Five Kick-Ass Women from History: FreshFiction Blog

When we set out to write the Royal Highlander series (Highland Crown, Highland Jewel, Highland Sword), our goal was to weave the lives of three extraordinary women into the fabric of a revolutionary, but largely forgotten series of historical events called the Radical War of 1820.

From that mindset, the characters of Isabella, a university-trained physician; Maisie, an early activist for suffrage; and Morrigan, a militant revolutionary, formed in our imagination. Our research directed us to real historical figures of the Georgian and Regency Era who served as models for our heroines. Women like Dorothea Erxleben, physician; Mary Fildes, political activist and an early suffragette; ‘William’ Brown (birth name unknown), an African woman serving in the Royal Navy); and María Antonia Santos Plata, a rebel guerrilla leader in South America.

Since Highland Crown deals with a neglected chapter in Scotland’s struggle against the English Crown, we thought we’d cast a little light on five real life kick-ass heroines from the recent and distant past. These are rebellious and radical women who would never be talked about, if some people had their way. 

1.      Abigail Adams (1744-1818). Her husband might have been the second president of the United States, but she was a radical and a patriot from the earliest days of the Revolutionary War. With battles raging in the Boston area where she lived, Adams learned that the American soldiers were running low on ammunition. Gathering together all the silver and iron in her home, she had it melted down into bullets for the troops. She was also one of the first women to fight for women’s suffrage, famously telling her husband while he was off helping create the Constitution that it was a mistake to “put such unlimited power into the hands of [men]. Remember all men would be tyrants if they could.” And she believed in acting according to one’s principles; she wouldn’t step foot in the house of a slaveholder nor entertain one at her own table.

2.      Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005). In 1968, this fierce Brooklynite was the first African-American woman elected to Congress. Over the next fifteen years, she introduced over fifty pieces of legislation, fighting hard for gender and racial equality and serving as a champion throughout her life to improve conditions and opportunities for the poor. In 1972, Chisholm sought the Democratic nomination for President. When she was prevented from taking part in televised debates, she was not about to be bullied or ignored. She took legal action. When she was asked how she wanted to be remembered, ‘Fighting Shirley’ said, “I want to be remembered as a woman…who dared to be a catalyst of change.”      

3.      Nusaybah Bint Ka'ab (7th century) was a woman who would give any historical hero a run for their money. Nusaybah was one of the first people to convert to Islam. Born in Medina, she fought in seven battles against the warring neighbors, carrying a sword and bow and sustaining a dozen wounds, including the loss of one hand. But that didn’t stop her. In one battle, she distinguished herself as a fierce and tireless fighter, defending the Prophet (pbuh) himself against attacking warriors. She was tremendously revered by the community for her toughness as well as her goodness.

4.      Zitkála-Šá (1876–1938), which translates from Lakota into English as ‘Red Bird’, was a Dakota Sioux woman who fought her entire life against a white majority culture that was systematically trying to stamp out Native American identities. She battled racism and corruption in government and industry across the country, founding the National Council of American Indians to lobby for justice and equal rights. She wrote dozens of influential essays and pamphlets to expose American corporations that were using coercive business practices that included robbery and even murder to defraud tribes of their rights to leasing fees for development of their oil-rich land in Oklahoma. Her brilliance and tireless activism would lead to Congress passing the Indian Reorganization Act in 1934. And in her ongoing campaign to enlighten Americans, she was among the first to publish traditional Native American stories for a widespread white readership. In those stories, she used fictionalized autobiographical material to take issue with what she saw as the evils of assimilation aimed at erasing her history and way of life. Multi-talented, accomplished, and tenacious, she was truly a kick-ass hero.

