Adele Griffin, THE FAVOR

Adele Griffin, THE FAVOR

National Book Award finalist Adele Griffin joins Zibby to discuss The Favor, a wise and warmhearted story of two very different women who make an unexpected connection when one carries a baby for the other. Adele describes how her own fertility struggles and surrogacy journey inspired this story and then discusses the topics she enjoyed exploring, from unconventional female friendships to vintage clothing. She also talks about her background in children’s books, shares her best advice for aspiring writers, and reveals what book she’s currently reading.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Adele. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss The Favor.

Adele Griffin: Thank you for inviting me. I’m excited.

Zibby: I’m excited too. I’m really loving it. It’s so good. I have been obsessed with Evelyn. The way that you write, the interior thoughts of — wait, what is the main character’s name? I’m totally blanking.

Adele: Nora.

Zibby: Nora, of course. The way you write her interior thoughts is so funny and so smart. The whole thing, I’m just loving it, the vintage world. I’m really, really loving it. It’s really good.

Adele: That makes me so happy. Thank you.

Zibby: You’re welcome. Maybe start by telling listeners what The Favor is about now that I’ve kind of jumped in and mangled it.

Adele: Of course. The Favor tells the story of Nora Hammond, a woman who, by day, loves working at this beautiful vintage clothes store, I’ll Have Seconds, in New York City. Then at home, Nora’s dealing with harder things. She and her husband Jacob are really struggling under a mountain of debt from IVF treatments, but they’re no closer to family. Their very last embryo is frozen, and I guess they are too as they try to figure out next steps. Then one day, into Nora’s store bursts Evelyn Elliot, who is this extrovert. Evelyn’s full of fun and money. She buys out the shop. She bonds with Nora. Soon, Nora is living her best life running around with Evelyn. She also is doing personal assistant things, so there’s sort of a power imbalance there. Things don’t get really complicated until Evelyn offers to carry a baby for Nora, which sets off the roller coaster of the book.

Zibby: I actually did not see that coming. I don’t like to read the descriptions of the books. I just go in. I was like, what?

Adele: So was I.

Zibby: That wasn’t what you had planned?

Adele: I guess it always was. We learn early on that Nora and Jacob have been having trouble trying to conceive a child for several years and that it’s been a big strain on the marriage. When I was thinking of the story, I did decide to center the book on fertility challenges and how they can affect women’s lives because my husband and I also struggled with the same challenges of infertility. We ended up being very, very fortunate to have our two sons through a surrogate, through surrogacy, but not in terms of any big drama of what’s in The Favor. I knew one day I would want to write about some of this.

Zibby: Interesting. You even have Frankie at the store as a model for having twins via surrogate with her husband, and how Nora was sort of enticed into that. It’s so much easier to do anything once you know somebody who’s done it.

Adele: That’s true. I think that’s really true. I knew I wanted to connect with that emotional through line of the heart of the story. I’d find that feeling and connect with readers through my own lived experience, but for a lot of years, I knew I also just wasn’t ready to write the story. By the time I finally got to become a mom, I kind of wanted to just be a mom. I was a kids’ book writer, so a lot of my life was like, I’m a mom. I’m doing the book fairs. I’m packing school lunches. At some point, I thought, I’ll be ready to share this, but I just have to wait and let it percolate and let it turn into the story that it did. It took some time to get there.

Zibby: How old are your sons?

Adele: My sons are fifteen and eleven.

Zibby: Okay, so that’s exactly how long it took to get there.

Adele: That’s how long it took.

Zibby: I’m sorry that you had to go through those feelings of loss and the struggle to get there, but how wonderful that you had a surrogate that — was it the same surrogate for both boys, or different ones?

Adele: Different surrogates for each of the boys. It was cathartic, really, when we were going through it. There is stigma around, I think still a little bit, unconventional paths to motherhood. I still do feel a little bit like, my gosh, I’m talking about this thing. At the same time, I knew I didn’t want to be silent about it because the book is also a pretty positive and uplifting story about something that — there are room for all the crime stories and the legal thrillers and all the kinds of different stories about surrogacy that are out there. When I wanted to put forward my own story and tell something that meant a lot to me, that story about surrogacy was going to be about the fellowship of women and women stepping forward, for this woman, for Nora, in the moment of such incredible vulnerability in her life. That was really important to me, to get that story added to those stories, because I felt so grateful and lucky for it and because it’s such a specific experience.

