Interview with May McGoldrick

Q. What inspired you to become an author?
We’ve always been writers and readers! Nikoo used to write stories for her grade school friends. After high school, being very good at math and sciences, she was encouraged to go to engineering school. After all, that was where the JOBS were. So she did…and tucked away her love of writing (in a safe spot) in favor of her immediate responsibilities. Later on, writing took a backseat to paying a mortgage and raising a family. She never lost her love of storytelling, though.
Jim wrote poetry and ‘007’ skits for the other kids in the neighborhood. He later became an English major and at least tried to stay in touch with his desire to write. In fact, after finishing college he wrote a screenplay that almost sold to Robert Redford’s production company. But real life again interfered with dreams as he pursued a career in a submarine shipyard before going back to school and getting his PhD some ten years later.
Q. When and how did you meet?
We met in 1979. Nikoo was six, and Jim was thirty-something. (Just kidding… Jim was in his early twenties.) One morning, after a wild storm had ravaged the New England shoreline, Nikoo was out walking along the seawall in Stonington, Connecticut, and came upon a young man (early twenties… honest!) who was trying to salvage a battered small boat that had washed up on the rocks. Jim needed help dragging the boat up over the seawall and across the salt marsh. Anyway, by the time the two had secured the boat on higher ground, a spark had ignited between them…or rather, between us. So it was instant electricity… and Jim’s been chasing Nikoo ever since! This is the story we like to tell about how we met. It isn’t true, but we like to tell it anyway. And as far as the truth about our ages, we’re really only four years apart.
Q. Why did you decide to write together?
After our younger son successfully came through heart surgery as an infant, we found ourselves reassessing our lives and our goals. We have always been storytellers and readers, and we decided to try writing a short story together. That story, a prizewinner in a national writing contest, was the first step. The next step, naturally, was a full-length historical novel!

So many years later, we can no longer even imagine writing separately. In our nonfiction book, Marriage of Minds: Collaborative Fiction Writing, we talk about the difficulties and the delights of working together, but we can tell you that the joys outweigh the hardships by a mile…at least for us. To sum it up, everything comes down to our ability to separate the work from the person. We came to the realization early on that just because we don’t like a passage or a paragraph or a chapter that our partner wrote, that doesn’t mean we don’t like THEM. Another thing that has made our writing career possible is that we had a solid foundation in our marriage (thirteen years!) before we started collaborating on our fiction.

Another question along these lines that we are frequently asked is what is the biggest challenge and the biggest pleasure about writing as a team? Do you each have a particular area of specialty in the writing?

Two heads being better than one should be the theme song for every collaborative writing team. You are never alone. You always have someone to talk over your ideas with. But of course, having two heads doesn’t necessarily mean that you have twice the brain… or that you can write twice as fast. Also, feeding times are difficult…bathroom times are hell.

The biggest pleasure that we’ve found in the actual act of writing is the feeling of complementing each other. While we don’t really have specialty areas, Nikoo could be characterized as the screenwriter type (she loves writing dialogue), and Jim is more the poet type (he loves imagery and language, descriptive passages… he also loves sleeping in late, long walks on the beach, old movies… anything to keep from working.)
Q. Do you write in different genres? And how about pen names?
We do. Our choice of historical romance was simple… Jim had the historical information from his dissertation work and his PhD, and Nikoo had the stories. And we’re both fervent believers in satisfying endings! So May McGoldrick was born.
After more than a dozen historical romances under our belt, we pursued romantic suspense and suspense thrillers under the name Jan Coffey.
Our decision to write nonfiction grew out of our desire to help other writers who might be looking for an alternative way to successfully tell their stories. Also, we’re teachers, so many of our handouts and exercises went into our Step Write Up collection.
We also write young adult under both names.

