Karen and Tony Muldoon of Hampton have been collaborating on stories, and life, for more than 30 years, first as award-winning journalists at the Courier-Post in Cherry Hill, N.J., and later as screenwriters hoping for a shot at Hollywood success.
Somewhere in the middle, 1986 to be exact, they tied the knot and began their personal journey together. With the release of "Becoming Finnigan" (High Tide Publications) earlier this year, they jumped into the realm of first-time novelists.
"Becoming Finnigan" is the story of 30-year-old Althea Burnside who writes "The Belle of Haddonfield," a book which she believes is the definitive novel about Dolley Madison. When the book is done, a job that consumed three years of Althea's young life with days of non-stop writing and researching, she celebrates with a bottle of champagne and envisions life as a big-time novelist. Barely 48 hours later, she notices a newspaper review about a new book titled "Queen of the Indian King," a fictionalized historical novel about none other than Dolley Madison, written by some old geezer named Joel Finnigan. And it's not just any old review, it's a rave review.
Althea buys the book to compare, and as she reads, she experiences every novelist's nightmare: Someone has stolen her story and that someone told it better. Fueled by anger, she sets off to learn more about this Joel Finnigan, and that's where the couple's novel takes off.
Written in short chapters and alternating sections told from Althea's and Joel's points of view, the book contrasts her life of unknowingly self-absorbed angst with his life of service and selflessness. In the end, both characters are irrevocably changed, for the better.
That back-and-forth structure isn't unlike the Muldoons' writing process. "Becoming Finnigan" began with a novella that Karen wrote. Tony added historical depth and detail, growing the story into a full-length novel.
Yet their writing is truly collaborative, they say. The Muldoons pass their work back and forth so much, they often don't remember who wrote what.
Karen, 68, described her husband's efforts as "expansive Irishness," she said. "I build a well-crafted structure, and Tony comes along with 50-gallon drums of B.S."
The blend works for them. Tony, who turned 73 in August, loves history and discovering how events shape lives. He always has a notebook with him to jot down ideas, and he did extensive research to tell Finnigan's life as a heroic World War II paratrooper and later as an observer and recorder of the turbulence of the 1960s.
He gives credit to Stephen Ambrose who told the story of WWII's 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment in "Band of Brothers," and to Jules Witcover, author of "The Year the Dream Died," about the traumatic events of 1968.
The effort resulted in vividly detailed scenes that suck the reader into the event, like this excerpt about the D-Day invasion of Normandy:
"The thirty men of 1st Platoon stood next to one another, jammed in fifteen to a side on the long, aluminum, pie and wire-lined fuselage. Second Lieutenant Dave McNamee, a high school history teacher from New Milford, Connecticut, was in the rear of the plane, the better to lead the way through the door into the black and deadly sky. ...McNamee, laden down with his main and reserve parachutes, his field pack, and his Thompson submachine gun with enough ammunition to satisfy its ravenous appetite, waddled to the door. He shivered in the cold air as the jumpmaster, a burly sergeant, opened the door and began leading the 1st Platoon through the paratroopers' final liturgy."
While Tony Muldoon enjoys bringing history to life, Karen Muldoon enjoys exploring how people affect each other's lives. Ultimately, "Becoming Finnigan" isn't a story about the turmoil of war and man's inhumanity against fellow man. It's a story about Joel Finnigan's selfless strength in the face of danger and despair, and more importantly, about Althea Burnside's slow but sure growth in recognizing of the meaning of true love.
That character growth is the backbone of the story, and it's not accidental. In describing how characters lead the way in story-telling, Tony said, "Characters are very real people. All they lack is bodies."
The two love talking to readers about their characters, too. Since the release of "Becoming Finnigan," the book was selected by two South Hampton Roads book clubs. "The clubs seem to enjoy having input from the authors and we get a real kick out of seeing characters that have been real to us for such a long time becoming real to others as well," Karen Muldoon said.
The couple moved to Hampton in 2008. As sailors, they spent more than two decades cruising from New England to Hampton Roads in their 30-foot sloop "Fiontar" which they owned until last year. When Karen was offered a job in New Hampshire, all it took was one look at the area's snowfall total of 100 inches in mid-February for the couple to veer south.
Today the two write separately and together. They work on multiple projects at once, revising them from time to time. You can find their tales of the sea, as well as more about their sailing life, in their blog "The Sailor's Snug" at sailorssnug.blogspot.com. You can learn more about their writing life together on their website, readmuldoon.com.
"Becoming Finnigan" is available in print and eBook from Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com for about $17 and $3.99, respectively.
More Writers' Block
To see a video of Tony and Karen Muldoon discussing their writing collaboration, go to http://www.dailypress.com. Leah Price blogs about the Hampton Roads writing community at dailypress.com/writersblock.Copyright © 2015, CT Now