The One & Only

A Novel

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Emily Giffin, the beloved author of such novels as Something Borrowed and Where We Belong, returns with an extraordinary story of love and loyalty—and an unconventional heroine struggling to reconcile both.

Thirty-three-year-old Shea Rigsby has spent her entire life in Walker, Texas—a small college town that lives and dies by football, a passion she unabashedly shares. Raised alongside her best friend, Lucy, the daughter of Walker’s legendary head coach, Clive Carr, Shea was too devoted to her hometown team to leave. Instead she stayed in Walker for college, even taking a job in the university athletic department after graduation, where she has remained for more than a decade.

But when an unexpected tragedy strikes the tight-knit Walker community, Shea’s comfortable world is upended, and she begins to wonder if the life she’s chosen is really enough for her. As she finally gives up her safety net to set out on an unexpected path, Shea discovers unsettling truths about the people and things she has always trusted most—and is forced to confront her deepest desires, fears, and secrets.

Thoughtful, funny, and brilliantly observed, The One & Only is a luminous novel about finding your passion, following your heart, and, most of all, believing in something bigger than yourself . . . the one and only thing that truly makes life worth living.

Praise for The One & Only:
“A page turner.”Southern Living

The One & Only is one to read.”Associated Press

“Giffin scores again by bringing her discerning understanding of matters of the heart.”Family Circle

“A poignant story about growing up and growing into your own skin.”BookPage
“Touching.”New York Daily News
“Deep, beautifully written . . . [Emily Giffin’s] latest focuses on a forbidden love of sorts, but in a new setting: a fictional small college town in Texas.”Marie Claire

“Each and every page of this story is entertaining. . . . Giffin is a talented writer who always comes up with a plot that is just a bit different than anything others are writing about. . . . Find a shady spot; get a cool drink, and just luxuriate in the joy of a book well written.”The Huffington Post

“Brace yourself for a tearjerker: A tale of friendship and loyalty in a small, football-crazed Texas town shows how quickly things can change when tragedy challenges all that the characters hold dear . . . [A] page-turner.”InStyle

“[Giffin’s] protagonists . . . live full, interesting lives outside the purely personal realm—no more so than Shea Rigsby, the funny, flawed, but sympathetic central character in the The One & Only.”The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“In bestseller Giffin’s much-anticipated latest, a young woman’s life is upended when tragedy strikes the football-obsessed Texas town she’s always called home.”People

“To fill your Friday Night Lights void: A tale of die-hard love in a diehard Texas football town from the bestselling author of Something Borrowed.”Cosmopolitan

Under the Cover

An excerpt from The One & Only

I should have been thinking about God. Or the meaning of life. Or simply grieving the fact that my best friend was now motherless and my own mother without her best friend. Instead, I found myself gazing into the sleek mahogany coffin lined with generous folds of ivory silk, silently critiquing Mrs. Carr’s lipstick, a magenta with blue undertones that subtly clashed with her coral dress, the same one she had worn to Lucy’s wedding nearly five years ago.

More problematic than the shade of lipstick, though, was the application. Someone, clearly low on the beauty-­industry totem pole, had colored just outside the lines as if to create fuller lips. It was an optical illusion that never fooled anyone and seemed wholly unnecessary given the circumstances. After all, there would be no photos taken today. No professional albums filled with various combinations of family and friends, posing with Mrs. Carr, horizontal but front and center. In fact, the entire custom of fancying up a corpse for an open-­casket funeral seemed suddenly ridiculous. Cremation was definitely the way to go. It was the way I wanted to go, rather than risk the possibility of going out on a bad-­hair day. Without a husband or sibling, I made a mental note to convey my final wishes to Lucy after some time had passed. She was really the only person it made sense to tell. Besides, Lucy got shit done. She was like a decisive committee with no dissenting members. At least none who dared speak up.

“Do you need anything?” I whispered to her now, breaking into the endless line of friends, family, and virtual strangers offering condolences. I had never seen so many people at a funeral, and, combined with everyone who had come to the wake the night before, it seemed that most of our small town had made an appearance.

“A Kleenex,” she whispered. In contrast to the past three days, she was dry-­eyed, but looked to be on the verge of a fresh breakdown, her blue eyes glassy and round. I handed her a tissue from my purse, once again conjuring her wedding, when I had vigilantly shadowed her with mints and a compact of powder.

