Dana Canedy’s career is incredible —a senior editor at the New York Times, the administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, and now the senior vice president and publisher of Simon & Schuster— but it’s her lost love story that has shaped who she is today. Dana joined Zibby to discuss her book, A Journal for Jordan, which tells the story of how Dana’s fiancée Charles managed to write down all of the life lessons he wanted to teach their son in a blank journal before he was suddenly killed by an IED while deployed in Iraq. Dana and Zibby talk about the need for community when faced when an unprecedented situation, how they have learned to be resilient in the wake of their losses, and what the experience was like for Dana to have the book adapted into a movie by her good friend, Denzel Washington.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Dana. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss A Journal for Jordan: A Story of Love and Honor.

Dana Canedy: Thank you so much.

Zibby: By the way, I was reading this book around my kids, as I do all my books. My daughter picked it up, who’s eight, and was like, “Oh, how cool. Have you seen this movie?” I was like, “No, honey, it’s not a movie. This is a book. This is just a book.” She’s like, “No, no, no.” Actually, you know what? It might have been my son. Anyway, they turned it over and showed me. I’ve started wearing reading glasses. I did not even notice this was a movie, that there’s a huge thing here. This is before I started it. I realized, obviously, it came out in 2008, and now a movie is imminent.

Dana: Oh, so you didn’t know about the movie? Wow.

Zibby: I didn’t even know about the movie. Then I was thinking to myself, I wonder why I’m reading this book from 2008, but I don’t care. I’m excited. It’s great. I picked it. I was just like, why are they doing publicity for the book? Anyway, so the book, the movie, the whole thing, first, let’s start with your story of loss and love and all of that. Would you mind telling listeners about what happened and why you wrote this?

Dana: I was a journalist at The New York Times for twenty-three years. During that time, I was dating a wonderful man named Charles. He was a really highly, highly decorated solider. He got orders to go to Iraq. Before that, we had dated for, as I say, eight and a half years. I never wanted to get married. I never wanted kids. I was traveling around the country and sometimes other countries reporting and having a great time in New York and had this awesome, hot boyfriend. He, in the meantime, was training men and women to be soldiers and then later training them for war. Then he did get orders for Iraq. Before that, we had decided to get engaged. When he got the orders, I was turning forty. Suddenly, it’s one of those life flashes before your eyes moment. I called him — he was in training — and said, “I think I want to have a baby. I just blurted it out.” He said, “Okay.” I was like, “Wait, wait, wait, I’m not asking you for a puppy. Are you sure?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “How can you make a decision like that so quickly?” He said, “I made it a long time ago. I’ve just been waiting for you to be ready.”

The entire time he was in Iraq, I was pregnant with our son Jordan. We knew we were going to have a boy. I gave him a blank journal. He became obsessed with this journal. He filled it up with two hundred pages of life lessons for his son. He got to come home and meet him once. He had six weeks left to go. He was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq. My whole world collapsed. I literally collapsed on the hardwood floor screaming. I had only been back from maternity leave for two weeks. I had a six-month-old baby. My life had just fallen apart. I had to do something because my baby needed me. Writing has always been the way I process anything. Good or bad or indifferent, writing is my way of making it through the world. It’s like painting to me, or pottery. It just soothes me and heals me. I started writing for very selfish reasons. I wanted people to know about this honorable man. I wanted my son to really know his father. It became A Journal for Jordan.

Zibby: The way you write about Charles, I feel like I knew him. His hot body that you noticed right away, that was the best description of a man ever. You’re like, his rippling muscles and the ratio of the shoulders to waist and the arm bulging. I was like, who is this guy? And how you lead him on this date. You’re dipping your toes in the water. I’m like, this is so fun.

Dana: It’s so funny you mention that because he was very bold professionally, but he was incredibly shy personally. He would’ve been so embarrassed about these descriptions.

Zibby: I’m sorry.

Dana: No, it’s great. Are you kidding? I love embarrassing him. Also, women everywhere have told me they’ve fallen in love with him. I’m happy to share him with so many wonderful women. He was an extraordinary man. He really was.

Zibby: You did capture, though, how he was often looking down and quiet and thoughtful and such an artist. Oh, my gosh, amazing. I could see that he would be embarrassed. I’m sorry for that.

Dana: Don’t be. I liked embarrassing him when he was here, and I’m still enjoying it.