As far as pen names...when we wrote our first novel, our editor at Penguin felt that romance-novel authors should have a feminine pen name. We tossed around approximately a dozen names or so, and then we thought of Jim’s late grandmother, a strong-minded, book-loving woman who would have been the perfect heroine for any story. So we decided to use her name… hence, May McGoldrick was born (or re-born). The interesting thing was that the publisher felt so strongly about it that they even tried to hide our identity in the author’s bio for the first two books, saying that the author “lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, with her two cats. She is presently working on her next novel.” It was pretty funny, actually. When we wrote our first contemporary suspense thriller, Trust Me Once, we decided that it was so different from our historicals that we should come up with a pseudonym that wouldn’t mislead readers who had been enjoying our May McGoldrick books. We decided on Jan Coffey because ‘Coffey’ is Nikoo’s maiden name… .and ‘Jan’ is an acronym for ‘Jim and Nikoo’!
Q. What interests you most about historicals?
History in general offers the writer so many opportunities to create stories. We all learned the important names and the events in history classes, but the human dimension is not generally recorded. This means that there are huge gaps left, just dying for storytellers to flesh out. The Highland Treasure Trilogy, for example, began with the idea of stories involving the three Fates: one spins the thread of life, the second measures out the length of that thread, and the third cuts that thread. Our three sisters have those general qualities to their respective personalities. From that point, we began to form the idea that these three women belong to a family that has a secret… a secret that they have been guarding since the days of the Crusades. That secret is thought to be the “greatest treasure in Christendom,” and that makes them the target of some very powerful and very lethal people… including Henry VIII of England! And we wrote those novels long before Dan Brown wrote The DaVinci Code, by the way. The Promise deals with issues of the abolition movement in England during the 1770s. The Rebel is about the rebellion of the Irish chafing under British domination. The Dream Trilogy picked up the issues and characters that were introduced in The Promise and created a mystery around a woman’s murder and three brother’s role in it. Our first novel, The Thistle and the Rose, covered the chaos after the Battle at Flodden Field. In using topical issues of the time, the writer gets to humanize our struggles… and we also get to give personalities to historical figures like Henry VIII, James IV, the politician Lord North, the great actor Garrick, the actress Jennie Greene, and a host of others.
Q. Will you continue to write historicals?
You bet. In fact, our most recent historical novel is Ghost of the Thames. Talking about fleshing out history, in this novel we have even incorporated real-life Victorian lights like Charles Dickens and millionaire philanthropist Angela Burdett Coutts as characters.

Of course, Charles Dickens holds a warm place in our hearts. As novelists, we stand in awe of the creative genius with which he produced some of the most unique and yet human characters ever to populate a fictional landscape. Because of his knowledge of London’s denizens and his compassion for those struggling in the Victorian Industrial Revolution, he was able to give identifiable faces to the poor and the downtrodden, and elevate their stories with a sensitivity that continues to touch readers a century and a half later. We felt a real sense of responsibility in capturing him in a believable way on the page.
Of course, it was impossible for us to place our novel in London and not mention Urania Cottage, an idea founded by Dickens and financed by the Angela Burdett Coutts, one of the richest and most independent women in England at the time. Also, it was amusing to imagine that the mystery of our heroine’s identity and her connection with the London riverfront would give Dickens the idea for his great novel, Our Mutual Friend.
Q. You’re also writing romantic suspense under the name Jan Coffey. What led to this and what new challenges have you discovered?
The foray into the suspense genre was the product of looking for ways to tell more stories to more readers. The first Jan Coffey book, Trust Me Once, originated with an image Nikoo dreamed up of a guy driving along a desert road and finding a wooden casket in the road. In it was a woman, alive and wearing clothes from the nineteenth century. From that image, we developed about five different story lines, from time travel to mystery to romantic suspense. Eventually it evolved into a story where a guy runs into a woman who is wandering about in a storm in Rhode Island, only to find out that she was supposedly murdered two weeks earlier. Since then, our Jan Coffey novels have picked up different themes. Our second book, Twice Burned, dealt with death penalty and was the recipient of some national mystery awards. Triple Threat was about the art theft and political corruptness. In Fourth Victim, we dealt with cults. Starting with Five in a Row we moved into technical field and where Nikoo’s background was. This book was about a virus hitching a ride on your car. Then came Silent Waters—our biggest book as far as readership yet—about a submarine hijacking and political corruption. Curiously enough, at the end of this novel, we elected the first black president. Cross Wired (originally The Project) was about medical experimentation on children. The Deadliest Strain was a political techno-thriller that dealt with, among other things, the effects of governments’ actions on people who are the innocent victims of war. In this case, the Kurds. The Puppet Master was the story of four seemingly disparate lives that are beginning to unravel, and there is one person who wants to help. What they don’t know is that he holds the strings of their fate… and that nothing comes for free. Blind Eye was about identical twins, separated eight years ago, who start to communicate again just as the countdown begins to a Chernobyl-scale disaster that one of them needs to stop.
We love writing these suspense thrillers. Our Jan Coffey readers are women and men, and their letters always say that they couldn’t put our books down. It doesn’t get any better than that. The challenges… ? Actually, writing as Jan Coffey has given us a new understanding of the value of pre-planning our work. Because the web woven by the lives of these characters is intricate, and because the writer has to release info at intervals to the reader, we really need to plan ahead carefully. If we do that, we can still let our creative energies loose as we write, without losing any important details or the pacing that we try to achieve.
Q. You’ve written teen books, as well.
Yes, we've written three books for young adults: our historical Tess and the Highlander, a romantic suspense Tropical Kiss, and our most recent fantasy romantic adventure Aquarian.
Q. Where did you get the idea for Tess and the Highlander?
The idea for Tess came from letters that we were getting from readers of our adult historicals. The fans of our books felt that these characters really came alive, and they wanted to know what happened to them! So we took some characters that had appeared in our first three historical books… and moved forward one generation. The son of those characters is the hero in Tess and the Highlander.
Q. What about Tropical Kiss? Which character from that book did you enjoy writing most about and why?
We really enjoyed creating both of the protagonists in that story. Each had a quirky sense of humor… and a real thirst for life. We like that in people… young or old! The hero was named after our older son, Cyrus, so he holds a special place in our heart.

