Audrey Bellezza and Emily Harding, EMMA OF 83RD STREET

Audrey Bellezza and Emily Harding, EMMA OF 83RD STREET

Zibby interviews best friends and co-authors Audrey Bellezza (a two-time Emmy-nominated TV producer) and Emily Harding (also a TV producer!) about their glamorous, heartfelt, and steamy new friends-to-lovers rom-com, Emma of 83rd St. Audrey and Emily describe the wine-soaked night they decided to write a book together and how they actually accomplished that during a pandemic (hint: Google Docs). They also talk about their incredible TV writing careers, the job that brought them together, their exciting publishing journey, and their best advice for aspiring writers.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Audrey and Emily. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to talk about Emma of 83rd Street.

Author: Thank you for having us.

Zibby: Can I just say the first time I read this I did not — when I read this, not the first time. I didn’t realize this was based on Emma because I’m, I guess, a moron. Then I read the back and was like, oh, okay. Yes, that makes a lot of sense. Whether or not you catch onto that piece of it, it is still a great book. Let me put it that way.

Author: Thank you.

Author: Yes, you don’t have to have read the original. Doesn’t matter. You could have read it or not. It doesn’t matter.

Author: No, you really don’t.

Zibby: Maybe we should back up. You can tell people what Emma of 83rd Street is about.

Author: Emma of 83rd Street is Jane Austen’s Emma set in modern-day Manhattan. She’s an Upper East Side girl who has the world figured out, if only everyone would listen to her. Her best friend, George Knightley, lives behind her. They’ve grown up together. Really, we stayed very close to the original story of Emma. We just translated the different events and plot points to what would actually happen if those characters lived in New York City right now, which was so much fun. It’s incredible how much is actually quite relevant today and was easy to just put in with very little change, which I guess is why it’s such a popular story still. We can still relate to it.

Zibby: I don’t know if you know Jenny Lee, who wrote Anna K and Anna K Forever, or something.

Author: Yes.

Zibby: Do you know her? That would be a really fun event, Anna Karenina meets Emma in modern day.

Author: It’s so true.

Author: All those crossovers.

Zibby: All those crossovers. It could be fun. You could almost do a screening of both those movies. Have a day where you rewatch.

Author: Double feature.

Zibby: Double feature, yeah.

Author: I love it.

Zibby: Facebook Watch party. Not that you need ideas. I found out the other day there’s a whole thing of, people are intimidated — not intimidated — annoyed by all the people saying, “You should do this. You should do that.” I’m like, I literally tell people on my podcast every day, you should do this. You should try this. I’m like, oh, no. Am I actually annoying everybody? Then I guess I should stop.

Emily Harding: I need people telling me what to do.

Audrey Bellezza: We do that all the time. I feel like people are always asking us advice.

Emily: I ask Audrey for advice. I’m like, tell me what I should do. I have no idea. Please.

Audrey: You give great advice too.

Emily: You need it. You need somebody.

Audrey: That’s what friends are for. People look at you, Zibby, as a friend, so they’re like, what should I do? There you go.

Zibby: Okay, good. I’m using this as an official sanction that I can . Official approval. Oh, my gosh. I heard the two of you decided to do this book together over a wine-soaked night in 2020. I didn’t hear it. I just read that. Give me the real backstory. I want to hear the whole thing.

