In real life, Luke Bryan would probably never play a show at a tiny bar in a strip mall off the beaten path in Nashville. That’s why I like fiction so much better than reality. And it’s why I was hooked on Emily Giffin’s brand-new bestseller — All We Ever Wanted — just a few pages in.
I won’t give away the entire storyline, but just know that Nashville and country music have starring roles; not only Nashville (and its honky-tonks and pedal taverns) in general but in precise ways. Two of the main characters live worlds apart: one in Belle Meade and one in East Nashville. So when I had a chance to ask Giffin about why she set her story in Nashville this time around, she told me it all came down to the fact that she just saw the characters living in Nashville.
CMT.com: A Luke Bryan concert at 3rd and Lindsley? That’s not likely in real life. He probably wouldn’t go from selling out 50,000 seats at a stadium to playing an acoustic show for about 700 people. But still, the night of that show made so much sense to set the stage for the conflict between the book’s main characters. How did you decide on that artist at that bar.
Giffin: I love that venue, and I did ask a few people in the industry about ticket prices and the possibility about Luke Bryan performing a pop-up show there. And I happen to also really like his music, so that was a bonus to give my characters such great seats at an awesome show!
Part of me was fascinated just because of what a compelling story this was, but another part of me was just so intrigued by the setting. Did you decide on Nashville for a specific reason, or did you have the story idea and then just had to choose where it should live?
As the story evolved and I knew I was going to be writing about social class and privilege, I moved the setting from Atlanta (where I live and where I set my last book) to Nashville. I specifically chose to write about Belle Meade and East Nashville, two very different neighborhoods, vibes, and worlds. Atlanta has that diversity as well, but is a much larger, more geographically sprawling city. I liked that Nashville was more compact and cross-cultural. More important, and it’s a hard thing to articulate, but I just saw my characters living in Nashville. It felt right.
In the acknowledgments, you thanked someone named Bryan Lamb for his Nashville insights. Who is he? Did you rely solely on him, or do you know Nashville as well? When one of the characters was driving his Uber and picked up the women at No. 308 on Gallatin Avenue, I knew someone really understood the city to know about that one very cool bar.
Bryan Lamb is one of my best friends from college. A Nashville native, he was able to help so much with local color, including restaurants, neighborhoods, and the Belle Meade Country Club, where he worked as a bag boy during his teen years. But I do have to take credit for the No. 308 on Gallatin! After Bryan filled me in on Nashville generally, I visited the city several times so that I could be sure to get scenes just right. It was fun to add my favorites to Bryan’s favorites.
You really did capture the real Nashville. So many people think it’s only about the honky-tonks up and down Lower Broadway, but it goes way deeper that than. Was it your intention to reveal that Nashville, or is that just a side effect of writing a story in a new setting?
I’m very purposeful about my settings, and I always hope they add another layer to the story. In other words, I don’t choose them randomly. At the same time, though, I never want the city to become a more important character than the actual characters, and I never want to write about the extremes or generic stereotypes of a particular city or setting. The nuances of people and place are infinitely more interesting to me.
Giffin, a graduate of Wake Forest University and the University of Virginia School of Law, has written nine New York Times bestsellers, Something Borrowed, Something Blue, Baby Proof, Love the One You’re With, Heart of the Matter, Where We Belong, The One & Only, First Comes Love and All We Ever Wanted.