Thursday, September 3, 2009

One Park Slope author is 'Breaking the Bank' this fall

By Meredith Deliso

When Yona Zeldis McDonough was writing her third book, she knew exactly where she wanted it to take place.

In “Breaking the Bank,” the author, who lives on Carroll Street in Park Slope, didn’t have to look very far for inspiration for the home of her main character, Mia Saul.

“On the corner of Garfield and Fifth, there is a building that always struck me as a forlorn building. It was very lovingly at one time, you could see, but gradually it had been allowed to deteriorate completely. It hurt you to see it,” says Zeldis McDonough. “I always had that building in mind when I was writing for her.”

The author, a Brooklyn native who grew up on Ocean Parkway and has lived in Park Slope since 1992, has relied on the borough several times, including her first novel, “Dahlia’s Wake,” using the adage, “Write what you know” to her advantage.

“I knew it was a place I could write about with a certain authority,” says Zeldis McDonough of Park Slope. “It felt like an urban story, and this was as good an urban center as any. Why look for another one that I would have to research and get comfortable with to get the point across?”

“Breaking the Bank” finds Saul living in Brooklyn down on her luck – divorced, raising a troubled tween daughter, and more often than not worried about money. Until one day, an ATM begins to dispense to her thousands of dollars that are unaccounted for and not from her account, and questions of morality and propriety ensue.

“I always wait to hear a voice, a voice that’d be telling me something that I want to hear and I hope other people want to hear,” says the author, who has also written over a dozen children’s book stories and celebrates the release of two this fall. “This voice grew out of a conversation with my brother.”

Years, ago, before the proliferation of ATMs, Zeldis McDonough remembers when she was given an extra $400 by a teller. If she hadn’t returned the bills, the teller would have lost her job.

“I’m glad I made that choice,” says Zeldis McDonough. “What if it had been an ATM and not a person though? It’s hard to feel a sense of connection with an ATM. That question gave rise to this voice of ‘What if?’”

From there, the author gave life to Saul and her family as she pondered that question, drawing on her Park Slope neighborhood for the setting, as well as her own experience to tell Saul’s story.

“I wouldn’t say this book isn’t literally autobiographical, but certain feelings and frustrations – her anger and sadness – were all very familiar to me,” says the author. “Something about her impulses – maybe her lack of judgment – I felt very familiar. She was not a stranger to me at all.”

For her next book, about a former ballerina who now finds herself the caretaker of her recently deceased sister’s children, the author has her living in Park Slope as well.

“She ends up opening a vintage clothing shop on Lincoln Place, the model of which is a real clothing shop, One of a Kind,” says the author. “I hope to have that finished one of these days, when I’m not blogging or twittering.”

Follow the author online at, or meet her in person at the Park Slope Barnes & Noble (267 Seventh Ave.) on September 9 at 7:30 p.m., the Brooklyn Book Festival on September 13 (time TBA) in downtown Brooklyn (Brooklyn Borough Hall and Plaza), or Sunny’s in Red Hook (253 Conover St.) on October 4 at 3 p.m.

“Breaking the Bank” is out September 8 on Downtown Press, an imprint of Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster.


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