Emily Giffin First Comes Love Interview
Emily Giffin Talks Life, Relationships, and Her New Novel, First Comes Love
Emily Giffin's latest novel, First Comes Love, is as wildly entertaining and true to life as fans of the popular author would expect. With seven New York Times bestselling novels under her belt, Emily returns with a heartfelt story about a pair of sisters, Josie and Meredith, who find themselves in two very different stages of life. It's been 15 years since tragedy struck their family, and as the sisters navigate through new, difficult decisions and painful memories, they're forced to face what they've lost, where they've ended up, and whether they've become the women they really want to be.
A longtime fan of Emily's books, I always dive into her novels with high expectations, and First Comes Love checked off every box. Lovable, relatable characters? Definitely. Fascinating, complicated relationships? Plenty of them. What really sets this book apart, though, is the emotional undercurrent — the rich and complex dynamic within a family that's coping with grief. It's raw and realistic, the sort of story that sits with you long after you've put it down.
I had the chance to talk to Emily about her new novel and her characters, plus what she's learned about life (and herself) through writing. Oh, and she also shared an update on the Something Blue film adaptation — which, yes, is happening soon!
**Heads up: If you'd like to avoid any hints about First Comes Love, stop reading!**
POPSUGAR: What inspired you to focus on sisters this time around?
Emily Giffin: I don't know why it took me so long to write about sisters because my relationship with my sister is so central to my life. She's my closest friend, my biggest supporter, and I know she would say the same about me. I've always loved sister stories in fiction, from the time I was little, reading about Beezus and Ramona. I've always wanted to write a sister story.
PS: Did you talk to your sister about the story as you were exploring Josie and Meredith's dynamic?
EG: Yes, well, not because I was writing about sisters, but because she's one of the three people who read everything I write as I write it. It's my mother, my sister, and my best friend Nancy. I try to be true to the characters that I've created and sometimes I disagree with them, but their opinions about the story and the characters really matter to me. My sister was able to separate herself more from our relationship and see Josie and Meredith. My mother was someone who kept saying — Meredith has the no-shoe-in-the-house thing, and [my sister] Sarah has the no-shoe-in-the-house thing — and my mom's like, "Do you think that's going to offend Sarah?" And I'm like, "No, Mom. That's Meredith, not Sarah. She's going to see that and it'll be fine." My mother's just a worrier.
PS: Personally, I saw parts of myself in both Josie and Meredith, even though they're such different characters. Did you connect with one of them more than the other?
EG: I always find something in common with my protagonist, particularly when I write in the first person. I definitely found that to be the case with both of these girls too. Meredith is a mother and I'm a mother, so we have that in common. I have slightly more in common with her, but I think I love Josie more. Maybe I saw some of my worst traits in Meredith. It's funny — at one point my mom said, "Meredith has yours and Sarah's best traits and worst traits." I'm like, wow, that's a lot of things going on in Meredith.
PS: Both characters have such sweet relationships with Meredith's daughter, Harper. I really loved Harper, and I'm curious — did she have any elements of your daughter, Harriet, in her?
EG: Definitely. I think it's inevitable. I write about relationships and I try to create real-life characters, so it's inevitable that I'm going to draw on that. There were some nods to Harriet as I wrote. We are so close.
PS: My favorite relationship in the book is the one between Josie and her best friend, Gabe.
EG: Oh, me too.
PS: It's so refreshing to see a platonic guy-girl relationship front and center. That's so rare unless it's a When Harry Met Sally situation.
EG: And [Harry and Sally] ended up sleeping together.
PS: Exactly. I realized I was almost waiting for that, you know? And I think you play with that in a really fun way. What was it like to explore Josie and Gabe's relationship?
EG: I'm with you. Some of my very closest friends are my guy friends, going back to the third grade, so I believe in the integrity of the male-female friendship. Like you said, I played with it [in First Comes Love], and if you felt that way, it's because I felt that way while I was writing it. It crossed my mind multiple times that they could go in that direction, you know, if either one of them drinks enough, or if something else happens. But ultimately, I think they have a really beautiful, perfect friendship.
PS: I'm always impressed by how realistic the dialogue is in your books — the conflict between Rachel and Darcy in Something Borrowed comes to mind. And First Comes Love feels so true to life. Can you tell me a bit about what it's like to write those tougher scenes, especially when it's about family and grief and loss?
"Sometimes there are happy endings, sometimes there aren't, and more often there are shades of gray."
EG: This book lends itself to more layers because it's a family, and it's not an examination of one friendship or one relationship. The fact that it's rooted in this tragedy that happened 15 years before adds another layer and really shows how we all deal with grief so differently, even within one family. You expect siblings who share the same genes and the same experience to react to things in a similar way, and I think because of that expectation, the fact that we don't sometimes creates the ultimate misunderstanding. Look at Meredith and Josie: Meredith thought that Josie was acting out, being irresponsible, being selfish, and really it was very much the opposite. I think sometimes we don't give our siblings the benefit of the doubt. We make assumptions because we know them so well.
PS: This is your eighth novel, and as always, I love the way you write in cameos for characters from your past books. Was it fun to revisit the Love the One You're With relationship?
