Bestselling author Emily Giffin popped into Toronto for an overnight visit during a whirlwind five-week tour to promote her latest book, The One & Only. Giffin talked with Chatelaine about the book — of course — but also surprised us and made us laugh out loud with her stories about unusual pets and her mother’s obsession. Find out exactly what she had to say…
The heroine of The One & Only is sports-loving Shea Rigsby. Tell us a little bit about her.
Shea is 33 years old, she lives in the small town of Walker, Tex., and she reaches this moment in her life after a tragedy hits the town, when she asks herself, “Am I really living the life I’m meant to be living? Am I meeting my destiny?” I think we all ask ourselves that question at various points in our lives.
Why explore an unconventional love story?
So often we expect our life and relationships to look and be a certain way. I think when you fall in love, the rest of the world seems to disappear, but of course it really doesn’t. You don’t perceive that your family and friends are still there, and sometimes can be very much at odds with the heart of the relationship. This book explores the idea of “What if you want something that isn’t right on paper? What if you fall in love with the one person you shouldn’t?”
The book is also about going after the career you want, isn’t it?
Following your dreams, your heart, your gut, all of those things have been themes throughout many of my books, beginning with Something Borrowed. With Something Borrowed I was leaving my career as a lawyer to follow this path I thought was the right one. I was 29 and really unhappy, practicing law at a large firm, so I took a risk and moved to London to write this book. That’s something that changed my life and in many ways defined my life, so it’s a theme that resonates with me. And I like to write about it — whether it’s a career or relationship — that idea of following your heart, and how tough it can be.
What do you love and hate about writing?
I love imagining the fictional world. Creating the world, setting, characters, relationships, getting to know these people at the beginning of a novel. You control every detail of their lives, which is a lot of fun. Then there’s a point—if you’re lucky it happens earlier rather than later—when they come to life in your mind and feel so fully formed, although you’re their creator, that you’re following what you believe they’d do, rather than what you want them to do. You’re no longer the puppeteer. That’s a great feeling.
I’m a slow writer, so to write under a deadline feels quite honestly like I live my life during final exam period at school. My entire life. I’m on tour and already I’m worried about the next deadline and the next book.
You’ve published seven novels so far. What would you do if you couldn’t be a writer?
I would be a therapist. I have probably 40 friends, and I’m their first phone call when they’re having problems. I think it’s why my fiction has been successful. It all comes down to empathy — putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. My goal with is to put good people in unsympathetic situations and hope the reader can find a way to have empathy with the characters despite their missteps.
Something Borrowed turned into a movie. Is there news on more movies?
What would people be surprised to find out about you?
My family and I are obsessed with raising chickens. Old English Game hens. They’re regal chickens, not a froufrou bird. I would liken them to the Golden Retriever of dogs. We live in the city, but one day this chicken just appeared in our backyard. For years, my husband said I planted it. I promise I did not plant Polly. Then came Bobalina…They’re pets! They come into our house.
What three people would you love to meet (dead or alive)?
You can’t do dead! I have a responsibility to put Jesus and Shakespeare in then. You can say I said that! Let’s just do three living. Then I’ll say Bill Clinton. Or I’ll switch out Bill for Hillary. I have a familial obligation to put the current Queen Elizabeth in. For my mother. She’s obsessed.
Rapid-fire round with Emily Giffin
Fave TV show? Orange Is the New Black.
Fave vacation getaway? St. Bart’s with my husband; Jackson Hole, WY., skiing with my family.
Last film you saw? The documentary Black Fish.
Morning or night person? Night.
Best advice you ever got? Be nice.
First thing you do in the morning is… Try to wake my daughter up.
Last thing you do before bed is… Check my phone. I shouldn’t do that, but that’s the truth.
Dogs or cats? Chickens.