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How Taking a New Path in Writing Can Fire Up Your Muse

It was May 2014 and we were in New York, prepping for a meeting with our agent, Elisabeth Weed. She had asked us to brainstorm ideas for our next book. We were due at her office in one hour and all we had was a magical blow dryer.

“What about a magical blow dryer?” Liz admired her freshly blown out hair in the mirror at DryBar, clearly the inspiration for the idea. Lisa shrugged and took a long sip of her champagne.

It was May 2014 and we were in New York, prepping for a meeting with our agent, Elisabeth Weed. She had asked us to brainstorm ideas for our next book. We were due at her office in one hour and all we had was a magical blow dryer.

This guest post is by bestselling literary duo Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke. Fenton and Steinke have been best friends for more than twenty-five years. They’ve survived high school, college, and the publishing of three novels together. THE GOOD WIDOW, their fourth novel and first work of suspense, was just published by Lake Union Publishing. Liz lives in San Diego, California, with her husband and two children. Lisa, a former talk show producer, now lives in Chicago, Illinois, with her husband, daughter, and two bonus children. Visit Liz and Lisa at www.lizandlisa.com. Photo by Debbie Friedrich Photography

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We had made our career on writing stories that fell under a convenient label of magical realism. Women struggling with real-life problems that get a chance to solve them with a little help from the universe. We’d covered it all: body-swapping, time travel and magical Facebook statuses. And we’d loved writing those novels—they were quirky and fun with a serious message of appreciating the life that you already had. But as we stared at our reflections in the mirror, it became clear that we were losing our luster for it. Hence, the blow dryer idea.

We sighed loudly in unison (that happens—a lot) and began tossing book ideas around again. A hairdresser that can read minds? A salon chair that can spin you into the future? Forty-five minutes left on the clock.

We glanced at the advance copies of novels spilling from our tote bags. We’d collected them on the Book Expo floor at the Javitz Center that day. They were mostly one genre—not magical realism or women’s fiction—but suspense. And that’s when it struck us that maybe we should be writing the same type of book we’d begun to gravitate toward as readers. After all, that’s what had led us down the path to writing our debut novel, Your Perfect Life. Before that book, we’d written two manuscripts we couldn’t sell based on ideas we thought would do well in the current market. And then we’d had an epiphany: we needed to write what we wanted to read. That novel sold in a weekend. Funny how that happens—when you create something that is for you first.

As we ran our thumbs over the spines and flipped through the pages of twisty, thrillers with unreliable protagonists; often involving dark husbands, and their strong, but flawed wives who make the wrong choices, we decided to make the right one: we would write suspense.

After our realization, the conversation flowed easily and the ideas came almost too quickly to write down. We settled on a plot that made our pulses quicken as we talked it through: what if a married man took an illicit trip with his mistress? What if they died on that trip? How far would their loved ones go to find answers? We would set the story in Maui. And not just because we wanted to take a research trip there, although that did happen. We decided on that Hawaiian island because the serene and relaxing setting would be a perfect juxtaposition against the terrible things that would happen there.

Our agent loved it as did our publisher. And as we approach the publication date for The Good Widow and are just finishing our work in progress (also suspense!), that brainstorming session seems so far in the past. As do the authors who wrote those magical realism stories that they still hold very close to their hearts. Liz kept the paper with the scribbled notes about a magical blow dryer. It serves as a reminder that although change is scary, it is often good.

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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer's Digest and author of the popular gift bookOh Boy, You're Having a Girl: A Dad's Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

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