Audrey: That sort of is the real backstory. It was the beginning of the pandemic. We both were at home trying to homeschool our children. We missed each other. We missed being at work. What everybody was going through. I think we were late-night texting. At this point, Emily had sent me amazing things that she had written, books and screenplays. I sent her some things that I had written. I can’t remember exactly how it went down, but it took about four minutes to all come together. I do remember Emily saying, “We should write something together.” I’m like, “How do you do that?” We’ve worked together for so long in our television careers that we sort of can read each other’s minds, almost. It was really like, we can do it kind of the same way we develop and write and produce a television show. Let’s do a breakdown. Let’s split up the chapters. It just came together. Then we thought, what should we do? Let’s do something that we both love and means something to us. It can be almost a guideline for the stories that we want to tell, but make it modern and set it in Manhattan, a place that we have lived forever, and go from there. That’s how it started. Then we just started doing it with no intention of anything other than writing it for each other. It wasn’t like, let’s write a book. It was like, let’s write some fun chapters and see what happens. Then it just came together. We’re like, is this good, or is this not good? Then we gave it to a couple people to read. I gave it to my mom to read. People were like, this is really good. We’re like, okay. Then it went from there. The story keeps going. That was two years ago. We had no idea it was going to get to this point.

Emily: Actually, there was a point when we got an agent for it, and we were like, oh, my gosh, it’s happening. I think we actually were saying, we were like, what if Zibby had us on her show? Wouldn’t that be crazy?

Zibby: Stop.

Audrey: We did.

Emily: We were thinking this is high-in-the-sky stuff. We’re like, don’t even say that. Don’t even say that because it’s not going to happen. Everything keeps surpassing our expectations. It’s wonderful. At the end of the day, I look at it, and it’s just this gift we gave each other to get through a really rough time. We just helped each other through these little chapters. It was fantastic. It was really lovely.

Zibby: That’s so nice. I feel like I didn’t exactly have that with a friend during COVID. Not that I don’t have friends. I love my friends, but I didn’t have a one person who was helping me get through, aside from my husband kind of thing. It would’ve been nice if I had created a book. I feel like it was my office. I was on podcasts all the time. Behind me was just family. I don’t know. All I’m trying to say is that’s so nice you had that.

Audrey: Thank you. It was needed.

Emily: We blame the wine. The wine helps.

Audrey: Yes, it does.

Zibby: Now I feel bad. I really love my friends. I have very close — anyway, whatever. How did it work in theory? What program did you use? How did you do something together? I’m fascinated by how people collaborate on something so creative that comes out of your mind and your subconscious and all this stuff and yet you do it together. How did you make that work?

Emily: Audrey kind of outlined it. Picking something that we already were familiar with was helpful because Jane Austen was always the anchor.

Audrey: Google Docs.

Zibby: Google Docs. Yes, I want the specifics.

Emily: I’ll get into the techs. Google Docs.

Zibby: Google Docs, okay.

Emily: Audrey would make a chapter, send it to me, which was lovely. We’d get, in our inbox, being like, “Audrey has shared with you, chapter twenty.” We’d read each other’s chapters. Then as we kept going with revisions, you get an update with Google Docs in your inbox when someone’s made a change or made a note. You run to your computer, and you look. You can see. It was almost like text conversations we were having within the documents about what we were doing. We’ve said this before. Because we were in TV — it’s really cutthroat. There’s no ego. You can’t have an ego because it is destroyed and shredded quickly. We were able to say, hey, I don’t think that’s working. We might need to lose this. It was never personal. It was always just very professional. We almost got into TV mode. All right, this needs to be cut. We need something here. That was very helpful in the whole process as well. That was all done via Google Docs.

Audrey: We also learned on Google Docs that there’s a limit to the amount of notes that you can put. We had a four-hundred-page book. Sometimes you would just start writing, hey, did you pick up your kid from school?

Zibby: In the Google Doc?

Audrey: Yes, we’d start writing things. We’d be like, doesn’t this remind you of this time when we were in the city? I thought it was unlimited. We were literally writing these text conversations back and forth. We didn’t think this was going anywhere. We really were just doing this for ourselves.

Emily: Then you got that alert. You’re like, you’ve reached your comment limit.

Audrey: I was like, you can have a comment limit?

Emily: Then we had to move the whole document to a new one.

Audrey: It happened two or three times.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, that is really funny. Did you know you can also run out of iCloud storage space and that there is a limit at which they will not let you buy more? I got there.

Author: Oh, no. They won’t let you buy more?