5.      Bella Abzug (1920-1998) was an unrelenting feminist and civil rights advocate who served in the US House of Representatives during the 1970s. Fierce and outspoken,  this daughter of immigrants fought anyone who believed women should remain on the political sidelines. During her years in Congress, Abzug introduced legislation demanding the withdrawal of American forces from Vietnam. She demanded an investigation into the competence of J. Edgar Hoover, the all-powerful director of the FBI. She was the first to call for the impeachment of Richard Nixon. She even fought her own party’s complicity in the political deal-making traditionally carried on in secret and passed legislation that has come to be known as the ‘sunshine law’, requiring that the business of government be carried out in the open. Abzug also introduced groundbreaking legislation aimed at increasing the rights of all citizens, including the gay and lesbian community. Unable to fault her on ethical grounds, her critics were reduced to attacking her strong personality. She didn’t care. Her fight was for the American people. Bella Abzug was the kick-ass predecessor of all the newly elected women tearing it up in Congress today. 

 Of course, there are thousands upon thousands more. Maybe we should write a book about them? Or three!

Interview with Austine at NovelKnight

Why don’t you tell us a bit about what inspired Highland Crown?

We’re dyed-in-the-wool storytellers and historians. In our reading we’re always looking for historical persons and settings and events that are a little different. Years ago, we ran across information about the Radical War of 1820, a forgotten piece of history. After the long war against Napoleonic France, the people of Scotland and England suffered with terrible economic hardship. Wages fell and prices rose. Dissatisfaction in the middle and lower classes was sharpened by the widespread desire for political reform. People wanted a voice in government. In Scotland this took on a nationalist feeling, similar to 1745, when the Jacobites and Bonnie Prince Charlie promised to end the parliamentary union with England. The government became very nervous, and the Crown authorities became brutally repressive.

This was how the idea of Highland Crown, the first book in the Royal Highlander series, came about.

Our novel delves into actual history that most readers might not be aware of. That doesn’t stop the story from providing a solid historical romance experience, however.


Introduce us to your main character!

Isabella Drummond, inspired by an actual female physician, Dorothea Erxleben (1715-1762), is a trained physician who’s been recently widowed. So many people think that women in history accepted a limited role in education and professions and society. The more we research, the more we find women who struck out boldly against social constraints to develop a place for themselves.

Cinaed Mackintosh is a ship’s captain with a mysterious past. He is a classic reluctant hero, charismatic and smart and courageous. Jim says the man is totally based on himself.

In our story, Isabella and Cinaed are thrown together in the middle of Scotland’s ‘Radical War’. Theirs is a relationship tested in fire by the ongoing social unrest. We believe that struggle makes their story timeless.

Walk us through a day in the life of May McGoldrick.

You probably know that May McGoldrick is actually two people. We are Nikoo & Jim, a married writing team who have produced fifty works of historical romance, suspense thrillers, YA, and how-to books.

A year ago, we moved from Northwest Connecticut to Southern California, but we somehow managed to keep to our East Coast schedule.

· 5:00 am – we get coffee and go to work.

· 8:00 am – our hundred-pound dog sits on Nikoo’s lap, so it’s time to feed him and go for a walk.

· 8-9 am – eat, walk the dog, answer emails.

· 10-3:00 – write, write, write

· After – go for a walk at the beach, stare at the sunset over the Pacific (while Nikoo tries to talk Jim out of trying to learn to surf).

· Many of our evenings are spent brainstorming over the scenes for the next day. And we’re huge readers.

Lots of aspiring authors out there. Any advice for them?

We write for the love of writing, just as we read for the love of reading. We say that writing is our passion; the career is incidental. Here’s our advice for all writers new to the business and old timers: read and write and write and read. You can’t be a good writer unless you’re a voracious reader.

I know asking someone’s all-time favorite book is a loaded question so what’s your current favorite read?

We both just finished Where the Crawdads Sing, and we have to say that Delia Owens moved to the very top of our favorite authors’ list.

Alright, the ultimate question: why should we read your book?

We constantly wonder “what if?” As individuals, we constantly ask ourselves, if I had only done this differently, how would things in my life or in the world have changed? Our theory is that you have to know the past to do better in future.

