The Novel That Almost Broke Us: Coauthors Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke on the Book that Nearly Destroyed Their Partnership

The Novel That Almost Broke Us: Coauthors Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke on the Book that Nearly Destroyed Their Partnership

Girls' Night Out

National Best Friend Day is celebrated on June 8, and here at Bookish we are super excited about it. Some of our best friends are characters in books, but literary friendships can take another form: best friends who co-write. Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke know all about that. This pair of besties is responsible for bringing readers novels including The Good Widow and Girls’ Night Out, which will be available on July 24. Here, Liz and Lisa dish on how Girls’ Night Out tested their friendship and almost destroyed it.

There’s no easy way to say this: We almost broke up last year.

Our thirty-year friendship and nine-year writing relationship came to a roaring halt while writing our latest release, Girls’ Night Out, a novel that mirrored our own connection in ways that both scared and intrigued us. We were being tested. Did we have the impenetrable bond we thought we did? Could we continue to be writing partners, business partners and friends, or were we better served going solo?

It all came to a head on a trip we took to New Orleans to attend a book festival and work on our developmental edits for Girls’ Night Out. Months—but more likely years—of unresolved issues finally boiled over when we started text-fighting from our respective flights into the Louis Armstrong International Airport. Ironic that our long-time union would begin to unravel through our smartphones after we’d spent the early years of our friendship communicating through telephones with cords and letters written by hand. As the debate over how we should spend our limited time in the historic city turned heated, we had no idea that our text disagreement riddled with auto-corrected words (because we don’t give a duck about ducks!) and emojis (that pink flying-heart can only smooth over so many things!) was going to set the tone for the weekend. That it was going to result in a conversation that began like this: Maybe we shouldn’t write together anymore.

At some point in our three-decade history, we’d started to believe that the longevity of our friendship guaranteed its survival. Maybe so much so that we didn’t try hard enough to resolve our conflicts when they presented themselves. Like many married couples, they’d simply end up buried under other issues one or both partners chose to ignore. It had all begun to blend together: the good and the bad, the beauty and the ugliness, the selfishness and selflessness.

In hindsight, the stage had been set for a disastrous trip, and not just because of our tragic humidity-ravaged hair. As we descended upon the steamy streets of NOLA, we were three months into a developmental edit on our manuscript that should have taken six weeks. We had re-written over fifty-percent of the book three times, always falling just short. We felt upside-down, like a small plane flying in fog—unable to trust our inner radar. Our publisher decided to push back the release date to give us more time to fix it. The two of us had had innumerable conversations where we speculated if it was even possible to get this book to a place that would make everyone happy. The pressure was on, and we were beginning to crumble under its weight.

Somewhere between Bourbon Street and Jackson Square, the tension between us bubbled to the surface and erupted. We fought about where to work. We got into a tiff over which one of us was the better typist. (The one who bought the Mavis Beacon typing tutorial discs, of course!) We argued the merits of eating before the book event. (Note to selves: We should have!) There was a blow-up at the famous Carousel bar and someone stormed out, leaving the other to sheepishly pay the bill and follow behind at a careful distance. One of us called the airline to book the next flight home, dissolving into tears when she discovered they were all sold out.

We left New Orleans in pieces, licking our wounds as we flew home in separate directions—one of us west, one of us north—headed even farther away from one another, not just physically but emotionally. We started to put back together the manuscript that was tearing us apart. We circled one another cautiously, carefully joking that our terrible trip might be the kickstart we’d needed. It made us feel better to believe it—that all that angst had a higher purpose. In part, Girls’ Night Out is about two longtime best friends who run a business together and are at odds over their future. They also become trapped on a trip from hell with a third friend. Save for that additional person (who probably could have helped us!), we’d just lived that same experience. We could use that! Write what you know! The words began to flow, and we both politely ignored the not-so-superficial, sobering reality of each new passage we added: Our writing partnership was in trouble. Possibly our friendship too. But we were on deadline. We had nine days to get the manuscript right.

Eight and a half days later, we had a nuclear meltdown.

It started over something trivial. An email that wasn’t returned and quickly catapulted us into the fight of our lifetime. We fought about who made the partnership a priority and who didn’t, about who was understanding and who wasn’t. There were tears.

Then came the scary declaration. The one we’d been asked at book signings that would make us laugh as we uttered our answer: We would never want to write alone.

But suddenly, there it was. Being said.

Maybe we shouldn’t write together anymore.

It was followed by a penetrating silence. The words hung there between us, both of us too scared to speak, shocked that we’d whittled our friendship down so far that breaking up had become a real option.

But there was something about saying it out loud that snapped us out of our funk. The finality of those words made us understand that we had no right to take for granted what we had worked so hard to build. That ending things would be the easy way out.

A conversation began. We wanted to understand each other. We began to deal with the issues we’d been ignoring for far too long. There was real listening. Empathy, even. And that discussion saved us from ourselves. We decided we could start over and be stronger. And the answer to: Maybe we shouldn’t write together anymore resulted in: Actually, we should and we will do it better this time.

We should have realized it was going to be hard for us to be best friends and business partners. We are starkly different, something that is both our biggest asset and deficit. We were young and idealistic and had no idea our foundation wasn’t yet strong enough. We were clueless that there were discussions to be had—like: how is this going to work? You can be pushy, I can be a procrastinator, maybe we should talk about how those qualities could spontaneously combust?

We believe our relationship was meant to hit rock bottom while writing this book. Life was supposed to imitate art or art was meant to imitate life—maybe we’ll never know the true order.

As you can imagine, Girls’ Night Out is very special to us, and we’ve dedicated it to best friends everywhere. Not only because it’s the story of two long-time friends and business partners who fall apart. But because we fought to persevere. We battled to save our friendship. To fix Girls’ Night Out. Again, the two things inexplicably intertwined. So, we hold this one close to our hearts and hope those who read it will too. We hope it will be a reminder that nothing great is ever easy.

Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke have been best friends for over 25 years and survived high school and college together. They’ve co-authored four novels, including the bestseller The Good Widow.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Great article! You two always seem to have the perfect friendship, so it’s nice to know that even the best ones have cracks and vulnerabilities. Thanks for being so honest. The idea of you not writing together is terrifying! Thanks for all the great books.

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