Zibby: You can’t even buy it. They won’t even take my money to give me more space. You only get two terabytes or something. I have millions of pictures and all of that that I have up there in the cloud.

Author: Good to know.

Author: That’s a new thing for me to worry about because I am getting close.

Zibby: This is so off topic. Then my kids showed that you can delete all the screenshots. I take screenshots all the time, but I don’t really need them more than two seconds or whatever. There’s a thing that you can just delete all your screenshots. Then I deleted fifty thousand photos in a minute. Then I had more storage. Anyway, delete your screenshots. That’s my tip.

Author: Oh, my gosh. Delete half the stuff on my computer. My husband’s always like, “This thing, how is it even functioning? You have everything open. You have a billion emails and text things. Delete.” I’m like, “I can’t.”

Zibby: I know. Me too. I always have five hundred tabs open.

Author: Five hundred tabs. My son’s like, “You have to close those.” I’m like, “It’s okay. It’s working.”

Zibby: There’s no thing that says “close all tabs.” It’s so annoying. Why don’t they have that?

Author: What if I need a tab?

Author: You never know. You could need to go back to it in three weeks.

Author: What if I need to get that Zara cart going by close?

Zibby: That’s right. The article I meant to read six weeks ago, still open. I’m going to get back there. I am. I’ll get back there at some point. Tell me about both of your TV careers and all of your careers in writing in general and creativity. Just take me back. Where’d you both grow up? How’d we get here? Give me the backstory.

Audrey: I grew up in New Jersey and came to New York. It’s not the same as being a New Yorker. I grew up in New Jersey. My mom’s a writer, so I grew up with books. In high school, went to a girls’ school and just fell in love with all these strong, complicated women heroes in different books that we were reading. Then out of college, I moved to the city, moved back to Manhattan. I got a job at the Food Network. I was working at the Food Network. I worked there for a very long time. I was on camera and then realized I wasn’t very good at that. Then I moved to being behind the camera and started producing and writing and just becoming part of the Food Network and television world and then moved on to work at different production companies. Worked on baby shows, like A Baby Story, and wedding shows and all types of lifestyle. Then worked at this production company, and that’s where I met Emily. Then we started working on a million different shows together. We started developing shows, which was different than producing shows. We had to come up with the ideas. We had to brainstorm. We had to travel all over the country together, even when we first met. The first assignment we had was, we went to a jail in Pittsburgh. It was a pilot. I think it was for Lifetime or something. It was about the female wardens there. They were amazing, these amazing characters. We were just these girls from New York in a jail. We had just met. Sharing a hotel room.

Zibby: I’m like, what are they doing going to jail for the Food Network? I feel like there would be better places.

Audrey: We pitch to all different types of production companies, all different networks. We became friends fast. We realized we were kind of in the same stage of life when we met where we had dated a million people that were the wrong guys. Then we had recently — I just married my husband. She had married her husband. I think you might have been pregnant with your daughter. I don’t remember.

Emily: I started that job, and four months later, I found out I was pregnant. It was just really bad timing .

Audrey: I was trying to get pregnant. I was like, I can’t believe she’s pregnant. Then I got pregnant a year later. It all worked out. We just became instant friends. We had so much in common. I was thinking about it. We had spent so much time growing up in New York that — I was thinking about this today, Emily. We were probably out at the same bars at the same time but didn’t know. We were probably downtown at some bars together or at Arlene’s Grocery or at the Met or at museums together but not knowing each other because we were there at the same time.

Emily: Not realizing it. We just always kept missing each other. Everything paralleled so much.

Zibby: You might have seen me. I’m from New York.

Author: That’s right. You hear those stories. You miss people.

Zibby: I’m older than you, I’m sure.

Author: I don’t think so.

Author: I don’t think you are. I think we’re all the same age, Zibby.

