Friday, July 13, 2012

Friday Friend

May McGoldrick
Jan Coffey
Nikoo & Jim McGoldrick
Many of you may be wondering who we are. To start, we are married writing partners who have studied Mechanical Engineering as well as Sixteenth-Century British Literature. We’ve held jobs in submarine construction and we’ve worked as engineering managers for Fortune 500 companies. We’ve been teachers at college and high school levels. But the reason why we’re your Friday Friends is because we’ve collaborated on the writing and publication of twenty-eight novels and two works of nonfiction. Along the way, we’ve conducted workshops for all age groups on topics of communication, writing, and collaboration. Oh, and we’ve raised two sons. To sum it up, we have somehow managed to cross the wires in our heads (in a good way) and to take a Renaissance approach to life and work.

So what have we learned over the years that might be worth sharing?

Embrace life’s distractions…

Wait a sec. Our dog is barking and pushing at our elbow. Wait……………………….

MARLO: Hey, how ya doing? This is where this blog will be taken over by me--Marlo Stanfield, international criminal, rescue-puppy from Tennessee (Twitter: @Marlo_Dog.)  Billed as a Golden Retriever, I arrived in the McGoldrick household as an eight-week-old. In truth, I am a Chow, Newfoundland, and Dachshund mix. Regardless of what Jim and Nikoo say, I know for a fact that I am the main thing they should be worrying about right now…ahem, their most important distraction.

So, knowing their bad habit of going on way too long, especially when they’re talking about themselves, I will be taking over here, conducting this interview and cutting them off when they get too long-winded. After all, they have to feed me, take me for a walk, shower me with the attention I deserve. Let’s get it on…

MARLO: Yo dogs, how does distraction have anything to do with you two giving up jobs that pay for Milkbones only to space out in front of the computer?

THEM:  Understanding distraction is what writing is all about. We were both closet writers. We always wanted to tell stories, but real life got in the way. What got us writing for publication was when we learned our younger son needed to have heart surgery. He was nine months old. We’d already taken a huge risk three years earlier when our first son was born. Jim left his job as a manager in the shipyard to go back to grad school to get his PhD and pursue a career that would pay about half of what he was making at the time. At that time, Nikoo was managing an engineering department and working 70-80 hours a week.   We realized that something had to change. Nikoo wanted to have a career that would allow her to spend more time with our boys. So we started to write 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 romance novel.

Now, many people have said that to succeed in writing, you need talent, luck, and perseverance—

MARLO: That’s enough. Heard all this before. So, more important, if you two are so good at working together, what’s with all the barking back and forth between your offices. A dog needs his beauty rest.

THEM: We learned a lot about working together when we researched and wrote Marriage of Minds: Collaborative Fiction Writing. Yes, there may be some barking, but that’s because we’re both passionate about telling the best story we can. When we started to write together, Jim would type while Nikoo talked and held her finger on the ‘delete’ button, but that all changed. That ‘barking’ is mostly discussion of characters and motivation and making the story REAL for our readers. But we learned early on that we needed to separate the work from the person. 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 the PERSON. And you, Marlo, can always go upstairs and sleep under the bed if we’re bothering you.

MARLO: Easy for you to say, dog. I have very sensitive ears. But why don’t you write separately, the way classics like Lassie and Call of the Wild and Balto were written?

THEM:  Because two heads are better than one. When you have a partner, you are never alone. You always have someone to talk over your ideas with. And…particularly relevant…while one partner is writing, the other can feed a rather demanding puppy and take him for a walk up to the fields. But we’ve also found that our writing complements the writing of our partner. Nikoo is more the screenwriter type (she loves writing dialogue), and Jim is more the poet type (he loves imagery and language, descriptive passages).

MARLO: So that’s why he zones out when we’re walking. I bring him the tennis ball, drop it at his feet, and then…nothing. You’re saying I’ll have to start barking Shakespeare at him just to get his attention. Okay, then. Next question. Why so many names?

THEM: We have different names for different genres that we wanted to write. And we’ve always been looking for new people to tell different kinds of stories to.

When we started, we used May McGoldrick for our historicals, and our choice for writing historical romance was simple… Jim had the information from his dissertation work, and Nikoo had the stories. And we’re both fervent believers in satisfying endings!

Then we used Jan Coffey to write suspense thrillers. These novels allowed us to tell stories using Nikoo’s engineering background.

