Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke, HOW TO SAVE A LIFE

Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke, HOW TO SAVE A LIFE

Zibby Owens: Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke have been best friends for over thirty years. They are the coauthors of seven novels including the Amazon Charts best seller, The Good Widow. Their most recent book, How to Save a Life, is a dark, heart-pounding love story with a Groundhog Day twist. Liz and Lisa host the popular podcast “We Fight So You Don’t Have To” and are monthly on-air contributors on their local news with Liz & Lisa’s Book Club. In their former lives, Liz worked in the pharmaceutical industry and Lisa was a talk show producer. They both reside with their families and several rescue dogs in Southern California.

Welcome, Lisa and Liz, to “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” Thanks for coming on.

Lisa Steinke: Thanks for having us.

Liz Fenton: Thank you.

Zibby: Maybe just announce who you are. I can see because I’m watching you. Whose voice is whose?

Liz: This is Liz.

Lisa: This is Lisa. Thanks for having us. Excited to be here.

Zibby: How to Save a Life is your latest novel. Can you tell listeners, please, what it’s about?

Liz: It’s a dark, heart-pounding love story. It’s about Dom and Mia. Ten years ago, Dom and Mia were engaged and they broke up. Fast-forward a decade. Dom runs into Mia at a coffee shop. He’s never really gotten over her. He always regretted breaking up with her. He hasn’t really moved on. He asks her out on a date. It’s Tuesday. He asks her out for Thursday. They go out Thursday night to the San Diego County Fair, and she dies on a ride. Obviously, he’s devastated. He wakes up the next day. It’s still Thursday. He has another opportunity. He’s not quite sure what’s going on. They have their date, but obviously he plans something else. He doesn’t take her to the carnival. He’s like, maybe we shouldn’t go. She dies again. What happens after that is he’s stuck in a time loop trying to save her life, trying to save what they had together. Then there’s also different pieces of his life in that day that he’s trying to figure out almost like a puzzle he’s trying to put back together.

Zibby: How did you come up with this? It’s Sliding Doors-ish. It’s the same bad news over and over again and wanting to have a different outcome. Isn’t that what they say the definition of craziness is? I feel like my therapist might have told me this at one point, is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Lisa: Expecting a different outcome, yeah. Our last book, The Two Lila Bennetts, was a Sliding Doors concept. We had already tried that. We were on vacation. We were in the pool. We were drinking cocktails. We were trying to figure out what to do. We first were going to do a Groundhog Day twist but with more of a suspense angle like our previous books. Then Liz got to talking about The 7½ Lives of

Liz: Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, one of my favorite books. I had brought it on vacation. I had just finished it.

Lisa: That book is a man who wakes up every day in a different person’s body at a party. We were talking about that and just tossing it around. We eventually came to this just as a brainstorm goes. We wanted it to be lighter and more of a love story that we could play out in it as well.

Zibby: I was sort of struck, I feel like it’s been a long time since I read a novel by two women from the point of view of a man. When it started about the bulge in his pants, I was like, wait a minute. Who’s telling this story? What’s going on?

Lisa: That was Liz’s line. She’s notorious for the opening line in a book, I have to say.

Liz: Thank you, Lisa. Our debut novel, the opening line is “My mouth tastes like ass.” You’ll have to read to find out why. That was actually from a rewrite. That wasn’t the original first line. Then when it went to edits with our publisher, we ended up restructuring the first one-third of the way we were telling the story. We had to jump off from their engagement. You know as a reader and also an author, the first page is so important to pull people in.

Lisa: We’re hoping that pulls people in. It was also fun to write from a male point of view for the first time. I don’t know if we were just shying away from it because we’re not men and it’s not as comfortable, but we just wanted to get out of our comfort zone and give it try. Then we both kind of ended up falling in love with him a little bit.

Liz: I have a major crush on him. It was fun. We get bored. I think it’s why our first three books were magical realism. Then we went to suspense. Now we’re back. We pivot a lot, for good or bad of our career. We pivot. With us, you never really know what you’re going to get in a book because we always want to write what we love. We’ve just found when we don’t do that, there’s problems. We just write what we want to read and what we love in that moment. We hope our audience will come along for the ride.

