College athletics is something Giffin, 42, knows well. She managed Wake Forest University’s men’s basketball team as an undergraduate and has since continued to develop friendships in the world of sports. (The new book’s gotten positive blurbs from NBA Hall of Famer Ralph Sampson and current Syracuse coaching great Jim Boeheim, who gave input on an early draft.)
“Sports is a metaphor for life,” says Giffin, making that sound less like a tired cliche than a fresh and interesting setting in which to chronicle Shea’s quest to forge healthy, fulfilling personal and professional relationships — and maybe even find true love.
The AJC spoke with Giffin as the married mother of twin 10-year-old boys and a 7-year-old daughter prepared to embark on a book tour.
Which did you come up with first, the personal plotline or the football backdrop?
Giffin: I decided I wanted to explore the idea of unconventional love. Too often, we think our lives and our relationships should look and be a certain way. But what if you wanted something that didn't make sense on paper? What if you fell in love with the one person you shouldn't? Then I thought about settings. There were a lot that could work for that, but I've always wanted to write a story with sports as a backdrop.
It encompasses so many other things beyond the games — loyalty, commitment to a common goal, commitment to something other than yourself. When Shea's first being interviewed for the sportswriting job, she says it's the emotion that makes us care. It's why you can be watching Olympic coverage of a Russian luger and really be rooting for him like he was your brother … The job taps into what I love to do, which is explore the gray areas of life, the complexities. Things aren't always straightforward, there are shades of gray in everything. That was something I could explore with the ethics of her journalism.
What, we’re not emotional enough about college football here for you to set the story in Georgia?
(laughing) I wanted to (use) a geography that’s synonymous with the sport. I thought about Indiana (with) basketball and Texas with football. Texas is like a character in its own right. Nothing else seemed as big and colorful. I went down there, did a lot of research and ate a lot of guacamole!
Is it true your writing “career” began with keeping journals when you were young?
Yes, I had an absurd streak. From the fifth grade to when I graduated from law school (at the University of Virginia) I never missed a day. I always say it’s testimony more to my (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) than my love of writing!
Were you also a big reader?
As a writer, it’s really hard to separate your love of reading from writing. My mother is a retired librarian, and as such, an important part of my life revolved around reading. We would go to the library once or twice a week, especially in the summer. My sister and I would each choose our books, talk about them a lot and read aloud.
What about with your own children now?
We read aloud. I just read “Wonder” (by R.J. Palacio) aloud to them. It’s about a boy born with massive facial abnormalities, written in his voice. It’s for young readers, but I’ve recommended it to my mothers book group which just read it. My sons read more on their own now, but we still read aloud at night. I just read “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane” (by Kate DiCamillo) with them.
Three kids, Atlanta traffic … How do you even find time to write novels?
I will start by saying that I think motherhood is all about compromise and balance. That’s true if you work outside the home or stay at home. We all do the best we can, there’s no such thing as having it all, and we all make compromises. Because so many people write as a hobby, I think they maybe think I’m just more prolific at it. It’s my full-time job, and I treat it that way. I work 40 to 50 hours a week, and when I’m done with a book I go on the road and promote it. It’s not any more impressive that I find the time to write, than, say, that a third grade teacher finds the time to be a third grade teacher.
It feels like there’s a continuum and growth in your main characters’ life experiences with each book. Are they keeping pace with you? Or is it more about trying different things as a writer?
My characters have really grown up with me. When I wrote “Something Borrowed,” I was 29, single and childless and living in New York and then London. And now I’m 42, and married with three kids. So of course it’s natural to think they’d kind of evolve with me. I also think I’ve gotten better as a writer and more confident in my voice. I always share something with my protagonist, some aspect of my personality. But a friend of mine read this book and he said, “Shea reminds me of you more than anyone (of your other characters).” I thought, “What? I’m married with children and an established career.” But, I can see where he’s coming from.