Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A TWO OF A KIND Q&A With Yona Zeldis McDonough

When I first read the work of Yona Zeldis McDonough, I had a feeling I'd found something special. It was smart, touching, and something to remember. And when I met the writer herself, I knew it all to be true. Now, three publications later, I have the honor of chatting with Yona about her process, her inspiration, and her upcoming women's fiction release, Two of a Kind, which publishes September 3 form NAL Trade.

Ten years after losing her husband, Christina Connelly has worked through the pain, focusing on raising her teenage daughter and managing her small decorating business. But her romantic life has never recovered. Still, it’s irksome to be set up with arrogant, if handsome, doctor Andy Stern at her friend’s wedding. If he wasn’t also a potential client, needing his Upper East Side apartment redesigned, she would write him off.
This is never going to work, Andy thinks. Still grieving his wife and struggling with a troubled son, he’s not looking for a woman, and certainly not someone as frosty and reserved as Christina. Their relationship will be strictly business. Yet to everyone’s surprise—including their own—these two find themselves falling in love. 
But if reconciling with their pasts is difficult, blending their lives and children to create a new family is nearly impossible. They’ve been given a second chance…but can they overcome all the obstacles in the way of happily ever after?
Danielle: Thanks so much for joining us today, Yona! As Two of a Kind proves, love often surprises us at the most unlikely of times. And so do story ideas. How did you come up with this one? 

Yona: I work not from an idea but from a voice that is whispering, quite urgently at times, in my ear. It says, “Pay attention to what I’m going to tell you. It’s important and you need to get it down right.” The first voice I heard in Two of a Kind was that of Andy Stern—kind of brash, kind of obnoxious, but basically a good and decent.

Danielle: You have some really intriguing and incredible accessible/relatable characters in this book. How did you piece them together? Are any of them based on real-life people or circumstances?

Yona: I’m like a blue jay when I am creating my characters: I steal a little from this person, and a little from that one, so they are composites rather than true portraits. I try to find the good in them because it’s no fun living with a character you don’t like for as long as it takes to write them. And also, I never want to disdain or feel superior to my characters so I need to tap into what’s good in them and find their humanity.

Danielle: TWO OF A KIND is such a different story and style from your 2009 novel BREAKING THE BANK—a true, unlikely romance versus a story about a woman doing all she can to take care of her daughter. How was your creative process for the two projects different?

Yona: Although the two stories are quite different, the process of working on the books was pretty much the same.  I wait to hear “the voice” and I listen as hard as I can to that. What was different about Two of a Kind was that there was more than one voice; sometimes a character’s life leads me in other directions and I start wondering about what the other people in his or her life are like and I start hearing their voices too. When the writing is going well, I feel less like a creator and more like a conduit.

Danielle: It’s been said that your novels are perfect for book clubs. Why do you think that is? What do you think is your best “book-club book” and what topic of discussion would you suggest to readers of that book?

Yona: If my books are congenial to book club groups, I am delighted. I am so heartened by the fact that people care enough to form book clubs, that reading books and talking about them are still priorities.  I think book clubs probably like my books because I write about the issues women care deeply about: family, children, and relationships. I don’t consider these topics “less than” and actually kind of resent the fact that when women focus on domestic subjects they are considered less serious or of lesser importance while when men tackle such subjects, they are heroes.

Danielle: You have worked with a number of different publishers on your novellas, from Random House to Simon and Schuster to Penguin Books. How has your experience been different at the different houses? Were they all very different in terms of standards, procedures, etc.?  

Yona: I have been very fortunate in my experiences with different publishers; I loved working with Abby Zidle at Simon & Schuster (and with you too!), with Deb Futter at Doubleday, and with Tracy Bernstein at New American Library. While there are always personality differences in editors and other members of the various teams, I have found a high level of intelligence and dedication across the board.  And let me say I have been especially fortunate with covers—Breaking the Bank had a great one, as do A Wedding in Great Neck and Two of a Kind.

Danielle: You also write non-fiction biographies of a sort, first one of the famed Barbie doll, then one of Marilyn Monroe. What draws you to writing about such figures? How does your process of writing fiction and non-fiction vary?

Yona: Barbie and Marilyn Monroe were not bios per se, but collections of essays that I collected and edited. Both were such fun projects! I had written a piece about Barbie (a favorite of mine since childhood—loved her then and love her now!) that appeared in the New York Times Magazine some years back and the idea grew into a book. Marilyn followed Barbie: the publisher was happy with how The Barbie Chronicles had worked out and asked if I could come up with another pop culture figure. I’d long been interested in Monroe, so she seemed like a good choice.

