For The Higgins Clarks, Suspense Is A Family Affair For Mary and Carol Higgins Clark, the family business is suspense — of the fictional order. The mother and daughter write suspense novels separately, and also team up to write a series of holiday mysteries, most recently Dashing Through the Snow.

For The Higgins Clarks, Suspense Is A Family Affair

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MONTAGNE: If you're looking for something to read during these cold, wintery holidays, you might want to consider some suspense. Mary Higgins Clark and her daughter, Carol Higgins Clark, recently published their fifth holiday mystery novel called "Dashing Through the Snow." Here's an excerpt.

Ms. CAROL HIGGINS CLARK (Writer, Reading an excerpt from "Dashing Through the Snow"): Elvira really close behind, was inside the store, before Charlie could even think about opening the door for them. A cameraman and a young male reporter came rushing toward them.

Ms. MARY HIGGINS CLARK (Writer, Reading an excerpt from "Dashing Through the Snow"): I'm Jonathan Chuttle from the BUZ Network, the reporter said excitedly. I bet you two have the winning lottery ticket, showing up in a limo and all. Sorry to disappointe you, Elvira said as the cameraman snapped off his light. And the reporter lowered his mic she added breezily, But we did win $40 million in the lottery several years ago.

MONTAGNE: These two mystery writers between them have published 52 books and sold millions of copies worldwide. As part of our series: "The Family Business," Mary and Carol Higgins Clark sat down with us in our New York bureau. Good morning.

Ms. MARY H. CLARK: Good morning.

Ms. CAROL H. CLARK: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Now, I'm going to begin with Mary Higgins Clark. Did you, as a young girl, have role models for your dream of being a writer?

Ms. MARY H. CLARK: Well, I always loved the read suspense. My mother would call up: Is the light out? And I would say, yes. But I was holding a book up to the street light. ..TEXT: (Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MARY H. CLARK: Because I just always had a book under her arm or under the pillow, it was just the way it was. But interestingly, my favorite was always the suspense writers. And from the time I was a kid, I was always trying to be the one who solved the mystery first. So I didn't realize it, I was teaching myself how to be a mystery writer.

MONTAGNE: Now I have read something that I think is so funny, and that is that one of your first jobs, and you were quite young, was not as a writer, but you were working as a telephone operator in a hotel and...

Ms. MARY H. CLARK: Oh yes, in New York. I was 15-years-old, and I just loved to listen in, those were those old-fashioned boards. You know it was, Hotel Shelton, good afternoon. And then you would tap to see if Room 358 was in. And if the board wasn't busy, you slipped out the master key, and then you could listen in.

MONTAGNE: Well, you hate to be one of those people living in the hotel, but I suppose that's a good way to learn how people talk, especially...

Ms. MARY H. CLARK: Oh you know it was...

MONTAGNE: Listening in on a hotel room.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MARY H. CLARK: And Tennessee Williams lived there. He had the cheapest room in the place. It wasn't even a dollar a night, it was $30 for the month. And years later, when he became famous, and my first book: "Where Are the Children?" had been bought by Simon & Schuster, somebody who knew him said, Let me give it to Tennessee and see if he'll give you a quote on it. And his comment about "Where Are the Children?" which in its 75th printing right now, was,I know a lot of people who can write better than that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: Well was he interesting to listen in to?

Ms. MARY H. CLARK: Oh you know, it was the usual kind of gossipy thing. There was one lady who lived there, who had pretty lively telephone conversations. And one time, she said, Don't say another world, that operator is listening in. And I said, No, I'm not.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MARY H. CLARK: And then quickly disconnected the call and a minute later the chief operator, Who had Maggie Ryan? Not me.

MONTAGNE: It wasn't until you were a mother of three, and this would have been 1956, when your first short story was actually published, but I gather you named the child born that year...


MONTAGNE: After the heroine of that story.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: That's Carol who is sitting with...

Ms. MARY H. CLARK: My co-author Carol, yes. I had 11 short stories in the mail by the time that one sold. And the one that sold had been out 40 times until I found a little magazine in Chicago, Extension Magazine, and it bought it for $100. And that was the beginning of my writing career.

MONTAGNE: Now Carol, that short story is where you enter the picture, or the plot, I guess. Both as a baby, but also as a potential future writer. Do you think you were born to be a writer?

Ms. CAROL H. CLARK: Well, I always joke I felt the excitement in the womb, when she got that acceptance letter. But, I just grew up, my mother had the typewriter out, and then when I was in college, and she had her first suspense novel coming out, and had to get her second one into her agent, it was before computers. And she didn't know how she was going to get it re-typed in time, so I did it. And that's really what got me into it, because I had talked to her about the characters and the plot, and I did that for a number of her books, which was great for me to learn about how to write.

MONTAGNE: There have been a series of tragically young deaths in your family. Mary Higgins Clark, your father died when you were just ten, during the Depression. Then your older brother, when you were a teenager, during World War II. Your husband and then Carol, this would be your father when you, Carol, were just a child, and on the same day his own mother died, too. Has that informed your writing?

Ms. CAROL H. CLARK: I haven't used that as subject matter, but of course, it shapes you, how can it not? With me, I always wanted to use humor in my books. That's what I like to do. My father had a great sense of humor.

Ms. MARY H. CLARK: It's the awareness of the fragility of life that has always been with me from the time my father died in his sleep. That has always made me utterly patient with the small things that go wrong in life.

Ms. CAROL H. CLARK: When my father and grandmother were being waked, you know, there were two caskets there and someone came up to my mother and said, I'm sorry for your double trouble. So, my mother almost cracked up, right then and there, but my father would have appreciated it.

Ms. MARY H. CLARK: Well, because the Irish have an expression, I'm sorry for your trouble. And for some reason it annoyed Warren. He said: You're not sorry for the trouble, you're sorry they're experiencing trouble. And that seemed to be a pet peeve of his. So, when somebody came up, looked at the two caskets, and said to me, I'm sorry for your double trouble. I started to laugh and honest to God, I thought, Oh my Lord, Warren is going to sit up and look at this guy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: Is writing a part of the conversation when you get together as a family, given that you're plots are mysteries and suspense? I was just wondering if you, in your separate books if you keep the plots to yourselves?


(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CAROL H. CLARK: We wouldn't steal from each other.

(Soundbite of Laughter)

Ms. CAROL H. CLARK: We actually fax each other pages as we're working our separate books, just to get feedback. Actually, one or two times we were talking about what each of us was working on. And there was something with art theft in both our books, but it was so different it didn't matter.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. M. CLARK: And another time I was going to have a crooked Santa Claus and you said, You can't do that. I've got one in the book I'm working on.

Ms. CAROL H. CLARK: That's right.

Ms. MARY H. CLARK: But we do, talk our plots with each other, because you know when you're writing and rewriting, you can get so close to it that it suddenly seems dull. You need fresh eyes you can count on to say, That's fine, what are you worried about?

MONTAGNE: Thank you both for joining us.

Ms. CAROL H. CLARK: Well, thank you.

Ms. MARY H. CLARK: Oh it's a pleasure, Renee. Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Mary Higgins Clark and her daughter Carol, write suspense novels separately, and team up to write a series of holiday mysteries. The latest, "Dashing Through the Snow."

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