Zibby: Falling in love, watching someone’s love story is great. You were so open, too, about how you were together for this long period of time, and yet you were only all in for part of it. You had a foot emotionally out the door for all your reasons. Then finally, you let yourself in. Then he passes away. I wanted to leap in the book and be the person on the floor to catch you. You could just see it all happening. It was in slow motion. I kept flipping thinking, well, maybe it won’t happen. Maybe it’ll be okay. Especially, the way you let us into your family life and your own relationship with your dad and your sibling, oh, my gosh. I’m so sorry this happened. I’m just so sorry.

Dana: Thank you so much. I am so grateful to you for caring about this and sharing it with your listeners. That has been so healing for me over time. It’s been a long time, but I still miss him every day. The reason I talked about my family life is because you had to understand that to understand why I was so reticent and so not all in, as you say, which is accurate. He helped heal me. I did a lot of work on myself, but he just said, “I’m not going away. I’m going to love you.” I think I didn’t believe it, so I challenged him over and over. In the end, oh, my gosh, I really did believe it. Verification of that even after he died was this journal where he talks to our son and says, “If you want to know what I love in a woman, just look at your mother.” I couldn’t believe it. I fell in love with him all over again.

Zibby: And even that he had the sense to send it to you two weeks before or a month before. Someone on his platoon had died. He was like, I have to get this journal out of here, and you got it. It’s meant to be.

Dana: Yeah, but I’ll tell you other thing that’s — I don’t think this is in the book. Just to tell you about the depth of his love and compassion and his caring and protective nature for Jordan and me, after he died, that horrible thing happens where the military comes to your house. Oh, it’s the most horrible thing. I actually wrote about this first on the front page of The New York Times before it was a book because, honestly, I wasn’t necessarily thinking of a book then. I just realized I was the only national journalist in the country that had this experience. I wanted people to understand what that was like. I also wanted to share the journal. I was proud of Charles. The military came. Then they came back the next day or a couple days later. I was in a fog by then. The thing I learned is how physically painful grief is. It’s really hard to breathe. They came and they picked us up. Suddenly, my baby felt really heavier. I was having a hard time holding him. They took us to this military base in Brooklyn. I felt like I was in the back of a police car or something. We had to fill out all these documents. Jordan needed a new military ID card. I couldn’t understand why because he just had one. I saw that it said they changed the active duty to deceased. I thought I was going to throw up.

We get back home that day. I’m shaking. I hadn’t eaten. We hadn’t even buried Charles yet. This was back in the days when people still had landlines with answering machines. I come in the house. I set Jordan down. I said, “Oh, Charles, oh, my god, how did this happen? I can’t do this. Please, please, just give me a sign that you’re still with me.” As God as my witness, I turn on the answering machine, and there’s a man named Sergeant Wesley, I think, calling from Iraq. He sounded far away and sad and had a scratchy voice. He said, “Hi, my name is Sergeant Morris. You don’t know me, but I was a friend of First Sergeant King’s. He gave me your phone number. He made me promise that if anything ever happened to him I would call you and tell you that he loves you and you’re going to be all right.” I couldn’t believe it. Even after he died, he was taking care of us. He was saying to me, you’ll be okay.

Zibby: It’s so beautiful. I’m sorry.

Dana: No, no, no.

Zibby: It’s so meaningful. It’s amazing.

Dana: I’ve learned so much about love and relationships since he died and since I wrote the book. Most people don’t interview their loved ones’, their spouse’s, their partners, teachers, and girlfriends and bosses and parents. I did. I learned a lot more about him. I don’t live with many regrets, but one that I have is that I didn’t know earlier how much he really loved us. During all this research on him, getting the journal, but also even that voicemail, that message on my machine — this man thought about, what would I need to say to this woman to help her if I die? Got that message to me even after he died. That’s how much he loved us.

Zibby: Someone can tell you as many times. Sometimes it takes this superpower to believe it. I’m sure he told you a bazillion times.

Dana: He did. He showed me a bazillion times. I’m very secure professionally, but I was always insecure personally. It was hard for me to believe that somebody would love me like that. I’d never seen an example of it. As you know from reading the book, my parents did not have a good marriage at all. I hadn’t seen an example of a good, solid relationship where people weren’t having affairs and hitting each other and yelling at each other. This was different for me.

Zibby: I couldn’t believe when your dad was trying to take your car that night to see his mistress. Oh, my gosh, the stuff that went on. Excuse me as I’m snotting all over. I’m sorry, I don’t usually cry.

Dana: I am so sorry.

