Author Mary Higgins Clark is still keeping us in suspense
“When I was little and would have my girlfriends over for a pajama party I would say, ‘Let’s turn out all the lights, light one candle and tell ghost stories.’ How Irish is that?
“That was in my bones I guess. And the very first story I sold was a suspense story. It was called Stowaway, and so was the second one, which was called Deadline From Paradise.”
Higgins Clark finally discovered her true talent by looking at her own bookshelf. She noticed it was filled with suspense novels.
In essence she had been training herself to write them for years. From the time she wrote her first suspense novel it became a best-seller.
“When people ask me what kind of writer they should be I ask them, ‘What do you read?’ Usually they reply that they read everything.
“So we’ve established the person is eclectic, so I ask, ‘What do you pick up at the end of the day? What do you grab when you just want to curl up? For me it was always suspense.
“I looked at my bookshelf and it was Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes. I was always trying to be the reader who figured out whodunit. I wanted to have it figured out by page 32. I was training myself to be that kind of writer.”
As her fans know, each of Higgins Clark’s heroines is always an Irish girl or a girl of Irish descent. In her new thriller, The Shadow of Your Smile (Simon & Schuster), her heroine is a pediatrician called Monica Farrell.
“It’s always an Irish girl in the books because I know what her grandmother told her, I know how she thinks, I know how she reacts,” says Higgins Clark.
“They’re always in jobs that make them intelligent and interesting and thoughtful so that they come through with authority in whatever position I have them in.”
Higgins Clark’s books also share what fellow best-selling author Stephen King calls the “gotta” factor. You have “gotta” know what happens on the next page and the next chapter.
“I use the short chapters because once I’ve gotten across what I want to have happen in that chapter I’m not going to belabor it. I want to leave a cliffhanger so that you have to read one more chapter before you go to bed,” she says.
Some critics scoff that her novels are formulaic, but in doing so they miss her considerable strengths -- her plotting is so deft, her characterization so skillful.
“If you’ve read a book that needs 15 pages of explanation to tell you what happened? Well, that’s not a good book,” she feels.
Olivia Morrow, the heroine of Higgins Clark’s latest, is one of her most memorable to date, and the author was inspired to create her in an unusual way.
“The book started last April when a bishop who’s a close friend of our invited us to the beautification ceremony of Mother Mary Angeline McCrory who was credited with a miracle. That’s what gave me the idea for this book. It’s a suspense story that is also a mystery,” she says.
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