“Anything else? Water?” I asked, thinking that it felt good to be needed for once, and it was a shame that it took a major rite of passage to turn the tables on our usual dynamic.

Lucy shook her head as I returned to the second pew, where she had instructed me to sit, along with my parents. She had all the details covered—­from the seating to the hymn selection to the white orchids on the altar—­which was why it was so surprising that she hadn’t noticed her mother’s lipstick last night at the wake, when there was still an opportunity to fix it. At least I hoped she hadn’t noticed it, because as a corollary to her efficiency, Lucy was cursed with the crippling capacity to dwell on even the most trivial matters for weeks, sometimes years. Like the grudge she was sure to hold against Angel, her mother’s hairdresser, who dared to be away this week, on a Caribbean cruise no less. If not to return to do her mother’s hair, Lucy had ranted, then at least to pay her respects to her best client. Secretly, I thought Angel should have been afforded some slack; surely her vacation had been planned for months, and logistically it must be pretty tough to get off a ship on such short notice. But it wasn’t Lucy’s style to cut anyone slack, especially when it came to a slight to her family, whether perceived or real. As her oldest and closest friend, I was also a beneficiary of her extreme loyalty and had long since memorized her bright-­line rules. There was no gray area and no second chances, even when I could muster up my own forgiveness or indifference. That didn’t matter to Lucy, who stood by her creed: You’re dead to me.

There it was again. Dead. I shivered at the finality of it all, cursing the cancer that took Mrs. Carr’s life in ten months flat, not a single symptom until it was too late. Recognizing that praying wasn’t at all like riding a bicycle, I bowed my head and formed silent, clumsy words, doing my best not to question God’s existence while I asked Him for favors. Please help Lucy find a way to be happy without her mother. It felt like an impossible request, and the fact that she had her own daughter, just-­turned-­four-­year-­old Caroline, who was too young to attend the funeral or one day remember her Gigi, seemed to heighten all the emotions of loss. A new generation was a constant reminder of everything Mrs. Carr was going to miss. Birthdays, benchmarks, all of life’s momentous firsts stretched ahead without her.

I turned my gaze and prayers to Lawton, Lucy’s brother, a carefree bachelor but still a mama’s boy to the core. He was standing beside his sister, mopping his face with a handkerchief, likely one Mrs. Carr had pressed for him in anticipation of this day. She had made a flurry of arrangements and plans over the past few months, including a morphine-­induced request for Lawton and me to marry. Kill two birds with one stone, she had said, not exactly a flattering or hopeful description. That wasn’t going to happen—­Lawton wasn’t my type and I was even less his—­but I had smiled and told her I’d work on it, while Lucy made a joke about every couple needing at least one grown-­up. I looked up at the sun streaming through the stained glass behind the altar, wondering if Mrs. Carr was somewhere up there watching us. And if so, could she read my mind? Just in case, I said a final goodbye to her, my throat tight and dry. Then I closed my eyes and mouthed Amen, aware of the glaring omission in my prayer: Coach Carr.

When I looked up again, he was directly in my line of vision, walking from the opposite end of the casket toward the pew in front of me, his hands clasped behind his back, the way he paced the sidelines of a game. I heard him exhale as he took his seat, close enough for me to touch his shoulder if I only extended my hand and leaned forward a few inches. But I couldn’t so much as look at him, hadn’t been able to in weeks, even when I dropped by the house with store-­bought casseroles and six-­packs of Shiner Bock. I knew he was devastated, and the mere notion that I might glimpse him in a vulnerable moment was unbearable, like looking at those award-­winning photos of soldiers or firemen, holding babies, weeping after a catastrophe. I firmly believed that it was always harder to be the one left behind, especially if you thought you were on your way to happily ever after.

Coach and Connie Carr’s story fittingly began at Walker University, the school with the same name as our small town in North Texas, where he was the star quarterback and she the prettiest cheerleader. Except for the one season he played for the Colts, just after Lucy and I were born, the Carrs never left Walker, as he worked his way up the coaching ladder from quarterbacks’ coach to offensive coordinator to the youngest—­and now the winningest—­head coach in Bronco history.

