May McGoldrick Interview with Vitally Important Information for Readers and Writers

Do you have any philosophies or epiphanies on writing or reading you’d like to share with readers or new writers?

Tough question. We’re constantly learning and relearning important elements of storytelling and the writing craft, so perhaps that’s the philosophy that has guided us. Stay humble about what you do, or the process will humble you. Stay open and receptive to critical guidance. Believe that your efforts and your vision and your love for what you are doing all have value.

And try to limit your chocolate chip cookie intake during all periods of extensive reading and writing.

Do you have a favorite snack while writing

Tea, dates, and cashews for Nikoo. Water, carrots and celery sticks for Jim (This is a total lie. He eats cookies and chocolate and graham crackers nonstop!)

What is your superpower?

Nikoo’s superpower is that she can read minds. For example, she knows that Jim is thinking of going to the kitchen for some cookies.

Jim’s superpower is that he can also read minds. For example, he knows that Nikoo knows he is about to go for cookies, and therefore is thinking about golf.

What is your spirit animal?

Nikoo’s spirit animal is the snake. At least, that’s what the online test we took told us. The description works: “You often play the role of a guide and emotional healer. The spirit of the snake represents positive, spiritual transformation. You are the sought-out friend when advice is needed. The snake facilitates life events to go smoothly – a connector of dots who reveals the big picture.”

Jim’s spirit animal is the whale. The test answer description seems pretty good: “Your spirit animal is the whale because you have a strong inner voice, and always follow your own truth. Because you are so in touch with reality, you are self-aware and don’t get involved in drama. You have strong bonds and emotional ties with those you love. (He’s unhappy, though, because he thinks his ‘whale’ characterization is actually a comment on his eating habits. He loves taking online tests, though!)

What color is your aura?

Nikoo is blue, blue, blue to the bone.

Jim says he is silverish (interesting that the word keeps auto-correcting to ‘silverfish’, which is a “small, wingless insect in the order Zygentoma,” according to Wikipedia. He is rethinking his spirit animal right now.

Question and Answer Chat with Madeline Hunter for USA Today HEA Blog

Question and Answer Session with Madeline Hunter for her article in the USAToday Happy Ever After Blog.

Q – May McGoldrick’s newest book title and release date:

Romancing the Scot, November 14, 2017

Q – Short description of the story and setting:

Grace Ware is an enemy to the English crown. Her father was an Irish military commander in Napoleon’s defeated army and her mother, an exiled Scottish Jacobite. When Grace took shelter in a warehouse, running from her father’s murderers through the harbor alleyways of Antwerp, she never anticipated bad luck to deposit her at the Scottish Borders home of Hugh Pennington, Viscount Greysteil, Lord Justice of the Courts, a grieving widower and hero of the wars against the French.

Q – Why do you think more readers and authors are being drawn to Scottish-based historicals? Do you think the filmed series of Outlander has anything to do with it, and if so how much?

Outlander has been a phenomenal success as a Scottish-based historical in its literary form and later as a series production. The superb television adaptation has successfully drawn legions of non-readers to the history and the Scottish setting.

That said, Scottish history has always had a tremendous hold on our collective imagination. Scotland stands as a beacon of resistance against outside invaders, and its history is permeated with romantic and tragic heroes. Few people in western cultures are unfamiliar with the stories of Robert the Bruce, the Wallace, Mary Queen of Scots, Bonnie Prince Charlie, Flora MacDonald, Rob Roy. Even Shakespeare drew on Scottish legend for his greatest tragic hero, Macbeth. The image of the Highlander battling against overwhelming odds, battered but never truly conquered, appeals to all of us.

As authors and scholars, we too were drawn to Scotland and its heroes. When Jim wrote his doctoral dissertation on the court of the great Stewart king, James IV, we instinctively felt the drama and romance of the time and the place. That court’s poet, William Dunbar, became a character in our first novel, The Thistle and the Rose, and we placed our heroine in the middle of the chaos that followed the Scots’ devastating loss at Flodden Field, where King James, nearly all of the Scottish nobility, and twenty thousand Scots were wiped out by English cannon in a single afternoon. The future of the nation lay in the hands of our heroine in that novel.

Since that first book, we’ve written a score of tales set in Scotland, weaving connected stories of families and generations of heroes. Our newest series, featuring the Pennington family, continues that tradition.

Q – Does the setting become a character in your books? How big a role does it play? Do you ever set your novels in Scottish cities like Edinburgh, or do you prefer to use rural areas like the Highlands?