Danielle: To top it all off, you even have an award-winning children’s book in The Doll Shop Downstairs. Tell us a little about that experience.  

Yona: I love writing children’s books, especially fiction, because I feel like I am writing for the nine-year-old girl who still is alive and well inside of me. The two Doll Shop books grew out of my love for dolls (which has not abated in adulthood; I collect dolls and own more than any grown woman should admit to) and my desire to write a book (or more; I have several doll-themed titles) that featured dolls very prominently. In the first book, The Doll Shop Downstairs, I loosely based the story on the early life of Madame Alexander, the world-famous doll maker whose dolls I coveted as a child—and never owned.

Danielle: With all these genres under your belt, which one do you find the most fun? Why?  

Yona: There is no genre that I favor above the others; it’s more a matter of finding the right form or vehicle for a particular story. Some cry out to be fictionalized while others beg for a non-fictional treatment. I can’t say how I know which is which but I just do.

Danielle: Are there any authors would you say are writing inspirations for you as you endeavor through so many different styles of writing? Who and why?  

Yona: I’d have to say that inspiration for me is specific and not general. By that I mean that particular books have been important and influential in the writing of particular novels.  In the case of A Wedding in Great Neck, I was very intrigued with the idea of writing a novel that unfolded in a single day and both Ian McEwan’s Saturday and Helen Schulman’s A Day at the Beach were very much on my mind as I wrote because both use this format, albeit with very different intentions and results. With Two of a Kind, I was inspired by Carol Shields’s The Republic of Love because of the way it charts the developing relationship between the two central characters.

Danielle: What’s up next for you project-wise?  

Yona: I just sold a new manuscript to New American Library (they published A Wedding in Great Neck and Two of a Kind). It’s called You Were Meant for Me, and it begins when a thirty-ish single woman finds a baby on a subway platform. It will be out next year, and I’m very excited about it. I’ve also got a children’s bio on Laura Ingalls Wilder coming out soon from Henry Holt, and I’m looking forward to that one, too.

Danielle: Very exciting! Congratulations on all of your upcoming releases, Yona, and thank you again for stopping by!

Don't forget to pre-order your copy of Two of a Kind now! Currently available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Teeny-Tiny Library of Awesomeness

Last month while I was in the UK, my boyfriend David and I took a little visit to Windsor Castle. While I thoroughly enjoyed the day--watching some jousting and falconry, visiting the State apartments, seeing the beautiful blue silk wall papering in the dressing room, and Marie Antoinette's personal clock, there was one thing I wish I had gotten to take a closer look at: Queen Mary's amazing dollhouse.

I just hadn't known of that desire at the time... But this morning, I woke up to a link from David, telling me all about the doll house and its extraordinary construction:

Among the highlights of a visit to Windsor is Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, the largest, most beautiful and most famous dolls’ house in the world. Built for Queen Mary by the leading British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens between 1921 and 1924, this most magical of residences is a perfect replica in miniature of an aristocratic home.  
The house is filled with thousands of objects made by leading artists, designers and craftsmen, nearly all on the tiny scale of 1:12.  From life below stairs to the high-society setting of the saloon and dining room, no detail was forgotten. Among the most striking features of Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House are the library, bursting with original works by the top literary names of the day, a fully stocked wine cellar and a garden created by Gertrude Jekyll. The Dolls’ House even includes electricity, running hot and cold water, working lifts and flushing lavatories. 
In the adjoining display two remarkable French dolls, France and Marianne, are shown with part of their extensive wardrobe of clothes and accessories. They were presented to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth for their daughters, the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose, by the French Government during the 1938 State Visit to France. The dolls’ clothes and accessories were designed and made by the leading Parisian fashion houses, including Worth, Lanvin, Cartier, Hermès and Vuitton. 
See the original post HERE

What I'd like to draw your attention to today is THE LIBRARY. Yes, it gets both caps and italics--it's that awesome.

Located on the second floor of the four-story masterpiece, the library has more teeny tiny books that I've ever seen. Over two hundred, in fact! Upon its shelves are real, original, handwritten books custom-authored by authors such as Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, W. Somerset Maugham, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

There are even hand-illustrated books among the collection, one of which was even reproduced to a full-size, readable version for sale in April 2012, according to The Daily Mail:
A tiny children's book created for a royal doll's house is to be published in human scale. 
With pages scarcely bigger than a postage stamp and intricate drawings by a celebrated cartoonist, the miniature volume is a prized object in the Royal Collection.
But from next month youngsters everywhere will have the chance to read the story about a fairy called Joe Smith and his adventures when he falls out of fairyland and lands in London. 
The hand-written book measures just 1.6in by 1.4in and is one of 200 volumes in the miniature library of the dolls' house created for Queen Mary, consort of King George V, in 1922.  
See the original post  HERE

