Interview by Heather Riske. Photo by Michael A. Schwarz.
With five “New York Times” bestselling novels under her belt and more than five million copies in print worldwide, Emily Giffin is no stranger to success. Three of her novels have been optioned for the big screen, including the blockbuster “Something Borrowed,” starring Kate Hudson, Ginnifer Goodwin and John Krasinksi. And this summer, her highly anticipated sixth novel, “Where We Belong,” releases on July 24. Just in time for her appearance at Saks Fifth Avenue on August 3, ALIVE caught up with the wildly popular author to chat about her new novel, her secrets to success and her favorite spots in St. Louis (Ted Drewes, anyone?).
ALIVE: Your books tackle some pretty heavy topics—teenage pregnancy, single motherhood, infidelity—but still resonate with thousands of readers around the world. How do you think you achieve this?
EG: Probably because those topics are universal. I really try to write stories that I think many people, regardless of their age or culture, will be able to relate to. “Something Borrowed” has sold around 10 million copies in forty languages because all women understand what it is like to have a complicated female friendship. And, who can’t relate to the idea of “the one who got away” in “Love the One You’re With?” And so on, with all my books.
ALIVE: “Where We Belong” is your only novel that is told from the perspective of a teenager. Did this present a challenge for you while writing?
EG: It was difficult at first to find Kirby’s voice, but once I did, it was really quite easy for me to tell her story. In some ways, I could relate to her more than the adults in the book. She was my favorite character.
ALIVE: Most of Kirby’s portion of “Where We Belong” takes place in St. Louis—she attends school at Bishop DuBourg, bags groceries at Schnucks and spends time in the Loop with her friends. What is your relationship with St. Louis?
EG: I have spent quite a bit of time in St. Louis, as I have family and friends there. As I wrote the book, I consulted with my uncle, Doug Elgin (who is the commissioner of the Missouri Valley Conference), my cousins and my good friend McGraw Milhaven from KTRS (who I met after the launch of my first book nearly a decade ago). I also visited the city when I first started to write the book and actually chose the house near Bishop DuBourg where I imagined Kirby living. I even had a long conversation with a bartender at LoRusso’s about the different neighborhoods and dynamics in St. Louis. I love the city—which is why I include Left Bank Books (and recently Saks Fifth Avenue at Plaza Frontenac) on every tour. It really is a special town with so much color and flavor. Oh—and I’m a huge fan of Ted Drewes!
ALIVE: In a recent interview, you said you’ve never liked being classified under the term “chick lit.” How would you describe your work instead?
EG: 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 I don’t think it’s entirely accurate, especially for my last few novels. There is 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 complicated emotional terrain.
ALIVE: How involved were you in the making of the film version of “Something Borrowed”? What was your response to seeing the film?
EG: I was very lucky that the director and producers involved me with the details, from the casting to the script revisions through filming. I even have a very short cameo! I had been warned that it can be a nightmare for authors—they are either wholly excluded or they hate the finished product—but neither was true. I loved the movie and had a blast.
ALIVE: What is the most rewarding part of your work?
EG: Finishing a book. The feeling that I have created something that is worthy of being shared with people who will (I hope!) love it. I never want to let down my readers—and that pushes me to write what I always hope is my best book yet.
ALIVE: What’s next for you? What do you hope to accomplish in the next few years?
EG: I’m in the part of the publishing cycle that is pretty much solely focused on publicity and marketing and gearing up for my book launch and tour that begins on July 24. It’s one of the things I love about my career. There are whole months and zones of almost solitary confinement when I’m writing. Then I get to emerge and work with my publicity team, interact with the media and—most important—meet my readers. When the dust settles in early September, I will begin my seventh novel. (Which is actually my eighth, since the first was never published.) I’m also focused on some movie and TV projects. It looks like “Love the One You’re With” will start production this fall or next spring and I’m in talks to turn “Where We Belong” into a television show. I would absolutely love to see those characters come to life. I only hope they find someone really hot to play Conrad. Kirby may be my favorite character, but I’m so obsessed with Conrad!