Our stories have taken place deep in the Highlands, in the Western Isles, on the Isle of Skye, in Aberdeen and Glasgow and Stirling, and in the Borders, and Scotland plays an integral role in our characters’ stories. For us, the place and the time are essential elements in the creation of the personalities of our heroines and our heroes. Setting provides more than the background brush strokes for our tales. It creates the tone that complements the plot.

For a ‘Beauty and the Beast’ story like Taming the Highlander (a 2017 RITA Award Finalist), a mist-enshrouded castle on a cliff overlooking the sea creates the perfect setting for a wounded earl and a woman who could see into the deepest recesses of his soul. In a novel like Romancing the Scot, the Borders is a place that complements the journey of a hero who is both English and Scot, and whose loyalties are tested when the woman he falls in love with is an enemy to the crown.

Q – What makes a Scottish hero different from an English one? What do you think are reader expectations on the main characters?

Heroes share many qualities, regardless of where they are from. But the Scottish hero is distinct from the English hero in his or her connection to the earth and to the clan. Traditionally, the Scot and the Highlander are always the underdog: tenacious, loyal, undaunted even when badly outnumbered by better-equipped foes, romantically stoic in the face of death.

Without exception, our main characters are very human: flawed, fearful, scarred, and sometimes jaded by the lessons of life. But within all of them, a spark of nobility exists that drives them to greatness they often didn’t know existed within them, to acts of courage and nobility and selflessness. In our stories it is love that nurtures and stirs that spark into a flame.

Q – Do the tensions between Scotland and England ever play a role in your novels? How?

We love to use the conflict between Scotland and England in our novels. The first nine stories we wrote deal with this directly, using real and fictionalized warriors and noblemen from both sides in our tales. Heart of Gold begins at the Field of Cloth of Gold summit and tournament where a Scottish warrior bests the English king’s champion and falls in love with the Boleyn sister the Tudor king lusts after. Our novel The Intended even takes place in the court of Henry VIII, where the laird of Dunvegan Castle is being held prisoner while a Highland heroine fights to save him. In our Scottish Relic Trilogy, a rogue English commander who prides himself on his reputation as the ‘Scourge of Scotland’ is wreaking havoc even to the Highlands in search of a stone reputed to wield great power.  

Q – Do you see any changes underway in readers’ preferences either for time periods or types of stories?

Change is constant. Predictions are dangerous.

Readers are different than they were just a few decades ago. Our world is more chaotic. Our lives speed along pell-mell. And when we want to shut it out for even a few moments of leisure, so many things pull at us and demand our attention. A thousand television channels. Movies at our fingertips. Games of every kind to play on our phones. Social media that connects us with family and friends and celebrities in ways that were never possible before.  

For those who still understand the joy of reading, the types of stories that appeal to us will continue to evolve, but we believe readers will be increasingly drawn to stories that have a lightning fast pace, that are visually compelling, and that feature characters who seem real to us. Characters we can love and hate and identify with. Characters who reveal the inner truths of the human condition…our emotions, our failures, our hopes, our fears, and our indomitable spirit.   


Click here To Read the entire article "Romance Unlaced: Readers harvest a rich crop of Scottish historicals this Fall."

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Letter from Alexander Macpherson to Kenna Mackay

(from Much Ado about Highlanders)

Dear Kenna—

What man could possibly love a woman who runs away from her husband on their wedding night and hides behind the cloistered walls of a priory? A woman who ties up an old nun like a trussed chicken, takes her clothes, and climbs down a tower wall to escape him? A woman who leaps from a high cliff into a pool of water the size of a kerchief? A woman who brandishes a sharp-edged dirk and threatens to make him her wife? A woman who then nearly drowns this husband in a racing river? What man could possibly love her?

True, our marriage was arranged, a contract, no love match. And yet I still couldn’t let you go when you were doing all you could to prove you were the most contentious woman in Scotland.

And now, six months later, the moon that casts its glowing light on your sleeping face and the sun that rises with your smile both yield, without challenge, to the supremacy of your beauty.

You stood by me as our enemies hunted us and fortune deserted us. You fought like a warrior, risking your own life in the face of menacing dangers. You shed tears over my wounds and nurtured me when I bled like a wounded boar and would have died. You loved me, healed me, saved me.

One day a poet will write that the course of true love never did run smooth.

What man could possibly love you, Kenna Mackay?

Your man. Your Highlander.

Your Alexander.



Sex, Love, and Second Chances for the Eternal in Shakespeare

When Shakespeare’s friends and partners got together to assemble his plays for the first time, his great rival Ben Jonson wrote, “He was not of an age, but for all time.” High praise, to be sure, but maybe this was the original book quote, put on that First Folio simply to sell a few more copies.