Bloggess Madame Guillotine gives a little more detail of the room:

This was Princess Marie Louise’s personal project when the house was being put together and she took great pleasure in commissioning books and art work from well known contemporary artists and writers for the room. There are three hundred tiny books in the library, all specially made and bound for the room and including a Koran, the complete works of Shakespeare, a dictionary and three Bibles as well as works by Sir James Barrie, Thomas Hardy, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (who contributed a Sherlock Holmes short story), Rudyard Kipling, Hilaire Belloc, Siegfried Sassoon, M.R. James and H. Rider Haggard. In fact the only writer to refuse and ‘in a very rude manner’ to contribute his work was George Bernard Shaw. What a misery guts. 
The library also contains seven hundred tiny paintings by well known artists of the period, many of whom were members of the Royal Academy such as Dame Laura Knight, Sir William Nicholson, Munnings and Sir William Russell Flint, their works being stored in small folios in special cabinets. There are also musical scores by well known contemporary composers such as Gustav Holst with Elgar being the most notable exception – like Bernard Shaw he sent the committee a very rudely worded refusal to participate, claiming that the royal couple were ‘incapable of appreciating anything artistic’. 
Read the entire post HERE (It's great, btw!)

One word: WOW.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

More YA Coming to the Silver Screen

Hollywood is really hitting the nail on the head right now with adapting some of my favorite recent YA novels. The next "Hunger Games" flick, Catching Fire, comes out in a few months, Divergent is releasing in 2014, then there's The Fault in Our Stars after that.

But sneaking into the mix now is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. While not as recent as the others I just mentioned, it's still one of my faves. How I didn't know this was in the works is mystifying. Especially since it's releasing in November 15 of this year!

Twentieth Century Fox, the film's production company, has just released the trailer, too. And I've got to say, it looks brilliant. With director Brian Percival at the helm and a cast including Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson, I'm going to definitely be hitting this one up in the theater. The young Sophie Nélisse seems like she's got the role of Liesel down pat, as well. The trailer, in fact, gave me chills.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Kickstarting a New Adventure

When I was a kid, I used to love reading the Choose Your Own Adventure series. It was such a great way for a budding writer and editor to learn about storytelling, story structure, and more, all while having a blast. The interactive element of the series made reading a fun and different experience for someone like me who devoured "normal books" left and right. It was all the rage...

But now, in 2013, my little sisters have never even heard of Choose Your Own Adventure. And it makes me kind of want to cry.

I'm not the only one, it seems, who wants this concept back in front of the childlike eyes of this new generation. According to GalleyCat, CYOA's publisher, Chooseco, is launching a Kickstarter campaign to try their hand at a new endeavor--Choose Toons:

Chooseco, the official publisher of Choose Your Own Adventure books, hopes to raise $130,000 on Kickstarter to finance a new cartoon app. 
CEO R.A. Montgomery and publisher Shannon Gilligan launched the campaign for “Choose Toons,” a project that would adapt Choose Your Own Adventure books for 5 to 7 year old readers in a new format. Here’s more about the project: 
Our first episode is based on the title Your Very Own Robot, where YOU put together a robot named Gus out of discarded parts from your parents’ robot lab. Gus gets you into a lot of trouble. This first episode has 20 story branches with11 possible endings, with more than 30 minutes total of animation … $130,000 will fully fund one 32-minute app in what we plan to eventually develop into a series of cartoons. This amount funds the animation, voice acting, and programming of the choice points within the app. The script is already complete. We developed the demo seen in our video ourselves and our Vermont-based team has experience writing scripts, working on film projects, and developing software. 
See the original post HERE

Chooseco also released a video about the project:

If you like what they're doing, head on over to their Kickstarter page and pledge a little something to get Choose Toons up and running. The campaign ends September 12, 2013.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Friday Fun with Ice Cream Flavors

Apparently July is National Ice Cream month. This was news to me, though I wish it hadn't been (I would've spent my month celebrating with some chocolate chip cookie dough.) But now that I know, we're going to travel a little ways back in time to a post by Quirk Books, featuring Ben-&-Jerry's-inspired literary ice cream flavors. Whee!

It's National Ice Cream Month! It's also July, and it's also very, very hot. And while we love all the regular kinds of ice cream just fine (you can pry Chubby Hubby from our still-warm, heatstroke-dead hands), we wondered what would happen if worlds collided and books became ice cream (not literally, though, because that would be gross). Get your hybrid freezer/bookshelves ready, because here are six tasty samples! 

