In between book readings, numerous posings with fans across the country, posh parties, and interviews with the likes of Candace Bushnell, Emily Giffin was gracious enough to stop by our humble space for my most enjoyable interview yet. During the lunch, (put on by the staff of Dean and Deluca), I quickly discovered that this two-time NY Times best selling author, no, more importantly; this woman who satisfied my sister and I's guilty pleasures of chick lit during summers spent on lakes in places far removed from Manhattan soirees, was actually as fun in real life as her words were for me on paper. Her down-to-earthness is shared with identical parts fabulousness, and both come out within minutes of meeting her. She's been called “A modern day Jane Austen.” and I like the comparison, as her heroines are becoming equally influential, (though I doubt her predecessor was as hip). Toting her addicting charisma, her radiant smile, and her new book, Love The One You're With (which I finished in two days), Emily dishes out her real life tale... a best selling story in itself.
When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?
Well, I’ve always been interested in writing. It’s sort of one of my earliest passions. As a little girl I would write stories and poems. I still have them all saved I would say as early as four or five. I used to say “I want to be an author when I grow up.” I thought about Journalism, but there was something about going to college and graduating, It sort of felt like a weird thing to all of a sudden, graduate from college and try to write a novel. I was less interested in journalism at that point. So, I went to Law school by default.
Law school to best selling chick lit author, how did it progress? Was it a hard journey?
I loved law school and then went to a big firm in the city for five years, but I really did not enjoy the practice of law, So the whole time while I was practicing I was sort of planning my exit strategy. I started writing a novel while I was practicing, got an agent and then was turned down by all the publishers that I sent the book to. But then I just decided that this was the time of my life, I’m not married, I don’t have children, and I have to really go for this. I have to give it another shot and not give up.
I think it’s not necessarily so much about talent as it is about tenacity. It’s about who wants it the most. And I wanted it desperately. And I was about to turn thirty… I was 29 when I quit my job and move to London. I wanted to have a drastically different experience and to me, it was the most drastic I could be and still feel safe in the scheme of world travel.
Did you like London?
Oh I loved it. It was so much fun to live there. The best part about London, which sounds like a slight to England, is the ability to travel easily from Paris or London or anywhere..two or three times a month I would just go and travel. To random places. If I were to go to Europe now, I’m going to go to France or Italy. From there, it was more like Stockholm and Bruges. These little, more obscure places that are so easy to get to.
So you lived in London for two years, is that where you wrote?
That’s where I wrote my first book "Something Borrowed." So when I got there I sort of mentally said, “Okay, I’m going to take a year, I said this to my Father to reassure him that I’m not going to be a struggling artist forever.”
Ha can I send you home to talk to my father? Did you hold up to your word?
It took 14 months. So I was two months over my deadline. I moved to London September 16th, it was five days after 9/11. It was the first international flight that they let out.
Was that scary?
Yeah, it was scary but it was more than that, I felt a sense of disloyalty to leave NY. I lost a few friends and you’re leaving your city. I spent the first couple of days in the US Embassy wandering around, totally depressed. In a way it was very therapeautic to start writing a book. In the scheme of the suffering in the world, it was really an escape to write about this flawed female friendship. It really felt like an escape.
Did you know right away what you wanted to write about?
I knew I wanted to write about female friendship, a troubled female friendship. I knew I wanted to write about a few things: one, someone learning to take a chance and follow her heart. And or me, it was quitting the profession and pursuing writing and for Rachel, it was pursuing this relationship at the cost of everything else. She was turning 30, I was about to turn 30, and for me that was sort of this benchmark. of, not even achievement, but “Am I following my dreams?” What have I done that feels fufilling to me? So, In that sense I could relate to it.
I also wanted to write about female friendship because, so oftten, for women in their 20s that is the thing that matters most.
They really are your family.
Yeah it really is. For better of for worse. I think at the same time, for women in their twentys and for women in general, we have this great capacity to both love and hate our friends. It’s a really strange phenomenon. It’s like this sense of underlying competition, not with your truest friends, but with some. And I think you learn as you get older to jettison those friends, and only keep the ones that only build you up and feel really healthy.
Did your friends support your writing habits? Were they envious?
True friends will always be there. The actual journey towards writing a novel I don’t think is particularly enviable, except for the fact that you’re following (your dreams) I think people envy risk takers because it’s what people want to do but can they do it. I think when you don’t have that 9 to 5 office job, there’s often a sense that you’re not really working, which is obviously, as you know, not the case.
Did you have deadlines for yourself throughout your writing process?
The first book, mentally, I wanted to write that in a year. And a lot of that was for fear that if it didn’t work out, I would be too far removed from Law to get another good job, and part of it was to appease my family. I thought “This is only a year. A year in my life. So what’s a year?” It took a little longer than that. But the time from start to finish, from discovering that I would had a two book deal, was 15 or 16 months. So I was a little over my deadline. So that felt good. That was the only self-proposed deadline. Once I was published, it was my publisher telling me when these books were due.
I have done four books in five years. Last year I took off. I was supposed to have a book come out and I had my daughter last May.
