty pleasure.

Ali: Not even guilty. I’m like, whatever. I embrace it.

Zibby: Outward pleasure. I won’t feel as bad not knowing about K-drama. You won’t feel as bad not knowing about J.Lo and Ben Affleck.

Ali: Yes, exactly.

Zibby: Now we’re even.

Ali: To be honest, I didn’t know what K-drama was two months ago, so I was right there with you. You know Christina Lauren, the author?

Zibby: Yes.

Ali: Lo was the one who introduced me. She was like, “You have to watch this one.” I was like, “I will.” I did. Now this is my life. Lo has abandoned me. Lo has, now, other passions, and I am still here obsessed.

Zibby: I just interviewed her. I just did an event with her for The Gloss book club.

Ali: Isn’t she amazing?

Zibby: Yeah, amazing. Awesome. The next book you’re doing, tell me about that.

Ali: The following one after Love on the Brain?

Zibby: Yes, after Love on the Brain. You also did The Love Hypothesis.

Ali: Yes, that was the first one.

Zibby: That was the first one. New York Times best-selling author, that must have felt amazing.

Ali: That was so cool, so unexpected too. It was a bunch of really cool coincidence and things that happened that made it happen. It was just the coolest thing ever.

Zibby: What made it happen?

Ali: BookTok, mostly. There were these BookTok influencers who just — my book was a Book of the Month club pick. There are a bunch of influencers who are associated with Book of the Month. They get their books first or something. The book ended up in the hands of these amazing people who made all these amazing videos about it. That’s what I say, a bunch of little things that happened and a confluence of marvelous things. My next book, I am going to be honest with you, I don’t know how much I can say because we are so deep in edits. I don’t know how much is going to change about it. As of right now, the title is Love, Theoretically, with a comma between love and theoretically, I think. I want the comma. I don’t know if my editor .

Zibby: I like the comma.

Ali: I’m going to email her once we get off. I’m going to be like, okay, so —

Zibby: — It totally changes the meaning.

Ali: Thank you. It was supposed to be a pun on Love Actually, the Love, Theoretically, because the main character is a theoretical physicist. I was so proud of this title.

Zibby: I like it a lot.

Ali: I am really bad at titles. Whenever I get something that is vaguely punny, I’m like, I’m a genius. No one talk to me. I am the best person in the world. I hope that there will be a comma. I hope that that will be the title, but still undecided. As of right now, it’s the story of a theoretical physicist who ends up at odds with an experimental physicist. There is a little bit of rivalry between them, theorists and experimentalists. That is compounded by the fact that she has been fake-dating his brother. I like to think of it as my fake-dating book with a twist in the sense that the girl doesn’t end up with the guy she’s fake-dating, but she ends up with the brother of the guy that she’s fake-dating.

Zibby: Interesting.

Ali: I hope it works. I don’t even know.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, I love it.

Ali: Still deep in edits.

Zibby: It’s awesome. Aside from using all of your PhD stuff in your fiction, are you doing research or teaching or anything related just to that?

Ali: As of right now, yeah. I am planning to take a year off next year, so the next academic year. As of right now, yeah. I am a professor. I do research. I teach. My students hate me because I teach neuroanatomy. It’s everyone’s least-favorite subject because there’s a lot to memorize.

Zibby: Where do you teach anatomy?

Ali: Is it okay if I don’t say the university where I teach?

Zibby: Yes. Is it in the United States or not in the United States?

Ali: Yes, I’m in the South of the United States. I’m just trying to keep my two —

Zibby: — That’s fine. That’s totally fine.

Ali: Thank you.

Zibby: Do your students know that you have this secret life of a novelist?

Ali: I haven’t told them. I use a pen name. I haven’t told them. However, my picture is at the end of the book. It’s possible that someone knows but hasn’t said anything.

Zibby: Your real name is not Ali?

Ali: My real last name is not Hazelwood.

Zibby: But your first name is Ali?

Ali: It’s a nickname.

Zibby: It’s a nickname, okay. I won’t pry too much.

Ali: It’s possible that they know.

Zibby: I feel like you would know if they knew.

Ali: I know, right? I feel like if one of my professors wrote a book and I got to the end of the book and saw the picture, I think I would go to them and be like, hey, you wrote a book? I don’t know.