Zibby: We just had an event at our bookstore with Cindy Chupack, who wrote a children’s book called I Waited for You. She ended up adopting, but it’s the same thing spun on its head. You two would actually be interesting to have a talk. Do you know her from LA or anything?

Adele: I don’t. I don’t know her. Yes, there are bonds that you make. When we were going through it, we ended up — I wrote a little piece for Good Housekeeping about it, about how we really connected with LGBTQ community because that surrogacy is really their path, and how you show up for the life that you didn’t necessarily think was going to be — it’s the life of your dreams, but you got there by off-roading. It’s sort of a different way. You’re just so happy to be here. You do meet people along the way who are also there and saying, let me be a mirror. Let me shine a light on how all this went for me. There are so many different, wonderful silver linings and footnotes to this experience. I think that was one of them, how you really connect and increase your community.

Zibby: I have to say, even though this is a big part of the book, this is not, to me, a book all about surrogacy or infertility even though that is what’s going on. To me, this is also really about friendship and marriage. Nora’s relationship with Evelyn is so well-drawn. It’s really unlike any other female friendship that I’ve read. Evelyn is also paying Nora. Nora desperately needs the money to get out of debt. You already have this imbalance in the relationship. Yet they’re friends. Yet Nora feels comfortable inviting her over to dinner. The way that Nora even sits and looks at her on Instagram and every so often is like, I put a little heart. Then she put a heart on my heart, and I knew we were still in touch. Then you even have the part where she was like, I miss you. She’s like, but I’m on social media. She’s like, no, I miss the in-person you. It just struck such a chord as somebody who’s on social media all the time. I feel I connect to people there, but of course, it’s not real connection. I mean, it is a type of connection, but it’s not the same. I just felt like that relationship was so interesting. Even though it’s about all those other things, it’s really about women’s relationships to each other and what it means when you really — it’s like a girl crush, almost, meets employer meets I don’t know. I think that’s why Jacob was so jealous of the whole thing, which was another wrinkle.

Adele: I agree with that. It’s so specifically and intricately this kind of female friendship dynamic. In some ways, I thought, it’s going to be the girl crush. This is the catalyst, but it’s also so immersive, this friendship. It’s almost like your eighth-grade feelings. Nora, in the beginning, really, in some ways, wants to be sprung from this. It’s very cyclical, the disappointment and the hope. Evelyn really springs her. At the same time, because there is the power imbalance, Nora, she has to understand a little bit more, actually a lot more, about Evelyn than Evelyn ever has to understand about Nora. It’s up to Nora to navigate, to be the observer as the narrator and understand and try to anticipate Evelyn’s next move, whereas Evelyn sort of just gets to exist in this little bit of, what do I need next? How are you going to show up for me next? That creates the idea that you don’t really know what — Evelyn’s always such a surprise. She keeps you guessing as you hop through. Nora can never really anticipate Evelyn’s next move.

Zibby: Yes, completely unpredictable. I like how you have her relationship with Meg as a foil to the whole friendship. Here’s her old friend. It’s Meg, right?

Adele: Yes, it’s Meg. I feel like I needed to do that, to lay in an old familiar friendship. There is something that I think I wanted to get at in the idea of, what if Kate Middleton were your surrogate? What if your surrogate were somebody from so outside your understanding? This was not, obviously, my story, but I felt that when I was in relationships with my surrogates, I did always have a feeling about, how can I be the best part of their day? So many things are valued here. I came into the relationship feeling a little superstitious, a little bit wanting to make sure that everything was great. Let me be the great thing. Let me send the cozy blankets and the fruit baskets and all of these things, but I didn’t really know what was happening. Short of moving in with my surrogates, which wouldn’t have been good for anybody — there is sort of a feeling of, I want to ask ninety questions, but I’m just going to ask five. It’s that sort of feeling that I thought, it’s a wild meringue of an idea. At the same time, it felt very real to me, that feeling of, I’ll step back, but I want so much more. I’m going to try to contain myself all the time.

Zibby: Interesting. What about the whole vintage clothing? You must know a lot about this, obviously. Is this an interest?

Adele: I don’t know that much.

Zibby: No? You did the research for the book?

Adele: I did.

Zibby: I was like, either she’s totally into this or this is amazingly done research that doesn’t even feel like research.

