A MARY HIGGINS CLARK ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION
Mystery Scene|Fall #165, 2020
It’s easiest to say she had magic. Anyone who has ever been in the room with Mary Higgins Clark understood there was some sort of aura around her, a force field of joy and delight, an authentic pleasure in being wherever she was. (If that wasn’t true, all the more brilliant. You would never have known it.)
Hank Phillippi Ryan

But it’s not as easy, not as glib, to recognize the reality. Mary Higgins Clark personified her own heroines. Through incredible adversity, she persevered, fought her personal battles, and flourished. And triumphed. From a working mom typing at the kitchen table at the crack of dawn, she became a relentlessly hardworking, infinitely wise, and incredibly savvy career author. She knew what her readers craved, and she—with skill and exquisite talent—offered it to them with her unending grace and shared enthusiasm.

There is not one of us who doesn’t remember where we met her. I first saw her from afar at Malice Domestic, at a table in front of a line to sign her book so long that it doubled back again and again with a chain of readers who would have happily stayed there waiting even longer than they did. It felt as if we were getting an audience with royalty. And actually, we were.

Simon and Schuster, her only publisher for her 56 books, was so protective of her legacy that almost 20 years ago they established the Mary Higgins Clark Award, to be given each year to a book “most closely written” in the Mary Higgins Clark traditions: no graphic sex or violence or “strong” four-letter words, and starring a “nice” young woman who is not looking for trouble, and who solves her problems via her intelligence.

Was she our muse? Our teacher? Our spirit guide? A whole lineage of authors grew from that legacy. A few friends and colleagues gathered together to talk about Mary’s influence. Some were nominated multiple times for the Mary Higgins Clark Award; several won it, and Carol Goodman won twice—including this year.

Hank Phillippi Ryan: When you sit down to write a new book, is Mary Higgins Clark in your consciousness?

Catriona McPherson: She is, actually. Not her writing, but when I finally stop weeping and wailing and sit myself down in my comfortable study at nine in the morning to do nothing but write all day, I think of Mary at dawn at her kitchen table with her five children still asleep and a couple of hours till she needs to go out to work. It shames me into getting on with it.

Carol Goodman: In the sense that Mary Higgins Clark shaped my concept of romantic suspense, yes. I often think of how she found herself a widow with five children and figured out how to make a living writing these absolutely addictive books. If Mary Higgins Clark could figure out how to do that, my heroine can find her way out of whatever twisty trap I layout for her.

Lori Rader-Day: I couldn’t say that I’m writing with a vision of our patron saint Mary Higgins Clark in my head. I do sometimes recall what we all enjoyed so much about her kind of story, to remind myself what our readers come to a book for. Mary knew what readers wanted.

S.J. Bolton: She captured, perfectly, the sense of an ordinary woman being overtaken by extraordinary events. Her heroines are us, her readers, maybe the girls we were once, or the women we will become. Sometimes they seem to incorporate everything we believe ourselves to be at this moment in time. Their adventures are ours; we share their troubles and their triumphs. This instant connection with the reader is something I’m always striving for, because I know it’s key to a book’s success

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