Highland Crown’s story focuses on exciting events and upheaval during the late Regency period in England and Scotland and Ireland which are tremendously relevant to us and our reader today. We believe that knowing what happened then helps us understand what is going on in our society today. Add to that a strong and fascinating female protagonist, a gorgeous hero, and lots of swoon-worthy scenes, and you have some good reasons to read our novel.

Any Outlander fans out there? How about Poldark? If the answer is yes, you’ll enjoy Highland Crown and the whole series.

Fun Stuff!

Describe yourself in 3 words.

Nikoo: visionary, storyteller, passionate

Jim: adventurer, funny, kind

What is your Hogwarts house?

We are definitely Gryffindors. “Do what is right.”

Your characters are sent into the Hunger Games. Who wins?

Cinaed and Isabella both win. They each have strengths, but they could never hurt each other.

A famous movie producer wants to make your books into movies and they want you to cast your characters. Which actors/actresses make the cut?

Isabella – Lilly Allen, Claire Foy

Cinaed – Kit Harrington, Aidan Turner

Coffee or tea?

Nikoo and Jim – coffee before 12:00 noon, then tea, tea, tea

Best ice cream flavor ever?

Nikoo – anything with chocolate

Jim – chocolate chip

Your theme song/personal anthem?

Nikoo – Dancing Queen (Abba)

Jim – Under Pressure (David Bowie and Queen)

Favorite quote?

Nikoo – “Where there is love, there is life.” Mahatma Ghandi

Jim – “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” Aesop

What is one piece of advice you would tell everyone?

Give more than you want to receive.


Q & A with Joana V. of Romancing Romances about Highland Crown

Hi May McGoldrick, and welcome to my blog, Romancing Romances. Thank you for doing this Q&A to let my readers know a bit more about you and your books.

 Romancing Romances: For those that are reading your name for the first time today, what is the main thing you’d like them to know?

May McGoldrick is actually two people. We are Nikoo & Jim, a husband and wife writing team of fifty works of historical romance, suspense thrillers, YA, and how-to books. We’re lovers and friends and collaborators and readers and writers and teachers. We love what we do, but the road getting here had a few bumps and lots of sharp twists and turns. But we look back at all those moments as necessary. They’ve inspired us to be better people and more accomplished writers.

And, as you might have already guessed, we are definitely ‘the glass is always way more than half-full’ types of people. 😊  😊

RR: If a reader is new to your books, which one would you suggest them to read first?

MM: Definitely the most recent one. Right now, that would be Highland Crown, the first book in our Scottish Royal Highlander series.

RR: You write historical romances. Is this your favorite genre to read as well? Or do you prefer to read something different? What are some of your favorite authors?

MM: We also write romantic suspense, suspense thrillers, young adult, and self-help. But we read across all genres, all types of books, classics and new releases, fiction and research materials. We are readers first and writers second. And as readers, we can never walk away from a good book.

When it comes to favorites, the list is too long to mention. But Charles Dickens has a special place in our heart because of the way he portrayed his characters.

We both just finished Where the Crawdads Sing, and we have to say that Delia Owens moved to the very top of our favorite author’s list.

RR: Does your everyday life influence your writing? What inspires you to write?

MM: We write for the love of writing, just as we read for the love of reading. We say that writing is our passion; the career is incidental.

Jim has a PhD in sixteenth century British Lit, and Nikoo, despite her engineering degree, is a true storyteller at heart. Everyday life definitely influences our writing. No author lives in a vacuum. We know from our study of history that human nature and the nature of political systems never change. There is nothing new about the present political climate, and experiencing (through stories) other periods in history—including the ones we write about—helps us understand the conflicts we’re facing today. We’re constantly amazed at how history repeats itself.

RR: Do you see yourself in any of your characters? Have you ever created a character based on someone you know?

MM: All of our characters are, in some way, drawn from ourselves or our values or from people we have crossed paths with. As writers, we’re sponges, constantly watching, taking mental notes, storing impressions away for later to use. I (Nikoo) remember being a juror for six weeks in a trial and the judge telling me afterwards, “Send me the book when you’re done with it.” Jim says all of the strapping Highland heroes are totally based on him. 😊 

RR: Where do you get your ideas? Do you work with an outline/plot or do you prefer to just see where an idea leads you? Do you use any images to base characters/scenarios/objects on?