Zibby: Really? I look much older than you, so I’m not going to make any assumptions. I feel like I’m definitely older. I think about that all the time, all the people who were packed into Automatic Slim’s the same night and all that back in the day. Who else was there? Fast-forward, we’re all on Zooms. I see why people write those books about their younger selves running into their current selves. You know how that’s a whole subgenre? Not time travel. I don’t even know what you call it. It’s not even sci-fi. Anyway, I get it because I’m so interested in running into — if I could peer in and see who else was there.

Audrey: I would see Emily. I know it. Maybe we would see you too, Zibby.

Zibby: Maybe. It’s totally possible. Emily, I was going to ask how you got into all of it too, but what were you going to say?

Emily: Writing the book let us go back into those memories a bit. For me, I moved around a lot growing up, so I was Minnesota, Florida, Alabama, everywhere. I was born in New York. After college in Boston, I came back. I wanted to get into documentaries. I was going to change the world and do documentaries. I worked at A&E and History Channel for a long time, which was fantastic. During the course of that is when reality TV got into its own. It’s a different beast. I was trying to find my place there and went to MTV for a while. Then I quit MTV and was like, I need to work at a production company where they’re doing cool things, doing fun things. That’s when I ended up at this production company with Audrey. We always say the best thing in that experience were the friends we made. Everyone working at that company, all the people in our group were amazing.

Zibby: What was it called?

Emily: I don’t know if we can say.

Zibby: You can’t say? Okay, don’t worry. I don’t care. I’m not going to have heard of it. It doesn’t matter.

Audrey: You wouldn’t have heard of it. It’s a small production company. The friendships we made, there’s five women and one guy. The six of us, we go on trips together. We became so tight. When you have a great production company or a great experience on a television show, sometimes you don’t really stay in touch with people. It went well, and you move on. When you go through tough times — there were ups and downs. Some of it was great. When it’s hard, you really bond. All of us became really close. We’re still close. We still hang out. They’re all amazing people with amazing careers. That was the best part of it.

Emily: It really was. It was amazing. Then Audrey and I became friends. I moved to Texas a couple years before the pandemic because my husband’s job brought us down here. We would all still Zoom. I would still come up to New York all the time. We were still trying to do TV. I’d always loved writing. I’d gone to school for writing. I loved writing. I was still always trying to make that work. The pandemic shut down television. Even if we’d loved and wanted to keep doing it, there was nothing to be done. You couldn’t do anything. I think that we just needed to be productive and needed an outlet in this time where I’m trying to remember how to do long division for my daughter. I don’t know. It was just a great chance to be creative, really.

Zibby: They’ve totally destroyed long division. I don’t understand the new way.

Author: I still do not understand.

Zibby: I think our way is so much better. I don’t know.

Author: She was explaining it to me the other day. I was just nodding and hoping that she would buy it. I have no idea.

Zibby: I’m relieved they understand it because I certainly don’t. I’m like, you seem to have a grasp on this, so I’m going to just let you do your thing. How old are all your kids?

Author: My daughter is eleven, about to be twelve. My son’s nine.

Author: I have two boys. They are eight — he’s turning eight. The older one is ten, turning eleven. I got a first grader and a fifth grader. Your kids are around that age too, right?

Zibby: I have an eight-year-old in second grade, boy, and nine-year-old, almost ten. Not almost. She’s two-thirds. She’s in third grade going on thirty. Then I have twins who are almost sixteen, but they’re in ninth grade, boy/girl.

Author: Wow. Ninth grade, so high school. First year of high school.

Zibby: I know. I’m in a different phase there.

Author: That’s totally different. How nice for the little ones to see that for the older ones.

Zibby: Sometimes it’s nice. Some days it’s nice. You wrote the book together. Then how did it end up getting sold and coming out? What was that journey like? Was it fun compared to TV? It must have been so slow compared to TV.