We used James and Nikoo McGoldrick to write nonfiction, an area of writing that grew out of our desire to help others who might be looking for an alternative way to successfully tell their stories.

Finally, we’ve used May McGoldrick and Jan Coffey on our Young Adult novels, depending on whether they were historical or contemporary. And we loved reaching a whole new generation of readers.

MARLO: Hold on while I scratch this little spot behind my ear….got it. Okay, in five words or less tell me about some of your books.

THEM: We love historicals. History offers so many opportunities to create stories. We all learned the important names and the events in school, but the HUMAN part of those events is not generally recorded. This means that there are huge gaps left, just dying for storytellers to flesh out.

For example, our Highland Treasure Trilogy began with the idea of the three mythic 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 in the trilogy 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. We wrote those novels long before Dan Brown wrote The DaVinci Code, by the way. Another novel, The Promise, deals with issues of the abolition movement in England during the 1770s. The Rebel is about the rebellion of the Irish who were being abused under British domination. The Dream Trilogy picked up on issues that were introduced in The Promise and created a mystery around a woman’s murder and three brothers’ roles in it.

MARLO: I said five words or less. If I had opposable thumbs, I’d show you what five means. What blabber mouths! Now move on to Jan Coffey.

Our earlier Jan Coffey novels brought in themes of death penalty, art theft, and cults. Starting with Five in a Row we added some technological stuff—Nikoo’s background. 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. 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. The Puppet Master was the story of four seemingly separate 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 from each other eight years earlier, who start to communicate again just as the countdown begins to a Chernobyl-scale disaster.

MARLO: You call this five words? Getting distracted, aren’t you?

NIKOO: Speaking of distracted, I do have to step in here and say few words about the time period following my diagnosis of breast cancer, which was really a bit more than a distraction. For many people who have gone through it themselves or have had loved ones diagnosed, they all know about facing the mortality issue. It’s a game-changer when it happens in a family.

I don’t know if it was overnight, or if it happened some time during the weeks and months after, but the person who I became after the diagnosis was different than who I was before. I allowed myself to be me. I walked away from dark clouds and seeming dramas. I now cherished life with every step I took. And of course, writing was my best therapy. The nurses, doctors, patients at Yale New Haven hospital became my co-conspirators in coming up with ideas for stories. Before each treatment, they’d ask about word counts and how I was progressing with such and such a character that we’d been brainstorming during the last session.

Seeing that Marlo is about to cut me short right now, I still need to thank Mira Books for a generous donation they made to the cancer wing at that time. There are many complaints and ups-and-downs that writers have with their publishers, but that type of goodwill will always be remembered.

MARLO: Yo! Too serious, dogs. And I’m crossing my legs here. Come on, give them some last word. Something useful for a change.

THEM: Useful. Okay. Andre Dubus III, in an interview, talked about a Michael Ventura essay called "The Talent of the Room." In the essay, Ventura argues that there are many kinds of writing talents a writer may or may not have, but the one that is needed more than any other is the talent of the room, the ability to go every single day to some solitary place and write--day in day out, week in week out, month in month out, year in year out--for decades, perhaps. We need to do that whether we feel like doing it or not. Those who have this talent, Ventura argues, tend to accomplish quite a lot. Those who don't, don't.

Dubus goes on to say that, aside from that talent of the room, the lives of writers and non-writers are pretty similar: “We have spouses or partners, kids, dogs, mortgages to pay, tuitions to pay, houses to clean, groceries to buy and cook, cars that need tuning up, taxes we're putting off, personal flaws we're trying to recognize and work on, gym habits, bad habits, old friendships we try to maintain, new ones we try to find the time to nurture, jobs, daily duties and errands we don't have time for but do anyway, on and on, all while STEALING the DAILY time to WRITE, whether we feel like it or not.”

So we write as we live. Distractions are plenty: good and bad, happy and sad, thrilling and tragic. We live with the distractions and we learn from them when we can’t avoid it. We take risks, perhaps more than we should, but our desire to tell yet another story keeps pushing us back into the room. After Marlo gets fed.

