Interviewing Each Other (for FreshFiction)

We’re very, very happy that FreshFiction has invited us to interview each other.

We’re Nikoo and Jim McGoldrick, and you might know us by our writing names, May McGoldrick and Jan Coffey.

After forty years of marriage, twenty-five years of writing together, and fifty books, we’ve had plenty of opportunities to answer interviewers’ questions—and we even wrote a how-to book on collaboration—but to get personal like this is something totally different. In this interview, we hope to take you behind the closed doors and give you a glimpse of our relationship…because that’s the magic that makes the journey possible.

Nikoo: Let’s start easy. Coffee or tea?

Jim: Too simple…and not too magical. Coffee and cappuccino in the morning, tea in the afternoon. And that’s the same with you, too.

Nikoo: What movie or series have we watched more than ten times?

Jim: Love, Actually. Casablanca. Pride and Prejudice (the BBC series). Persuasion. Jane Eyre (every version). Little Dorrit. The Guard. Waking Ned Devine. Notting Hill. Emma. It Happened One Night

Jim: What’s our go-to movie every Christmas?

Nikoo: Love, Actually.

Jim: Do you remember how we met?

Nikoo: How can I forget? I was walking along the beach in Stonington, Connecticut. In the distance I spotted you trying to shove an old wooden boat off the beach. I rolled my sleeves and walked over and threw the boat over my shoulder and carried it to the parking lot. Our first meeting.

Jim: Of course, that’s a lie. Years ago, we were invited as guests on the Jane Pauley Show. That’s when I announced on national TV that that you were a mail-order bride that I got through

Nikoo: You did do that, liar. But there was no Internet when we first met, so thankfully most of the audience got the joke and laughed. This brings us to a good question. What do we usually argue about?

Jim: The location of staircase in a castle that burned to the ground back in the 1700s.

Nikoo: That was a doozy, but we also argue about names and their spellings. Jim likes to use good old-fashioned names for our characters. Names like Thomas, George, Lawrence, Mary—which, by the way, are the names of his siblings. He couldn’t have handled it if his parents named him Nikoo as a child. I, on the other hand, love the challenge of people asking, “How do you pronounce Cinaed?” Cinaed is the hero of Highland Crown, and he comes back again in Highland Jewel and Highland Sword

Jim: My turn…what’s the best gift I ever gave you?

Nikoo: I’ll never forget it. A Vespa. A large, beautiful, red two-person Vespa. I had to get a motorcycle license to drive it.

Jim: Now that’s a story to share… Nikoo broke land-speed records driving around and weaving through the cones in the parking lot of the DMV. The trooper’s mouth hung open when she came skidding to a stop exactly where she needed to. It was a thing of beauty.

Nikoo: I have to talk about weddings. Not about our wedding (singular) but our weddings (plural). A sweet tradition at weddings now is to ask all the married couples to come to the dance floor and then the DJ does a countdown, eliminating couples by the number of years married. Well, in recent years and on a few occasions, we’ve been the last couple standing, the longest married couple. And they always ask us to give a word of advice to the newlyweds. I really don’t believe there are any shortcuts or sure-fire, winning strategies for a great marriage. You can’t condense a lifetime of work into one sentence, but…

Jim: Respect your partner.

Nikoo: So true. That’s most important.

Jim: All relationships have their ups and downs, good and bad days, pleasures and frustrations. And it’s easy to be generous when life is going smoothly. But when we’re upset, it’s easy to lay the blame on your partner, to abuse them emotionally and verbally. This extends to public ridicule, too—disrespecting each other, no matter how innocent or humorously intended.

Nikoo: Among our family and friends, Jim is known as ‘perfect’, and I am ‘flawless.’ Mission accomplished…even if the sound of gagging follows us around. We love it.

Jim: But that’s not all of it. We’re individuals. Some of us have high self-esteem, some don’t. It’s our job to be a bright mirror for our partner, reflecting all the beauty and talent that we see in them. But to do this, we have to talk to each other. And I’m not talking about talking story or plot, but asking about the person’s feelings, and also voicing what might be bothering us. Cappuccino time, or tea-time, or glass of wine time are perfect for this.

Nikoo: So true, especially since we collaborate. It’s so important to know why all of a sudden, one of us is feeling insecure after a certain event or a comment that struck us the wrong way. We’re both good listeners. We ask questions to clarify things.

Jim: Talking about everything, if there are arguments that follow. It's okay to be passionate in a disagreement, but we never sleep on it. We never sleep on an unsettled disagreement. Unresolved arguments grow roots and branches, and the fruit is poison.

Nikoo: My grandmother used to say the person who wants a rose must respect the thorn. The notion of changing our partner into the person we want them to be has never worked for us. Change must come from within. Of course, we’re both probably too stubborn to be changed by someone else, anyway.

Jim: Do I have any flaws?

Nikoo: Jim has to check the traffic report before going to the convenience store a block away.

Jim: Nikoo spreads her clothes on the chair, on top of the dressers, anywhere there is an inch of space.

Nikoo: And Jim has everything in the house, from the closets (his closet) to the dishes, to the dog’s toys, neatly organized and categorized by size, color, texture…and he’s anal about it.

Jim: And…and…she takes her seatbelt off as soon as we turn onto our street, which starts the car beeping immediately. And the first time we painted the outside of our house, Nikoo painted right over the caterpillars. But who wants to live with someone who is absolutely perfect, anyway? Or flawless?

Nikoo: Despite all this complaining, we love spending time together. Before we started writing together, there was rowing, quilting, baseball, golf, chess, tennis, skiing, backgammon, restoring an old sailboat (the one I carried on my back up from the beach), and renovating houses.

Jim: And there’s a dark side to this. I burned the chess game in the fireplace because Nikoo was winning all the time.

Nikoo: And when we play golf, I get hungry after the third hole and keep complaining about it. And I learned to row on the Charles River in Boston when I was four months pregnant with our firstborn…because that was when (and apparently the only time) they were offering lessons. And Jim’s quilting stitches are much better than mine, but I won’t admit it.

Jim: We’re both die-hard Red Sox fans—this is NOT a flaw—but in 1986 we ate chicken on every game day (because their third-baseman Wade Boggs was superstitious about it), and we used our October mortgage payment to buy playoff tickets at Fenway Park. Incidentally, we’re happy to say that this past decade has been much kinder to us (not with regard to the mortgage payments, but as Sox fans).

Nikoo: We are not just friends. We believe our friendship is the foundation of our marriage, but there’s more. Physical contact, intimacy, passion are also key parts of it. It’s important to cultivate romance.

Romance also means dating (married people need it, too), but dating doesn’t have to have a large price tag associated with it. An afternoon hike. An ice-cream cone. A drive to the beach. Okay, Jim even thinks our weekly trip to Costco is romantic. 😊  But we have fun with that, too.

Jim: When was the last time I laughed so hard that I cried?

Nikoo: Rats, rats, rats. Yesterday, when we were talking about a character not believing another character, I used the example of if I said there were rats in our attic. There aren’t, by the way, but Jim would rather not believe it, anyway. Whatever…the way it came out got us both laughing so hard we were crying.

Nikoo: Here’s a question for you. What would constitute a perfect day for you?

Jim: Every day with you is perfect.

Nikoo: Stop. Do you hear that? That is the sound of a thousand laptops slamming shut. 

Jim: I’m pretty sure I heard an ‘awww’ out there somewhere…before the slams.