Coach Carr was something of a deity in our town, throughout the state of Texas, and in the world of college football, which happened to be the only world I truly cared about, and Connie had been royalty in her own right. She was more than the elegant coach’s wife, though. She worked tirelessly behind the scenes, as the ultimate fund-­raiser, administrator, social chair, therapist, surrogate mother. She sat with injured players in the hospital, wined and dined boosters, cajoled crotchety faculty, and soothed feelings on all sides. She made it look so easy, with her surplus of charm and kindness, but I knew how demanding and lonely her job could be. When Coach wasn’t physically gone—­on road games or out recruiting—­he was often mentally absent, obsessed with his team. Still, Mrs. Carr had never wavered in her support of her husband, and I honestly didn’t know what he would do without her.

I took a deep breath, catching a whiff of Coach Carr’s familiar Pinaud Clubman aftershave, a few airborne molecules triggering rapid-­fire memories. Lucy and me sitting on his office floor, playing board games while he drew up depth charts and play diagrams. The three of us riding in the front seat of his truck, my hand out the window, as we listened to country music and sports radio. Sneaking into the locker room with Lucy, not to glimpse the shirtless boys (although we did that, too) but to hear Coach’s passionate postgame speeches, thrillingly peppered with cusswords. Much like the one he gave me in his living room when I was seventeen, right after the cops decided not to arrest me for drinking and driving—­and instead dropped me off at the Carrs’. Coach, you got this one? I could still remember the look he gave me—­worse than spending the night in jail.

I allowed myself a fleeting glimpse of his profile now, afraid of what I would find, but comforted that he appeared as strong and rugged as ever. Not at all like a widower. He was a fit fifty-­five, but looked a decade younger thanks to a full head of hair, olive skin, and a strong bone structure. It wasn’t fair, I had thought for years, whenever I saw Lucy’s parents together. Mrs. Carr was beautiful, fighting age almost as viciously as she fought death, but her husband just kept getting better-­looking, the way it was for a lot of men. And now. Now it really wasn’t fair. It was a proper funeral musing—­the inequities of life and death—­and I felt relieved to be maintaining an appropriate train of thought, if not actual prayer.

But in the next second, the pendulum swung in the opposite direction, as I thought of football. Lucy said it was all I ever thought about, which was pretty close to true, at least before Mrs. Carr got sick. Even afterward, I found myself escaping to the game I loved, and I knew Coach did the same. It upset Lucy because she didn’t understand it. She would ask me, through tears, how he could care so much about signing a recruit or winning a game. Didn’t he see how little it mattered? I tried to explain that his job was a distraction, the one thing he could still control. Football was our touchstone. A constant. Something to hold on to as a bright light burned out in Walker, Texas, our little version of Camelot.

A few seconds later, Lucy and Lawton sat down, flanking their father, and the sight of three of them, instead of four, was more than I could take. My throat tightened as the organ began to play. Loud, mournful notes filled the church. I could hear my mother softly weeping between chords, and could see Lawton and Lucy wiping their eyes. I glanced around so I wouldn’t cry, anything to distract me in that final lull before the service began.

I spotted my boyfriend, Miller, who had played for Coach years ago, during my faded era, standing with a few former teammates in the far aisle. They all looked lost in their ill-­fitting suits and shined-­up shoes, unaccustomed to Walker gatherings that weren’t celebratory in nature—­pep rallies, parades, and booster dinners. Miller gave me a two-­finger wave with a half smile as he fanned himself with his program. I looked away, pretending not to see him. Partly because I knew Lucy didn’t approve of him. Partly because I still felt a knot of guilt for having been in bed with him when she called with the final news, my ringer accidentally turned off. But mostly because it just wasn’t the time to be waving at your boyfriend, especially one you weren’t sure you really loved.

“No riffraff at the house,” Lucy declared immediately after the burial as she marched down the grassy embankment toward Neil’s freshly washed Tahoe. I’d known it was only a matter of time before her sadness turned to anger—­and was actually surprised that she had held out this long. Coach had once joked that Lucy had only two gears—­happy and angry.

“Define riffraff,” I asked—­because I really wasn’t sure what she meant other than that she cast a wider net than I did when it came to such categories.

