Q&A with Emily Giffin
The author discusses her latest novel
In 2001 Emily Giffin ditched a fledgling law career in Manhattan and set out for London to write fiction. Five bestselling novels and a few million dollars later, that decision looks pretty good. At forty, Giffin and her husband, Buddy Blaha, are doting parents to twin eight-year-old sons Edward and George and daughter Harriet, who turned five in May. The family recently moved into a $5 million Buckhead manse, and Blaha left a top job at Newell Rubbermaid “to smell the roses before gearing up again,” Giffin says. “We recently went to St. Barts for our ten-year anniversary, and he wrote ‘coach’ as his occupation on his immigration document. I’ve never seen him so happy. It really makes me realize how lucky I am to love what I do.”
That search for bliss works its way into many of Giffin’s novels, including her new one, Where We Belong (St. Martin’s Press). Thirty-six-year-old TV producer Marian Caldwell’s life is flipped upside down when an eighteen-year-old girl appears at her doorstep, saying, “I think you’re my mother.”
The last time we talked was right before the film version of Something Borrowed came out. What did you think of the finished product? It surpassed my expectations, and I thought Kate Hudson and John Krasinski had amazing chemistry. Of course there were things I would have changed, but that will happen in any collaborative process. Overall I think it really captured my characters and the feel and tone of the book. I loved it.
Are there other film projects in the works? Yes, the script for Heart of the Matter, written by Naomi Foner—Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s mother—is nearly finished. I met with her recently and was so impressed with her vision for the film. Hilary Swank and Molly Smith are producing. (They produced Something Borrowed and have also optioned Something Blue). The script has also been written for Love the One You’re With. Bruna Papandrea, the producer of Milk, is producing and really wants the film to have a subtle, artsy feel, which I think is perfect for the story.
You’ve done a couple of cameos on a soap opera and in Something Borrowed. Do you enjoy that? Do you have any real acting aspirations? Yes, I really enjoy the glimpse into that world. It’s so fun to be a part of the process, and I think it’s neat for my family, friends, and readers to see me on screen. (Although my kids are still too young to watch a PG-13 movie!) But I have absolutely no acting aspirations—which is fortunate, because I also have zero talent. The director of SOBO, Luke Greenfield, mercilessly mocked me for looking directly into the camera after every take.
You’ve achieved a level of financial success that most novelists can only dream about. Does that increase the pressure when you sit down to write the next book? Or decrease it? The financial aspects of the job are completely divorced from the stress I feel when I sit down to write. It has everything to do with wanting readers to like the new book at least as much as the one before it. I feel a great connection with my readers and would never want to disappoint them. On a much lesser level, I can’t help caring what reviewers think of my work. I have increasingly steeled myself to criticism, but it still can sting, especially when you feel that it is unfair—or that they are judging my book by its cover or by preconceived notions.
When you write, do you have a particular reader in mind? Yes. My mother. We have the same taste in books and movies, and generally the same feeling about people—whether characters or celebrities, friends, and acquaintances. She’s very honest, so if she likes what I’ve written, I feel a little more confident putting it out there to the world.
You have a knack for creating characters that readers really care about. Is that where fiction starts for you? Or do you have a basic plot line in mind? My stories always begin with a very general premise, such as, “What happens if you have a second chance with the one who got away?” or, “Are there any deal breakers when it comes to true love?” The characters come next. And as they interact with one another, the nitty-gritty of the plot and story unfolds.
Do you know the ending when you start a novel? I might think I know it, but I’m almost always wrong.
What’s the strangest feedback you’ve ever gotten from a reader? Darcy, the heroine of Something Blue, is quite shallow and opinionated. At one point, she commented that she dislikes “gingers,” i.e., men with red hair. I received several emails from fiery redheads who said they were offended by “my” comments. I had to remind them that it is fiction. If I write about a murderer, it doesn’t mean I have a dead body in my trunk. It was also fortunate that I was able to write back and tell them that I once dated a guy with red hair! I’m no Darcy.
In writing fiction, how important are happy endings? I like happy endings and prefer them in books, whether I’ve written them or not. That said, I try to be true to my characters. They really dictate my endings—most of which have been melancholic but hopeful and certainly not tied up neatly with a bow.
Do you believe in happy endings in real life? That’s hard to say. I don’t think that’s something you really believe in. I do hope for them, though. I worry about everything, but I’m an optimist.
You’ve been a journal-keeper for much of your life. Do you keep one nowadays? I don’t—and it’s something that bothers me all the time. But instead, I take photographs. I have over forty albums since my boys were born eight years ago. Everything is documented, just in a different way.
Do you still write mostly in the mornings? Is that your most creative time? Or is the schedule born of necessity? I like to write in the mornings and late at night, when there are fewer distractions. But so much of my work involves the business side of writing. At least half of my hours logged are about marketing, publicity, preparing for a book launch, strategizing, working on social media, etc. I’m grateful to be where I am, but sometimes I miss the days when all I had to worry about was writing my book.
What’s the best book you’ve read lately? The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. I love stories about sports. When I was little, I wanted to be a sportswriter, and recently I’ve been given the most exciting (and intimidating) assignment to write the essay for my friend Ralph Sampson for his induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this fall.
What’s the first book you remember really loving? If we’re talking children’s books, I first fell in love with the Betsy, Tacy, and Tib books by Maud Hart Lovelace. I so hope that they aren’t too old-fashioned for my daughter when it comes time for her to read on her own. As for adult books, the first one I can really remember obsessing over is The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers. That book touched me in ways I still can recall.
Did you learn anything in law school that helps you in your writing? No. Ha-ha. But seriously—no.
Photograph by Michael A. Schwarz
*EXTENDED VERSION OF THE ARTICLE THAT RAN IN OUR AUGUST 2012 ISSUE