October 5, 2009
Chatting with Yona Zeldis McDonough
Yona, thank you for taking the time to stop by and answer some questions for my readers and yours.
First, let's talk about your new book, Breaking the Bank. How did you come up with the idea?
I was having a conversation with my brother and he happened to remark that whenever the bank made an error, it was always in their favor. I agreed, but was then reminded of an incident years earlier (long before the advent of ATMs) when a young teller gave me $400 more than I was supposed to get. I admit I got a little rush when I held all that “found” money in my hot little hands; it was thrilling and I spent a few seconds of imagining what I might do with it. But I knew I couldn’t keep it and so I returned to the window and pointed out the mistake to her. She was enormously grateful; it turned out she had only been on the job for a week or so, and her error would have gotten her fired. I told all this to my brother and it prompted me to think about what might have happened if the “giver” had not been a person, but instead one of the by-now ubiquitous ATMs. Would that have changed my feelings? Harder to assign responsibility—or blame—to a machine, right? Those musings were the first stirrings of this story.
How much are you like Mia?
In certain ways, I am not like her at all. I have never been divorced; I did not grow up on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. And I am happy to report that I have never spent a night in jail! But I do confess to sharing a certain, shall we say, impulsive, quality with her. I felt like I understood her—and even some her poor choices—all too well.
I think it would probably hold on to it…And maybe for more than a day!
Can you give us any hint of what you are working on now?
I am working on a new novel that is about a 40-ish former ballet dancer who lives in Brooklyn, where she owns and runs a boutique that sells vintage clothing. She never achieved great success as a dancer, and has felt somewhat bitter about that part of her life. Yet she has a comfortable, if solitary, existence, and she is content with it. But at the start of the novel, her younger sister dies quite suddenly, leaving three young children and a grief stricken husband. Her carefully controlled world is turned upside down. What is her role in the lives of her nieces and nephew? How much can she give? And how much does she want to give? These are the questions with which she is faced, and which change her in ways she cannot begin to anticipate.
You have written and published a plethora of adult fiction and nonfiction, juvenile fiction and biographies, essays and articles in various periodicals. What work would you say is your personal favorite and why?
I enjoy writing in various genres, but I love fiction—both for adults and for children—best. Fiction is the form that speaks to me the most urgently, both as a reader and a writer.
Being such a prolific writer, if you could offer one piece of advice to an unpublished author, what would it be?
I actually have three piece of advice:
1.. Read as if your life depended on it. (Because it does, or at least your life as a writer.)
2.. Write every day, even if it only a page. Or even a paragraph. The practice of writing is what makes you a writer.
3. Don’t give up. Every time you get a rejection, send that piece out again. Right away.
Do you have any favorite authors that you enjoy reading or that inspire you?
Too many to name! Books I have read and loved recently are THE BIRD CATCHER, by Laura Jacobs and POSH by Lucy Jackson. Both New York stories, though each is utterly different, and unique.
If you could take credit for any piece of literary work besides your own, what would It be and why?
A volume of poems by William Butler Years, W.H. Auden or Emily Dickinson. Although I do not—alas, cannot—write poetry, I love reading it and admire its great practitioners. As the poet Wallace Stevens said: “Poetry is the supreme fiction.”
Can you take us through a day in the life of Yona Zeldis McDonough?
Here’s what a typical work day is like: I get up, take the dogs out, have breakfast and head downstairs to the basement of my house, which is where I presently have my office. I procrastinate a bit, checking e-mail and the like, before I settle down to work. I’ll write for most of the morning, taking a mid-morning break, and then another for lunch. (Dogs get a quick trip to the curb when I am upstairs.) After lunch, I go back to work for another couple of hours before emerging again. Then it’s time for the rest of life: laundry, dinner, a little light cleaning, paying the bills. I like to listen to music when I write, but it has to be purely instrumental; no words at all, because they interfere with the voices I am trying to hear in my head. If the work is going well, I am happy. If not, I am agitated. I check my e-mail again. And again. I call someone, anyone. I rearrange the furniture in the splendid dollhouse my husband built for me. Eventually, something gets tapped out (I write on my mac). Whether it is good or not is another story. But it’s something, and something is usually better than the blank page. Sometimes, I go back and work again after dinner. But not always. It’s a pretty dull life when you try to tell someone else about it. And yet I love it and feel so lucky that it’s mine.
Lastly, if you could use only one word to describe or sell Breaking the Bank to a reader, what would it be? Why?
Magic. Because it’s in there, and out here too. We just have to tap into it, that’s all.
Thank you, Yona, for a fun and informative interview!
To purchase Breaking the Bank, you may visit Yona Zeldis McDonough's website, Amazon,com, BarnesandNoble.com or your local bookseller.
Yona Zeldis McDonough's website: http://www.yonazeldismcdonough.com/