“Boosters. Fans. All players, past or present. Except Ryan. Mom loved Ryan,” she finished decisively, tightening the belt of her long black trench coat.

Mrs. Carr did love Ryan James, who happened to be Walker’s only Heisman Trophy winner, but she had also adored every sorry benchwarmer and earnest walk-­on ever to come through the program. I exchanged an anxious glance with Neil, who calmly said his wife’s name.

“Don’t ‘Luce’ me,” she snapped under her breath. “I mean it. I’ve had enough. Family and close friends only.”

“How do you plan on enforcing that?” Neil asked, glancing around at the droves of acquaintances making their way to the circular drive surrounding the Carr family plot. He pushed his retro oversize glasses—­the kind you could only pull off when you were as boyishly cute as Neil—­up on his nose and said, “Half the town’s on the way over there now.”

“I don’t care. They weren’t even supposed to be at the cemetery. What part of private don’t they get? And they aren’t coming to the house. They aren’t. Tell them, Lawton.”

“Tell who what?” Lawton asked, appearing completely disoriented, useless as ever.

“Tell Shea and Neil that it’s time for family and close friends only,” she replied, for our benefit more than his. She reached up to make sure that no loose strands of hair had escaped her tight, low bun. They hadn’t, of course.

“But they think they are family, Lucy,” I said and could hear Mrs. Carr saying it now, referring to virtual strangers as part of “the Walker family.”

“Well, it’s offensive,” Lucy said, stumbling a bit as her heels sank into the fresh sod. Neil slipped one arm around her, catching her, and I contemplated how much worse this would be if she were in my shoes, alone. “I’m sick of these people acting like this is a tailgate at a damn bowl game. And if I see one more teal tie . . . Who wears teal to a funeral?” Her voice cracked just as Miller, in his teal and gold striped tie, loped toward us with an expression that neared jovial. I made eye contact with him and shook my head, but the gesture was far too nuanced for him.

“Yo. Shea. Wait up,” he called out as I noticed that he not only had donned his school colors but also had a “Class of 2001” Broncos pin centered on his lapel. How he’d managed to keep track of that thing for over a decade was beyond me, especially given that he’d lost his wallet twice since we’d been dating.

Lucy pivoted, squaring her slight frame to all six feet, four inches of Miller. “I’m sorry, Miller,” she said, her chin quivering. “Did you want to sing the fight song for us? Or just relive the glory days when you were . . . relevant?”

“Whoa, whoa, girl. What’d I ever do to you?” Miller said, his emotional instincts on par with his sartorial sense. “Why you gotta call me unrelevant?”

“Irrelevant, Miller. Not to be confused with irregardless, which, by the way, also is not a word. And I’m calling you irrelevant because you are.” Lucy’s long, delicate fingers made artistic flourishes in the air.

“Fine, then,” Miller said, his cheeks even ruddier than usual, his curly sideburns damp with sweat despite the brisk February day. I had told him twice to get a haircut, but he hadn’t listened.

“I just wanted to tell you I’m sorry. Very sorry. For your family. For your loss. I really liked your mom. She was an awesome lady.”

The speech was heartfelt, I could tell, but Lucy refused to cave. I braced myself as she crossed her arms and said, “Oh, puh-­lease, Miller. The only loss you ever cared about was the one to Nebraska when you fumbled on the four-­yard line because you were so coked up.”

“I wasn’t coked up,” Miller said. “I just . . . dropped the damn ball. Jesus.”

I bit my lower lip, shocked that Lucy recollected the play, even the yardage. But she got the rest wrong. It was T. C. Jones who failed the drug test after the game, not Miller, who never really did coke, vastly preferring the mellowing effect of marijuana. In fact, based on his glassier than normal expression, there was a distinct possibility that he had smoked this morning. Maybe even on the car ride over.

“Luce,” Neil said, sliding his grip from her elbow to her forearm and gently guiding her to his car. A child psychiatrist, he had a calming effect on the most high-­strung children—­and the rare ability to soothe Lucy. “Come on now. Let’s go, honey.”

She didn’t reply, just gracefully climbed into the car, crossed her slender legs, and waited for Neil to close the door. As Lawton collapsed into the backseat, Lucy stared down at the pearl bracelet that once belonged to her mother.

