An unstoppable mother-daughter duo
Mary Higgins Clark and daughter Carol Higgins Clark have a way of finishing each other’s sentences—and not just when talking. Together they’ve written five holiday suspense novels, and separately they have written countless other bestsellers.
The mother-daughter relationship is a complex one, sometimes fraught with frustrations, but not so for these two. As entertaining and titillating a story as that might be—creative differences, clashing egos, epic fights—Mary and Carol reserve that sort of thing for fiction. In contrast to the nefarious goings-on in their novels, the authors are gracious, grounded and just downright nice—and they get along swimmingly.
In a recent conversation divided between the Manhattan offices of Simon & Schuster and Mary’s home in New Jersey, the two Clarks are happy to discuss everything from the creative process to maintaining a positive outlook on life.
Both women have books coming out this spring, Mary’s I’ll Walk Alone and Carol’s Mobbed, her 14th Regan Reilly mystery. In her new book, Mary tackles the subject of identity theft with the story of Zan Moreland, a talented New York interior designer who discovers that someone has not only stolen her identity, but has also taken on her appearance. It’s a chilling, and timely, doppelganger drama sure to thrill fans. Carol’s latest, Mobbed, involves a stalked starlet and a deadly garage sale—but to say more would spoil the fun.
Asked what she thinks of Carol’s latest mystery, Mary says definitively, “It’s a very funny book.” A genuinely flattered Carol responds, “Thanks, Mom!”
Even when not collaborating, Carol and Mary read each other’s work in progress, but, says Mary, “This time Carol was so busy with her own that she didn’t see mine, and now that I finished mine, I’ve been reading Carol’s in progress. Other years it will start the other way.”
From her mother’s house in New Jersey, Carol chimes in, “Sometimes we’ll fax each other pages as we’re working on our own books and say, ‘What do you think?’ It’s just nice to get feedback and encouragement.”
In such a symbiotic relationship, however, one wonders if it’s ever a challenge not to take the feedback personally. “It doesn’t ever feel like criticism. That’s the difference,” Carol explains. “We just want to help each other tell a better story . . . and that’s why we can write books together.” She laughs, “It’s really a good working relationship we have.”
Carol and Mary long ago established a comfortable writing routine. Mary recreates a typical scene: “We sit next to each other. Carol works on a laptop, and I always work at my desk.” She laughs, “So she’s the fingas on it.” (That’s “fingers” in Mary’s charming New Yawkese.) Carol describes an average day as follows: “We sit on the couch with our legs outstretched and sometimes move out onto the porch for a change of scene.” Mary adds, “Every few hours when we’re working together we’ll say, ‘We’ve sucked up all the energy in this room, let’s move.’ ”
Their working relationship began when Carol was a co-ed and took on the task of typing her mother’s manuscripts. “I started typing her books when I was in college, before computers, when she was working full time,” Carol says. “I had to get her manuscripts in to her agent, and that was great because it got us into being able to work together.” Carol credits this partnership with saving the life of Mary’s beloved character Alvirah Sheehan, the lottery winner and amateur detective who appears in the Christmas books and in I’ll Walk Alone. “I saved Alvirah’s life,” Carol proclaims, taking due credit. “My mother had killed her off in a book, and I begged for her life, and she finally relented. I just thought Alvirah was so funny.”
While studying acting and helping her mother, Carol met a producer who encouraged her to write her own book, advising her, “You should write a part you can possibly play.” Carol says, “If I hadn’t typed the books, it would have been much harder to start because I had seen the process she goes through and how it evolves, which was very helpful.”
Growing up in a large Irish-Catholic family with Mary at its head also provided fertile ground for Carol’s creativity to flourish. Asked what she was like as a child, Mary says, “Carol was always a good kid. She was a funny kid, and hardworking—because I worked. You know her father died when she was eight. She was always a big help and had a great sense of humor. Carol was a straight A student in high school and grammar school and always just fun to be around.” Carol, again says, “Thanks, Mom.”
Mary honed her skill, in part, out of necessity. After her husband died, she had to find a way to support her young family and would get up at 5:00 a.m. each day to write before corralling the kids for school. She says with typical humility, “People think that’s so valiant, but, you know, people get up early to do yoga or to jog, or whatever . . .” Or write 30-plus best-selling books.
Asked to share the best advice that her mother ever gave her, Carol jokes, “The best advice my mother ever gave me about writing is that if someone’s mean to you, make them a victim in your next book! But, no, my mother’s always had a positive outlook on life and is such an optimist. She works hard; she looks at the positive.”
Mary agrees, “I have always been an optimist. And I have always felt that you should give back when you’ve been blessed. I think much is expected of those to whom much has been given.”
Listening to these two talk, it’s easy to detect their ease with each other and their mutual admiration. So it’s no mystery why Mary and Carol Higgins Clark make such a winning team—in life and literature.