This week, we sat down with former Executive Editor at Martha Stewart Weddings, Eleni Gage to chat about her book, 'Lucky in Love.' Read on to see what this incredible writer had to say about the journey to writing her book, it's meaning, her career, and so much more, so read along! //
We’re big fans of your book ‘Lucky in Love,’ which we now carry, what sparked the idea for writing this?
Thanks so much! I’m a big fan of BoxFox, too!
I’ve always been fascinated by rituals and traditions—I majored in Folklore & Mythology at Harvard University. (Fun fact: So did the cartoon character who runs the comic book store on The Simpsons.) But it wasn’t until I got a job as the Executive Editor at Martha Stewart Weddings magazine, and was thinking about weddings, and talking to brides and grooms, all day, every day, that I realized every couple wants the same thing: A meaningful, unique, personalized wedding that’s “so us.” (Well, that and a lifetime of happiness together.) But so many people don’t know how to go about creating the one-of-a-kind day they dream of having. Many couples either don’t belong to a religious tradition, no longer identify with their own cultural background, or they’re blending two cultures, and they don’t know where to start with planning a wedding ritual. From my folk & myth background (and my own big fat Greek wedding—to a Nicaraguan—on the island of Corfu), I knew it didn’t have to be that way. Every community, all over the world, has developed customs that are meant to bring luck to couples getting married, and to help make the day feel sacred, special, and significant. I wanted to collect them all in one place so that couples could read about them, be inspired by customs that resonate with them, and maybe even make up their own rituals.
Also, I really feel that, weddings aside, we’re starved for rituals as a culture. Everyone is so busy, and plugged into technology most of the time. One of the first things I learned as a Folk & Myth major is that societies develop rituals around liminal stages—transitions in life like birth, coming of age, and marriage—because change, even positive change, makes us nervous. A ritual reminds us that previous generations did this before us, and other generations will do this after us, and it makes us feel as if we have some control over an uncertain world. Plus, it requires us to pause and really feel the moment we’re experiencing. We need rituals, now more than ever. They help us stop and notice the magic and beauty in life, and I want to do everything I can to make the world more meaningful and magical.
Did your previous experience as Executive Editor at Martha Stewart Weddings have any influence when it came to writing your book?
Yes! Working at the magazine just underscored my belief that what makes a wedding unforgettable is the people, traditions, and emotions involved. I always feel so sad when couples say, “we’re going to keep the ceremony really short, so we can get straight to the reception.” I want to respond, “You two are changing your lives. I’ve got 20 minutes to watch that happen.” The ceremony is what matters; it’s what everyone is there to see. Don’t sell it short!
People can get so caught up in wedding planning, wanting everything to be perfect (which, PS, nothing is, but imperfect can be even better). If you overlook the meaning and tradition in a wedding, planning it becomes a branding exercise, not a sacred ritual. No one is going to remember the color of your napkins—that’s not what makes the day “so us.” Your guests, and you, are going to remember the way the day felt, the things that were said that made them laugh or cry.
What is the one takeaway you think your readers should have from your book?
That love is all around—and luck is, too, if you know where to look! Where’s that? Look to the people and places that mean the most to you.
What was the most challenging part in writing ‘Lucky in Love’?
Folklore is a living thing; the same ritual is practiced differently in different countries, communities, neighborhoods, and even by individuals in the same family. I know that by describing a ritual as it’s practiced one way, I’m getting it “wrong” for another group of people. That’s the challenge and the joy of writing about folklore—the details are so specific to each culture but the feelings behind it are so universal. While writing this book I realized that we all want the same things: Love. Family. The chance to offer hospitality. That was really life-affirming.
Another challenge I had while writing this was walking the line between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation. I’d never suggest that someone have a Navajo wedding from start to finish if no one in the couple is Navajo, for example. But if you read about how Navajo couples face east during their ceremony, because that’s the direction of new beginnings, and that resonates with you so much that you want to face east during your ceremony, I think that’s beautiful. I recognize that some people might disagree with me on that.