And yes, a sequel is in the works...
Q. Your third YA novel Aquarian is a very suspenseful fantasy romance. Tell us about it.
Aquarian came from vacations we took to a small island off the coast of Massachusetts. We loved the idea of having a young woman who comes to spend the summer in a place with a mysterious stone tower and ageless islanders, only to find that she must contend with mythic forces that control life, death, and the future of an entire race of undersea people. Before the summer is through, our heroine learns a strange truth about her family's past and must choose between love and destiny.
Q. When you begin a novel, what comes first: plot, place, time period, characters, or special inspiration?
It’s no accident that Charles Dickens is a character in our newest novel, Ghost of the Thames. He was so innovative when it came to characters. For us, fiction is all about characters. That is…characters and inspiration. Nikoo has a VERY fertile imagination for vivid images that are then sometimes bounced off Jim, who adds something (“what if… ?”)… and then the two of us just continue to talk and experiment and think about characters that would struggle and achieve with a given set of problems… and on and on it goes. Once Nikoo starts writing the draft of the first chapter, we have a firmer place to start ironing out the direction of the story and the personalities that we’re dealing with.
Q. Have you won many awards or contests? Has winning the Nobel Prize for Literature changed the way they treat you at the local diner?
We have won numerous awards—the New Jersey Romance Writers Golden Leaf award, the Florida Romance Writers Laurel Leaf Award, the Virginia Romance Writers Holt Medallion, and others. We recently won the Connecticut Press Club Award for Best Adult Fiction for The Deadliest Strain. But of course, nothing has changed since winning the Nobel Prize. We still have to stand in line for the booth in the corner, and we still get our eggs ‘over medium’… instead of ‘over easy,’ the way we ask for them.
Q. Do you title the book first or wait until after it’s complete?
We start with a working title. The final book title always goes through a constant revision because the two of us have to agree. That often takes some negotiating before deciding on the final name. Of course, there have been many instances when the marketing departments at our publishers have changed the title in the eleventh hour. We still get letters from fans saying, “Why can’t I find a copy of the novel Jeweled Cup that was advertised in the back of one of your earlier works?” Jeweled Cup became Flame. And that is another ghost story, but set in the Scottish highlands…
Q. Do you have any scheduled upcoming releases or works in progress?
Our ghost story Novella is being released by Entangled Publishing in September of 2013.

For many years we lived in Newport, Rhode Island. Our house was an early nineteenth-century home that was rumored to be haunted by two sisters—very friendly ghosts. During our years living there, we experienced some strange things. There were many occasions when our dog would wag his tail and bark excitedly at an empty doorway. Also, our toddler would smile and wave his hand at the same invisible people that we couldn’t see. Doors closed on their own. There were creaks in the old plank floors after we go to bed. On one occasion, Nikoo was baking in the kitchen when a cold hand touched her face. She turned to find the baby monitor had gone off. Running upstairs, she found our son was choking in his crib. To this day, we credit the sisters for saving our child’s life.
An old seaport town, Newport is famous for the ghosts of pirates and seamen and the families that they were left behind. There are stories of executed buccaneers being buried on the shore below the high tide line so the souls would never rest as the waves washed across the sands. There are so many ghost stories about the historical homes on the island.
Our novella Mercy was pieced together from many of those stories. An inn on the bluffs, a widow’s walk on a house on another corner of the island, an angry ghost who unsettled every occupant of the home she haunted. Isn’t this the way all stories are born?

