I went to work on Monday, just as Breaking In was about to be released, thinking I’d have a busy, but nicely paced day. Reuters was posting an excerpt and I’d agreed to do an afternoon twitter-chat on it. Not my thing but, I thought, why not? I wanted to talk about Justice Sotomayor and maybe there would be something to say about the new Court term. At the end of the day, I was to speak at the bookstore Politics & Prose. I should have no trouble getting to that at 7 p.m., I thought.
But in the first orders of the term, the justices rejected all the appeals in the same-sex marriage cases. In one swift, surprising move, 11 states were added to the 19 that allow gays and lesbians to marry. Coverage plans for the day were tossed, new ones drawn up. We rushed to get stories out from Washington and around the country.
Why did the justices defy predictions? Why had they initially blocked lower court rulings favoring gay marriage yet decided the time wasn’t right for their intervention? On a 1:30 conference call with Reuters editors and reporters nationwide, I offered some historical context for the Court’s action and recalled a recent interview I’d had with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She had emphasized the potentially important yet unknown views of key justice Anthony Kennedy. I also had some notes from Kennedy, and I said I thought I could put together a story. But I warned editors in New York about my other commitments, including the daunting 2 p.m. twitter chat. Should I cancel that hour? Editors said no, do it. Darn.
Time begins racing. On twitter, I have a few false starts, forget the #AskReuters, but it works out. I answer tweets about Sotomayor and salsa, same-sex marriage, the allegorical figures in the court’s marble pediment, etc. Then I turn to the story. I know my Ginsburg notes will take a few minutes to locate because the day of the interview my computer crashed and I stored parts of the interview in an older document for safe-keeping. But where? I can’t search with common words like Ginsburg or Kennedy or even the Windsor case. I step away from the computer. This always helps. I remember that Justice Ginsburg had told me about the wedding of a lesbian couple she was about to officiate. She said salmon would be flown in from Alaska. How many of my files would include a reference to Alaskan salmon? Just one! I find all I need. I finish the story by 5 p.m. What happens next between writers and editors doesn’t always go smoothly. But somehow this story is moving up the editing chain. I’m now about an hour from the start of my book reading. I have one final test: it’s the Top News desk, a place of strictest scrutiny (beyond the constitutional kind). I tell the top editor involved that I must leave but will be in my car for 50 minutes of rush-hour traffic. I will be ready to answer every possible question so this story can go on the wire before I go on at Politics & Prose.
The first call is from NPR’s Nina Totenberg. She’s telling me the times that an interview she taped about Breaking In will air the next morning. I hear beeps from the hands-free device. It’s New York. I need to take this. The editor has questions. I have answers. Then he says he wants a paragraph about public opinion. I’m remembering that polls have shown slightly more than 50 percent in favor of same-sex marriage now, but I want to double-check. But I’m also in a car, and it’s 6:35. I call another editor, who generously looks it up and confirms the estimate. I pull up behind Politics & Prose. I keep the car running while I retrieve the edited story from my iPhone. I add a paragraph about public opinion and tweak a few sentences. I send back the story. The response: perfect, go to your book signing. I get out of the car, race in the back door, up the stairs. I see my husband, journalists and lawyers, book-club pals, neighbors and many folks I don’t know. It’s crowded and some people have to stand. I’m introduced and step to the microphone: “Thank you all for coming to hear about my latest.”