Wedding Talk with Devan Sipher, Author of “The Wedding Beat”
This was such a fun book to read! Because you actually cover the wedding beat for The Paper – I mean, The New York Times! – I, of course, have to ask you how much of this story is based on your actual experiences.
Only the painful parts are true! Seriously, my standard answer is that the book is emotionally true, but the plot is entirely fictional.
Why did you decide to write a novel rather than a “memoir?”
I was approached several times about writing a memoir, but it wasn’t something I wanted to write. It also wasn’t something I was comfortable writing. The brides and grooms I talk to confide in me, and I take extraordinary time and effort to make sure what what goes in my articles doesn’t violate that trust. It’s not always easy, because the best quotes are often things they would regret having said if they saw them in print. One could argue that if they said it, I can use it. But the people I’m writing about aren’t running for public office (usually) and they didn’t steal anyone’s retirement funds. They don’t deserve to be embarrassed by an article celebrating their marriage. I feel I have a responsibility to protect them in addition to my responsibility as a journalist to write the best and most accurate story for my editor and readers. It’s a responsibility I take very seriously, so a nonfiction account wasn’t really an option.
It’s so refreshing to read a book in which the character who wants to find love is a man. That’s traditionally the woman’s role in fiction! Were you concerned about going where few male writers have gone before? Do you feel like you’re breaking new ground here?
I didn’t intend to break new ground. It didn’t occur to me at first that I would be. It was when I started looking for similar books with a male protagonist and/or written by a male author that I thought to myself, “Houston, we have a problem.” But if a woman can run for President, why can’t a man write a romantic comedy? What’s particularly odd is that in Hollywood, men regularly write romantic comedies. In fact, there are more male screenwriters of romantic comedies than female. Go figure.
Tell us a little about your real job. What’s the hardest part about it?
Well, first of all, being an author is my real job now. I was fortunate to get a two-book deal, and there’s no way I could spend 80 to 100 hours a week at the Times AND write a book. Unless I wanted to spend five years writing it. And never get married. But I still work freelance for the Times, and the truth of the matter is that writing about weddings is in some ways the best job in the world. I get paid to be curious. To ask people anything I want about their lives. Professional. Personal. It’s all part of their story. It’s inspiring to be around people so deeply in love. And it’s empowering to bring their stories to life for such a broad audience. But it’s also one of the worst jobs in the world for a single person. Because it’s a constant reminder of what I don’t have. The parties are the hardest part, because the ceremonies at least have a personal, emotional component. But a reception is a reception is a reception. Some are fancier. Some are quirkier. But once the jackets are off and the guests are boogeying down on the dance floor, the Rockefellers don’t look much different from the Rosarios. And regardless of the music and decor, I’m alone on a Saturday night, watching other people celebrate their lives.
What lessons, for better or worse, have you learned from covering weddings?
I’ve learned that love isn’t something that comes and hits you over the head like in a Warner Brothers cartoon. Love requires making effort and taking risks. The first spark may be effortless, but everything after that is a triumph of optimism and determination over entropy and fear.
Can you share any Bridezilla stories with us?!
I could. But I won’t. Let’s just say that many brides find it hard to recall that everyone’s life doesn’t revolve around their wedding. (And the abuse I’ve taken is nothing compared to the average bridesmaid.) But I can’t really blame them (well, most of them). Because planning a wedding can be pretty all-consuming. I’m having problems just planning a book party.
What’s the most romantic wedding you’ve covered?
They’re all romantic. I carefully select the couples I write about, and I put a lot of effort — and a lot of hours — into getting to know their story. If I didn’t get a lump in my throat during every ceremony, I wouldn’t be able to do the job. I wouldn’t want to do the job. But I’m a bit of a sucker for stories about love lost and found, and two come to mind. In one, a recently divorced women in her late 50’s found a box of love letters from a man who had proposed 27 years earlier, and she set out to find him again.
Another particularly romantic wedding involved high school sweethearts who broke up before college. One of my favorite quotes is when the bride told me, “I thought every boyfriend drew pictures for their girlfriends and wrote them poetry. I thought all kisses were going to feel that magical.” It took them 17 years to find their way back to each other.
Did you ever really consider writing a divorce blog like the one Gavin pitches to his editor in the book?
Actually, Gavin’s blog, “Destination: Wedding,” is misinterpreted by other characters as a divorce blog. His vision was for it to be more of a travelogue about the things that happen on the way to the wedding day, and, in fact, it’s something I pitched to the Times. I’ve never considered writing a divorce blog, but The Huffington Post has a very successful one.
You’ve said there’s a rumor that James Marsden’s character in 27 Dresses is actually based on you – nice! How did that make you feel?
When 27 Dresses came out, I started getting calls that there was a movie about me. I assumed people were simply mistaken. Then people in my department started saying the same thing. So I finally went to see the film. It was really strange for me. There were moments I felt like I was almost having an out-of-body experience, as if I were literally watching my life on-screen. Other moments were less so. At the time, I was the only single guy writing the Vows column at the Times (and probably the only guy in the country). But that’s no longer true. I had also just begun toying with the idea of fictionalizing my life, and I was worried the movie had stolen my thunder. But then I decided, if you can’t beat them, join them, and there are a couple chapters in my book that are a direct result of that.
I can definitely see your book being turned into a movie. Who would you like to see as Gavin? Is that the same actor you would see playing you in your life story?!
I’m getting asked this a lot, and I’ve concluded that Paul Rudd could portray my life better than I do.
So you’re still single … I have the feeling that a lot of women will be contacting you after reading this book and seeing you as a warm, sensitive kind of a guy. Interested?
You’re making me feel like my book was the longest personal ad ever written. But I can’t deny dreaming occasionally about this chapter of my life ending with someone beside me beneath a wedding canopy. And it would make for a great sequel.
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