MM: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. We’ve tried it all. And each story has a life of its own. Each one has a process that is unique to that story. Thrillers lend themselves to more extensive, detailed outlines. When writing historically based fiction, actual dates and real people requires that we stay somewhat true to a time line, so that makes us outline, as well. I’m big on hanging pictures of leading men like Chris Hemsworth above my desk. Jim is a good sport, but he does use the photo as a dartboard.  

RR: Congratulations on your new book, Highland Crown. Please tell me a bit about it.

This novel delves into actual history that most readers might not be aware of. That doesn’t stop the story from providing a solid historical romance experience, however. It’s 1820 and Regency period England and Scotland are in turmoil. Isabella Drummond is a trained physician who’s been recently widowed, and Cinaed Mackintosh is a ship’s captain with a mysterious past. In our story, Isabella and Cinaed are thrown together in the middle of Scotland’s ‘Radical War’. Theirs is a relationship tested in fire by the ongoing social unrest. We believe that struggle makes their story timeless. Early reviewers are loving the novel, and more than one said it, “Gave me all the Outlander feels.” We can live with high praise like that.

RR: What will make us fall in love with the Cinaed Mackintosh? And what’s your favorite characteristic about Isabella Drummond?

MM: Cinaed is loyal, tough, and tenacious. He’s a reluctant hero with a dark past. He’s a Highlander who leads by example, knows his own mind, and will act ruthlessly when the situation calls for it.

Isabella has fierce willingness to fight for her beliefs. She is intelligent, logical, and tough.

RR: Do you have a favorite quote from Highland Crown?

MM: Cinaed is looking at a crowd of Highland men, women, and children and thinking, “They were fearless. With a gang of armed men, he had freed two so-called enemies of the Crown, but these people—born with the same Highland blood that flowed through his body—had come here with nothing but empty hands and raised voices. They'd come to this protest, crying out for reform, for freedom, for justice, armed only with a free, clear conscience...and their courage.”

 RR: What comes next? I know Highland Crown is the first book of the Royal Highlander Series, and that you already have the second book planned to come out later this year. Will this series be a duology? What are your next projects?

MM: We initially planned this series as a three-book project. But the entire series is already stretching to four…and possibly more.

The sequel, Highland Jewel, is scheduled to be released by St. Martin’s Press on September 24th, 2019. In that novel readers will get to know Maisie, Isabella’s younger sister, an early suffragist and one of the founders of the Edinburgh Female Reform Society. In her story, we’ll be thrown into the protests and battles of the Radical War.

In Highland Jewel the reader also gets introduced to Niall Campbell, an officer in the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment. He has spent his life serving the Crown. Battle-weary and searching for peace, he can’t help but step in when his sister’s activism risks her life—and leads him to Maisie. These two are immediately at odds. We don’t want to give too much away, but things will get wild for Maisie and her family in Edinburgh as the government bears down on reformers in Scotland, and more will be revealed about Cinaed Mackintosh and his past, as well.

By sheer coincidence, the film Peterloo is being released this month, and it depicts the slaughter of unarmed, peacefully protesting citizens by British government troops in Manchester at the same time our series takes place. Newspapers that were courageous enough to stand against the government and report on the violence called it the ‘Peterloo Massacre’. Over a dozen men, women, and children were killed by the King’s Dragoon Guards, and 600-800 more were injured. One of the women speaking on the platform was Mary Fildes, the founder of the Manchester Female Reform Society. Highland Jewel starts in the days following this actual historical event. 

We’re in the middle of writing the third book in the series, Highland Sword, which is Morrigan’s story. She is a firebrand who is ready to throw herself body and soul into the Radical War. Morrigan is a woman ready to raise both sword and pistol, and fight beside the Highlanders. But in the process, she meets Aidan Grant, a lawyer and a reformer who espouses a different method for achieving change. She wants war; he wants peace. She wants revenge; he wants justice. She is ready to spill blood; he believes too much has already been shed. Neither one will surrender their ideals, but neither can ignore the attraction for the other.