Adele: This was certainly me down all of the rabbit holes of all the absolutely wonderful online vintage stores and loving going on them and looking at — there’s so many interesting influencers and people who love vintage and know so much about it. In early drafts of the book, I kept giving Nora these really impossible jobs. I thought, I’ll do a thing where she has this really important job. Then she goes back to her life, and she’s falling apart a little bit. I didn’t understand any of these jobs. I felt like, why do you keep writing this character with jobs that you yourself would be fired from immediately? I had to really pull back and think about it. The idea of vintage was more about, let me find a cozy, soft, interesting way into a conversation that sometimes is hard. Let me find that Nancy Meyers movie, walking in through the front door of this book with a key and opening into a space that feels so beautiful and where Nora has so much knowledge and feels so much comfort so that the reader can also feel that feeling of Nora being so interested and immersed that when I do take her outside of that world into the harder space of talking about infertility and that challenge, we feel really grounded that she’s, first of all, not a character who’s just going to be defined by this thing of her infertility, but also that there’s lots of warmth and loveliness in these old relationships, in her marriage, in the friendship with Meg, in her friendship with Frankie, all of these things, in her dog Nick, all of these things that keep her anchored and safe as she lifts off into this sometimes hard story to tell.

Zibby: I have to tell you, I’m almost done, but I’m not done. I’m holding my breath because I don’t know what’s coming next. I’m praying that everything goes okay. I’m really emotionally invested in this book.

Adele: I love it.

Zibby: I’m like, is she really going to take us down this very bad path, or is it going to all be happy? Don’t tell me. I’m going to keep going. My fingers are crossed for Nora having a happy ending here.

Adele: She deserves it.

Zibby: We’ll see. Yes, she deserves it. Has this book been optioned? I feel like it would be great as a film.

Adele: Yes, we’re in conversations about that. That’s been really exciting. I’ve always had a hope because I think it’s two really interesting female characters. It’s such a female character- driven book. I always thought about actresses playing off each other. Yes, I’m excited.

Zibby: I would totally watch that, as I have read it. Even the vintage — I want to try on the cloak. It would be cool if you could do a — maybe you’ve already done something like this. I assume the cloak, you made up, right? You just made this up?

Adele: I just made it up, yes.

Zibby: You should find something that looks like it and put it in one of those glass containers like they have in museums or something and have a showing of the cloak with cocktails or something.

Adele: That is such a good idea. I would never have thought of that. There’s so many pieces of it. I kept thinking, I’ll just wear vintage. It really is the cloak. It was kind of the Edna St. Vincent Millay of the story that I — I wrote so much into that story. I had to take so much of that out. I became so fascinated by this made-up poet and this invented cloak. I could really have put four hundred more pages of that that nobody would’ve wanted. It felt so real to me.

Zibby: Maybe that’s your next book.

Adele: Maybe I just make a cloak and put it in a display case in my house. It’ll be the conversation piece. You want to talk about my book?

Zibby: It would be so neat if you could partner with The Costume Institute or something. I don’t know.

Adele: I know. There’s so many beautiful things in The Costume Institute.

Zibby: I’ll stop.

Adele: I do love thinking about it. The whole thing is lots of different things that really were very interesting to me. It was a long project. It was a slog, but it was also just a place where I would go and, like a dollhouse, really lose myself to the story.

Zibby: You could also do a thing on social where you ask people to look for the cloak, searching for the cloak. Describe it again the way you do in the book. Then ask people who love vintage, and then have them post pictures of cloaks. Then you pick one.

Adele: It’s becoming very clear to me that I need an entrepreneurial mind on this book.

Zibby: You obviously don’t. You don’t need my help.

Adele: I’m like, that’s a good idea too. I didn’t do anything. I got a cake.

Zibby: My daughter, who loves sewing, by the way, saw the book because I’ve been reading it. She was like, “Oh, my gosh, you know that’s a label, right, on a piece of clothing?” I was like, “I had not even realized that.”

Adele: Isn’t it beautiful? Sourcebooks did such a great job in making that stitching happen. We went through a number of different images. When that was landed on, I thought, oh, that’s exactly it. How could it be anything else? I think it also plays into the idea that this is a warm book. There’s love and friendship in this story, which I think was really important. It’s lots of things, but it’s so much about relationships.

Zibby: Yes, amazing. Did you have any other titles, or was it always The Favor?

Adele: It was so many titles. It was The Gift for a long time. Then that felt sci-fi. Then it was The Present. I thought I was being clever, the present, The Present, but so clever that it was bad. My friend Morgan titled it for me. I think she got exasperated one day. She’s a good re-title-er, Morgan Matson, of books. She’s also a writer. She was like, “You know what? It’s a favor. It’s The Favor. We’re done.”