We also have been working on Road Kill (working title) about a small-town Connecticut photographer that discovers crime scene photos are mixed in with her work—pictures of a slayings that have not yet been discovered. As the result, she becomes the center of a police investigation and the target of a killer’s obsession.
Q. What do you do in your spare time? What really relaxes you?
We don’t really have any spare time. We don’t watch a lot of TV, except for Breaking Bad and baseball…although Jim has become a Storage Wars freak. Our vacations now are generally work-related. We love doing yoga.
Q. What is your “Grand Passion”? What really makes your heart sing?
We are living our Grand Passion. Living and working with the one you love is the best life has to offer. We found our soul mates… and our hearts sing every day! (Actually, it’s Nikoo’s heart singing… and Jim’s stomach growling.)
We love to hear from our readers. So please stay in touch.
Nikoo & Jim
Published 2013-09-24.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Dearest Millie
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 24,840. Language: English. Published: November 13, 2018. Categories: Fiction » Romance » Historical
From USA Today Bestselling Author May McGoldrick... Dearest Millie A Pennington Family Novella Lady Millie, youngest of the Pennington family, has always lived in the shadow of her talented and powerful siblings. She’s been the rock of stability and order for her sisters and brothers. Her future looks bright until fate deals her a tragic hand.
Angel of Skye (Library Distribution)
Price: $9.99 USD. Words: 119,120. Language: English. Published: February 12, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Romance » Historical, Fiction » Historical » Medieval
Famed Scottish warrior Alec Macpherson is drawn to lovely Fiona Drummond Stewart after he rescues her from bandits in the forest, not realizing that she is the secret illegitimate daughter of King James IV and the target of the evil schemes of the ambitious Lord Gray. The first book in Macpherson Trilogy
Thanksgiving in Connecticut
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 21,730. Language: English. Published: October 2, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Humor & comedy » General, Fiction » Romance » Short stories
A novella Paige Coleman has stayed away from Stonington ever since being mortified by ‘viral’ YouTube video that captured her in the buff at the top of a whaling ship at Mystic Seaport. Now, four years later, Paige decides that the time has come to face up to her past when her quirky, eighty-six year old grandmother throws the mother of all Thanksgivings.
Made in Heaven
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 95,690. Language: English. Published: June 16, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Romance » Contemporary, Fiction » Romance » Paranormal
Meg Murphy, a soon-to-be former editor at a closing Boston publishing firm, is on her way--supposedly with Robert, her husband--to the resort town of Newport, Rhode Island, where they have spent an annual vacation together for years. Robert, unfortunately, is dead.
Arsenic and Old Armor
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 87,140. Language: English. Published: May 16, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Historical » Medieval, Fiction » Romance » General
Arm yourself… Arm yourself for the biggest wedding of the 16th century.
Dreams of Destiny
Series: Scottish Dream Trilogy, Book 3. Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 106,610. Language: English. Published: May 11, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Romance » General
The Final book to Dream Trilogy Gwyneth Douglas has a scandalous secret: she's a novelist. Somehow, a blackmailer discovers her occupation, and Gwyneth decides that the only way to protect herself is to elope with a fortune-hunting baronet. But when David Pennington learns of her plans, he literally refuses to leave her side.
Captured Dreams
Series: Scottish Dream Trilogy, Book 2. Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 109,250. Language: English. Published: May 9, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Romance » General
Portia Edwards will go to any length to find the family she's never known. And when she meets merchant Pierce Pennington, a staunch but secretive Son of Liberty, Portia has the perfect chance to ask for his help. But her stubborn pride keeps her silent. That is, until she recognizes her strong attraction to the brave man who, by night, is known as the infamous Captain MacHeath.
Borrowed Dreams
Series: Scottish Dream Trilogy, Book 1. Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 115,450. Language: English. Published: May 6, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Romance » Historical
Lured into a marriage of convenience, Millicent Wentworth finds that beneath a fierce exterior, a wounded Scottish Borderlord may just be the man of her dreams... May McGoldrick weaves powerful and relevant social issues of the era into a truly beautiful romance that shimmers with the power of love healing wounded souls and bodies. A triumphant tale! Kathe Robin, Romantic Times
The Rebel
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 124,380. Language: English. Published: April 28, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Romance » General
Jane Purefoy is a woman with a double life masquerading as the leader of a gang of Irish revolutionaries. But its the passionate and determined Sir Nicholas Spencer who tears her heart in two. "The classic Rebel-In-Disguise story has never been more fun, exciting, or romantic…fabulous!" --Susan Wiggs
