Author Interview with Jan Coffey (aka May McGoldrick, aka Nikoo and Jim McGoldrick)
Q. What inspired you to become an author?
We’ve always been writers and readers! Nikoo used to write stories for her grade school friends. After high school, being very good at math and sciences, she was encouraged to go to engineering school. After all, that was where the JOBS were. So she did…and tucked away her love of writing (in a safe spot) in favor of her immediate responsibilities. Later on, writing took a backseat to paying a mortgage and raising a family. She never lost her love of storytelling, though.
Jim wrote poetry and ‘007’ skits for the other kids in the neighborhood. He later became an English major and at least tried to stay in touch with his desire to write. In fact, after finishing college he wrote a screenplay that almost sold to Robert Redford’s production company. But real life again interfered with dreams as he pursued a career in a submarine shipyard before going back to school and getting his PhD some ten years later.
Q. Why did you decide to write together?
After our younger son successfully came through heart surgery as an infant, we found ourselves reassessing our lives and our goals. We have always been storytellers and readers, and we decided to try writing 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 novel!
Q. You are somewhat unique in that you are a married writing team. How well does that work for you, and what are the pluses and minuses?
We can no longer even imagine writing separately. In our nonfiction book, Marriage of Minds: Collaborative Fiction Writing, we talk about the difficulties and the delights of working together, but we can tell you that the joys outweigh the hardships by a mile…at least for us. To sum it up, everything comes down to our ability to separate the work from the person. We came to the realization early on that 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 THEM. Another thing that has made our writing career possible is that we had a solid foundation in our marriage (thirteen years!) before we started collaborating on our fiction.
Q. What is the biggest challenge and the biggest pleasure about writing as a team? Do you each have a particular area of specialty in the writing?
Two heads being better than one should be the theme song for every collaborative writing team. You are never alone. You always have someone to talk over your ideas with. But of course, having two heads doesn’t necessarily mean that you have twice the brain… or that you can write twice as fast. Also, feeding times are difficult…bathroom times are hell.
The biggest pleasure that we’ve found in the actual act of writing is the feeling of complementing each other. While we don’t really have specialty areas, Nikoo could be characterized as the screenwriter type (she loves writing dialogue), and Jim is more the poet type (he loves imagery and language, descriptive passages… he also loves sleeping in late, long walks on the beach, old movies… anything to keep from working.)
Q. Do you write in different genres?
We do. Our choice of historical romance was simple… Jim had the historical information from his dissertation work and his PhD, and Nikoo had the stories. And we’re both fervent believers in satisfying endings! So May McGoldrick was born.
After more than a dozen historical romances under our belt, we pursued romantic suspense and suspense thrillers under the name Jan Coffey.
Our decision to write nonfiction grew out of our desire to help other writers who might be looking for an alternative way to successfully tell their stories. Also, we’re teachers, so many of our handouts and exercises went into our Step Write Up collection.
We also write young adult under both names.
Q. How did you come up with the story for Mercy? Is the book, the characters, or any scenes based on a true life experience, someone you know, or events in your own life?
For many years we lived in Newport, Rhode Island. Our house was an early nineteenth-century home that was rumored to be haunted by two sisters—very friendly ghosts. During our years living there, we experienced some strange things. There were many occasions when our dog would wag his tail and bark excitedly at an empty doorway. Also, our toddler would smile and wave his hand at the same invisible people that we couldn’t see. Doors closed on their own. There were creaks in the old plank floors after we go to bed. On one occasion, Nikoo was baking in the kitchen when a cold hand touched her face. She turned to find the baby monitor had gone off. Running upstairs, she found our son was choking in his crib. To this day, we credit the sisters for saving our child’s life.
An old seaport town, Newport is famous for the ghosts of pirates and seamen and the families that they were left behind. There are stories of executed buccaneers being buried on the shore below the high tide line so the souls would never rest as the waves washed across the sands. There are so many ghost stories about the historical homes on the island.
Our novella Mercy was pieced together from many of those stories. An inn on the bluffs, a widow’s walk on a house on another corner of the island, an angry ghost who unsettled every occupant of the home she haunted. Isn’t this the way all stories are born?
Q. Do you title the book first or wait until after it’s complete?
We start with a working title. The final book title always goes through a constant revision because the two of us have to agree. That often takes some negotiating before deciding on the final name. Of course, there have been many instances when the marketing departments at our publishers have changed the title in the eleventh hour. We still get letters from fans saying, “Why can’t I find a copy of the novel Jeweled Cup that was advertised in the back of one of your earlier works?” Jeweled Cup became Flame. And that is another ghost story, but set in the Scottish highlands…
Q. Do you have any scheduled upcoming releases or works in progress?
We have been working on Road Kill (working title) about a small-town Connecticut photographer that discovers crime scene photos are mixed in with her work—pictures of a slayings that have not yet been discovered. As the result, she becomes the center of a police investigation and the target of a killer’s obsession.
We love to hear from our readers. So please stay in touch.
Nikoo & Jim
Mercy by Jan Coffey
Julia Klein’s life has begun to unravel—her daughter Amy has been suspended from school, Julia is about to lose her job, and her boyfriend Garrett is being transferred thousands of miles away.
Overwhelmed, she and Amy leave for a weekend at a rambling old colonial inn. Julia never suspects that Garrett, desperate to find a way to keep Julia in his life, has decided to surprise her by joining them. Nor does she expect her daughter to befriend a mischievous ghost…or that she herself would be possessed by the malevolent spirit of a long-dead mother.
As a dark secret emerges, Julia, Amy, and Garrett find themselves pitted in a fight for survival against a savage presence that intends to resurrect/repeat/relive a horrible crime committed two centuries ago. And this time, Amy and Julia will be the victims.