RR: Thank you so much for joining me in the Q&A, and I look forward to talking to you again!

Interview Chat with Jenny Q of Historical Editorial about Highland Crown

Jenny Q: This time period is a bit of an unusual setting for historical romance, but I greatly appreciated having a light shed on Scotland's "Radical War." Can you tell us what inspired you to weave a romance through this tumultuous yet underrepresented era in history?

 May McGoldrick: The setting of Highland Crown is still the Regency Era, but we’re giving our readers a slightly different view of it. We are historians and romantics. We believe that there is much to be learned from the past, from our achievements and our mistakes. In all of our work, we try to shed light on periods and events that we feel are relevant to our present time. As writers, we also believe that we have a responsibility to entertain but also to interest our readers in the political climate of a certain time period and place…and to pursue the truth of what was happening at the time.

 ‘Underrepresented’ is a great term for this historical era, but ‘hidden’ may be closer to the truth. The one who holds the pen writes the history, and in this case it was English doing the writing. Scotland’s Radical War of 1820 has many ‘forgotten’ revolutionaries and heroes.

We also believe that history repeats itself, and the events and upheaval during the late Regency period in England and Scotland and Ireland are tremendously relevant to us and our readers. Vast differences in living conditions between the rich and the poor. Governmental power being used to benefit the wealthy few. Citizen’s rights being taken away under false premises. Entrapment tactics being used against people who want reform, decent lives, and a voice in government. People being ousted from their homes in the name of ‘improvement’. Refugee populations soaring.

We also believe that the human spirit is indomitable, however. Love and compassion will always find a way to exist in the midst of struggle and suffering. That’s probably why we started writing historical romance to begin with.

So, to answer the question, we loved putting Isabella and Cinaed in the middle of Scotland’s Radical War. Theirs is a relationship tested by the social upheaval and the fires of their world. And we believe that struggle makes their story timeless. 

 JQ: Highland Crown starts with a prologue from Sir Walter Scott and each chapter opens with a quote from one of his works. Can you tell us a bit about his influence on this story?

MM: We loved including Sir Walter Scott in our story. His influence on real history has been almost completely forgotten. The image that most of us have in our heads of the Highlands—wild, romantic, savagely noble—is his invention. Before the popular acclaim of Scott’s poems and novels, Highlanders were not largely respected in Scotland or England. They were seen by most as uneducated, uncouth barbarians. Scott created a romantic vision of the Highland people that was embraced by all Scots as their own national identity. At the same time he turned a blind eye to the Highland Clearances, where thousands and thousands of people were pushed violently from their homes and became refugees.

Sir Walter Scott’s poetic vision of the Highlands made him a lot of money, and his success was used by the Crown for its own purposes. We’re going to get into that in depth during this series…and it’ll be exciting.

JQ: In the story, Isabella mentions a physician named Dorothea Erxleben. Was she your inspiration for Isabella's character? Did Cinaed's character draw inspiration from a historical figure?

MM: Dorothea Erxleben was definitely an inspiration for Isabella. She was granted a medical degree seventy years before our story. So many people think that women in history accepted a limited role in education and professions and society. The more we research, the more we find women who struck boldly against social constraints. Once again, let us not forget that history was largely written by men. We love putting these heroines in our novels.

Cinaed is a classic reluctant hero, charismatic and smart and courageous. Jim says the man is totally based on himself.

JQ: Can you give us any hints of what's to come in Highland Jewel and Highland Sword?

MM: We’ve finished Highland Jewel, and it’s scheduled to be released by St. Martin’s Press on September 24th, 2019. In that novel readers will get to know Maisie, Isabella’s younger sister, an early suffragist and one of the founders of the Edinburgh Female Reform Society. In her story, we’ll be thrown into the protests and battles of the Radical War.

