Mary Higgins Clark is warm. She's gracious. She's friendly. And she genuinely enjoys meeting her legions of fans across the country, when she's not busy serving as grand marshal of the St. Patrick's Day Parade in New York, as she did last month, or spending time with her big and bustling family, which includes her husband, John Conheeney, her five grown children and the couple's 16 grandchildren. Somewhere in there, of course, she writes.
But something else helps explain this author's remarkable success as one of America's best-selling writers with more than 100 million books in print in the United States alone: She has great respect for her readers.
"Readers are very smart," she says. "They're counting on something, which they have every right to do. Any time I ever thought 'I'm not telling a good story,' or 'This is not up to snuff,' I would not try to publish it. And they wouldn't want me to."
Her new novel (read an excerpt from I'll Walk Alone) weaves a tale involving identity theft and a missing child. It's her 30th mystery novel, but she has 12 other books to her credit as well. She's written five Christmas mysteries with her daughter Carol Higgins Clark; a personal memoir, Kitchen Privileges, which tells of growing up in Depression-era New York; a biographical novel about George and Martha Washington, Mount Vernon Love Story; several short story collections; a children's book; and more.
In a recent interview with the AARP Bulletin, Higgins Clark, now 83, not only shared details about how she works, but also advice for those who aspire to write their own stories. And she couldn't help herself: She shared her Irish wit as well.
Q. You've been writing since at least 1956 or so. How have you been able to maintain your discipline and energy all these years?
A. So far, so good! (Laughs.) Really, writing is my sole talent. I can't sing, can't sew, never had a sense of rhythm, could never throw a ball except when it went off the field. The one talent that the legendary godmother left in my cradle was to be an Irish storyteller. And it's never been hard for me to come up with ideas.
Q. But anyone walking down the street can have a good idea for a book. You've made it a reality. How?
A. I have a need to write. There are people who would like to write, there are people who have a genuine talent for writing, and there are the rest of us — those of us who become known, who truly need to write. And it is a need, like eating or brushing your teeth. We write in the morning, we write in the afternoon, we write on the back of a piece of paper, we get up early, we stay up late, because we simply are compelled to write.