Mary Higgins Clark & Carol Higgins Clark: Mysteries of a mother-daughter writing team
“How in the world did you do this? How did the two of you make this wonderful mother-daughter mystery-book-writing team when my daughter and I can barely make cookies together?” asked Los Angeles Times reporter Mary McNamara with genuine awe as she sat between suspense novelists Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark on Sunday at USC’s Bing Theater.
Daughter Carol Higgins Clark explained that it mostly started by accident. Noticing how overwhelmed her recently widowed mother was, balancing several jobs while raising five children, Carol volunteered to retype the manuscript to one of her mother’s suspense novels (this was back when computers were just a silly fantasy). Carol did this for several novels; learning from her mother’s writing, asking questions and making valid suggestions. It did not take long before Carol realized that she had a passion as well as a knack for writing suspense. It was then that her mother bestowed invaluable advice: “If someone is mean to you, make them the next victim in your book,” Carol shared, with a good-natured smile.
Today, mother and daughter still sit proudly side by side, Mary just having completed her 30th novel, a suspense novel about identity theft, murder and kidnaping titled “I’ll Walk Alone” and Carol having completed her 14th novel titled “Mobbed,” a fast-paced mystery filled with Carol’s trademark humor. The two not only write in the same genre, but over the past eleven years they have co-authored five Christmas suspense novels.
The Clarks discussed that one of the greatest challenges when writing mystery and suspense today is that with all the technology and social media available, it is difficult to set a suspense story in the modern day without making it seem incredibly simple to get in touch with a missing individual. “Between Facebook, Twitter, cellphones and text messages, if someone goes missing today for even a few hours, you are already worrying and you are already turning to one of these modes of communication to contact them,” said Carol. McNamara emphasized this dilemma and got laughs laughs from audience members when she explained, “Right, like Romeo and Juliet. If that happened today, she could just text Romeo and say ‘I’m not dead. Don’t worry.’”
However, through challenges and struggles, Mary and Carol Higgins Clark have succeeded in finding their own unique voice and style, always writing according to what they enjoy reading. Mary shared her advice to hopeful writers and said, “Look at your bookshelves and ask yourself, ‘What do I pick up at the end of the day? What do I take on airplanes with me?’ That’s where the treasure lies — that’s where you belong and that’s what you should write.”
-- Jasmine Elist
Photo: Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clarkat the 2011 Festival of Books. Credit: David Livingston/Getty Images