Q. You also do a great deal of research and preparation for each book — you don't just sit down and let it spill. Tell us how I'll Walk Alone came to be.
A. For this new book, Michael Korda, my editor for all these years, said to me, "Mary, I was thinking. Identity theft is prevalent. Wouldn't it be good to have a book that focused on identity theft?" And I said, "That really does sound interesting." So I went to the computer and found reams of material about identity theft. But I quickly realized that as frustrating, agonizing and infuriating as the problem is — someone's bought a house in your name, or someone's cleaned out your bank account, and you know nothing about any of it — identity theft is a personal obstacle that's not really enthralling to a general audience.
Q. So how did you make it work?
A. I thought, what if someone exploded the bank account of a young divorcée in New York whose son is kidnapped out of a stroller in Central Park while the babysitter is asleep on a blanket? And what if a video camera just happened to record the entire kidnapping? There is a lot more to it, of course. But I've found that if you have a missing child, everyone cares. Localize this story to one person, and everybody wants to know what happens.
Q. Remind us about your beginnings as a writer.
A. I was widowed young [in 1964, when her husband, Warren, died of a heart attack; the couple had five children]. And every morning I would get up and write from 5 a.m. until a quarter of 7. I would slam the windows — I like a cold bedroom; my kids used to call it my igloo — and I'd flip up the heat. I would go downstairs with a nice bundly robe and make a pot of coffee. And for one hour and 45 minutes every day, I would write. It was better than any other writing during the day, when the phone's ringing every two minutes. Then I would put the manuscript and the typewriter aside and get the kids up. I'd feed them breakfast, not waffles in the toaster — I would really feed them! And I dealt with all of the questions in the morning: "Where is my homework?" "Where is my school uniform?" "Where is this?" "Where is that?" The children were out of the house by 20 minutes to 8, and by a quarter of 8, I was getting into the commuter car and heading into New York City.
Q. You had a full-time job [as a radio-script writer]. With everything else going on, did you ever miss a day of writing?
A. If I ever let that alarm go off early in the morning and said, "Just today, I'll sleep," I hated myself. I felt as though I'd wasted my day. With that uninterrupted time in the morning, I could just sink into my writing.
Q. If you hadn't become a writer, what would you have become?
A. Actually I was very good at advertising and at the radio programs I wrote. And honestly, if I ever went into politics, I would have had fun.