Judith Gould: Nick's Story

Would you believe that English is not my native language? Well, it isn’t! I was born in a small town in Austria about 25 miles from Graz, where Arnold Schwarzenegger was born. And if writing books under a lady’s pseudonym seems strange, real life is stranger yet—and really sounds like fiction!

It seems I was destined to undergo a series of name changes. I was baptized Klaus Peter Peer. My biological father died when I was two, and when I turned six, my brother and I were adopted by my aunt, who had married an American serviceman and who had, up until then, been my uncle. Thus I officially became Klaus Peter Bienes. My adoptive father was stationed with the U.S. embassy in Belgrade, in what is now called “the former Yugoslavia.” Next was a 4-year assignment in Germany. Being an army brat, I attended American schools on U.S. Army bases, and quickly learned English.

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Bottle Blond: Me Today That’s dye. I’m naturally black-haired. (And a Capricorn.)

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Bio-Mom and I (Leoben 1952) Her father was half Italian—to which I attribute my creative genes!

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Off-Duty GI in Germany If this hotel was good enough for young Mozart...

I didn’t set foot in the United States until I was eleven, and that was when I became a naturalized citizen. Along with my naturalization, my first name was changed to the American version, Nicholas. Thus I became (and still am), Nicholas Peter Bienes. Is it any wonder that co-authoring novels under a pseudonym only seems perfectly natural?

Anyway, since my father was an interpreter of German and English, we were shuttled back and forth between the States and what was then called “West Germany.” I was an avid reader from the start, and family lore has it that I came home from elementary school one day in tears because someone had called me a “bookworm.” Apparently I’d taken it as an insult! But even then I already knew I was destined to become a writer. Fiction was in my blood.

Army bases aren’t exactly known for being bastions of culture, but somehow we always ended up back in Germany. Besides being near Austria (and relatives), it also gave us the opportunity to travel—and travel we did. But my real eye-opener to the world at large came with another embassy posting—Bad Godesberg, the bedroom community for Bonn and the location of the American (as well as a lot of other), embassies—due to its proximity to Bonn. There the American embassy school was filled not with army brats, but mostly with the children of diplomats from around the world, an eye-opening cultural experience. And it was from there, way back in 1968, that my older brother and I took a Mediterranean cruise all by ourselves—most of which was spent in the Aegean. Ever since, I haven’t been able to stay away from what the poets call that “wine dark sea.”

Moreover, these were the “Swinging Sixties.” Besides checking out every Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt book out of the school library, I discovered Jacqueline Susann and Valley of the Dolls. My future was sealed. Obviously, I had to head to that Mecca of creativity, New York City. A stint in the U.S. Army followed (this was, after all, the height of the Vietnam War), and since I was fluent in German I was assigned to—you guessed it!—Germany. And in the best of what would become the Judith Gould tradition, I spent one of my vacations in winter in St. Moritz! There I learned that some quick finishing school was in order.

Fast forward to 1973. The instant I was discharged from the military (with an Army Commendation Medal), I did what all of Jacqueline Susann’s characters did—instead of attending college, I headed straight to Manhattan. And that’s where one of those Only-In-New-York ironies occurred. Would you believe I spent my first three years working in the same office building where my future publisher was located? It’s true—but how was I to know that I would eventually join NAL’s stable of writers, and pseudonymously at that! Nowadays I always joke that if I’d bothered to take the elevator just three floors higher, my writing career would have jump-started a lot earlier.

Of course, I wasn’t ready yet. Talk about being a greenhorn! But never mind that. Pulsating New York in the 70s was the most exciting city in the world. Talk about getting a speedy education in everything from social strata to opera and fine dining to Broadway. And I was like a sponge, always absorbing—looking, listening, and learning. The most important lesson I was taught is that talent is cheap; it’s what you do with it that counts. And the second most important lesson is that you’re only as good as what you do right now; there’s nothing worse than becoming a has-been dining out on the past.

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The Way to a Girl’s Heart There’s no trifling with my English Trifle.
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Ladykiller A private yacht will get you everywhere!

Let me see...what else did I learn? Cooking, for one thing. My Fricassée de Poulet à L’Ancienne and Carrot Coriander Soup are to die for—as is my Kaiser Schmarrn, sweet Austrian pancakes I used to watch my grandmother make. (My newly acquired taste for champagne and sweet desert wines made the perfect accompaniment!) And best of all, I met a dazzling array of people—three of whom taught me more about culture and fashion and the arts than I would have learned at any university.

However, if you’ve gotten the impression I was leading a glamourous life, think again. My first apartment was in a tenement Martin Scorsese used for a scene in Taxi Driver. If You’ve seen that film starring Robert de Niro and Jody Foster (who was a child), you’ll know I wasn’t living the life of Riley. Nowadays, that East Village neighborhood, like anything in Manhattan, is a high-rent district and almost unrecognizable. But back then...

Anyway, it took me six years of working day jobs (and immersing myself in cultural pursuits and scribbling away at night and every opportunity I could get) before I had matured enough to really write. But I had yet to find the catalyst to help make my dream come true.

Enter Lucy Gaston, who’d lived the kind of life you only read about in novels—and only meet in New York. As if waving a magic wand, she introduced me to another aspiring novelist, Rhea Gallaher. Lucy (who has inspired more than one Judith Gould character) must have known something I didn’t—because Rhea and I worked on Sins, which was acquired by NAL—and I finally managed to take the elevator 3 floors higher! Thus my dream of writing turned true, and as Sins was a smash success, Rhea and I have been collaborating on the Judith Gould novels ever since.

After 24 years of living and writing in Manhattan, and accumulating friends, things, and a menagerie of animals, it finally made sense for myself and Rhea to move out of the city to the country house we shared in the Hudson Valley—if what had been a summer stock theater complex can be called a house. And here we now write (buzzing into Manhattan whenever we need a dose of culture or want to see friends), entertain families and friends, garden and raise whichever pets we adopted from the shelter (right now it’s Billy, Jeffrey, and Mina). And from here, too, we regularly take off to travel far and wide. Myself, I keep being drawn back to my beloved Greek islands which I discovered so long, long ago, chartering sailboats and having yachts of fun. And then there are the really adventurous trips—traveling to unexpected exotic places, such the Cape Verde Islands (off the coast of Senegal, Africa) or to Brazil, since Rhea and I are perpetually on the lookout for new settings to use for Judith Gould’s novels.

So you see? Even when you’re sequestered writing, life is never, ever, truly dull!

The Constant Observer: Even on vacation (here in the yacht harbor on the island of Hydra, Greece), I’m never far from pen and paper. There’s always something of an inspirational nature to record, which inevitably ends up in a novel. (FYI: Hydra was where the 1957 film, Boy on a Dolphin, made history with the world’s first wet t-shirt—on Sophia Loren, launching myriads of posters and beginning the trend of “Wet T-shirt Contests). See? I’m just a font of useless information—which is why I’m a writer!
Peek-a-boo! Sunset party on Mykonos in Greece, with (from left to right) friends Sandra (our hostess), Rhea, Christine, and, up front in the blue scarf, Anne-Marie.
©2017 Judith Gould