How do you do it all? What’s your day like?
The key is that you have to accept the fact that if you’re doing it all, you still have to make sacrifices on both sides. You can’t do everything you want to do. I missed two big events at my children’s school this week, there are certain events that I would love to go to with my book but I can’t do everything. What are my priorities? I really think it’s quality not quantity. I try to be very engaged and the best mother I can be when I’m with them.
The key is finding a balance, making priorities and accepting the fact that you can’t be everywhere. You just have to do the best you can. That and I have a really incredible assistant and nanny and she’s wonderful.
The characters: Did you decide them beforehand or did you get to know them as you were writing them?
Definitely the latter. I had sort of these sketched out types, the good girl, Rachel, and the outlandish, glamourous [one]. You start out with very flat types and you get to know them and round those edges. I like to think my characters are fully developed and they’re not so black and white. I think one of the cruxes levied off of this genre (chick lit) is that the characters tend to be a bit flat.
Your books are heavily dialogue driven too. Is that harder to write for you or easier?
For me , it’s actually one of my favorite things to do. I’ve heard a lot of authors say that they don’t enjoy it but I would much rather write about a conversation than describe a room. I enjoy it. Because I enjoy it, I think whenever you enjoy something, it feels like it comes more naturally then when you don’t enjoy it. I like listening to the way people talk and interact, like eavesdropping in the dentist office, like conversations in the street or at a bar. Sometimes I’ll go to dinner with my husband and he’ll be like ‘can you pay attention to me?’ Because I’m like ‘Do you think they're on a second or third date?’
What's your editing process like?
I tend to write in chapters. That's just sort of the system that works for me. So I’ll write a chapter and that will vary, but then I’ll go back and revise that chapter before I go onto the next.
Did you have that structure set up before you wrote it, or did it evolve?
It was nothing that I set out to do, it just ends up being my pattern. I have this very rough sense of the main theme and the main beginning, middle and end. For "Something Borrowed," I wanted to write about flawed female friendship and a journey toward taking chances. So I thought a good way to do that was a love triangle. When I started writing "Something Borrowed," I had Darcy doing the cheating with Rachel’s fiance. But that’s so uninteresting because people are going to hate the character and hate what she’s doing and I think the only reason why Something Borrowed works is because you like that character but you don’t like what she is doing. But if Darcy wasn’t doing it, you would have hated her and dismissed her and the whole book.
What surprised you the most? About the whole thing?
It still feels surreal to me at moments. I’m getting used to the idea that my books actually sell. When the book resonates with readers it makes me so happy. It’s so fascinating to me that in today’s day and age, women can be and do so many things but there’s still this sense that if you don’t want to be a mother there’s something inherently wrong with you. That to me has been very surprising.
Whom influences you? Whom do you read?
I love Alice Monroe, Tom Ferrata, “Alice Sebold. I read my genre and out of my genre, mostly women writers… When you read as a child there’s something so wondrous and magical about it.
And now, some fun questions:
What have been your favorite purchases over the past year? A black Christian Dior jacket, a vintage diamond necklace, a Michael Kors cashmere long cardigan that I wear all the time and, believe it or not, my mini-van (a Honda Odyssey which can perfectly hold both my rowdy four-year-old twin boys and one-year-old baby girl.)
Have you ever been skinny dipping? When was the last time? Of course. Who hasn’t? Although I don’t think I have since I’ve become a mother. I need to change that.
What embarrasses you? Lipstick on my teeth, forgetting someone’s name, the thought of my father reading the sex scenes in my books.
What do you think is the most important issue in this presidential election? The economy. It is the core issue that affects every other in this election.
What are your summer plans? Finish my summer tour, which will go until the end of June, then spend as much time with my kids. We’ll definitely take a family vacation to the beach for a couple of weeks later in the summer.
Do you watch a lot of TV? What are the shows you’re addicted to? I actually watch very little television. I say this not as a point of pride. It’s a rather gaping void in my life right now. I love obsessing over a good show.
If you were a teacher, what subject and age group would you teach? 9th grade English. I loved my 9th grade English teacher and remember everything I read in that class.
What are your favorite places in NYC? Museum of Modern Art—Jackson Pollack Room; Bouley, Babbo, Marc Jacobs, Claudine, Jazz Standard, Books of Wonder, Morgan’s Bar, Shakespeare Garden in Central Park, ABC Carpet & Home, Soho Letterpress, Chocolate Bar, Barney’s, Temple Bar, Gramercy Park Hotel—love the roof terrace bar.
Emily is currently on tour with her fourth novel "Love the One You're With" which hit book stands this May and followed:
Special thanks to Deborah Kelly, Stephen Lee and Katie Byrnes for their help in making this interview possible including the hours spent transcribing it from a recorded "gab fest" of tangents.
Finally, a GINORMOUS thank you to my sister, Renee for helping me edit not only this interview, but countless other posts, for putting up with me in general for 25 years, and for sharing her love of reading with me.
Sunday, May 19
We sat down with Anne Pasternak for a few questions about Creative Time's past and future, as well as the importance of having an awareness about public art in the city.