Zibby: I actually think that’s amazing that you’re not marketing to them. I feel like that’s the first thing I would do. Okay, here’s my core audience. At least I can sell to all my students. You’re like, no, no, I’ll just sell to all these other millions of people.

Ali: My poor students. I know. They’re college students, so I would feel bad. They already pay my salary through their tuition, so I would want to give them free books, actually.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, wow. That is really funny. What an interesting life. When you’re not going to Comic-Con, watching K-dramas, writing, teaching, or researching, do you have time to do anything else?

Ali: Again, the K-drama is truly my —

Zibby: — That’s the sore spot.

Ali: I cannot overstate how much time I spend watching them. I crochet. I love crocheting.

Zibby: I’m seeing behind you, all those — did you do all those?

Ali: Yeah, this is my crochet project. I have two cats. Wait, I want to show you my cat. He’s here. He’s very cute. The other one is elsewhere. I don’t know. That’s it, really. My bio, that I have to change, says that I run in my spare time. The truth is that I have been working out very little in the past two years, but let’s pretend that I’m a very sporty person.

Zibby: I literally worked out for the first time this morning in so, so long. I was like, this is pathetic. Then I would say to myself, I should at least do twenty-five minutes. Come on, twenty-five minutes. Then I’m like, that doesn’t count. Then I’m thinking, this is more than I’ve done in weeks. Of course, it counts.

Ali: I know. Same. It’s one of those things where when you fall off the wagon, it’s so hard to go back because it’s painful. Also, you’re like, I used to run five miles.

Zibby: Me too.

Ali: Now it’s like, oh, my god, I run for four minutes, and I am dying. It’s just very hard to compare yourself with what you used to do.

Zibby: It’s a very humbling reentry.

Ali: It is so humbling.

Zibby: I might as well just stay sitting down and not face the pain.

Ali: Exactly, and keep my dignity.

Zibby: Stay with my head above on Zoom. At least I’m not alone in that. Thank you.

Ali: Never alone. You’re never alone.

Zibby: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Ali: My advice, it’s always the same and maybe trite a little bit. Just find a very good support network. It’s a very tough business. It’s harsh sometimes. You get very honest feedback from all corners. I doubt myself a lot. I’m sure every author doubts themselves. Just having a bunch of friends that you can talk to and that are there to support you and that you know love you despite — they are there and they’re your friends regardless of what you write, that make you feel like you’re a person and not just a writer, that is very valuable. They help you deal with the rejections and the failures. There are so many. Find a very good support network that you can trust. I guess that’s the advice for everything in life.

Zibby: It’s not. That is not what I usually hear, so don’t worry. Do you currently have love on your brain right now?

Ali: I have my husband and my cats. I do love my husband very much even though he’s very annoying sometimes. He’s very cute. I love him. Yes, I do, but I love my cats more. Sorry.

Zibby: That’s okay. I won’t tell him.

Ali: He knows.

Zibby: He knows. Ali, or whatever your real name is, this was so much fun. I’m so impressed. I love this neuroscience, science rom-com subgenre that you’ve created here. I think it’s so cool, especially to have role models of super smart women.

Ali: I have to be honest. I didn’t create — Sherry Thomas and Helen Hoang were writing them way before.

Zibby: Still.

Ali: I’m just glad to be part of their tradition.

Zibby: Okay, fine. Well, I know you, so I’m talking to you. I’ll tell them the same thing if we ever speak. For now, I’m saying it to you. Either way, I think it’s amazing. I think it’s great to give really smart women as role models for protagonists so that we can learn a little bit as we go anyway. It’s awesome.

Ali: Thank you so much.

Zibby: You’re so welcome. Good luck. Take care.

Ali: Thank you.

Zibby: Keep going on that comma.

Ali: Yes, I will fight for the comma.

Zibby: Double down on the comma. There you go.

Ali: I’m writing my editor right now.

Zibby: You can CC me if you want.

Ali: I will. Thank you so much.

Zibby: Buh-bye. Take care.

Ali Hazelwood, LOVE ON THE BRAIN

LOVE ON THE BRAIN by Ali Hazelwood

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