At what stage of Marriage would you recommend couples read your book?
The thing that surprised me when this book came out is the number of single people who are interested in the topic—someone at a reading in Miami said to me, “I need this book because I’m getting married next year. I mean, I haven’t met him yet, but I know it’s going to happen!”
So many of the ideas in Lucky in Love can be used at any point in life. For example, knowing that pomegranates symbolize abundance and bring luck, I always drop some seeds into prosecco when I host a party, so I can give guests a little good fortune along with their drink. So, I’d say you could give this to someone at any point in the engagement process—even before they’re engaged or after they’re married, as long as they’re into luck and rituals. (But of course, I would say that, wouldn’t I?)
How long did it take you to write your book?
I came up with the idea in January 2017, the book proposal sold in May, and I turned in the first draft in December. So the writing and research took about a year, and then it was another year until publication. But I’ve been studying folklore since I was 18 and have always been a weddings junkie—I will sit and look at strangers’ wedding photos all day long if given the chance (and, luckily, it was my job to do so for three years!). So in a way, I’ve been working on it my whole life.
What has your strategy been for publicizing ‘Lucky in Love’?
I’ve looked to the title—focusing on love and luck separately. The love part made for a lot of fun around Valentine’s Day—the book was included in the pop-up Love Shop at Bloomingdales, which curated by my friend and Weddings colleague Darcy Miller, and at a Books and Bling Valentine’s Day event at Marissa Alperin Studio, a Brooklyn jewelry store, for example. And of course, I’m consistently reaching out to every wedding publication, blog, and gown store I love—and I plan to keep doing so for as long as people will tolerate me. I don’t want this just to be something fun for this year’s newlyweds but a resource for engaged couples for years to come.
And then there’s the luck part. I’m trying to get creative and spread the word that Lucky in Love is a great engagement gift, but also just a great gift, period, especially given the illustrations, which are gorgeous. (I didn’t do those so I can say that!) I’ve been focusing on luck in my career as a freelancer, by writing about lucky symbols and gifts for townandcountry.com, and lucky food for Chowhound. I’ve also got some fun partnerships in the works, including turning some of the auspicious symbols in the book into lucky cookies with a bakery I admire. I’d like to do even more of that—partner with a restaurant or caterer on a party or dinner where all lucky foods are served, for example, or consult with a florist on lucky bouquets. If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them!
Do you have any favorite authors or books that have influenced you in your career?
So many! I love magical realist fiction, which I just think of as “fiction” because I believe there is so much magic in the world (Case in point: An Indian astrologer told me I’d get married on 10.10.10 to “a soft-hearted businessman who was not born in the U.S.” And he predicted that in April, 2008, a year before I met the Nicaraguan coffee trader I married…on 10.10.10!)
I’ve also written two novels and a travel memoir, and in terms of “realistic fiction,” Ann Patchett is one of my favorite writers, plus she owns a bookstore, which is another dream job. The book I loved most in recent years was Less by Andrew Sean Greer—I liked spending time with that character. And before that it was A Gentleman in Moscow, which I loved for the same reason. The truth is I will read almost anything, and I love finding a book on the giveaway shelf in the laundry room of our apartment building or left behind in a hotel room on vacation—I feel like fate brought us together. Which is how I ended up reading A Passage to India on a van hurtling through Mexico…
What is one thing you want your readers to know about you?
I think luck, like love, multiplies when it’s shared. I’d love to hear about any customs people incorporate in their own weddings and lives in general—whether from the book or not! And I’m sharing rituals, folklore, and love stories on Instagram @luckyinlovestories, so please visit me there.
Lastly, do you have any advice for our readers looking to start something of their own?
Be as kind to yourself as you are to others. Try to surround yourself with supportive, likeminded people. And enjoy the ride!
‘Lucky in Love’ is available on build a BOXFOX so make sure you get to gifting that special someone who needs to read it today!