Emily: Actually, TV is so slow. During the process, I had a show in submission when we started this book. Really, up until this last January, that show was still in development. Once a show’s in production, it goes. In development, it just takes forever. This timeline, two and a half years, really was on par for our experience. We had a friend who used to be in publishing, Audrey. We sent it for her just as a beta reader, really.

Audrey: It’s a good friend of mine, Molly Lyons, that I grew up with. I had Jersey connections. We sent it as a beta reader. She was like, “You really should send it out to agents. This is how you should do it,” and explained to us how that world worked. Emily knew more. I didn’t really know as well. We just started doing that. We got an agent kind of quickly. She’s amazing.

Emily: Joelle, we love you.

Audrey: Really, she was like, “This is what we’re going to do. This is how we’re going to do things.” She started pitching around. Actually, the process of pitching around our manuscript was very similar to pitching a television show. We were like, we get this part. We know how to package this and make it look nice. We know what words we’re supposed to say and how to make this document look right. We had to make these decks and sizzle reels for television. We had the manuscript, which was the equivalent. We just started pitching that around. It went from there. Then we got to where we are, to Gallery.

Emily: Molly Gregory at Gallery is our editor. She also was such a godsend. You hear horror stories sometimes. Not necessarily editors, but that it’s tough, the whole process. You have to champion your book. Not just Molly, but everyone at Gallery, it’s this team that is so supportive. Maybe it’s because they love the book the same way we do. It’s just been a lovely experience. We’ve been so lucky. We really have.

Audrey: They made it way better.

Zibby: Was this always your title?

Author: Yes, it was. It’s true. It was all we had. That was the one thing that came out of that wine text conversation. We’re like, we should call it Emma of 83rd Street.

Zibby: How did you pick 83rd? Random, okay.

Author: I think it was just because the museum plays such a huge part in it. We were like, it’s either 82nd, 83rd, or 84th. 83rd just sounded the best with her name.

Zibby: Close to Lyle on East 88th Street.

Author: Yes.

Zibby: How did you decide whose name went first? Is it alphabetical?

Author: Yes, it’s just alphabetical.

Zibby: No big fight? Knock-down-drag-outs?

Audrey: No. Somebody asked us. We did it. We’re like —

Emily: — We’re like, whatever you think.

Audrey: What Emily was saying before, there’s no ego. We’re just like, we can’t believe we got this far.

Emily: They put our names on it? That’s amazing.

Audrey: You’re going to put our picture on it?

Zibby: What are some creative things you’re doing for marketing or events or when the book is coming out that you’re excited about or that maybe you weren’t expecting to be doing or any of that?

Author: Your luncheon.

Zibby: Yay!

Author: We’re excited about that.

Author: I’m so excited.

Zibby: I’m so glad you’ll be there. That’s awesome.

Author: This. When we first started it, we met our publicist, Lucy. She was like, “We’re going to try to get you on some podcasts and do PR that way and just get you out.” We were expecting that. We’re just getting a lot of people reaching out now who have read advance copies who are like, “We’d like to talk to you,” or are doing their own reviews and pitching for us, which is hugely surreal. You have people reading something that you wrote. They love it, and they want to help you put it out there. We’re going to some bookstores and doing podcasts and trying to travel around. It helps that we live in two different locations so we can divide and conquer a bit. The more we can do things together, I think just an excuse to have to hang out is good too.

Author: It’s more fun.

Zibby: Are you going to do anything on 83rd Street? Do you want me to go up there with the book? Maybe I’ll go up there with the book today and take a picture. I live a few blocks away.

Author: Oh, my god, you should. That would be amazing.

Author: Yes, take some shots. Whatever you’d like to do.

Zibby: Should I wait for the final, or should I take the galley? I could wait for the final. You tell me. I’ll throw it in my bag.

Author: No. Just go. Take that one.

Author: Do that one.

Author: You’re walking. Do it every day.

Author: Oh, my god, it’s amazing.

Zibby: I pass 83rd Street all the time. That’s so funny. What are you working on now? Are you working on another book? No?

