Author Mary Higgins Clark is still keeping us in suspense
When she was a little girl growing up in the Bronx, acclaimed Irish American writer Mary Higgins Clark used to write short plays and perform them with the help of her brothers. It was, she says, a fun way to get in touch with her writing abilities.
So in answer to the question when did she become a writer she replies, “When was I not?”
“It was decided for me,” she says in a genteel accent that retains clear traces of her Bronx Irish origins. “From the time I was six years old I was writing skits and making my brothers perform in them.
“I remember my little brother saying, ‘Can I be the star, just once?’ and I replied, ‘No, I’m the writer, that makes me the star.’”
Nowadays of course, Higgins Clark enjoys the kind of success most people can only dream of. In 2000 alone she made $64 million under order to write four new books for Simon & Schuster.
Her literary output has always been prodigious, a fact that served her well whenever tragedy struck, which it often did. In 1964, when she was 36, her first husband Warren Clark and her mother-in-law died on the same night (her husband from a heart attack, her mother-in-law was overcome at the news and collapsed).
To maintain her sanity, her family and to keep the roof over her head Higgins Clark threw herself into her writing work. It paid off almost right away.
But resilience and toughness in the face of life’s challenges is something Higgins Clark learned from her Irish grandmother. “My grandmother had a sense of herself as a writer. She went to he grave saying, ‘I know I can write a book,’” Higgins Clark said.
“Of course she never had a chance with nine kids and a couple of orphans to look after, including nieces and nephews who moved in with them. So she was a busy lady who died at 62.
“I was thinking of her today as I was filling out the census form that just arrived. Years ago when she was filling out her census form she was asked to give her occupation and she wrote, washes and Irons. She had a sense of irony, you know?”
Higgins Clark’s own Irish background is typical of her generations. Her father came over to New York from Roscommon when he was 20 in 1905. Her mother was raised here in New York, and both of her grandparents were immigrants.
“They lived on 79th Street between York and First Avenue in a parlor floor and basement back before it was glamorous to live there. My mother was almost 40 when she married and my father was 42,” Higgins Clark says.
“She didn’t rush to get married at 21 or 22. For years she was a bridal buyer at B. Altman’s department store (it closed for the last time in 1989, after over a century of business) and she enjoyed a very successful career. She and my father went steady for seven years before they married, which as you know is very Irish.”
As for her own development as a writer, Higgins Clark feels that some of it is innate and some of is a skill she developed over the years.
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