Best seller Emily Giffin's latest novel Where We Belong publishes today, and Omni caught up with her to ask a few questions, including how she arrives at her themes, how she got her start, and what she thinks about the "chic lit" moniker.
In your previous books you've embraced betrayal, lost love, and tragedy to name a few subjects. What made you choose to write a story that revolves around a woman who's given up her daughter for adoption?
At its heart, the book is about secrets and what happens to us and those closest to us when we keep them. I've always been intrigued by the power of secrets. When is it justifiable to keep them from the ones we love? And does keeping them irrevocably change who we are? Adoption (under the secretive circumstances in Where We Belong) seemed to be a great way to explore some of those broader themes. In addition, I have always been interested in adoption. There are so many perspectives to explore"”so much rich, emotional terrain.
When you're choosing your stories, do you begin with the themes or the characters? Both seem so well fleshed out.
It depends on what you mean by themes. I always begin with a basic premise. A question such as "What would happen if you fell in love with your best friend's fiancÃ©?" (Something Borrowed) or "What if you had a second chance with the one who got away?" (Love the One You're With) or "What would happen if you kept a baby a secret for your whole life and suddenly she showed up on your doorstep?" (Where We Belong). The characters are born almost immediately after that. Then the plot unfolds as the characters and their relationships with one another are explored. Broader themes, such as how important it is for us to feel that we belong to something or someone greater than ourselves (Where We Belong) emerge at the end when everything feels illuminated and I realize what the book is really about.
Your books are about how women relate to men, how they relate to other women, and often how they relate to their own careers. You were a Manhattan attorney before you became a writer. To what degree is Marian Caldwell, or any of your characters, based on your own experiences?
My books are all relationship-focused so much of my inspiration comes from my own relationships and the issues and concerns that arise among my friends and family. In addition, I often try to find some way to identify with my protagonist, such as her profession or where she lives, particularly when I'm writing in the first person. But the plots have never been autobiographical.
You often write about flawed characters. Is this something you do intentionally?
I find flawed characters much more interesting than perfect ones and enjoy the challenge of making readers root for them in spite of their unsympathetic paths and destructive choices. Life is about the gray areas. Things are seldom black and white, even when we wish they were and think they should be, and I like exploring this nuanced terrain. I believe most people are good at heart and sincerely try to do the right thing. Yet we are all capable of missteps and of hurting the people we love, and we all have had to grapple with the guilt and regret that come from these mistakes and weaknesses.
Was it difficult to make the jump from attorney to writer? How did you do it?
Although I enjoyed law school, I loathed the actual practice of law"”at least the big firm culture. And I discovered that misery can be quite motivating. So very early on, I devised a plan to pay off my law school loans and then write full-time. Meanwhile, I began writing a young adult novel in my free time (and sometimes while at work!). Four years later, my loans were paid off and my book was completed. I was able to land an agent, but over the next several months, I received a dozen rejection letters from publishers. I seriously contemplated giving up and keeping my nose to the legal grindstone, but instead, I quit my job, moved to London and decided to try again. It was then and there that I began writing Something Borrowed. To answer the question more generally, I just never gave up. I think all writers have that in common!
You're often categorized as a writer of chick lit"”do you embrace that label? Is it even an accurate claim?
It's not that I don't like the moniker"”and I'm in favor of any label that encourages people to read or helps them find the kind of books they will enjoy. It's just that the term only seems to be used in a pejorative sense these days and, beyond that, I don't think it's entirely accurate, especially for my last few novels. There is really nothing about Heart of the Matter or Where We Belong that conjures chick lit. They are more straight women's fiction"”books about exploring universal relationships and complex emotions. Bottom line, I try not to get too hung up on labels as I think they can be limiting.
What can we expect next from you?
Another book that explores relationships! I will keep writing for as long as people will read my stories. And even if they don't, I will keep writing!