The film Peterloo is being released this month, coincidentally, and it depicts the slaughter of unarmed, peacefully protesting citizens by British government troops in Manchester at this time. Newspapers that were courageous enough to stand against the government and report on the violence called it ‘Peterloo Massacre’. Over a dozen men, women, and children were killed by the King’s Dragoon Guards, and 800 more were injured. One of the women speaking on the platform was Mary Fildes, the founder of the Manchester Female Reform Society. Highland Jewel starts in the days following this actual historical event.

In Highland Jewel the reader also gets introduced to Niall Campbell, an officer in the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment. He has spent his life serving the Crown. Battle-weary and searching for peace, he can’t help but step in when his sister’s activism risks her life—and leads him to Maisie. These two are immediately at odds, and we don’t want to give too much away, but things will get wild for Maisie and her family in Edinburgh as the government bears down on reformers in Scotland, and more will be revealed about Cinaed Mackintosh and his past, as well.

 We’re in the middle of writing the third book in the series, Highland Sword, which is Morrigan’s story. She is a firebrand who is ready to throw herself body and soul into the Radical War.

 She is a woman ready to raise sword and gun and fight beside the Highlanders, but in doing so, she meets Aidan Grant, a lawyer and a reformer who espouses a different method of achieving change. She wants war; he wants peace. She wants revenge; he wants justice. She is ready to spill blood; he believes too much has already been shed. Neither one will surrender their ideals, but neither can ignore the attraction for the other.

JQ: And lastly, though this may be a silly question, can you please tell me how to pronounce Cinaed's name? LOL!

MM:  Kin-eee…! Saskia Maarleveld and Raphael Corkhill asked the same question as they were recording the audio of Highland Crown for Macmillan Audio. 😊

 

The Fussy Librarian Q&A with May McGoldrick

Posted on 02/20/2019 at 10:53 AM by Sadye Scott-Hainchek at The Fussy Librarian

Now this is news you’ll like to hear even more than we like sharing it: The secret to success, for the people behind author May McGoldrick, is ice cream.

(We’ll pause for a moment so you can shriek in excitement.)

And now to explain and make a long story short.

Though they both considered themselves storytellers at heart, Nikoo and Jim McGoldrick started out their careers working in engineering and education, respectively.

The day Jim told Nikoo he’d like to enter a national writing contest, she was encouraging but honest: his submission needed work.

Together, they revised it into what was ultimately a prize-winner, but before they’d even received that external confirmation, they knew they wanted to continue this creative partnership.

Since then, they’ve jointly written over forty novels and two works of nonfiction under the pseudonyms May McGoldrick and Jan Coffey.

But what about the ice cream?

Nikoo and Jim, like all writers, have certainly received rejections and bad reviews (along with the acceptance, sales, and praise).

They’ve decided to process them by first swearing, then going out for ice cream.

Jim goes for soft-serve twist; Nikoo tries new flavors; and their dog, Marlo, partakes as well.

Together, they answered a few more questions about their remarkable long and award-filled career.

SADYE: So what else has contributed to your professional longevity?

MAY: We have a mantra that defines our life: persevere.

To survive as writers, no matter where we are in our careers, we need to keep writing. ...

One thing that has contributed to our longevity is that over the years we’ve developed a toolbox or a first-aid kit of strategies that pertain to a writing and living career.

We’ll just mention a few here:

We write for the love of writing, just as we read for the love of reading. We say that writing is our passion; the career is incidental.

Sicknesses, tragedies, days when creativity is the furthest thing from our mind, we still write.

We all have those real-life things that bang us around. They’re mostly unavoidable, and you often never see them coming.

I (Nikoo) am a true believer in the power of journaling during those times.

Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way has provided a morning ritual for me every time life becomes unbearable.

I have volumes on my shelf from the times I was going through everything from cancer and depression to publishers failing to renew contracts.

Writing during difficult times, however, is a reminder to me that in my heart and soul, I’m always a writer. This is what I love to do.