Ghost of the Thames
May McGoldrick
A stranger—led back from the shadowy edges of death by a ghost—finds herself cold and bloody on the filthy banks of a river in a city she does not know…
From opium-drenched hovels and rat-infested warehouses of Limehouse to the glistening facades of West End mansions, a woman—known only as Sophy—searches for her identity. But the mist-shrouded alleys of Victorian England hold grave dangers for the friendless.
Captain Edward Seymour, the last of a long line of distinguished Royal Navy officers, is searching, as well. Returning from sea to find that his niece has disappeared, he begins combing every inn and hellhole of the city’s darkest corners, desperately hoping to find some trace of the girl.
No one knows the streets of London like Charles Dickens, a young novelist with a reformer’s soul, and Sophy and Edward turn to him for help. Flush with his early literary successes, he is working hard to use his knowledge of the city and his newfound fame to right some of the social ills that plague Victorian England.
But with each step they take toward the truth, Death draws ever closer…

Here's an excerpt from May McGoldrick's latest Historical Romance
Ghost of the Thames

Edward his aching shoulder. The worst of the storm had passed, but damp cold weather such as this had a way of making his old wounds flare up.
Word had long been circulating about the search for his niece. And the report had spread far and wide that Captain Seymour would pay well for any news of the missing young woman. An ugly pattern was developing, though. The information he received tonight—just like the leads he’d been following for the past weeks—had produced nothing. Another dead end.
None of the women working in the dingy riverside brothel in Bluegate Fields had seen anyone looking like the miniature portrait Edward carried around. None had heard the name Amelia Ann Franklin. The tavern keeper at the end of the yard just shook his head, as well. Fine clothes or not, the man was certain he hadn’t rented a room to any girl looking like that, and certainly not accompanied by any young Navy lad.
Ho! The devil! Look out there!”
The shout of the driver was accompanied by the neighing of his horses, and Edward felt the carriage clattering to a stop.
“What is it, man?” he called, throwing open the door.
“She went under the blasted horses, Captain. Can you see her?”
“A woman?”
“Aye, sir. Is she dead? Can you see her?”
Edward glanced up the dark street. There was nothing visible on the pavement behind the carriage. The door of a house opened. The light of a candle appeared. Some late night revelers staggered into the street. One was pointing under the carriage. Edward looked and saw her—a heap of blanket, dirty arms and legs sticking out from under it. The blanket had caught on the underside of the carriage and dragged the woman. The restless horses’ hooves stamped inches away from her head.
Edward yanked the blanket free and pulled the woman clear.
“Like a ghost she came, Captain.” His driver, looking down from the carriage, was still shaken. “She appeared out of nowhere. I couldn’t stop.”
“She just rolled up outta the dark,” someone chimed in.
“No one in the street, to be sure, gov, or we’d ‘ave seen her.” Everyone had something to share. The crowd around them was growing. Someone held a candle over the body.
She wasn’t moving. Edward looked at the wet, matted hair and touched her head. His hand came away, covered with blood. He pulled the blanket from her face. An open gash was visible at the edge of her hair, bleeding profusely.  Her face was covered with dirt.
“Don’t!” She tried to lift her head, but it sank again to the stone pavement. “Wait…I…”
The driver sighed audibly. “Well, the bloody chit’s alive, at least.”
“If we’re to keep her that way,” Edward said, “we need to get her to a doctor.”
“The hospital at Lincoln’s Inn Fields is close enough, sir,” someone standing near was quick to suggest.
Edward knew the place. That was where medical students of King’s College practiced. That hospital sat squarely in the midst of poverty and disease.
Bachao,” she murmured, stirring.
“She’s addled, Captain,” the driver said darkly. “The chit’s talking nonsense.”
Weakly, she tried to raise herself off the stone pavement. She didn’t have enough strength, though, and she sank down again.
She was dressed in a man’s shirt and ragged breeches with no stockings or shoes. She had the distinct smell of the river to her.
“Open the carriage door. We’re taking her to a doctor,” Edward ordered.
He tucked the wet wool blanket around the woman and lifted her off the ground. Even soaking wet, she was no heavyweight.
The crowd separated, and someone held the door as Edward settled the injured creature inside the carriage on the seat across from him. She mumbled words under her breath as if she were carrying on a conversation. Edward couldn’t make them out. She was mixing a language he couldn’t identify with English words.
“Where are we taking her, Captain?”
“Urania Cottage in Shepherd’s Bush,” Edward ordered.