Zibby: No. Your pain is so contagious because you can just feel — I feel like it’s so cruel because it did take you a while to believe it, and then it was snatched away. Thank god you did. Thank god you let it in.

Dana: Yes. You know what? I have that for the rest of my life. I still own that. In a strange way, the relationship is frozen in time. He still looks the same. Our love is still the same.

Zibby: Look at that, you’re dating a younger man. It’s awesome.

Dana: I’ve gone on to have a life without him, but he’s always there. He’s always at the center of it. Our son now is fifteen. I’ve had to teach him about his dad over time. Charles is still a part of us. He really is, but I have a very full, happy life now. As you know, there funny moments in the book. There are lessons about resilience. It’s not all sad.

Zibby: No, no, of course.

Dana: My life now is pretty full and happy and awesome, but I literally think about him every day. I’ll miss him for the rest of my life.

Zibby: I feel like it’s such an honor that you wrote about him and let the rest of us in on this because you easily could’ve not. It would’ve been so easy to keep this private like so many people do who are out there just really sad and holding that grief and holding that loss and not able to share it with everybody. I’m glad it’s brought you comfort.

Dana: Thank you.

Zibby: On the part that you’re saying that was so funny, there was one line that honestly helped me so much as I am always yo-yoing with my weight and everything and have been in a particular down on myself, “oh, my gosh, I’ve got to get out of the kitchen” mood. You had this one line which I can’t find now. When you were describing yourself in contrast to Charles, you said it so matter of fact. I am this. I am that. I gain weight when I’m stressed. I was like, oh, just like that? She just puts it in. There was no judgement. It was just like, this is what I do when I’m stressed. For some reason, I’m like, oh, great, yeah, this is just what I do. This is just part of me. I’m just going to move on. There it is. Why be upset about it?

Dana: For a lot of reasons, I used to think that you had to be a certain physical image to be accepted by men, to be accepted, really, in life. The weight that I gained actually ended up being a gift because I realized I didn’t have to be flirty and sexy and all that to be loved or to be accepted in any aspect of my life. The people who love you are going to love you and are going to embrace who you are and see all of you. That was a gift. It was something I needed to know and needed to understand. Now I realize that, and I tell my son this all the time, the only thing that matters in life is your village. It’s my village that got me through his death. It has helped me professionally. It’s helped me personally. You’re a village. It doesn’t matter what the rest of the world thinks of you or whether you’re completely anonymous when you walk out the front door to most people. They never see you. I don’t really care about that anymore. Before his death, I cared about my village, but I really understood afterwards, the importance of that. That’s what I embrace.

Zibby: Wow. Yet somehow, still with all of this that you had going on, your career — I shouldn’t say despite. Why wouldn’t it? It’s just another hinderance if you’re carrying around all this grief. It’s a heavy load. Yet you’ve completely ascended to the heights of the publishing world. What is that like? You had this huge promotion last year or the year before or whenever. Tell me about all of that and how that’s all tracked and how you feel about all that.

Dana: I live by faith. I very much believe in God. I will tell you, I didn’t grow up in the church, but I used to say that if somebody close to me died, I would probably be angry at God. The opposite happened. It’s what got me through. I was surprised by that. I give thanks to God for an extraordinary career. I started writing when I was twelve. I realized it was all leading to this, to this movie, to this book. There are life lessons in there that I could tell you about. I hear from readers all over the world. I heard from a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who snuck the book in Saudi Arabia and read it and sent me a note saying, “I know now how to choose a husband.” I was once at a university signing books. There were fifteen hundred kids in line. This petite, little, beautiful blond girl came up in a very meek voice and whispered to me, “Thank you so much for your book. It’s helping me get through my own tragedy.” I said, “What’s going on?” She said, “I was raped last semester.” I was the first person she was telling. I stopped the line, got her help.

I could give you a million stories like that from traveling across the country speaking about this book. I think the movie’s going to touch people in another way because there are lessons in our story about resilience. There are lessons about patriotism. There are lessons about standing for something more than yourself. who left prison in New Jersey were given a copy of the book to tell them how to be a man and how to be a father. That’s what I mean about I feel as though my faith led me to this work. The through line, whether I was running the Pulitzer Prizes, which I did, or now as the publisher of Simon & Schuster, and before, storytelling at The New York Times and with this book, the constant in my career has been the power of information, communication, and storytelling to unite people, to help people understand, to bring us together, to heal us. That’s what I have tried to do my whole professional career, professional life. I’m trying to do that at Simon & Schuster with many of the books that we acquire.