“Are you coming with us?” Neil asked me. “Or going with your parents?”

I glanced back toward my mom and dad, walking toward her car. Although long divorced, they had managed to be civil to each other through this ordeal, and, to my relief and surprise, my dad had left his wife back in Manhattan.

Lucy answered for me through her half-­open window. “Neither,” she said. “I want her to ride with Daddy. He shouldn’t be driving alone. He’s being so stubborn.” She stared at me. “Okay, Shea?”

I hesitated.

“Just do it. And make sure he wears his seat belt. One death in the family is plenty,” she said as I looked up the hill, finding Coach Carr in a cluster of dark suits.

“But don’t you think he’d rather be alone?” I asked. “I’m sure he doesn’t want to make conversation—­”

“Well, you’re different,” she said, cutting me off. “He actually likes talking to you.”

Emily Giffin is the author of six New York Times bestselling novels: Something Borrowed, Something Blue, Baby Proof, Love the One You’re With, Heart of the Matter, and Where We Belong. A graduate of Wake Forest University and the University of Virginia School of Law, she lives in Atlanta lives with her husband and three young children.

Reading Group Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. Have you ever fallen in love with someone your family or friends did not approve of?

2. Lucy asks Shea to choose between their friendship and her relationship with Coach Carr. Have you ever been faced with a choice be- tween two people you care about?

3. One of the themes of The One & Only is forgiveness. Discuss some examples of characters who ask for forgiveness. In each instance, is forgiveness given? Is it earned?

4. Were you surprised by the relationship that develops between Coach Carr and Shea? Did you root for them to end up together?

5. Coach Carr texts Shea that “the best things in life only seem simple.” What do you think this means? Do you agree or disagree?

6. How does Connie’s death affect Shea? Compare and contrast Shea’s view of Connie to her relationship with her own mother.

7. Do you see Shea as an active or passive character? How does that change or develop over the course of the novel?

8. Do you think Shea was right to take the job reporting on Walker, even with her strong allegiances to the school? Where do you imagine her career takes her after the book is finished?

9. What would you do if you received a call like the one Shea receives from Blakeslee? Would you have confronted Ryan about Blakeslee’s accusations?

10. Shea lies about Miller being at the bar to avoid upsetting Ryan, and she and Coach Carr avoid telling Lucy about their romance for the same reason. Are these secrets justified? Do you think the final outcome in either situation would have been different if the people involved had been more honest?

11. Do you believe that Ryan did the things he was accused of? Do you see him as a good person? Do you think he, or people generally, can change?

12. Do you think Coach Carr acted appropriately when Ryan’s college girlfriend, Tish, told him Ryan had attacked her? Why do you think he responded the way he did? If you disagree with his handling of the situation, can you forgive him? Do you agree with how Shea handled things with Ryan? Should she have done more?

13. Another major theme in the book is the idea of following your passion. When is it good policy to base major life decisions around your passions? Does that strategy ever become misguided? Can you find examples of both in the book?

14. “It’s about loyalty,” Coach Carr tells Shea. “It’s about commitment to the people you love. Your wife. Your family. Your friends. Your team.” Discuss the concept of loyalty throughout the book. How is loyalty toward a person or relationship depicted as the same or different from loyalty toward a team? How do different characters react when their loyalties are in conflict?

15. Over the course of the novel, Shea learns to follow her heart, both in the romantic sense and as a broader approach to life. Can you think of a time you followed your heart even when it wasn’t necessarily the safe or easy decision?

A Conversation with Emily Giffin

Random House Reader’s Circle: What was your inspiration for The One & Only?

Emily Giffin: I’ve always been fascinated by complicated, unconventional relationships. I think, if we’re honest, many of us have a rather narrow definition of romantic love and have a tendency to dismiss, or at least feel uncomfortable with, anything that falls outside those parameters. In this story, I wanted to explore the idea of what happens when you fall in love with someone you shouldn’t. Can true love really conquer all, especially in the face of judgment and scrutiny from those outside of it? There are always several inspirations for any story, but that was one of the first seeds.

RHRC: Tell us about Shea. What made you want to tell her story?

