The Women Who Became Writing Partners After 50 Years of Friendship

Nancy Markey and Kay Adams on how they teamed up in their 60s to pursue a shared lifelong dream.

The Women Who Became Writing Partners After 50 Years of Friendship

Quick — who’s your oldest friend? How many years have you known each other? Nancy Markey and Kay Adams probably have you beat. And by a few decades. For 52 and ½ years, their friendship has stayed strong, from grade school in Arkansas, through to high school and college, and then while living far apart. And now, they’re writing partners. After successful careers — Nancy as a flight attendant and later an attorney; Kay as an executive in the banking industry — the two friends have teamed up to tell a series of forgotten stories about Gilded Age Newport, Rhode Island, including a novel in progress and their recent hit Narratively story, A Gilded Age Tale of Murder and Madness.

We sat down with Nancy and Kay to ask them the secret of lifelong friendship, what it’s like to write together, and how to turn history into creative nonfiction. 

Tell us your friendship origin story — how did you meet? How did you stay close?

NANCY: In fifth grade, we played on the same softball team. I was a pitcher, and she was the catcher. 

KAY: In high school, we were both on the speech and debate team. We weren’t debate partners, but we were in the same group. And then we were roommates our freshman year in college. And we pledged the same sorority.

NANCY: And then Kay was lucky enough to go back to Arkansas, and I had to stay on the East Coast. So then we raised our kids and…I don’t know how we reconnected.

KAY: I think every time you came home, you would always call and we would meet for dinner. We exchanged Christmas cards, and you know, that type of thing, and that was about it for maybe 10 years. 

Nancy (left) and Kay as high school seniors at a roller skating party, 1978.

You both pursued other careers before writing; tell me about that.

KAY: We’ve both been blessed with tremendous success. It wasn’t given to us; we’re both women of the ‘70s. Hard work, you know? We had to do twice as much for half as much.

I got into banking just because someone offered me the job. It was very happenstance. I had no career plan in that arena at all. But I found it was something that I just ended up being good at. And luckily, I enjoyed the people I worked with and I had a roughly 33-year career in that field. 

But I was still writing. I was a closet writer; I didn’t want anybody to know I was doing it. But at night, I just sit in bed and I write. I’ve always kept journals and sometimes I would just sit down and make-up little stories, Nancy’ll remember that. I used to write these little short stories. It was just something I did like as a stress-buster and a creative outlet.

NANCY: So I had actually gone to school to be a history teacher. I graduated in December; there were no jobs teaching, I was dating a pilot and it was his vision that I become a flight attendant. And so I became a flight attendant for about 10 years. 

I had been flying to Tokyo, but I got demoted down to domestic. That’s how I got really interested in labor. And I went to law school to represent labor. I was a history major. I only had one English class in college. So when I got my first law school paperback, I couldn’t read it; it was just red ink everywhere. Honestly, law school taught me to write, and it’s a different kind of writing that is not creative, which fits right in with my mindset. 

KAY: Now we’ve kind of ventured into this whole new arena — if you’d asked me five years ago if we would’ve been doing this kind of stuff, I would’ve laughed. 

But now it’s like, I think we’re testament that you’re never too old. We both have the desire to bring stories to light. I just want to write and always have, but kind of pushed it to the side because of family and work. I think we’re testament to that when you can go back and pull your dreams back in, there’s no time frame. It’s never too late to try to do it. 

What’s the process like of writing together?

NANCY: This should not work because I only read nonfiction. I’ve only ever been interested in history and nonfiction…

KAY: …and all I read is fiction and I love historical fiction. I love classic novels. Give me Eudora Welty and Robert Penn Warren. I’m a sucker for Southern Gothic. 

NANCY: She’s so creative and she’s also very thoughtful. So before she puts pen to paper, she’s thought about it. Whereas I write it, and then I revise it, revise it, revise it. Kay is also very methodical, where she likes to write in the order of things that happen. I would prefer to jump ahead to something interesting and write, you know, an outline of a chapter —

KAY: I’m linear; she isn’t! And our longstanding and treasured friendship also gives us a level of respect for one another in the way we both work individually. And it makes us better. We bring out the best in each other.

NANCY: We have no pride of authorship. If she tells me she doesn’t like something, it’s out. 

How do you take real people from history and turn them into characters that live and breathe on the page?

NANCY: Kay and I don’t always agree on a person’s true character. So we’re guessing based on what we’re reading. 

KAY: But you formulate a vision around what you’re reading about. And as you’re digging in and doing the research, you start to develop a character development model. You’re learning more about how they speak…the hard part for us is we don’t have a physical picture, so you almost have to create one. When you’re trying to write about them, especially in the nonfiction format, you have to be as true to what you’ve read and eliminate that mental picture that you’ve developed on your own. 

Kay Adams (left) and Nancy Markey.

Any final reflections about friendship, writing together, or anything in between?

KAY: Working on this project with Nancy gave me a fresh start in my life in a way that I can’t even put into words — it gave me a whole new perspective on things. 

NANCY: It gave us something to do during the pandemic, a reason to get up in the morning. It kept us busy during the day when we couldn’t go out. And at the end of the day, we liked what we did. If it wasn’t for the pandemic, speaking for myself, this probably would have never happened.

KAY: It was a period where you were forced to have time for introspection. For me, this project was a lifeline in more ways than I’ll ever be able to describe, and just to get to spend the time with Nancy, it was just great.

NANCY: It also helped me with the mourning process for my father. And Kay and I had a strong friendship, but it even strengthened that. It reaffirmed the fact that we truly love and respect each other. Even though, as you can probably see, we are so different. 

Read Kay and Nancy’s Narratively Story, A Gilded Age Tale of Murder and Madness and learn more about their work at gildedageauthors.com.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.