Words make me happy, and putting them on the page is one thing that I can control, even if the rest of my world is spinning off its axis.

I can go on and on about the therapeutic effect of journaling. Of course, not everyone can do it or wants to do it. Jim thinks of it as torture.

We learned early in our career that there’s nothing worse than trying to work with someone who is not enthused about you or what you do.

For writers, this includes agents, editors, assistants, publicists, and even critique partners. A lukewarm reaction is like a disease; it impairs motivation and drive.

Thank God, we like each other. And thank God, we like each other’s work.

The writing business is cyclical. Publishing houses and editors need changes.

Our answer is to always be ready with a backup plan. A new proposal. Write in a different genre. Self-publish.

SADYE: What is the most rewarding moment or theme of your writing career?

MAY: We’ve had many of those moments; one that stands out was about three years ago.

May McGoldrick and historical romance started our publishing career. A decade into it, we changed over to Jan Coffey suspense/thrillers for another decade.

Then Jan needed a break, so we decided we wanted to try our hand at historicals again.

We came up with a proposal for a trilogy of novels loosely based on Shakespeare plays (our Scottish Relic trilogy) — Highland romance with a touch of magic.

Our agent sent it off, and she soon called back saying that an acquiring editor at St. Martin’s Press reached out to her, having experienced a “fan-girl” moment.

The editor had read our novel Tess and the Highlander (a prequel to this trilogy) when she was a teenager and had kept it on her “keeper” shelf ever since.

Soon after, St. Martin’s Press launched May McGoldrick’s career again.

One other really rewarding moment that comes to mind was in Scotland.

Touring Stirling Castle, a friend and fellow traveler, visiting the place for the first time, turned to us and said, “I’ve been here before…because of your books.”

SADYE: What is the biggest challenge in writing with your spouse?

MAY: Challenge? None. There are absolutely no challenges in writing with a partner.

However, we did write about our process in Marriage of Minds: Collaborative Fiction Writing at a publisher’s request.

So there might be a few challenges:

Jim eating chocolate chip cookies nonstop and never gaining weight.

Nikoo blasting music while she writes.

Nikoo hanging Chris Hemsworth’s photo above her desk as “research.”

Jim doing too much unimportant historical research.

Nikoo chucking ninety percent of Jim’s research in the draft stages of the book, reminding him that there was actually no Jack and Rose on the Titanic, and that nobody cares if a bee hive belongs in the northwest corner of the garden versus the northeast corner.

Jim merrily chopping off too many heads in the scene.

Nikoo being too attached to the character’s heads.

Jim thinking story is about action.

Nikoo lying awake at night worrying about how the character feels.

SADYE: Do you have a favorite genre to write in?

MAY: We love writing historical romance, of course.

From our knowledge of history (Jim has a PhD in sixteenth-century British lit), we know that human nature and the nature of political systems never change.

So we use our stories to comment on what is going on in the world now.

We also love writing contemporary suspense and techno-thrillers (Nikoo has an engineering degree) because there’s nothing like getting immersed in a page-turning story.

SADYE: What do you find most rewarding or interesting about all the public events you do?

MAY: Meeting readers and getting feedback is the best. We’re constantly learning.

Plus, Nikoo gets to share horror stories about our writing process in front of an audience. And Jim gets to wear his kilt.

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."

RePost of Vitally Important Information that Readers and Writers Need to Know about May McGoldrick

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.

Writers' Resources (courtesy of BookBub)

We wanted to pass along this fantastic article, "48+ Publishing Resources You Should Know About," by Diana Urban of BookBub.

This article has publishing information about everything:

  • Book Development & Editing Services
  • Cover Design Services

  • Book Distribution Services

  • Website Building Tools

  • Graphic Design Tools

  • Book Marketing Agencies

  • Online Courses

  • Writer Communities

  • Publishing Industry News

  • Publishing Blogs

Whether you're an aspiring writer, or a hardened vet, check out this article. It has just about everything for everyone.  

 

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.