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 120,420. Language: English. Published: April 28, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Romance » Historical
In America for the last ten years, Rebecca Neville has raised her young charge as if he were her own son. But now, his father-the Earl of Stanmore-has learned of his fate and sends for him from England. Rebecca must do everything in her power to keep her promise to the boy's dead mother-and keep her heart sa
Series: Highland Treasure Trilogy, Book 3. Price: $4.51 USD. Words: 113,750. Language: English. Published: April 25, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Romance » Adult
(4.00 from 1 review)
Adrianne Percy was hidden in the Western Isles, safe from her family's enemies - until her sisters sent a notorious pirate to return her to the Highlands. But when she hatches a plan to free her kidnapped mother, it requires her to marry the handsome rogue - and what begins as a simple matter of business quickly flares into an uncontrollable desire....
Tess and the Highlander
Price: $3.50 USD. Words: 65,930. Language: English. Published: April 21, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Romance » Historical, Fiction » Romance » Clean & wholesome
Tess Lindsay has spent most of her life on the remote Isle of May, uncertain of her identity. Raised by the two sole inhabitants of the island, she is left to fend for herself after their deaths, until a stranger washes ashore in a storm. Tess pulls him from the surf, not knowing that in saving the Highlander she is saving herself.
The Enchantress
Series: Highland Treasure Trilogy, Book 2. Price: $4.51 USD. Words: 97,450. Language: English. Published: April 17, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Romance » General
Three sisters each hold key to their family's treasure--and to the hearts of three Highland warriors....
Series: Highland Treasure Trilogy, Book 1. Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 98,830. Language: English. Published: April 14, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Romance » Adult
When her late father was branded a traitor to the king, Catherine Percy found sanctuary in Scotland. But a case of mistaken identity put her in a compromising position with the Highland earl sworn to protect her. Marriage to him saved her reputation, but nothing could save her from the stormy passion that bent her innocent body to his will--and shattered his last defense ...
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 108,410. Language: English. Published: March 9, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Romance » Gothic
(5.00 from 1 review)
After surviving the fire that claimed the lives of her parents, a young woman has hidden within the catacombs of her Scottish Highlands castle, plotting revenge against the villain responsible. But the arrival of the castle's new laird spoils her plans when she saves his life and is forced to reveal her identity.
The Intended
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 121,150. Language: English. Published: March 3, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Romance » General
(4.00 from 2 reviews)
A beautiful, impetuous young woman has grown accustomed to her life in England...but longs for her home in Scotland and the man who left her to marry a woman from a warring Scottish clan in an effort to make peace. But now, sweet fate has decided that they shall be together again, with a renewed chance at love to reclaim their stolen hearts!
The Beauty of the Mist
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 120,540. Language: English. Published: March 2, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Romance » Adult
A young widow betrothed to the boy king of Scotland flees to Antwerp, where the commander of the Scottish flagship is sent to retrieve her, only to succumb to her beauty, ignorant of her true identity. Finding herself in the arms of the man she had hoped to avoid, the bride-to-be holds back her true identity. When her secrets come crashing down around them, will she choose freedom or her beloved
Heart of Gold
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 118,820. Language: English. Published: March 1, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Romance » Historical
"While being preyed upon by a lecherous king, Elizabeth Boleyn finds her refuge in the arms of Ambrose Macpherson, a handsome Scottish warrior, until a political conspiracy shakes the kingdom and tears them apart."
Angel of Skye
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 119,120. Language: English. Published: September 27, 2010. Categories: Fiction » Historical » General
Famed Scottish warrior Alec Macpherson is drawn to lovely Fiona Drummond Stewart after he rescues her from bandits in the forest, not realizing that she is the secret illegitimate daughter of King James IV and the target of the evil schemes of the ambitious Lord Gray. The first book in Macpheron Trilogy
The Thistle and the Rose
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 115,050. Language: English. Published: November 22, 2009. Categories: Fiction » Romance » General
(5.00 from 2 reviews)
The brave and beautiful Celia Muir has been assigned a dangerous task-to protect the infant King from the approaching British army. For her clandestine mission to succeed, she has to convince a handsome Scottish warrior to help her. Winner of two Golden Leaf Awards. On the top ten list of Best Romances.