EG: It's so much fun because I wonder about them. Although I know that they're fictional and I wrote them and I can have them do anything, it's almost like a mini discovery for me too. In the back of my head, I always knew that Ellen and Andy [from Love the One You're With] would stay together, and I always knew that they would have children, but I didn't know what the gender would be. And then I wrote that cameo and it's like, "Oh good! They're doing well. They're happy."
PS: I really liked that those characters popped up again, because both books deal with the "what if" question — people who wonder whether they're doing the right thing or if they're in the right place in their lives. Has writing about the "what if" dilemma given you any insights into that feeling over the years?
EG: Definitely. I think the most well-adjusted people live in the present with an eye toward the future — I'm not among those. I'm nostalgic and I do think about a "what if." I think some of the biggest time sucks are regret and guilt, and I have to fight against those things all the time. In a way, it's a good thing, because it can motivate you to make amends and forgive, but regrets are really, I think, a supreme waste of time in many ways. You learn the very most from mistakes, so even though I continue to explore [the "what if" theme], I think my answers in my own head have evolved, and I think my characters have evolved a little bit too.
Also, I think that we have to consciously be aware that every moment we're in, every different stage in our lives, we can control. That's one of the biggest themes in the book. Meredith and Josie were focused on what happened 15 years before. Josie obviously had a lot of guilt and regret about that night, and Meredith is having this eye toward, "Let me live this perfect life so that I can somehow compensate for my parents and for myself," and you can't do that. You have to say: "Where am I going?" You take control, steer your life in the direction that you want it to be in, and things aren't going to be perfect. Josie wanted to meet The One and fall in love and have a baby. That wasn't happening for her, so she makes this decision that she's going to control things. And in my stories, I think, as I've gotten older, the characters have become stronger and more independent, and more capable of making unconventional decisions.
You announced on the TODAY show that you're in talks for either TV or a movie for First Comes Love — that's so exciting! Do you have any dream casting ideas?
EG: You know, I really don't. When I write, I picture the characters a certain way in my head, and they're not like any actor or actress. It's almost hard for me to let go of my ideas as to the way they look. I have to consciously let go of the book and then enter the world of film. That said, I think Reese Witherspoon would be so great, and interesting for either character. What do you think?
PS: My first instinct, which was the same — that she could be either Josie or Meredith — was Kristen Bell.
EG: Oh yeah!
PS: She can be surprisingly serious sometimes, but then she obviously plays the other side really well, too.
EG: Right, right. I like that. I think it depends, too, just from a practical standpoint, whether it's TV or film. They haven't decided yet. I like the idea [of TV], because the story goes back and forth between the past and the present, and because there are so many characters and so many ways that you could explore it. But I love film too.
PS: Right now you're busy with your book tour, and you're so open with your fans at book signings and on social media. Anything people might be surprised to hear about you?
EG: I don't think there's any one thing. I'm very open in terms of sharing bits about my life, but I think it's very easy to get a distorted sense of who anyone is through social media. I don't convey that I can be moody or a perfectionist or that I'm a nervous person, but I am all those things. It's just not going to shine through when you're posting a picture. You post a Halloween picture and they don't know that I took 20 versions and said to the kids, "Get back there! Harriet, no fake smiles!" That sort of thing. And again, that goes back to Meredith's plight in the book — what life is supposed to look like, what it does look like, and what we can control.
PS: As a writer, I wonder, is the process really different for you with each novel? Was there anything that set this one apart?
EG: The process has remained remarkably the same through the 15 years that I've been writing novels. I've tried consciously to do it differently: to be more efficient, to have an outline, to know where I'm going, to not have that panic that comes at the one-third mark where I'm saying, "I have no idea what to do next." But really, for me, it always starts with a really vague premise, and then I come up with the characters. And then as the characters form relationships on the page, they drive the course of the novel and the plot.
I always write chronologically, and I don't skip around, because I don't know what's going to happen until I meet the people. It's sort of like you know exactly what your sister and your best friend and your husband will do in a situation, you kind of know what they're going to do and what they're going to say. But you don't know what a new friend would do, and that's kind of how it is when I'm writing. As I get to know them, it becomes more clear to me what they'll do, and sometimes I was wrong about my early feelings.
PS: Do you find yourself going back and changing things regularly, or do you just go with it more often than not?
EG: Very seldom do I truly go back and change the course, but I'll change my mind. For example, with Something Borrowed, I thought, what would happen if you fell in love with your best friend's fiancé? I came up with all the characters, and when I started writing, Rachel and Dex were engaged, and then I thought, this isn't interesting, so I switched that around but it was still the same characters and the same premise. In my mind, I thought, Rachel is going to jettison this guy because it's tainted over how it started, and she's going to go out on her own and move to London. But then as I wrote that, and wrote those scenes with them together, I could feel how in love they were. So you don't want to break them up. You don't want her to go off into the sunset and be this independent woman just for the sake of being an independent woman.
Whether they end up together, or whether they don't, is very driven by who that person is, who that character is, and not what I think would make a great story or a great end. I'm not trying to convey a message, I'm just trying to tell a story. That's how life is. Sometimes there are happy endings, sometimes there aren't, and more often there are shades of gray.