U-M Alum Jaclyn Goldis Lives Her Dream as an Author

Jaclyn Goldis always wanted to be an author, a dream that goes back to her childhood.

“Since my earliest memories, it’s always what I’ve wanted to be doing,” said Goldis, who grew up in Farmington Hills and lives abroad in Tel Aviv. 

She also had to be realistic and understood that she needed a way to make money after she graduated from the University of Michigan. Becoming an author wasn’t going to do that.

At least not at first. 

So Goldis became an attorney. 

“I didn’t think I would write the Great American Novel at 22. I don’t think I am now either, but definitely not at 22,” she said, laughing. “A lot of the skillset for being a lawyer lent itself to being a writer. I was good at writing. There’s a logical component that comes in handy now when I write mysteries… I felt, ‘Okay, I’ll have a career to fall back because I knew I was going to still try to become a writer at some point, so I tried to make a go of writing.’”

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To date, Goldis – who earned her bachelor’s degree in economics from U-M and her juris doctor in law from New York University – has written three novels. The first is historical women’s fiction called “When We Were Young.” The last two – “The Chateau” and “The Main Character” – are mystery-thrillers. Released on May 21, “The Main Character” is a tribute to Agatha Christie, the godmother of the mystery genre, and her famous novel “Murder on the Orient Express.”

Author Jaclyn Goldis.
Jaclyn Goldis. Photo by Shai Hansav.

“I adore Agatha Christie. She’s on every mystery writer’s pedestal. I read an article in an online travel magazine about how they’d refurbished the Orient Express trains and were now starting to run them. I saw these photos and they looked like they were from the golden age of train travel. Of course, I immediately thought of ‘Murder on the Orient Express.’ I decided to take a totally different spin. There’s not much in it that reflects on (‘Murder’) other than the setting and the murder,” explained Goldis.

In “The Main Character,” reclusive bestselling author Ginevra Ex has an unusual approach to her novels: She hires real people, conducts extensive interviews and background checks, then turns them into fiction. Her latest main character, Rory, is thrilled when Ginevra presents her with quite the bonus for becoming her muse: A lavish trip along Italy’s Mediterranean coast aboard the newly renovated Orient Express. However, Rory’s brother, best friend, and ex-fiancé are also aboard. All of them were hired by Ginevra as well. All of them are also hiding secrets. 

“It was fun to take that iconic setting and Christie’s iconic book and spin it in a new direction. I envisioned a trip that wouldn’t be just between two destinations… where you’re stopping in places and looking around, so I made up my own trip. The book developed from there. As books do in my experience, they have a mind of their own. That was the starting point,” explained Goldis. 

As the tension-laden train trip gets underway, Rory must uncover why Ginevra wanted them all aboard. She also fears that if she doesn’t soon, everything will culminate like one of Ginevra’s novels: with somebody getting murdered.

“The idea of a bestselling mystery author pulling the strings on this trip came to me pretty early on,” explained Goldis. “She came to me fully formed, which doesn’t usually happen with my characters for me. Usually, I have to grow them, but she came to me pretty grown.” She added: “A lot of backstory… ties into my dad’s history as a Soviet Jew, so there’s some Jewish history in there that I was able to integrate, which was really meaningful.”

Goldis insisted Ginevra is not Christie. Nor is Ginevra her. 

“I didn’t think of Christie when I was writing Ginevra. If anything, it wasn’t conscious,” said Goldis. “I’ve written four earlier novels that will never see the light of day, thank goodness. The earlier novels had a lot of me in them as a main character, which is probably normal for authors: Their first books are kinda autobiographical. My characters all have me inside them, that’s for sure. But I wouldn’t say any character I’ve written in the past few years is really me.”

Goldis spoke about jumping genres, switching from historical women’s fiction to mysteries. 

“My first book was historical women’s fiction. When I planned to write my next book, I was looking at all the books I was reading; they were all mysteries and thrillers. I was thinking, ‘If this was all I was gravitating towards reading, why don’t I try writing one?’ I just adore mysteries. I feel I came to the genre later. I got into chick lit, romance novels, and women’s fiction. Somehow, I missed the mystery genre. It was like, ‘Omigosh, this is my thing,’” she recalled laughing.

At first, Goldis didn’t know if she could make the jump.

“It was a bit intimidating to craft a mystery,” she confessed. “I always want the book I’m working on to be really fun but also the hardest one I’ve written yet. That’s how I felt at the time when I switched to mysteries, but it was also fun; it was one of the most fun writing experiences I’ve ever had. I don’t see stopping. Ever. I love writing mysteries.”

She also spoke about her writing routine, which varies at every stage of every project. 

“One of the linchpins of my writing routine is I walk on the beach every hour in the morning without my phone. It doesn’t sound like it’s actually writing, but it really is. It actually helps me work out the scene I’ll write next or pinpoint a character or plot problem and immediately I have a solution. I’ll run home and work for an hour because I have six ideas that I need to implement in my draft. I’m usually writing 1,500 words/day. I’m more of a morning person,” explained Goldis. 

Since all her books are set in international locations, a lot of research is involved, which is fun for Goldis.  

“I love being a writer so much,” she said. “I feel so grateful that I get to do this. The best part is the writing itself. There’s usually a 4-month period where I write a pretty clean first draft and that’s always part of the year. It’s just so fun. Sometimes, writers talk about how writing is the worst part and they’re happy to get it done. To me, that’s so crazy because that’s my favorite part.” 

Goldis continued: “Reading has given me so much joy in my life. I adore reading and finding new books and escaping into these worlds that bring me so much happiness, so I feel my books do that. They’re ‘happy murder mysteries’ and fun puzzles and you get some escapism abroad – some international culture. There’s some meat in there that’s meaningful. Overall, they’re just fun mysteries. They’re what I like to read. They’re what I like to write. I hope other people do too.”

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