Zibby: I feel like it’s so easy to tell when somebody’s not passionate about what they’re writing about. You can feel the lack of fire behind it, really, even though it’s sort of intangible. How did the two of you originally get together? What’s your whole story? How did you decide to start becoming coauthors?

Lisa: We’ve known each other a very long time, thirty-four years or something. We’re losing track at this point. Went to high school together and college together and roommates afterward and through the course of all that, just talked about it, but not really thinking it was ever going to actually happen. Just one of those things because we’ve always been voracious readers since we were very young. These authors inspired us. We never thought it was going to happen. Then one day out of the blue like fifteen years into our friendship, I brought it up again. I had written something. I sent it to her. The rest is history. We did not expect it, but we’re so happy it actually ended up taking off.

Zibby: That’s amazing. Talk about all of your external support for the book community at large and how you’re on the San Diego show and all the rest of it, the original influencers essentially.

Liz: As Lisa mentioned, we’re huge readers. We’re huge fangirls of authors. We were championing books before we got our first book deal. Now we continue that. We’re lucky enough to have, on our local news, we have a monthly book club segment every month where we get to talk about books. We have a podcast, “We Fight So You Don’t Have To,” which is about us, but we also talk about books. We bicker. We’re like sisters. We’re hoping people can learn from our mistakes. We’re also partnering with Warwick’s bookstore in La Jolla who’s our local independent bookstore for Couch Surfing Book Tour. We connected with them right when COVID happened. We’re like, “How can we help? What can we do?” Twice a week, we have authors on and talk about their books. That’s been really rewarding and really fun. It’s fun to help the authors who have their books coming out. They’re disappointed. It’s been great to partner with Warwick’s who we adore and hopefully drive some book sales for them, right Lis? It’s been really rewarding in this dark time.

Lisa: It’s kind of nice to be in the other seat sometimes because there’s so many bookstagramers and people like you that are just so supportive of us. We’re always thinking about what we can do to give back so it’s a reciprocal situation because we wouldn’t be where we are without the Instagram, bookstagram community, for sure. It is nice to give back a little bit too.

Zibby: Tell me about your fighting. Let me hear some of these fights. Give me a few examples. How down and dirty are these fights? What are we talking here?

Liz: We’ve gotten a lot better. This is evolution. I think we’ve been writing together at this point about ten years. We’ve been friends for thirty-four. We’re really like family. Lisa, I’ll let you speak to this, but I think transitioning from a friendship to running a business together is a really interesting thing, especially with something creative like writing. Lis, you always do a good job.

Lisa: Thank you, Liz. That’s a perfect example of how far we’ve come. There’s been some door slamming. There’s been a lot of emotions that we can’t control over the years. It was never really in regard to what we were going to write about or anything like that. It was just other stuff. It’s kind of like a marriage when you’re fighting about the toilet paper, but it’s not really about the toilet paper. It took us many, many years to figure out that this wasn’t just a friendship. It was a business relationship too. We’d never sat down and had a conversation about how different we are and how that was going to play into our writing process. A few years ago, everything kind of came to a head. We talked about maybe not continuing because we couldn’t figure out what the problem was. There had been so much tension. We’d had a really rough edit. Some other things had happened in our personal lives at the same time. It just all came together. We had to step back and just start talking about our business and our roles in that. Once we ironed all that out, we’ve gotten to a much better place. I’m not saying we don’t ever have an argument, but we definitely have avoided many as a result.

Liz: I think too, if I could add Lisa, I think one thing —

Lisa: — You can.

Liz: Thank you. I think one thing we’ve gotten better at is — I think it’s like a seesaw and we lose the balance. Sometimes we’re just all business all the time, and we kind of forget that we’re best friends who like having a good time together. I think we’ve gotten better at balancing those things. It just became all business. We’re still friends that need each other and need that support and need to talk about our teenagers being idiots or whatever. Sorry, teenagers, if you’re listening.

Lisa: They’re not listening. They do not care what we’re doing.

