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April 16, 2010

Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark: It's No Mystery That They Love Writing Together

Posted by Anonymous

Mary Higgins Clark is the "Queen of Suspense," and her daughter Carol Higgins Clark is a bestselling mystery writer in her own right. So, what happens when the two of them team up to write their Christmas books? Do sparks fly? Do they write together or alone? And just how do they do the research for their plots? Here they unlock the mystery behind their teamwork.

Higgins-Clark_150x220.jpgWhat made you decide to write together?
Mary:  My editor, Michael Korda, suggested it 10 years ago. Since I am with Simon & Schuster, and Carol had just joined Scribner, it was a natural development. They are sister publishers under the same roof.
Carol:  I had started retyping my mother's manuscripts for her when I was in college.  This was before computers! It was fun for me to talk with my mother about her plots and characters and make suggestions. I even saved one of her character's lives.  Alvirah Meehan, a cleaning woman who won $40 million dollars in the lottery, appeared in my mother's book WEEP NO MORE LADY, but met an unfortunate demise. When I was retyping it, I called my mother and begged for Alvirah's life.  Now four of our five Christmas books have Alvirah and my continuing character, private investigator Regan Reilly, solving crimes together.
Can you share a story about one of the books you wrote together?
Mary:  After we have chosen a setting, we go to that area and do "research."  In THE CHRISTMAS THIEF most of the action takes place in Stowe, Vermont. We visited Stowe for a long weekend and stayed at the Von Trapp family lodge. Luckily we met a woman in her 80s who owns a Christmas tree farm. We had been told it would take three hours to cut down a huge tree using a manual saw. She told us she could do it in 10 minutes!  If we hadn't met her we would have had our villains taking forever to cut down a tree in the middle of the night --- it would have been ridiculous!
Carol:  In SANTA CRUISE, the action takes place, naturally, on a cruise ship. We booked a six-day cruise, just the two of us, to soak up the atmosphere and get started on the book.   We ended up using the rock climbing wall from that ship in SANTA CRUISE but couldn't find a place for the belly flop contests.
How do you share your writing responsibilities?
Both: From the start, we are in the same room while we write every word of the book. A lot of people assume we write alternate chapters. We don't. The process is enjoyable. In fact, John, (Mary's husband) heard us laughing so much he called out, "I hope the reading public finds this book as funny as you too do!
Do you outline or do you write as a story unfolds?
Both:  We start by sitting down and figuring out what the basic plot will be. Four of our five books have been with Regan and Alvirah. In the first book, DECK THE HALLS, where Regan and Alvirah actually meet, we decided that Regan's father and his driver would be kidnapped. We also decided that Regan should meet her love interest in that book. Then we started writing. Before we begin a chapter we decide what action will take place to forward the story.
Who has final say?  Does "Mom always rule," or how do you handle writing conflicts?
Both: It's hard for many people to believe that we don't fight when we're writing together!  We really don't. It's never necessary for (Mary) to have the final say. If one of us makes a suggestion that the other thinks doesn't work, we'll discuss it. We feel completely comfortable being honest with each other. In other words, it never comes to blows!!
What do each of you bring to the table?
Mary: We decided to answer this for each other. I think Carol brings a delightful wit, and a talent for creating wonderful offbeat secondary characters.
Carol:  My mother is called "The Queen of Suspense!" She brings plenty to the table!  She also has a great sense of humor which she has to suppress in her novels of psychological suspense but can unleash when we write these books together.
What if your favorite snack food/drink when you are writing?
Mary:  If it's the morning, it's the second or third cup of coffee. I'm not much of a nibbler between meals but if it's late afternoon or evening, a glass of wine with cheese and crackers tastes wonderful.
Carol:  Sounds good to me! I used to love peanut butter on Ritz crackers until I developed an allergy for peanuts.
Do you have advice for anyone who would like to write a book with their mother or daughter?
Mary:  For us it has been delightful to work together. However, I would advise anyone trying it for the first time to understand that to be successful there must be give and take.  Egos should not get in the way.  Before you start, you should be agreement about the kind of story you want to tell. For example, if the mother wants to write LOLITA and the daughter wants to write REBECCA SUNNYBROOK FARM, I don't think it will turn out to be a sunny experience for you!
Carol:  We do have had a great time writing these books together. My first piece of advice for a mother and daughter who want to try it would be to establish a writing schedule.  Our Christmas books are written during the summer when we have fewer commitments which makes it easier to spend a lot of concentrated time together.  Basically, remember you're a team.  And remember to have fun. So many people tell me I'm lucky to be able to spend so much time with my mother...and get paid for it!
Mary Higgins Clark's latest novel, THE SHADOW OF YOUR SMILE, and Carol Higgins Clark's new novel, WRECKED: A Reilly Regan Mystery, are in stores now.