Zibby: Wow, that’s amazing. I recently started my own publishing company. I don’t know if you know this.

Dana: Congratulations! No, my gosh. Oh, my gosh, after the podcast, we’ve got to talk a lot more about it, honestly.

Zibby: I would love to.

Dana: That is super.

Zibby: It’s called Zibby Books. It came from a place of — I really have just such reverence for authors. I’ve done like nine hundred podcasts or whatever else. I just wanted to be a part of it and make a difference and put the author in the middle, in the center of everything, and also to be able to say to people, instead of, you should write an essay — I have this anthology. I like to commission essays. There are all these people, I’m like, you have such a great story. You have to write this book. Now I get to say that. It’s the coolest thing ever.

Dana: That’s fantastic. We have to talk a lot more about that.

Zibby: That would be great. Tell me two things about the movie. You have Michael B. Jordan, right?

Dana: Yes.

Zibby: Literally, I am such a moron. I thought this was the author and the author’s husband. I was like, oh, my gosh. Now, of course, I realize. I was googling the stars and everything. How do you feel about this casting and the fact that your life is a movie? That’s got to feel wild.

Dana: Let me say one thing. Whether it’s the book or movie or my career, and I mean this sincerely, I take these blessings very seriously, but I don’t take myself seriously at all. My mom said, “How’s it feel to be famous?” I said, “Mama, if you got to tell people you’re famous, you’re not famous.” I can’t have my nose in the air because I’m too clumsy. I would fall on my face, I swear. I’m grateful, but I’m not caught up in — the interesting thing is — Denzel Washington’s the director. He is one my dearest, dearest friends. We’re very close. All people think about and say to me when they learn about this is Michael B. and, oh, my god, Denzel, and red carpet. What are you going to wear to the red carpet? What they don’t see is when I was crying for six hours in Arlington Cemetery when we were shooting a scene there or when I had nightmares because they were showing me clips of the Humvee blowing up. Then I had a nightmare. I don’t care about the red carpet. Someone asked me, “What are you wearing to the premiere?” I found a dress for two hundred dollars at Macy’s. That’s what I’m wearing. I don’t care about that stuff. We have all become so close. Chanté, who plays me, is my little sister for life now. She’s been in our house. She’ll be with us on Christmas. I love her dearly. I’m very protective of her. She’s going to be the next big breakout star. Count my word on that. Michael B. is a sweetie pie. Denzel and I are very close, the executive producer. We all got to be friends. Now we’re like family. You are going to see that in the movie because they poured everything they had into this movie. It’s beautiful. There are parts that are hard, but it’s laugh-out-loud funny in some places. We tried to make sure to end it on a hopeful note, not artificially. I’m a hopeful person. I’m an optimistic person. This brought me literally to my knees, but I was, in time, able to get back up.

I want to say one thing if I can digress for a second. Whenever I speak about this, it’s just important for me to get this message out to anybody who might need it, who might be going through their own struggles. Life is cyclical. I never thought I would get over this. What I want to say is that success in your life looks different on different days. The day I got the call to be the first woman and the first person of color in a century, in a hundred years, to run the Pulitzer Prizes was a successful day. The day Charles died, I swear, it was just a successful day that I got off the floor. A month later, success for me was getting out of bed, taking a shower, and brushing my teeth. That was a successful day. You have to meet yourself where you are. In terms of this movie, it’s a long time coming. I’m a producer on the film, deeply involved. It’s my life. To everybody else are characters and it’s a movie, but the Jordan in A Journal for Jordan is really my son. This is really me on the screen. The funny part is, there’s this one scene — I don’t think it made it into the final movie. We were shooting at the Met. Chanté was sashaying up to Michael B., walking with these heels. The music was going. I wanted to say, cut, I’ve never, on my best day, walked like that a day in my life. The thing that has me slightly mortified is she’s playing me fifteen years younger. This girl is gorgeous and thin and all of this. I told her, I’m like, “If Charles came back here today, he’d say, I want that Dana.” It’s a beautiful film. I’m touched by everything everyone put into it.

Zibby: Wow. Is going to be on Netflix or coming out in theaters?

Dana: It’s one of Sony Pictures and Columbia Pictures biggest movies of the year. It’s coming out nationwide on Christmas Day.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. I’m sorry, I should’ve known that. I apologize.

Dana: No, no, no.