No, no, let’s put that cynicism behind us. Four hundred years have passed since William Shakespeare penned his last play, and his language, imagery, plots, and (most important) characters are as alive today as they were when the plays were originally staged. Shakespeare’s plays have definitely survived the test of time. But why is that?

For us, those plays touch on timeless themes such as love, friendship, vengeance, honor, shame, and politics. They delve into human and social issues that have remained essentially unchanged over the years. This is the bottom line: the playwright’s work is still thriving today because of his characters. Whether we live in 1616 or 2016, as human beings we are the same. When we look at Shakespeare’s plays today, we recognize ourselves in his characters. They transcend time. Indeed, the man had an uncanny grasp of human psychology long before the term existed.

This guy from that little market town in England had such an amazing understanding of human desires and fears, aspirations and flaws that the people who populate his plays are alive for us today.

For the purpose of this post, let’s focus on his women. Shakespeare refused to place them on the sidelines, cheering on their men. In his stories, women play critical and often central roles. Whether we look at brilliant Beatrice in Much Ado about Nothing, indomitable Viola in Twelfth Night, infamous Lady Macbeth, stormy Kate in Taming of the Shrew, or wise and challenging Portia in Merchant of Venice (among so many others), these women LIVE. They have a voice.  The scholar Sidney Homan said Shakespeare’s characters have souls; they have lives that existed before the curtain opens and after the stage lights dim. So true about those women.

And where would we be without sex? In all of Shakespeare’s work—in his comedies and in his histories and even in his tragedies—sexuality drives and motivates his characters. When the French send a basket of tennis balls to the young King Henry V, the sexual taunt is not misunderstood, and he responds that his ‘balls’ will knock down the walls of French castles. When Lady Macbeth wants to spur her husband to act on his ambition, even to the point of murdering his king and kinsman, she knows which buttons to push regarding his manhood.

We have a debt to pay to Shakespeare. From our first novel to this one, we’ve always tried to make our characters come alive on the page and in the imaginations of our readers. When we began our new Scottish Relic Trilogy, we wanted to pay tribute to the Bard’s understanding of the human spirit. So, drawing very loosely on the great romantic comedy, Much Ado about Nothing, we created characters who reflected (in some way), Beatrice and Benedick.

In Shakespeare’s play, Beatrice wants to be respected and loved for her intelligence, her passion, and her independent spirit and demands equality in a society that scoffs at such a notion. What she needs is to overcome the fears that are tied to her self-confidence. Benedick wants the freedom of the bachelor life. What he needs is the love of a woman who matches his own wit and passion. The conflicts that arise as the two of them struggle toward an understanding of their true needs is what makes their story—what makes them—timeless and real.

And we set out to do much the same when we created Kenna and Alexander in our new novel Much Ado about Highlanders. There is a history between them that exists before the reader lays eyes on the first page. They were married but separated because Kenna, like Beatrice, wants and demands equality in their marriage. Once an unexpected kidnapping occurs, their battle of wits begins and rages until passion and love seals their marriage.  

As Kenna came alive for us, Beatrice’s desires became more and more relevant. Even after the passage of centuries, she shines as a role model. She is wise, witty, and wounded. She is fiercely devoted and a courageous risk-taker. More than any other character in Shakespeare’s plays, she defines his dramatic genius. As her story develops, Beatrice comes to realize she wants not just more, she wants it all. As a woman, she lacks power in her male-dominated Elizabethan society and struggles against it. And so does Kenna in her sixteenth century Scottish Highlands. And why shouldn’t they have it? Why shouldn’t we all have it?

Women feel the same wants and needs that Beatrice and Kenna feel, and continue to struggle today. What’s fascinating is that Shakespeare felt it and understood the value of that struggle. This is even evident in the fact that so many of his great heroines dress as young men to overcome the obstacles that fate and society lay before them. He weaves our sexuality (and our shared humanity) into every play.

In his Much Ado, Shakespeare introduced Benedict; in ours, we brought to life Alexander Macpherson. A witty know-it-all, he is a confident alpha male who is striving to bring some order back to his chaotic life and marriage. As our story opens, he simply doesn’t know how to make that happen. Tracy, a reviewer on GoodReads, writes, “What ensues is a fast-paced, steamy, delightful story of true love conquering all, along with a lot of action, adventure, a bit of paranormal/magic and some truly cringe worthy villains.” And Alexander is a man who needs Kenna MacKay.

As dreamers, we aspire to be remembered 400 years from now. As hardworking writers, we can only apply ourselves (as Shakespeare did) to making characters who capture the heart of our human experience.