On their first day of law school at UVA in the fall of 1994, Erinn Robinson knew there was something different about fellow first-year Emily Giffin.
At an ice-breaker, each student was asked to tell three stories. One story was to be fiction; the other two, fact. The students had to try to distinguish the true stories from the fabricated one. “Emily told these long, drawn-out, engaging stories that just captivated us all, just in the storytelling,” Robinson recalls. “I knew then she was going to have some kind of future as a writer.”
Some kind of writing future did indeed materialize: now 34, Giffin is the author of three popular novels—Something Borrowed, Something Blue and Baby Proof, released last summer. Something Borrowed and Something Blue made it to the New York Times best sellers list. Her books now have more than a million copies in print and have been translated into 12 languages. A movie deal is also in the works. A fourth novel, Love the One You’re With, is due out in June 2008.
Not bad, some would say, for an author whose publishing record stretches back just a few years.
After graduating from UVA in 1997, Giffin thrived professionally, practicing law in New York City. But she discovered that law wasn’t her true calling. She moved to London in 2001 to pursue writing, her true passion, just days after Sept. 11.
In her Hyde Park flat, Giffin began to create the world of Rachel and Darcy, characters in her first book, Something Borrowed, a story of two best friends caught in a love triangle. Her writing caught on almost immediately. There were no years of trial, no rejections letters to pin to the walls of her London flat. Something Borrowed, published in 2004, became a New York Times best seller. In 2005 came Something Blue. In 2006, people were lining up at book signings all over the country to get an autographed copy of Baby Proof, her third and latest novel, but to also talk to the writer about her characters from her earlier novels.
Giffin’s books focus on relationships and their complexities, exploring deception, fear and forgiveness within the framework of young women finding their way in the world. Some call her writing “chick lit,” but don’t let the covers—or the label—fool you. Reviewers hail her writing as rich, smart and heartfelt. The San Francisco Chronicle wrote: “When it comes to writing stories that resonate with real women, best-selling author Emily Giffin has hit her stride.” The Washington Post called Baby Proof “a thought-provoking meditation on our culture’s focus on parenthood and family.”
What matters to Giffin is that she is writing books about people and stirring conversations about her characters, their dreams and motivations, as if they are real people. “People are always asking, ‘What is Darcy going to do next?’ or ‘How’s Rachel?’” says Giffin, referring to the protagonists in her first two books. “My dad thinks Darcy and Rachel live in my basement.”
In Something Borrowed, Rachel, a mousy, conscientious lawyer, tells the story of her relationship with her beautiful best friend, Darcy, a woman so self-obsessed that she makes herself the center of attention at a surprise birthday party she throws for Rachel.
Darcy is engaged to the handsome, successful Dex. Rachel and Dex embark on an affair. Rachel tells her side of things and what it’s like to have been friends for years with someone as perfect as Darcy.
Giffin turns the tables in Something Blue, telling the story from Darcy’s point of view.
Her most recent book, Baby Proof, does not continue the saga of Rachel and Darcy, to the disappointment of many fans. Giffin says she wanted to plumb another kind of rich relationship, that of husband and wife, when the husband decides he’s changed his mind and wants to have children after all. “I wanted to explore if there is ever a deal-breaker in true love,” Giffin says.
Giffin, who married Hartley “Buddy” Blaha (Com ’87) at the UVA chapel in 2002, now lives in Atlanta. The couple has twin 3-year-olds, Edward and George.
Relationships are behind her love of writing. “That’s what I like most about writing,” says Giffin. “The relationships—husband-wife, mother-daughter—and what’s beautiful and complicated about them. That’s what life is all about. You have what you do, but life is really the sum of all your relationships.”
Though she no longer practices law, Giffin’s legal skills still come in handy—they’ve helped her immensely in analyzing contracts, book deals and movie negotiations. Law school was tough, she recalls, but she made wonderful friends among her classmates and professors. She still stays in touch with Paul Mahoney, who taught her contracts law, and the two discuss both ACC sports and chick lit. “I can’t believe I got the brilliant Paul Mahoney to read a pink book,” she jokes, referring to Something Borrowed. “Now that’s an accomplishment!”