Mary Higgins Clark was no overnight success; the writer was 43 when she had her first hit, the 1975 novel "Where Are the Children?" Since then the New York Times bestselling author has written more than 50 books, from mysteries and historical novels to short stories, children books and a memoir. The "Queen of Suspense" talks with Erin Moriarty about her career, and how she never takes her readers for granted.
Watch the video and answer the questions below.
1. How many books has Mary Higgins Clark written?
2. What is the fascination with murder?
3. Where does she get much of her inspiration?
4. What is her family background?
5. Why was she forced to work odd jobs?
6. When did her will-be husband, Warren Clark, proposed to her?
7. What happened when she was 37?
8. What did she do when she got her first book contract?
9. How many times has Where are the Children? been printed?
10. In what way do the main character in her books resemble Mary Higgins Clark?
Take a look at the complete body of work of author Mary Higgins Clark, the queen of suspense. She’s granted an audience to a woman who’s no stranger to mystery, correspondent Erin Moriarty of 48 Hours.
You’d never guess to look at her, but this sweet church-going mother and grandmother has a very dark side.
I mean, you have any idea of how many people have died at your hands?
At least one a book. One a book!
And we are talking about 52 books and counting. She is, of course, Mary Higgins Clark, the writer that many consider the Queen of Suspense. At 89 years of age, her dark imagination continues to fuel bestsellers. Her latest mystery, All By Myself, Alone, will be released this week, by Simon and Schuster, a subsidiary of CBS.
What is the fascination with murder?
Well, there was Adam and Eve. They had two kids, Cain and Abel, and one killed the other. So it’s been in our very nature since Day One.
Her stories are pure fiction, but Higgins Clark gets much inspiration from true life.
I used to go to trials a lot. You can get more out of the trial and the sadness in it and the poignancy in it than you could ever imagine.
The sadness and poignancy of ordinary lives is a common theme, something Mary Higgins Clark learned early, growing up with two brothers in the Bronx in New York during the Depression.
That’s when my father came over on from the ship.
And your father, Irish immigrant?
Irish immigrant, and he had a bar and grill, a successful one before everything went sour. But he died at 34 of a heart attack because the business went bad, and that’s what killed him.
She was only 11 years old.
It’s a heartbreak. I think any time one parent goes, it’s never the same. You’re flying on one wing.
Forced to work odd jobs to help support her family, she imagined one day she’d have a career as a writer.
I always thought I would make it. I was a telephone operator after school. ‘Hotel Shelton, good afternoon’, and if I got downtown early enough, I would walk past Fifth Avenue and pick out the clothes I would have when I was a successful writer.
At 22 she married Warren Clark, a boy from the neighbourhood, who proposed to her on their very first date, and she began sending short stories to magazines. She still has the rejection letters, 40 of them.
This one was my favourite, though.
“We are reluctantly forced, purely as a matter of timing, to decline your offering of this story to us at this time.”
That’s a very nice way to turn you down.
Oh, that was the nicest I ever got. There was one, ‘Mrs. Clark, your stories are light, slight and trite.’
That would hurt my feelings.
I thought, ‘I’ll get you, girl.’
Making her writing pay off became a necessity when history repeated itself, and her own husband suddenly died. She was 37 years old, with five children to support. Higgins Clark, who had to pawn her jewellery to pay bills, began writing radio scripts for a living, and novels on the side. Her first, a romantic novel about George Washington and his wife, Martha, did not sell well. But her second book…
Where Are the Children? was the big difference.
And how did that come about?
Well, I looked at my bookshelves and that’s when I realized I had so many suspense novels.
Where are the Children? was a hit.
I think I was 43 when that book came out.
So you were an overnight success?
No, dear heart, I was not an overnight success by any stretch!
She got her first book contract, and was able to buy back the jewellery she pawned, and more.
It became fun, when I started to be successful, to get a piece of jewellery to remind myself that I had worked hard.
She now has quite a jewellery collection, considering that nearly every book over more than 40 years has been a bestseller.
Where are the Children?, having been the big breakthrough, is obviously very dear, because it made all the difference in my life when that one came out.
I read that it is in its 75th printing, is that right?
Yes, yes, it is, because it just keeps going.
And so does Mary Higgins Clark. She is remarried, and lives on four acres in New Jersey in a home complete with an elevator that opens into her writer’s studio. Murder and mayhem may still drive her plots, but at the heart of each book is a character much like the author herself, a hero who turns adversity into advantage, while keeping her readers on the edge of their seats.
When your book is coming out, do you still feel some nervousness, will my readers like it as much as they have in the past?
Oh, of course, because I have never taken a reader for granted. Never. So each book is the best I can write under these circumstances, and then, pray God that it goes over well.
2 it’s been in human nature since Cain and Abel/day one
3 from real life/trials
4 daughter of an Irish immigrant who grew in the Bronx with two brothers
5 to help support her family after her dad died
6 on their very first date
7 her husband died
8 she was able to buy back the jewellery she had pawned
10 they turn adversity into advantage