Starting up the stairs, Garrett tried to bury the image of a teary Julia when she’d closed the door on him yesterday after he’d arrived at her house. She’d been too upset to talk.
He shivered as a gust of cold air rushed down the stairwell, slapping him in the face. Garrett hesitated, startled by the sharpness of it. At the top of the steps, a shadow moved, catching his eye. But when he reached the second floor landing, he was surprised to see no one there and no open window.
Doors were visible on both sides of the well-lit hallway. A light flickered behind him. Then, halfway down, a bulb buzzed, blazed intensely, and burned out. He stopped dead. A tall woman in a long, gray dress was standing beneath the darkened light, glaring at him.
Something in her face kept him from looking away. Her eyes burned with emotion. Bitterness. Anger. Hatred.
The hairs on his neck rose when she started in his direction. She moved toward him, filling the narrow hallway.
Garrett turned to make room for her, shuffling his overnight bag from one shoulder to the other, but as he did, his room key dropped to the floor.
When he bent down to retrieve it, chilled air, oppressive and gray, hit him like a wave.
He froze. He’d felt this sensation once before, diving with a film crew at the raising of a sunken slave ship. It was in the ship’s cargo hold. It was a feeling so icy, so overwhelming, that it went straight through him, infusing his bones, numbing him. With it came a sudden memory of some forgotten nightmare—a barren winter field, the gaping black hole of a bottomless grave. He could almost taste the dank odor of death.
Cold panic washed through him. She was on him, all around him. He could feel the woman’s fury. Snatching the key, he straightened up.
She was gone.
Garrett looked up and down the hallway. He was alone. No door had opened or closed. The woman had disappeared.
He was in a colonial inn in Newport, he thought. Of course it could be haunted. He ran a hand over his face. Key in hand, he continued down the hall. By the burned-out light, he saw a set of stairs going up to the third floor. Peering up, he saw the chain across the steps with a sign. ‘Private Residence’. It was dark beyond.
Julia had no idea that he was coming. He’d been on the phone with her this afternoon, and they’d even sent texts back and forth a couple of times tonight. He had given her no inkling that he was already on his way to Newport. Yesterday, he’d been shut out. By showing up here today, he wanted to show Julia that the promotion and the move didn’t change the way he felt. He wanted to be part of their life.
His room was just beyond Julia’s. With one last look down the hall, he turned the key in his door and entered the dark room. A gust of autumn wind blew in from an open window, rattling a picture frame on the wall and causing the gauze curtains to stand straight out like ghostly wings against the ceiling.
Standing inside the door, Garrett sensed that he was not alone in the room. He could feel the eyes of someone watching him. Hating him.
He switched on a lamp by the door. Yellow light bathed the room, throwing deep shadows into dark corners.
The door slammed and Garrett jumped, his eyes sweeping the room. The wind eased, and the sheers fell calmly against the sills. No one else was there.
"Halloween, a wicked draft, and exhaustion," he muttered. “Get a grip.”
The temperature had dropped considerably since he left Boston this afternoon. He closed the window and glanced around at the furnishings. Four-poster bed. The usual dressers and tables. Two reading chairs by the window. Exposed ceiling rafters of rough-hewn timber completed the colonial feel of the room. At one end, the bathroom. At the other end, a door that he knew must lead into Julia and Amy’s room.
He checked his phone. The last text from Julia had come a few minutes after seven. They were walking into the theater to see a movie. Almost two hours ago.
His eye was drawn to Julia’s door. He walked over and unbolted the latch, but it was locked from the other side.
He stopped, hearing faint voices. Snatches of conversation.
I want to stay…
A woman and a child’s voice. But the woman didn’t sound like Julia. And it couldn’t have been Amy. For a second, he wondered if the receptionist downstairs had put him in the wrong room.
"Julia?" he called, pressing his palm flat against the door. The wood felt like ice.
The voices stopped.
The knob turned from the other side, but it didn’t open. Suddenly, a heavy bang rattled the door.
Shocked, he jumped back. Over and over, the doorframe shook.
"Unlock it, Julia," he called.
As suddenly as it started, it stopped, and the sound of scratching began. Someone was sitting on the floor on the other side, clawing at the door. Then, as he stared, long lines of claw marks started to show through the paint. Garrett took another step back.
“This isn’t happening,” he said, feeling the hackles rise on his neck.
Just as the words left his mouth, the scratching stopped. Even as he stared, the claw marks disappeared.
The sound of moaning came through the door. A woman crying.
About the Author:
Jan Coffey aka Nikoo and Jim McGoldrick are storytellers, teachers, and partners in the truest sense.
Nikoo was born in Tehran, Iran, and moved to United States on the eve of Iranian revolution. After receiving a degree in Mechanical engineering, for fifteen years she worked in shipbuilding and robotics, holding manufacturing and higher level management positions. Always a writer and teacher at heart, she gave up her engineering career to pursue writing full time over a decade ago. These days, she also conducts frequent workshops on writing and publishing and serves as a visiting author at middle and high schools.
When their first son was born, Jim gave up a successful career in shipbuilding to pursue a PhD in Medieval and Renaissance literature. After being awarded tenure at a university in Pennsylvania, he found that the opportunity to write novels full-time could not be ignored. Since then, he and Nikoo have written well over two dozen works of fiction and nonfiction. Along with his writing, he currently teaches English and Creative Writing in northwestern Connecticut.
Together, Nikoo and Jim write historical fiction as May McGoldrick and contemporary suspense thrillers as Jan Coffey.
These prolific and popular authors have been the recipients of numerous awards for their work. They now reside in Litchfield County, Connecticut.
$20 digital gift card (Winner’s Choice: Amazon or B&N) and a Nautical brooch for every tour stop.