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How we got in “Vows”

April 19, 2010

Photo by Thomas McDonald for the NY Times

“I thought you wanted our wedding to be private,” Bob said, when I told him I had pitched the story of our wedding to the NY Times for their 800-word Sunday wedding feature “Vows.”

Yes, I did, which is why we kept the guest list to strictly family.  Originally we were aiming for about a dozen.  But our five sons (my three, Bob’s two), our siblings, and our siblings’ kids brought the number to 28. 

Which made 30, when you included the Times reporter and photographer.  Oh, yeah, very private.

My reason, of course, was to promote Happily Ever After Divorce: Notes of a Joyful JourneyAs every published author knows, once you’ve written a book your job has just begun – kind of like having a baby.  For the rest of your life you’re always thinking up ways to help it succeed – or in this case, bring it to the attention of readers.  It seemed like a story with a twist, which is how I pitched it to Weddings@nytimes.com

Wouldn’t make an interesting story, I asked, for the author of a book  heralding the rewards of the single divorced life to decide to remarry?  Wouldn’t it make for a compelling testament to the institution of marriage itself, which the entire Times Weddings section seems to stand for?

It wasn’t just about selling the book.  I really believed this. If my central purpose of writing Happily Ever After Divorce: Notes of a Joyful Journey was to encourage people suffering in bad marriages, or facing divorce, that no, divorce is NOT the end of the world – which is exactly what my mission was – wouldn’t the example of my own happy ending – finding a wonderful guy, falling in love, and taking a chance on remarriage – be the ultimate proof?

They agreed, and we had a reporter, Eric V. Copage, assigned to write the story.

Luckily, he was a really great guy, and a pro, which actually made the process almost pleasant, although at times grueling. We began with an excruciating two-hour telephone interview on a Sunday, in which Bob and I on separate phone extensions, told the story of our meeting and courtship.  As a personal essay writer who is accustomed to telling the personal details of her life to the immediate world, I was all right with this.  It was no doubt more of a challenge for the more private Bob, but he was a good sport about the whole thing. 

It was tricky, because I had already told much of the story in two chapters in Happily Ever After Divorce: Notes of a Joyful Journey, called “Opening My Heart” and “Then Comes Love.”  Eric had warned me that the Times would be unwilling to rehash material already in the book.  In addition, having worked with the Times before, I knew how careful we had to be to ensure that the facts were absolutely accurate. A cruise to Bermuda could not be called a cruise to the Bahamas.  Had three months or four passed between the networking meeting and the day that Bob first contacted me, and was that first contact by phone or by email?

We got into a bit of a tussle when Bob reported his job title at Fidelity. His actual title is “Director of Architecture,” which is an understood term in the software development world to mean someone who conceptualizes and designs software systems, but does not actually engage in the programming. But the Times editor refused to use the word “architecture,” insisting Bob come up with a less misleading title.  This was plenty tricky on the other end, with Bob unwilling to invent a whole new title for himself on the chance that someone at Fidelity – like the entire Compliance or HR departments, for example – might read the Sunday NY Times.  You see the problem.

NY Times reporter Eric Copage, top right rear, tried to look inconspicuous.

Our relatives were a bit puzzled when two nicely dressed but complete strangers, Eric Copage and a Times photographer, Thomas McDonald, showed up at the wedding ceremony on our back yard patio. By then neither Bob nor I, preoccupied with other matters, was paying much attention.  They even followed us to the restaurant afterward, which made me feel a bit guilty as they stood for two hours alongside the window refusing anything but a soda.

Later that afternoon, when everyone had left, Bob and I set out for Newport, Rhode Island for our so-called “honeymoon” (which we preferred to call “a few days break,” there being no cans tied to the back of the car).  The fun resumed early the next day – that’s right, Marriage Day One –  when Eric called at a pre-arranged time to follow up with “a few more questions” which turned into an additional hour or so of questions and diligent fact-checking. 

On Day Two, our afternoon scenic hike along Newport’s Cliff Walk was only briefly underway when my cell phone rang.  It was Eric again, back with more questions and fact-checking. I fielded them while Bob found a seat on the rocks, briefly took in the view, and then absorbed himself using his BlackBerry to research how the world’s oceans had formed. 

Bob and I felt entirely amiable about this, and not the slightest bit resentful of the interruption.  How could I, when the poor Times reporter was working so hard?  I found myself wishing that the Times paid their reporters by the hour instead of by the story (or however they do it).   But of course this was out of the question. When you included Eric’s previous interviews of our closest friends for “background”– three each, not a word of which made it into the story – it became clear that this would send the paper into even quicker financial ruin than that to which it is already headed.

Over our three days in Newport, the cell phone rang regularly, as Eric followed up with more questions posed by his editor, his editor’s editor, the copy editor, and the copy editor’s editor. That was before a fifth editor, returning from a trip of his own later that week, sent over yet another question or two, which resulted in bumping the story another week.

In the end it all came out fine, and we loved the article, of course.  The only inaccuracy turned out to be a minor matter of the groom’s name.  Apparently the nickname-eschewing New York Times copy edit department, in their wisdom and ultimate authority, decided that Bob should be called “Robert,” a name he does not use.  So be it.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 30, 2010 4:34 am

    Well, belatedly, Jessica, congratulations! I was hugely impressed, reading the “Vows” article–and it was fun just now getting the background. (I assumed the two of you were simply important enough to merit inclusion–which I’m sure you are!) Leave it to a publicity pro like yourself to have such a brilliant idea!

    Promise me that you and Bob will take the time to look at lots of autumn leaves this year!

    Best wishes always,
    Barbara

    • June 1, 2010 12:16 am

      Well, of COURSE it was all about the book – what did you think? You know me! I hope you and Wayne will be here to see the autumn leaves with us this year – and I promise we’ll take the time.

      • bestwishes permalink
        October 25, 2011 5:20 am

        interesting, the richness of your quote in the article “I loved that honesty, that complete lack of holding up an image” and how different I feel about reading your blog post here. you’re honest too, no doubt.

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