Book Talk: Emily Giffin on ‘First Comes Love’

Women’s lit reaches new heights with rooftop celebration. 

Emily with Jummy_WL

Jummy Olabanji, and Cris Clapp Logan (Photo by Joy Asico)

New York Times bestselling author Emily Giffin drew a crowd of 250 fans to The Hepburn’s rooftop Tuesday night for a celebration of her latest novel, “First Comes Love.” It’s the eighth women’s lit novel for the former attorney, who had plenty of reasons to celebrate. Along with rave reviews of her new book, Giffin announced that her 2005 novel “Something Blue” is being made into a movie starring Kate Hudson. We caught up with Giffin to talk inspiration, the writing life and the best stories about sisters.

Washington Life: For those who haven’t read it, will you give a brief synopsis of the book? 
Emily Giffin: “First Comes Love” is about two sisters, both in their late 30s, Josie and Meredith. They’re at this crossroads of really questioning whether the choices they made are the ones that are going to make them ultimately happy- whether they’re on the right path. One of the reasons that they really are able to ask this, or they’re able to ask this question, is because they are approaching the 15 year anniversary of a family tragedy. I think this whole idea of a big birthday or a benchmark or an anniversary of something tragic, or wonderful even, can make you reflect on your life in that way. And that’s what happens for Josie and Meredith.

WL: What inspired you to write this book?
EG: I think I’ve always wanted to write a story about sisters. I have one sister. She’s 14 months older than me. We’re extremely, extremely close. She’s my best friend. We support each other like no other, but we’re capable of some misunderstandings. Most of them petty, but some of them more grave. I think sometimes that sibling relationship is a complicated one, so I really wanted to explore that. And, the idea of how even people in the same family can react so differently to monumental events, and react so differently to tragedy. That was another theme I wanted to explore.

WL: Are there any writers that write really well about sisters? Or books?
EG: Well, of course there are so many, going back to Beverly Cleary’s Beezus and Ramona books, [Jane Austen’s] Dashwood sisters, “Little Women,” “Sisterland” by Curtis Sittenfeld. I’ve always been drawn to sister stories.

WL: You also write a lot about female friendships, correct?
EG: Yes. I think a lot of time when we don’t have a sister, friends become that. It’s typically old friends. There’s something about that shared history, which we saw in “Something Borrowed.” One was an only child, and Darcy had only a brother. So, I think our friends become like sisters to us.

WL: You’re known for writing great dialogue. Are there any tips you have for writers who are struggling with dialogue?
EG: Dialogue just comes naturally to me. Describing a scene, describing a room, setting the scene, is more of a struggle that takes me longer. I think there’s just different aspects of writing that are more natural to different writers. I’m very envious of people who can just describe the room, or the outdoor scenery so perfectly. But, I hear conversations in my head a lot. So, when I’m writing a conversation the words typically fly a lot more then when other things are happening on the written page.

WL: Have you ever thought about writing in other genres?
EG: I write about relationships and that feels so broad. They call this book [First Comes Love] women’s fiction, which is almost like one-half of the human experience. I don’t think I’ll ever write about anything other than relationships. I can see myself writing a young adult novel. I wrote a young adult novel that was ultimately not published. It was rejected soundly. I probably wouldn’t revisit that one, because I wrote it so many years ago and I think I’ve evolved as a writer and as a person. But, I love coming-of-age stories, and I love the young adult genre, so I can see trying that.

WL: What’s your writing schedule like? How long does it take you to write a book?
EG: About 18 months, a year and a half. I publish every other year. I have to approach it as my full-time job. Writing is one of those things you can do on the side. There’s not a lot of people who are accountants on the side, and I guess you could be a substitute teacher, but for me it’s a very full-time endeavor. I write 40-50 hours a week. I’m very slow, so it takes me a full-time approach.

WL: Best book you’ve read recently?
EG: Julia Claiborne Johnson’s “Be Frank With Me.” It’s about a precocious ten-year-old. I also love the book “Rich and Pretty” by Rumaan Alam that I read recently. It’s really good.

WL: What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
EG: I don’t write with messages in mind, but they usually emerge by the time I get to the end of the book. For this one, it’s the idea that you have to take control of your life. Also, that our lives don’t always unfold the way we want them to, and they don’t look like our Instagram page. But, we are in control of our choices, and we can carve out happiness even in unconventional ways.

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