EG: In many ways, Shea is a fairly typical woman in her early thirties. She’s single, living in her small hometown in Texas, and arriving at that moment in her life when she asks herself: Am I really living the life I’m meant to be living? I think many of us can relate to that moment of introspection, in which we consider whether we’re really meeting our destinies or simply living lives of convenience, comfort, or safety, perhaps more worried about conforming to the expectations of others than being true to ourselves. Loyalty to the people we love is one thing, but succumbing to their judgment is quite another—and sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference. Shea grapples with these questions in The One & Only, and has to decide what matters most to her. Since my first novel, Something Borrowed, this theme has really resonated with me—the idea of taking a risk, following your passion, and really trying to pursue an authentic life.

RHRC: The intricacies of female friendship are something else you write about, and The One & Only is no exception. Did you find yourself taking sides with Lucy or Shea?

EG: I usually find myself siding with my protagonist, or at least seeing things more from her point of view, particularly when I’m writing in the first person. So I certainly felt compassion for Shea and was rooting for her happiness. But I really understood Lucy’s feelings, too, and think I would have reacted exactly as she did. Bottom line, I had a lot of respect for Shea and Lucy’s very genuine and long-standing friendship, which made the stakes that much higher and caused quite a bit of angst for me as I wrote certain scenes. I tried to keep in mind that even the closest relationships can experience turbulence, and in some ways, the simple, straightforward ones aren’t the deepest or most worthwhile.

RHRC: Do you think your readers were surprised that you wrote a book with a sports backdrop? What made you choose this setting?

EG: I’m sure that some of my readers were surprised by the sports backdrop, but those who know me certainly are not. I have been passionate about college sports since I was a child, and even worked as the men’s basketball manager at Wake Forest during the Tim Duncan era. It was a colorful, intense experience that really defined my college years in a way that went far beyond the actual games played. The coaches, players, and staff were like a family to me, and remain an integral part of my life today. So I’ve always wanted to write a book that highlights the bonds and relationships that make the world of college athletics so special. That said, The One & Only isn’t really a sports book. At its core, it’s about a young woman dealing with difficult, im- portant life choices and learning to follow her passion—themes that could be richly explored in a sports setting.

RHRC: Why Texas?

EG: What is bigger, bolder, and more synonymous with football than Texas? Nothing! Plus, I thoroughly enjoyed my “research” in Dallas. If I’m going to write about steakhouses, margaritas, sports bars, and football in Texas, I need to sample them firsthand, right?

RHRC: Did you do any other research for the book?

EG: I gave the manuscript to several college coaches, including Hall of Famer Jim Boeheim of Syracuse University, who has just endured a lengthy and emotional NCAA investigation. I was so pleased when Coach Boeheim read the book and felt that I had created an authentic character in Coach Carr, while also capturing the feel of a big-time college program under scrutiny. Interestingly, though, Boeheim and I spent more time dissecting Shea and Lucy’s friendship than we did on the NCAA subplot or any coaching dynamics. I think this underscores the point that sports stories don’t belong solely to men any more than relationship stories belong only to women.

RHRC: Your novels often include cameos by past characters. Are there any surprise appearances in The One & Only?

EG: Yes, although this one is so subtle that only the most discerning readers (of Heart of the Matter, hint!) have recognized him. I love including past characters and giving readers updates on their lives without writing a whole sequel. Plus, I think it shows just how small the world can be.

RHRC: Your book deals with the subject of domestic abuse, particularly as it’s handled in the world of competitive sports. This is a subject that’s been in the news recently, with the NFL coming under scrutiny for its domestic violence policy. How challenging was it to write those scenes and why did you decide to include them in the story?

EG: The subject was very emotional and challenging for me, particularly as I wrote early drafts and really got to know the characters. I obviously abhor domestic violence of any kind and am so relieved to see that the issue, particularly as it relates to college and professional athletes, is being given the serious attention it deserves. Frankly, I also found it a bit eerie, though not surprising, that so many of the recent well publicized cases happened after the book was published. However, I never tell stories as a way of imparting a moral message, and it is important to remember that the plot of this book, specifically whether or not Ryan is guilty of the most serious charges against him, does not reflect my feelings on any other case or the greater societal problem. In many ways, the question of Ryan’s past innocence—and whether the characters in the story believed him and reacted properly—helped me raise other questions about love, loyalty, and forgiveness. I have my opinion as the writer, but I want readers to make those decisions for themselves.