Liz: They’re not listening. They are idiots, at least mine are. I think the best thing we’ve done — honestly, probably just in the last six months I think we’ve gotten better. That’s how we’re always evolving, is getting better at that balance of friendship versus business. I think we’re both a lot more fulfilled with each other. We sound like we’re married and we’re in therapy right now, Lisa.

Lisa: I know we do, or in couple’s counseling or something.

Zibby: Tell me more about that. No, I’m kidding.

Lisa: Let’s move on. Let’s talk more about the fights.

Zibby: I had the lovely ladies who wrote the book called Work Wife on my show, Claire and Erica. You should maybe just pick that book up because it’s all about this. It’s about how to navigate the complexity of female friendship at the same time as running a business together.

Liz: I’m going to.

Lisa: That’s going to be helpful because we’re always learning.

Zibby: I also feel that creating, being creative together, is different. It’s not like you guys are producing sweaters or something. It’s stuff that usually lives in somebody’s head. To make that a joint production, that’s tricky. I’m in such awe of all coauthors. Who writes what? How do you do it? How do you actually do it? Do you use Google Docs? Do you get together in person? Do you split chapters? How did you do How to Save a Life?

Lisa: We do not get together in person. The Nanny Diaries girls told us once that they sit at a computer together and write every line together. Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen are on a call all the time doing their lines together. We’re very different than that. We separately will write. I’ll write a chapter. This is what we came up with years ago. It’s just never changed. I open a Word document. I write a chapter. I send it to Liz. She’ll edit it and send it back. We do keep passing it back and forth until we feel like it’s in a good place. Then Liz will write a chapter. We’ll just do the whole book that way. As far as what we’re going to put in each chapter, we do sit and map out maybe five or six chapters at a time, but it’s still very loose. It’s up to the person writing the chapter. There’s a goal to accomplish within it, but it’s up to them how to get to that goal. It just works for us. I know there’s fancy writing tools online and things like that, but we’re old-school Word doc girls, until the very end and then we do move over to Google Docs.

Liz: I do use Dropbox.

Lisa: That’s new, yes. That’s new. Then we do Google Doc at the end because during edits — we used to edit separately and send it back and forth. Then one day someone was like, there’s something called Google Docs. We’re like, oh, my god, that’s great. I think it was one of our kids.

Zibby: The other day, I accidentally deleted my whole team’s Google Doc with the entire schedule of every podcast and every everything because I had deleted someone who left our business. I didn’t know that it was attached. Mental note, if you ever change your email address or something, save that document. You can get it back after the mistake for a little bit. Just heads up on the Google Docs. In terms of when you generate new ideas, I know you said this one, you were hanging in the pool and it just came to, is it always like that? It seems like you guys have an easy rapport that things just bubble up. Do you ever get stuck on one of you wants to write something really badly and the other is like, no, I don’t want to write that book?

Lisa: The cruise ship idea, you could tell her about the dueling piano people. Anyway, I’ll let you.

Liz: Typically, we’ll throw out a lot of ideas. I think at this point she knows if I’m into an idea and I know she’s — she’s mentioning the cruise ship. We went on a trip to Europe two years ago with our family. We were on a cruise ship. There was these dueling piano people. The guy and the girl, clearly there was something going on. I was really into it. Maybe I was just drunk every night when we were there. I could tell she wasn’t into it, so I dropped it. She wanted to do this weird Blake Crouch rip-off book because I was in the pharmaceutical industry for twenty years. She knew I wasn’t into it. We don’t argue. We kind of just move on because when the right idea — I’m getting goosebumps as I say this. When the right idea comes, we both know. It’s something that intangible. I don’t even know how to explain it, but we both know. It’s like, yes, we’re writing that. Let’s go. Lisa mentioned earlier, the creative is not what we fight about. We fight about someone sending an eyeball emoji in a text. You’re like, what are you trying to say? The eyeball emoji? We’re dumb. We fight about stupid stuff when we’re cranky or frustrated with our kids or something. We take it out on each other.

Zibby: I love how in this book your character Dom is always wondering what people are thinking, analyzing the relationships between everybody else. I’m always doing that myself. If I’m on vacation, you’re like, ooh, is that the nanny? Who could that be?

Liz: We do that all the time.