Zibby: I knew it was Sony because I did see that.

Dana: How cool is that?

Zibby: That is amazing. That is so cool.

Dana: I’m super excited. Denzel flew to New York to show it privately to my son and me two weeks ago. We’re going to have a premiere on December 9th. You know what? Every year — I didn’t do it last year because of COVID — I have a huge Christmas party at my house. We cook. My mom’s coming. We cook a ton, a ton of food. We have like twenty-five people. They’ve been coming for a decade for this party. Many of these friends of mine only see each other at the party. We are going to have that party this year. Then we are all going to go to the movies and watch and not let anybody know who we are.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, I love that. That’s so fun. Aw. I know what you mean about feeling successful on some days and totally a mess on other days. Like you, I’ve been through so much loss in my life.

Dana: I’m sorry.

Zibby: No, it’s okay. Most people — maybe not to the extent like your husband. Anyone who’s gone through loss and grief knows that it’s hard sometimes just to get up and face the world. Yet whenever people ask, it’s like, well, there was no other choice.

Dana: I say that all the time. By the way, I can see your resilience. You started your own company. You’re smiling. You have makeup on. You look great. You get it. You’re as resilient as I am.

Zibby: Yeah, but it’s not like I woke up and said, I’m going to be resilient. It was like, well, this is the worst thing I could imagine, but what am I going to do? Am I going to drop out of school? All these things.

Dana: Somebody said to me something that you might find useful, which is, you don’t have to feel strong to be strong. I was so frustrated. People kept saying, oh, you’re so strong. I was like, stop saying that. I’m falling apart. Somebody said to me, no, you’re not. You don’t have to feel strong to be strong. Sometimes the best thing you can do is just stand still and let that wave of panic or pain or grief wash over you and live with it and go through it and then get up the next day.

Zibby: Another saying that somebody who came on the podcast once said that really stuck with me is, God never wastes a pain. I just love that. It’s like, what am I supposed to do with this? I have this. I have to use it. I have to find my way through.

Dana: You don’t have to figure that out right away. Sometimes it takes time to figure out what you’re supposed to do with it, and that’s okay.

Zibby: I’m really excited for you. I’m excited you’re going to have a big red-carpet moment even though that’s not the be all, end all and all of that. How does Jordan feel about all of this?

Dana: He’s so proud of his parents. The funny thing is, when we were watching the screening, he turned to me and he says, “Mom, can you please just tap me on the shoulder before the sex scene so I can close my eyes and ears?” He’s a fifteen-year-old boy, so he’s mortified at the idea of seeing his parents on the big screen, watching their romance unfold. He’s very proud of both of us. He’s terribly proud of his father, obviously.

Zibby: You said he ended up looking a lot like Charles’ mom.

Dana: Oh, my gosh, yes, like her twin. There’s so much of his father’s spirit in him. We’re very, very, very close. He’s my everything.

Zibby: That’s amazing.

Dana: He’s smarter than I am. He’s kinder than I am. He’s funnier than I am. That’s what you want for your child.

Zibby: Are you going to write any more? Do you have another book in you?

Dana: It’s funny. Everybody asks me that.

Zibby: I’m sorry. I’m sorry to ask you the same question. I hate when I do that. I’m sorry. I had to know.

Dana: Thank you so much for asking. I appreciate it, actually. Tons and tons of people keep asking me to write a book on resilience. I have to think about that a little bit more and whether I have enough to say. I will write something. I’ve got kind of a busy life now with my job and with the movie and being a mom. Yes, I definitely have more books in me. I just don’t know yet. I’m leaning toward doing that book on resilience, but I need to think about it a little bit more.

Zibby: All in due time. No rush. From your perch as both publisher and author, what advice would you have for aspiring authors?

Dana: The first thing is, just write. Write authentically. Write from your heart. Rewrite. You’ll find your own process for how to write. People ask me, what advice would you give about the writing process? I say don’t listen to anybody else’s process. You’ll find your own. Don’t give up. I swear this is the truth. When I sat down to write this book, really, I was looking at a blank computer screen. I didn’t know if only my mother was going to read it or not. I could not have envisioned all of this, so you never know where it’s going to take you. I didn’t write for a movie or any of this. I wrote because I had something to say and I needed to get it out. If that drives you, then your authenticity will come out on the page.

Zibby: Wow, I love that. Amazing. Dana, thank you. Thanks so much.

Dana: Thank you. Thank you so much.



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