RHRC: Tell us about your writing process. Did you know how The One & Only would end before you started writing it?

EG: I really didn’t. My writing process has always been organic and character-driven. I have a very general sense of beginning, middle, and end, but I never follow an outline and my stories nearly always take unexpected turns as I get to know the characters and they form relationships with one another. It can be an inefficient way to write a book, but I enjoy the surprises along the way. With The One & Only, the ending was far from clear-cut for me, and I was conflicted until the very end, right along with my characters. I like to think this means that my stories aren’t predictable. At least, I can’t predict them!

RHRC: You went on a book tour in the United States and Canada when The One & Only was released. What was it like interacting with readers on the road? Did anything surprise you about their reaction to the novel?

EG: For the most part writing is such a solitary endeavor, so I enjoy the opportunity to interact with readers on my book tours and have face-to-face dialogue about my characters and stories. That has been a very meaningful experience for me—which is why I also appreciate certain aspects of social media. As to readers’ reactions to The One & Only, I was not surprised that some had a difficult time accepting Shea’s choices. My books explore the gray areas of life and often feature char- acters making unsympathetic choices, and it’s always interesting to see how readers respond. Of course I would prefer that they find empathy and compassion for my characters rather than judgment or scorn, but that is ultimately out of my control. I think that is a powerful thing to remember in fiction and life people aren’t always going to agree with us or like us, and that is okay. I just hope that the story as a whole resonates with my readers and perhaps helps them to analyze their own relationships, beliefs, and lives.

RHRC: When dealing with a sensitive topic, how do you approach a character whose actions you don’t necessarily agree with?

EG: As a writer, it can be tempting to try to dictate morality or happy endings, but ultimately, I think those stories feel less realistic and compelling. So I do my best to stay true to the characters I’ve created and really try to determine what they would do in certain situations, not what I would do or what we wish for them to do. In that way, fiction can sometimes feel like motherhood and friendship. We want the best for the people we love, but we can’t always control those outcomes, and sometimes it can be difficult to even know what the best outcome really is. Life can be morally ambiguous and relationships can be messy, and I like exploring this nuanced terrain. I believe most people are good at heart and sincerely trying to do the right thing. Yet we are all capable of missteps and hurting the people we love, and we must grapple with the guilt and regret that come from these mistakes and weaknesses. In the end, I think it all comes down to empathy and forgiveness. I can’t imagine writing a book without those themes.

RHRC: Talk about the evolution of your books. How do you think they have changed since you published your first novel in 2004?

EG: A lot has changed in my life since I wrote my first book. When I quit my job as a lawyer to write full time, I was in my twenties, living in London, unpublished, unmarried, and childless. Now I’m in my early forties, married with three children, and living a relatively suburban existence with an established writing career. I think in many ways my characters have grown up with me, and I like to think that there is more depth to my books as I mature as a person and writer. That isn’t to say I don’t enjoy writing about younger characters and won’t continue to do so. In fact, I have always gravitated to coming-of-age stories in both fiction and film.

RHRC: Do you think you’ll ever write a different kind of book?

EG: It depends on what you mean by “a different kind of book.” I’ll never write a legal thriller (particularly because my experience with the law was decidedly mundane!) or a fantasy or really any genre other than mainstream fiction. That said, I think all my books are different, just as all my protagonists are different. The one thing my novels all have in common—and will always have in common—is their focus on relationships. Relationships fascinate me whether between sisters, brothers, parents and children, husbands and wives, friends and lovers. We have our passions and professions, but at the end of the day, nothing is more important than our relationships. I believe that they really define who we are as people and what we want from our lives.

RHRC: What’s next for you professionally?

EG: I’m involved in several book-to-film projects and hope to see The One & Only on the big or small screen. But professionally speaking, writing novels will remain my focus. Although the writing process can be frustrating and daunting, I truly love what I do and feel that it is my calling. I am so grateful that there are readers out there who connect with my characters and stories, and hope that happens for a long time to come.

Book Trailer

The One & Only

A Novel


The One & Only

— Published by Ballantine Books —