Author: We’re brainstorming. We love this Jane Austen world. We let our imaginations run wild with it. If you’ve read the book, I think you can see that a bit, that we were not closing ourselves off to Emma. We were thinking her world is amazing. It does all translate to modern-day relationships and friendships really well. We’re playing around in that area. We’d love to stay in Jane Austen’s world a little bit longer if she’ll have us. Right now, nothing set in stone. We’re just enjoying it. We’re trying to also hang onto, what made Emma so special was that we were just doing it for each other. We’re enjoying the brainstorming and the fun bits. Revisions are not fun. It’s a lot of work. The brainstorming and the working it out and doing all the fun bits, we’re holding onto that as much as we can right now.

Zibby: Someone just told me this yesterday. They had been talking to somebody else who was famous or something, or a famous writer, who told this person — this is how great my memory is. I’m like, somebody said something about someone. Anyway, the point of it was that it never gets more fun than writing the thing. That’s the best part of the whole process, is when you’re actually doing the writing. The rest is totally different, so go back to the fun of the writing, that’s what it’s all about. I’ll summarize that from god knows where and just say that to you.

Author: That person was very smart.

Zibby: That person was very smart. Yes.

Audrey: For us, it’s reading each other’s work. That’s a fun part too. We got lucky that we get to do that. I love reading whatever Emily writes and getting excited about it.

Emily: I know. It’s great.

Audrey: That’s the best part of working together.

Zibby: Now you have to find someplace that doesn’t limit your comments.

Author: Yes, we do. I know. Next thing to invent.

Author: We might just keep battling Google.

Zibby: Crazy.

Author: It’s been lovely, though. I do love the idea that now we have other people coming into it. Molly leaves us, our other editor — I was like, oh, we have more people coming in and erasing our Google Docs texts.

Author: There’s other colors.

Author: I know. There’s more colors involved.

Author: Emily, you’re pink today. She’s like, you’re green.

Author: We won’t leave Google Docs. We’ll just keep bringing people into it.

Zibby: Interesting. Maybe you have to bring that into your next book. I’m not going to say should. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Email: Phoebe Waller-Bridge had great advice, so I’m going to do a Michael Scott and steal it and give it away. Write for one friend. Find that one friend you like that you want to make laugh and cry, and just write for them. I think that our experiences are more universal than we realize. The idea of writing a book is overwhelming. If you just make it something small, like you’re writing a story for a friend, and you start with not even a chapter, but a page, a scene, and you just go from there and see where it leads you, is a much less cumbersome task. It also makes it a lot more fun. That was advice she said after the Golden Globes a few years ago. It’s really just always stuck with me. It really translated to what we did. Phoebe Waller-Bridge/Emily Harding.

Audrey: Michael Scott. Any Office reference, I’ll take.

Zibby: Same advice, Audrey? You have different advice?

Audrey: Yes, and also, don’t get hung up on getting the perfect word as you’re writing. Just keep going. Leave a space, and just go back to it. My son and his friends are all trying to write stuff. I’m like, don’t worry. Just keep going. Get to the end, and you can go back and fix it. I feel like, just go for it. Don’t get discouraged. Keep trying. Just go for it. That’s what we did with this. Just try it. Don’t worry. It’s just for you.

Zibby: Write like no one’s looking.

Author: Yes. Dance like no one’s watching.

Zibby: T-shirts, here we go.

Author: That’s the next thing you should do.

Zibby: So many ideas. This was really fun. Thank you. I can’t believe this is part of our work. This is so fun.

Author: Thank you. That went so fast.

Author: This was lovely. Thank you so much.

Zibby: Thank you. Thanks so much.

Author: Thank you so much, Zibby.

Zibby: I’ll be off to 83rd Street.

Author: Thank you.

Zibby: Not today, but tomorrow. Bye.

Author: Bye.

EMMA OF 83RD STREET by Audrey Bellezza and Emily Harding

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