Berry Potter and the Container of Secrets: Muggles rejoice!  Inside this container you'll find a magical blend of butter beer, Bertie Bott's Strawberry Flavour Beans and chocolate frogs.  No need to employ the Dark Arts.

A Clockwork Orange Creamsicle: A concoction made with milk-plus direct from Korova so disturbingly delicious you won't have to force it down!

Oliver Twist: Indulge in this mix of rich dark chocolate and simple vanilla flavors with a smattering of English Toffee.  Eat sparingly, for a combination like this begs you to ask "Please, sir, I want some more."

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish 
Make a wish, look inside your dish
Inside your dish, there's candy fish
Candy fish in chocolatey goo
inside the goo are marshmallows too
All this combines for the perfect snacks
The perfect snacks to share with a Zax

War and Peach: An ambitious, sweeping, and impeccably detailed frozen treat of truly epic proportions, with so many ingredients that you'll forget most of them existed by the time you're halfway through your cone. Not easy to get through without a headache, but if you make it, you can brag about finishing it for the rest of your life.

Whirled War Z: Nothing is off-limits during the impending zombie apocalypse. Gummy worms crawl through a swirl of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream.  Beware of the random splattering of cherries.  You'll want to stockpile these rations when the uprising occurs.

See the original post (and fun comments!) HERE

This is so much fun. Way to go Quirk Books--I wish I could try all of these flavors! I would also do a little add-on myself: Love in the Time of Chocolate. Just imagine all the chocolatey goodness that could hold!

What would YOUR favorite literary flavor be?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

HUNGER GAMES Summer Camp? Yep. It's Real.

When I first read The Hunger Games, I have to admit I was as disturbed by the concept as I was intrigued. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of the series and Suzanne Collins's writing, and I do believe that her themes, while disturbing, are important commentary (and a cautionary tale) on today's society and its values.

As such, I was able to overlook the shivers the idea shot up my spine, though I did still carry some concern regarding how the books' young adult audience would take the lessons. And it seems there was some reason behind those shivers. According to the Huffington Post, there is now a Hunger Games themed camp open for children:

Ever dream of becoming Katniss Everdeen? Well, now you have a chance to be just like her in real life. Sort of. 
According to the Tampa Bay Times, kids at a "Hunger Games" camp in Logo, Fla., can now channel their inner tributes by participating in athletic and intellectual activities inspired by the hugely popular series.
[Watch the video news report HERE]
The camp, however, has raised concerns, as children were reportedly describing how they would "kill" and "stab" each other. Susan Toler, a clinical psychologist, called the camp "unthinkable," while Julie Miller of Vanity Fair described it as "disturbing."
After noting that the "violence the kids had expressed was off-putting," the camp announced a change to the rules: Instead of "killing" each other, campers would "collect" lives. Still, during a recent tournament, one crying 11-year-old claimed that he was kicked and "stepped on." 
"I’m not entirely sure that isn’t normal kid behavior," writes Rebecca Pahle at The Mary Sue. "All I really know about kids is that they’re little humans and that I used to be one. I never pushed anyone to the ground and stepped on them... " 
See the original post HERE
Over at The Mary Sue, Pahle also shared some exchanges between children at the camp:
“I don’t want to kill you,” [Rylee Miller, 12] told Julianna Pettey. Julianna, also 12, looked her in the eye. “I will probably kill you first,” she said. She put her hands on Rylee’s shoulders. “I might stab you.”
This story was also retold in Pahle's post:
Alyssa Stewart, 12; Alexis Quesada, 13; and Julianna formed an alliance. After nabbing a few flags, they paused in a safe zone, a green picnic bench under a tree, to get a drink in the shade. 
There, the girls added Andrés Kates, 11, to the alliance. But the second he left the safe zone, they grabbed his flag. “Hey!” he yelled, stumbling backward. 
The girls ran off, first across the basketball court, then through the grass, between buildings, by the water fountain, past the body lying on the ground . . . 
The body lying on the ground. CJ Hatzilias, 11, face-down, in the grass. He was crying. “They stepped on me,” he said. 
Someone went for help. “CJ, what happened?” Gillette asked. 
“They stepped on me,” he said. 
D’Alessio knelt down. “I’m sure it was an accident.” 
CJ shook his head. He said some boys had knocked him down and kicked him.D’Alessio got him up, wrapped an arm around him, walked him over to the camp offices.
I don't know about you all, but I shudder at the thought. I'd love to know what the owners of such a camp were thinking when they came up with this idea (if anything other than dollar signs). I'd also love to know Collins's opinion of the scenario. 
While the camp has been revamped to focus more on "gaining lives" than "killing" after all the backlash from parents and the media, the fact that it even began as modeled off the violent side of the book initially is beyond mind boggling.