By Friends and Fiction's Mary Kay Andrews
Feb 10, 2021
Welcome to the first post of our brand new Parade.com weekly essay series in partnership with Friends & Fiction, an online community hosted by bestselling authors Mary Kay Andrews, Kristin Harmel, Kristy Woodson Harvey, Patti Callahan Henry, and Mary Alice Monroe.
Every Wednesday, you’ll get a new life lessons essay from one of the writers, as well as the chance to discuss the themes of it later that night on Facebook Live! Today, we have Mary Kay Andrews, who explains in her own words how she and the group were able to take “pandemic lemons” and turn it into lemonade through the power of community. What lemons were you dealt in 2020, and how have you used them in your own life lemonade? Read below for more, and be sure to check back each week for a new essay right here on Parade.com.
Late last winter, when news of the pandemic struck and the world was thrown into lockdown mode, my author pals and I were first panic-stricken, and then crushed. All five of us—Kristin Harmel, Kristy Woodson Harvey, Patti Callahan Henry, Mary Alice Monroe and I—had spring and summer books about to be released, and our long-planned book tours were unceremoniously canceled.
Of course, like the rest of the world, we were terrified of this virus that was spreading death, despair and economic hardship across the globe. We were terrified for ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities. And yes, we were anxious about the fate of the books we’d spent months or years birthing, and about independent booksellers, whom we knew would soon struggle to survive.
Out of desperation, we got on a Friday afternoon happy hour Zoom call—to commiserate, yes, but more importantly, to try to tap into our collective knowledge of the book publishing world. After all, with more than 90 books between us, we had to believe we could come up with something. Right?
As the rosé flowed, we got creative. What if—one of us said—we put together a weekly Wednesday night Facebook Live webcast? What if we talked about our own books, yes, but also about forthcoming books by authors we knew and admired—and even authors we didn’t yet know?
What if we partnered with a different independent bookseller each week, giving viewers the opportunity to order books from their websites with just a click of a button? Yes, yes and yes.
And that’s how Friends & Fiction was born. The pandemic handed us lemons, but like the plucky heroines of the novels we all devoured as young girls, we vowed to make lemonade.
To be honest, we didn’t know what we didn’t know about producing a weekly show, and there was no time to waste. So we learned by doing, which felt akin to building a jet engine while simultaneously breaking the sound barrier and whipping up a cheese souffle—by committee.
And oh, dear, readers. Those first few shows were so awkward and glitchy. True confession: on episode one, I was so sure nobody would be watching that I actually went on camera in my silk pajamas.
After a few weeks of episodes featuring the five of us talking about books amongst ourselves, we shyly approached rock star author Kristin Hannah (The Nightingale, Firefly Lane, The Four Winds) to be our first Friends & Fiction guest. With a wonky Wi-Fi signal, she ended up doing the show on her phone, but hundreds and hundreds of viewers showed up to watch live, and thousands more watched the show on our website.
Throughout the next few weeks—with appearances from bestsellers including Lisa Wingate (Before We Were Yours) and Delia Owens (Where the Crawdads Sing)—we discovered that we’d tapped into a vast community of readers who were hungry for the solace of books and the fellowship of fellow book-lovers. Many started off as strangers, but they didn’t stay that way. Like the five of us, they were lonely, but as it turned out, they were not alone.
And that, we soon realized, was at the heart of what we were doing, even though we hadn’t intended it. We had created a community just when we needed it most. In a world where in-person interaction has always been at the heart of building connections, we found that we didn’t need to see each other face to face in real life to create a bond that could last forever.
For example, when we started Friends & Fiction, I had never met Kristin Harmel, and I barely knew Kristy Woodson Harvey. Now, they’re two of my closest friends and members of my unbreakable tribe because we found common ground, almost entirely virtually, and because they—just like Patti Callahan Henry, Mary Alice Monroe and the other 30,000-plus people who have joined us so far—are pretty darned good at making lemonade.
So find your community, and if you can’t find one, build your own like we did—or join us! Become the lemonade maker of your own life. We’re all isolated like never before, but we’re also faced with more opportunities than ever to connect with one another. For us at Friends & Fiction, books were the bridge, but for you, it could be anything. The thing is, we’re all in the same boat, but when we choose to row alone, the waves—of fear, isolation, disconnectedness—begin to sweep us out to sea. Fill your boat with people. Call your friends. Find an online family like ours. When you begin to venture beyond the familiar, you start to grow, to change, to become a more well-rounded version of yourself.
When we had New York Times bestselling author Jasmine Guillory (Party of Two) on our show in July, she talked about how she had been very concerned about her canceled book tour and its ramifications, just as we had been about ours. But she was surprised to realize that the pandemic had provided her with a whole new way forward. “It’s not better…but it’s different in a fun way,” she said of finding her footing in a world of virtual connection. “I’m glad that I was wrong to be worried about it. It’s been a lot better than I thought it would be.”
We can all take a lesson from Jasmine and dip a toe into unfamiliar water. We can all build the world we want now. Community doesn’t look like it did before, but maybe that’s the gift of this last year—a realization that connecting with others doesn’t have to look like you thought it did. When you realize that and embrace that lesson, the world can change for the better forever.
For us, on Friends & Fiction, there are many, many more books and authors still to come. We’ll celebrate our one-year on-air anniversary in April, and we have an incredible line-up of authors yet to come; we’re booked solid all the way into July.
By then, we pray, maybe the virus will be eradicated. But whatever happens, God willing, we will still be here, and this amazing, vital community of book-lovers will still be going strong. On Wednesday nights, shortly before 7 p.m. EST, the five of us will plug in our ring lights, pour the cocktail of our choice, fix our lipstick and take a deep breath. Maybe you’ll join us there—or in a community of your own making—and together, we’ll start making that lemonade.
Friends and Fiction
Friends & Fiction is an online community, weekly live web show, and podcast founded and hosted by bestselling authors Mary Kay Andrews, Kristin Harmel, Kristy Woodson Harvey, Patti Callahan Henry, and Mary Alice Monroe, who have written more than 90 novels between them and are published in more than 30 languages. Catch them and their incredible author guests live every Wednesday at 7pm ET on the Friends & Fiction Facebook group page or their YouTube Channel. Follow them on Instagram and, for weekly updates, subscribe to their newsletter.
Mary Kay Andrews is the New York Times bestselling author of 29 novels, including HELLO, SUMMER, SUNSET BEACH and THE NEWCOMER, out May 4 from St. Martin’s Press. She is a founding member of Friends & Fiction. A recovering newspaper reporter, she divides her time between Atlanta and Tybee Island, GA. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook and at MaryKayAndrews.com
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