They Did It! Mary Higgins Clark and her daughter Carol both have books on the bestseller list


They Did It!

Mary Higgins Clark and her daughter Carol both have books on the bestseller list.

Story by Mary Pat Kelly

They did it! On Sunday, April 27, 2008, Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark became the first mother and daughter authors to place two separate books on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list at the same time. Mary Higgins Clark retains her "Queen of Suspense" crown as her novel Where Are You Now?, the story of a sister's search for her Columbia University student brother who disappeared ten years before yet telephones his mother each Mother's Day, debuted at number one. Zapped, the eleventh mystery in Carol Higgins Clark's fast-paced and very funny series featuring Regan Reilly, the Manhattan private investigator, captured number twelve. Exciting!

As Mary and Carol began the joint book tour that would take them across the country (see for the schedule) the pleasure they derive from their work, from their success and from each other was obvious as they began the first of many events signing books at the Mysterious Book Shop and Barnes and Noble in Manhattan's Tribeca. "Blossoms of spring and heaps of good wishes to you, my cherished readers. I hope you enjoy reading this tale as much as I enjoyed writing it," Mary Higgins Clark tells her fans on the acknowledgment page that opens Where Are You Now? That intimacy between the writer and her fans is expressed in the more than 150 million copies of her 27 suspense novels, three collections of short stories, her historical novel and the four Christmas suspense novels written with Carol that have sold worldwide.

Though Mary Higgins Clark's novels center on murder and dark family secrets and put her heroines into heart-pounding jeopardy, they have something of the open-hearted optimism of their creator. She meets life's sorrows head on and refuses to be defeated by them. She attributes this resilience to her Irish-American roots. "I am a descendant of Kellys, Kennedys, Durkins and Higgins, all from the Sligo/Mayo area," Mary says. Her father, Luke Higgins, came to New York in 1905 and, as Mary reports, "kept company" with Nora Durkin for seven years. They married when her father was 45 and her mother almost 40. They had three children. Mary was the middle one and the only girl.

In her memoir, Kitchen Privileges, Mary describes a happy childhood surrounded by aunts, uncles and cousins. Her father's Bronx pub flourished and the family moved into their own house on rural Pelham Parkway. But the Depression and her father's too early death ended their financial security. Her mother supported the children by renting out rooms, with kitchen privileges, in the house. But Mary says that her mother's determination to be upbeat cushioned the children and made their house a center for the talk and stories that fed her writer's imagination. Her mother gave her a journal when Mary was seven years old and encouraged her to read the poems she wrote to guests. "My mother's belief in me kept alive my dreams to be a writer," she says.

And it was writing radio shows that enabled Mary to take care of her five young children when her own husband died and Mary needed to put in practice the lesson she'd learned from her mother - no self-pity.

She devoted the time from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. to writing her first novel on the typewriter she set up on her kitchen table. She had sold short stories -- the first to Extension magazine after receiving 40 rejection slips from other publications, but the book, a biographical novel about George Washington, was published by a company that went out of business and did not sell. She kept writing and found that by telling stories of suspense she could impart insights from her own life. And people responded.

Mary and Carol talked about this as these two beautiful women, elegantly dressed, with the down-to-earth glamour that's fun to be around, sat down with Irish America magazine.

Mary Higgins Clark: I've always understood the fragility of life. You're lucky if you can count heads at the end of the day and everybody you care about is okay and there. Because nobody knows. How many people get the phone call - somebody was killed in an accident.

In my books a sense of justice prevails and the world seems a little calmer. The bad are punished, the good - after a series of trials - at least have the promise of a bright future. They have the hope of living happily. That's what I try to give my readers.

I just received a little gold heart locket from a woman waiting for a heart transplant. She said she was so tired she could hardly read anymore, but she wanted me to have it because, she said, "You've given me so much pleasure."

Carol Higgins Clark: Hearing from readers is the most fulfilling part for me too. I get e-mails that talk about Regan Reilly and Jack as if they were real people. I created Regan when a producer, who knew I was an actress, said to me, "write a series character you could possibly play. You have the acting background and you've worked with your mother." So I came up with Regan Reilly, who of course hasn't aged a day in 16 years since I started writing her, so I couldn't play her anymore. The publisher who liked my idea said, "Make her mother a mystery writer." I did and named her Nora after my grandmother. They're Irish from Summit, New Jersey, and her father, Luke (for my grandfather), owns three funeral homes. In the first four books Regan was single. Then my mother and I were asked to write a Christmas book together, and we came up with a love interest for her - the head of the major case squad when her father is kidnapped along with his driver. My mother and I thought Jack would be a good name for him, but what should his last name be? At the same moment we looked at each other and said, "Reilly." So he's Jack Reilly and now she's Regan Reilly Reilly. They honeymooned in Ireland for Laced. For Zapped, they're back in Tribeca. I went to Ashford Castle and to Galway to do the research and had a wonderful time.