Lisa: I was just on vacation. I had that exact “Is that the nanny?” situation. My husband and I, it was five days and we still don’t know. Was it the nanny or was it the mom? We do not know.

Zibby: Sometimes I even do that to myself. What must people think? I wonder if other people are wondering if this is my nanny or if this is my sister and if they would ever be able to guess that it’s actually my sister-in-law or whatever it is. It’s so great to give a trait like that to the character as a journalistic tool for how he sees the world and everything, just very relatable.

Lisa: Thanks for noticing that. That was a fun little thing to put in for him.

Zibby: I know this is a bigger fate-based question, but do you believe that things are meant to happen, like, Mia’s going to die every day no matter what happens and that’s just fate, or that we are actually in control of what’s going on on a fundamental level?

Lisa: I feel like this is more your wheelhouse, Liz.

Liz: Yeah, I knew. I was watching your eyes. I knew you were going to pass this one to me. I think it’s both. I think that sometimes things are meant to be. I also think our energy and our attitude determines what we’re attracting to ourselves. I tell my kids this all the time. If you say, I’m going to fail, or I’m going to do this, you’re sending all that energy to there. I think it’s a little bit of both. I think sometimes things are fated, but I do think we have control over attracting positive energy for positive results in our own life. It’s something that we try to do a lot. You should see, we have a whole manifestation board. I’m pointing here because mine’s right here. Really try to attract that positive energy and bring it to other people and situations because who knows, right? You might as well just be positive because we don’t really know.

Zibby: Very true. Do you have any advice to aspiring authors?

Lisa: I would say write what you want to write, first and foremost. Do not try to chase the market. Do not try to write what the latest hit book was. That was a mistake we made very early on. That’s why it took us three manuscripts to eventually get there. That would be my advice. I’ll throw it to Liz now.

Liz: I would say just keep writing. As Lisa mentioned, we got our book deal with Simon & Schuster on our third manuscript. It had been five years. We both were pretty successful in our own careers, Lisa in TV and I mentioned myself in pharma. I was done. Lisa really pushed that she wanted to write one more book. Had we not done that, we wouldn’t be here. I was like, hey, I’m really good at this. This is a great job. I have two kids. I don’t know if I need to do this. I think you have to push through that. I’m mentoring someone right now who’s in their third manuscript. I’m really pushing her because she’s talented. It just reminds me so much of us. I think people forget too that even as published authors, we’re dealing with rejection all the time. I think they think once they get on this path of being a published writer they never get rejected again and it’s amazing. No, no, no. You’re going to still get rejected all the time in all these little ways. That’s just part of life and part of this business. I think that aspiring writers need to remember that. You’re always being rejected. It’s just you’ve got to push through it.

Zibby: Very true. I’ve actually decided that I think I’m going to start taking a survey because it seems like everybody who sells a novel has had two rejected first. It just seems that way.

Lisa: Or a bunch of rejections before they ultimately finally got there, but it was fifty, sixty like a JK Rowling or whatever. It’s true. You just have to keep pushing forward. I’m sure there’s a lot of us who have manuscripts sitting in the drawer.

Zibby: What’s your next project? What are you working on next? What’s it about?

Lisa: We can’t talk about it too much because we’re just finishing it up and we’re not sure what’s going to happen with it. It is in the same vein as How to Save a Life. We don’t even have a set title. It’s in the same vein. We write a lot about regret and fate. Actually, to your question that you asked, it kind of asks that question. That’s really the narrative question of the book. I hadn’t thought about it that way, so thank you. It’s really, is something fated or can you control it? That’s the premise of the entire book.

Zibby: Ooh, I can’t wait to read that one.

Lisa: We’re excited for you to read it.

Zibby: Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” Thanks for all the stuff you also do for authors. I am so glad to be joined by people who enjoy interviewing other authors as much as I do. I think it’s super fun.

Lisa: Thank you for all that you do.

Liz: Thank you.

Lisa: It’s amazing. We’re so appreciative. Thank you for having us today.

Zibby: My pleasure. Take care. Thanks, ladies. Bye.

Liz: Bye.

Lisa: Bye.

Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke, HOW TO SAVE A LIFE