More died at that nearby hospital than lived. He’d learned about the home for destitute young women a fortnight ago. Set up as charity by his friends Charles Dickens and the heiress Angela Burdett-Coutts, the place was intended to be a refuge for young fallen women wishing to improve their sordid lot in life. Edward had stopped there and shown his niece’s miniature to the matron this past week.
Kotaai,” she moaned.
“Go!” Edward shouted to his driver. Settling into his seat, he peered through the darkness at the pile of rags across from him. He could smell the muck of the river from here. What she was and why she was dressed in sailor’s rags was not difficult to guess. He wondered if she’d intentionally put herself in front of his horses.
The coach started with a jolt. The shouts of the driver rang out through the street. Her head lifted off the seat, and through a blanket of tangled hair she stared around the darkened carriage.
“Where…is…she?” She appeared to be conscious for the first time.
“Who?” he asked, leaning forward. “Who is it you're looking for?”
“The girl. Please…what happened? Where is…?” She pushed herself up straight. She was shivering violently.
In spite of the foreign words she’d muttered, there was no trace of an accent in her words now. In fact, there was a refinement in her speech that startled him. He removed his cloak and draped it around her shoulders. From the little he could see of her face, it was obvious she was young. Her fingers pulled the edges of the cloak around her. She was burrowing into the newfound warmth.
As the carriage swung up onto the Strand, the dim light coming in the windows afforded Edward a better view of the wounds on her head. He could see she was still bleeding.
“I…need to…” she whispered, looking up. "I cannot lose her.”
“The girl.” She looked around as if trying to find her phantom friend. “The girl…I was following.”
“You were the only one on the street. None of the bystanders claimed to have seen even you.”
“She saved me from the river. Dragged me out. She didn’t have to, but she…she was there.” She wasn’t listening to him. Her words were slurring, and her head began to sink back onto the seat. She caught herself and looked up at him. “She knew my name. She asked me to follow. I need…need to get out.”
“What is your name?”
Her fingers clutched the cloak around her, and her head sank back.
“Your name?” he asked. 
“She called me Sophy. My head.” She touched the open wound and then her hand dropped.
The blood was oozing from the cuts on her head. He reached over and pressed a handkerchief against the wounds that he could see.
After more than a dozen years of sailing the seas with British Navy, he had encountered many tongues. This one was vaguely familiar. “Where does your friend live? Perhaps I can take you to her.”
Her head was nodding. She was losing the battle to stay awake. Whatever strength she had in her was quickly ebbing, and she almost disappeared beneath the cloak. He pulled it away from her face.
He studied the battered woman. Faceless, wretched creatures that had only been a nuisance to toss a coin to before were now real human beings to him since his niece had gone missing. Imagining the poverty, the violence, the troubled lives, and bad decisions they’d made—all the circumstances that had pushed them into this miserable situation in life—only fueled his fears of what had happened to Amelia. He felt sick whenever he thought of what her disappearance might have led her to.
And that thought was with him all the time.
The carriage rolled to a stop in front of Urania Cottage. The woman seemed to have fallen sleep. The house was dark. Edward stepped out as the driver climbed down and tied the horses to a post.
“Knock at the door and rouse the matron,” he directed. “Have the woman decide which room I can carry this one to. Also, have them send for a doctor.”
Edward started to climb back into the carriage and stopped short. The barrel of his own pistol was pointed directly at his chest.
“I want you to take me back to where you found me,” Sophy said. “Now.”

We love to hear from you. You can reach us at:

Twitter: @JanCoffey
Twitter: @Marlo_Dog


  1. Welcome to Heroines With Hearts. So happy to have you here--LOVE your post!

  2. Thanks, Jen. We are so happy to be here.

  3. Thanks for joining us today. Marlo, I think you leading the interview was a first for us!

    Your backgrounds and your stories are so very intriguing. It sounds like you have a wonderful partnership as husband and wife and as collaborative authors.

    Thanks for letting Marlo share your story with us today.

  4. Hot day in CT. had nothing else to do but to chew on the computer wire. Welcome. Marlo

  5. Nikoo and Kim, Great topic, nicely covered. I've read all your books and loved them even if you did make me afraid to buy a much needed new car. lol

    Nice to meet you Marlo. My kitty feels your pain trying to distract writers. Her message: Keep those two in line. Good luck and Meow!

  6. Thanks, Pat. We've been too afraid to buy a new car since we wrote Five in a Row, too. :-) Marlo is afraid we're going to put a harness on him soon.

  7. Great interview, Marlo - love how you keep your humans under control.
    It sounds like you have an ideal partnership, Nikoo and Jim. You obviously complement each other's talents perfectly.

  8. Thanks, Paula. I've trained my humans, well. They're keepers.