When we met Yona Zeldis McDonough back in February, the local author teased us with some information on her work-in-progress, a “second-chance-at-love story” about a widow and widower in New York. The story became Two Of A Kind, and she celebrates its release this month.
The charming novel follows Christina Connelly and Andy Stern– a Park Slope-based interior designer and Upper East Side-based OB/GYN, respectively– as they navigate love after loss while juggling family and business. Yona will read from it at Book Court (163 Court Street in Cobble Hill) tomorrow, September 10 at 7pm. Stop by to say hello, get your copy signed, and enjoy complimentary food and drink.
We asked Yona to tell us a little about the history of the book, why she loves writing about Park Slope, and what she’s working on next.
PSS: Congratulations on the new release! Can you tell us about how this story developed?
YM: I always work from a voice that I hear in my head, prodding me to tell his or her story. In this case, the first voice I heard was that of Andy Stern, an ob/gyn with a high risk practice on Park Avenue and a bit of an attitude problem. He “told” me about the death of his wife, his mixed-up 16 year-old-son who is thrashing around in a sea of grief, his desire to meet a woman with whom he can really connect and his failure thus far to do so. Once that voice had established itself in my mind, I found the other voices chiming in. I heard from Christina Connelly, the Park Slope based decorator who at first seems all wrong for Andy–until she doesn’t–as well her ballet-obssessed daughter Jordan and Andy’s son Oliver. As these voices spoke to me, the story opened up and eventually came together to form the novel.
You like to make connections across your novels– Andy and Christina meet at the wedding from A Wedding In Great Neck, for instance. What is it like to explore these characters and events from new perspectives?
I have a lot of fun with that kind of thing–drawing characters or situations from previous novels into the newest one. I feel I have not abandoned them, and am giving them a wave from across books. Angelica, who is key in A Wedding In Great Neck, has a cameo role in Two of a Kind, so it gave me a chance to catch up with her again. It’s kind of like meeting up with an old friend or classmate.
This isn’t the first time you’ve placed your characters in Park Slope. What is it about the neighborhood that inspires you?
Pretty much everything! I am such a Park Slope booster. I love the scale and density of the neighborhood which seems both small town and big city at the same time. We have the sophistication of New York, but we also have a less hectic pace. Because the Slope is such a cohesive neighborhood, it creates a very good fictional setting. It’s like the neighborhood is another of the characters–that’s how much presence it has.
Andy is shocked when he finds out that Christina designs gardens in Brooklyn. Do you consider yourself an urban gardener?
I wish! I have lofty aspirations in that area; I fall short of them every year. My backyard is a mess! But I do plant window boxes and planters in front of my house every spring. I love to see the flowers greeting me when I go in or out.
How would you describe the book to someone who’s never read your work?
I like to think that I am working in a traditional vein and that my work falls into the kinds of formats established and refined in the 19th century. I care a lot about character–I think it drives plot–and I care about plot, too. What happened, to whom, and why; what were the effects? These are the questions that goad me and for which I seek answers. I want to write the kinds of books I want to read: emotionally nuanced yet gripping, with strong relatable characters and compelling themes and/or situations.
What are you reading these days?
I always read several books at a time; I kind of buzz in and out of them, like a bee in a garden. Right now I am reading two novels by fellow New American Library writers: You Knew Me When by Emily Liebert and The Wishing Hill by Holly Robinson–good, absorbing reads both. I am also reading Seamus Heaney (may he rest in peace) and some wonderful, short pieces about farm life by New York Times writer Verlyn Klinkenborg, which were just collected in a new volume of his work.
What are you working on next?
I had the good fortune to sell another manuscript to my publisher New American Library so I will be working with the same great team. The novel is called You Were Meant For Me and it’s about a single woman in her thirties who finds a newborn infant abandoned on a subway platform. She ends up trying to adopt the baby except the biological father appears on the scene. And guess where she lives? Park Slope!
Photos courtesy of Yona McDonough