Zibby: I love it. Are you working on another book?

Adele: I’m working on a book about old love, but I think I might have to put it away and think about interesting marketing strategies for the vintage element of this book now. The old love story, it’s a pleasure. When you’re out there talking about a book, it’s nice to have the public life of talking about this book and then going back in, being creative and writing. That’s always a part of the day that I try to find. Maybe it’s a part of midnight, but to find a little bit of time for writing just feels nice.

Zibby: Have you read Elise Loehnen’s new book about the seven deadly sins for women? She uses the framework of the seven deadly sins to talk about what women are up against these days and how it’s not — anyway, envy is one of the things that she talks about. I feel like you have that in the book a lot too. When Frankie says that he’s going to have kids, you have, “I’m so excited for you.” Then in italics, you’re like, “But actually, I’m not. I’ll be there by your side. But I really want to run the other way.” I feel like having the juxtaposition of those feelings, when you’re excited for someone you love and yet it highlights the things that you are lacking yourself and how to come terms with those, I thought that was really interesting.

Adele: When you have the holiday cards come in when all you want is the family and you go to another shower and another baby shower, I do remember just always having to reset for that. Every time you’d turn around, somebody was pregnant, which is wonderful. You think, I don’t want to be the wretch of the story. I am happy. I think that there was, in that connection to Nora wanting to always be her best self but in italics just feeling like, “Are you kidding me?” that quiet small voice of, “Will this ever happen? Will this ever happen?” for me, that felt like real things that I was sharing about how that journey had been for us.

Zibby: I know you said that you wrote children’s books and all that. What was your life up to this point? Where did you grow up? Give me the quick rundown of how we got here.

Adele: My mom’s from outside Philadelphia. My dad was in the military, so I was a military kid. I grew up in Panama, Rhode Island, anywhere he was stationed. Then went to school in Philadelphia, moved to New York, became an editor in children’s books. Children’s books was really a great, big, wonderful part of my life where I wrote young adult and middle-grade books. That has been a lot of my story until this story. It does feel different to have written for so long about characters, especially in young adult where you leave them on the last page and they’re seventeen — wherever you’ve taken that young person, you leave on this big, wide horizon of the rest of their life, which, in some ways, is just inherently optimistic. To come into a story where I have cast a woman in her late thirties who’s made so many decisions already and has so much of her life in her rearview — you talk about, where’s the voice? Where’s the voice? That was hard. I kept kind of going into my young adult voice and trying to find her and thinking, oh, right, she made that choice. She forked off that road. She doesn’t have that great, big, endless horizon of youth to land on in the end of the story. It was a big difference.

Zibby: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Adele: Community. I think writing is beautiful and wonderful and lonely. When you have that intersection of art and commerce and you’re putting this thing into the world, the most important thing is to have first readers who are friends, who are a loving first reader. That mentorship is so important because it’s so personal. There are so many different levels of rejection and critique that I think having an inner circle of people who do that for you, and then you in turn can do that for them, it’s the heart but also the armor. I think it’s really important to have community.

Zibby: So true. I’m trying to help the author community at large. I need to do more LA-based stuff or meetups. I don’t know.

Adele: I think you’re doing a lot.

Zibby: I know. I don’t know. I want to do it in every —

Adele: — You can check that one.

Zibby: Last question. What are you reading now?

Adele: I’m reading Rachel Cantor’s new book, Half-Life of a Secret Sister. Am I getting that right? It’s a reimagining of the Brontës. My mom and I went to the UK. Half-Life of a Stolen Sister by Rachel Cantor is what I’m reading now. My mom and I, earlier this spring, went to the Brontë Parsonage. We did sort of a bucket-list trip. We walked on the moors. We visited their home, Charlotte and Emily and Anne. We stayed in the village. Rachel Cantor’s book, it’s this wildly imaginative take on the Brontës growing up. She inserts reality TV and blogs and this modernist idea of what this genius family was all about. I’m loving it. It’s so good.

Zibby: Awesome. I’m going to go back to reading your book, which is upstairs and has been coming around with me everywhere lately.

Adele: I appreciate that. Thank you.

Zibby: Thanks. It’s great.

Adele: Thank you so much. It was so great talking.

Zibby: You too. I hope to see you again in LA soon.

Adele: Yes, for sure. Thanks so much.

Zibby: Buh-bye.

Adele: Bye.

THE FAVOR by Adele Griffin

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