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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.