If Mary Higgins Clark is the Queen of Suspense, then her daughter, Carol, could be considered the Princess of the Pratfall for the quirky comedy she liberally sprinkles throughout her bestselling Regan Reilly mysteries. As a reviewer once said, "Mary Higgins Clark goes for the jugular; Carol Higgins Clark goes for the funny bone."
Clark's apprenticeship to her mega-bestselling mom began early on. In 1975, when she was a student at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, mama Mary was still working full time, supporting five children on her own while trying to get her fledgling career as a novelist off the ground. Daughter Carol did her part to help, pitching in between term papers and acting classes to peck away at her mother's pages on a manual typewriter, making savvy edits along the way.
She recalled to the Philadelphia Inquirer her early days as an unsung editrix of her mother's work: "In one of her books, Loves Music, Loves to Dance, she had a serial killer who was making dates through the personal ads and then killing the girls. So the best friend of one of the girls he killed is trying to figure out who might have done it, so she's going out on these dates. So I was reading it and going over it with my mother and she had all these bars in New York. I said, 'No one goes there, no one goes there.' So I changed all the bars and restaurants. And People magazine said in its review: 'Clark offers a well-informed tour of New York's singles haunts.' So that was my contribution to that book. But I was really learning a lot."
After a few acting stints in off-Broadway theater, movies, and television -- her first role was as an extra on the soap opera Ryan's Hope -- Clark decided to try her hand at writing her own novel. She conjured up a semi-autobiographical heroine, sleuth Regan Reilly (who just so happens to have a celebrity author mother), and Decked debuted in 1992, garnering nominations for both an Agatha and an Anthony Award for Best First Novel. Clark relishes researching each new Regan Reilly adventure, gleaning inspiration from real-life capers both daffy and decadent.
After establishing herself in her own right as a farcical force to be reckoned with -- all of her Regan Reilly novels hit the New York Times bestseller list -- Clark teamed up with her mother in 2000 to pen their first holiday-themed thriller, Deck the Halls. We think it's pretty safe to say Carol didn't have to do all the typing!
(Amanda H. Reid)
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Some outtakes from our interview with Clark:
"My first job was at a dry cleaner's. You'd be amazed at what you find in people's pockets! All sorts of clues about their lives! I had a character in Iced who worked at a dry cleaner's."
"I started out as an actress, and that background has helped me with my books. I love going to the theatre."
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In the spring of 2005, Carol Higgins Clark took some time out to answer some of our questions about her favorite books, authors, and interests.
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
The book that most influenced my life as a writer would have to be my mother's second book, A Stranger Is Watching. It was the first book I typed for her and it familiarized me with the whole process of what it takes to write a book and how to tell the tale.
What are your favorite books, and what makes them special to you?
I remember in kindergarten my teacher reading to us The Little Red Lighthouse. I loved it! When my mother and I wrote Deck the Halls, we used that book as a clue. In third grade there was a long waiting list in our school library for The Little Leftover Witch. When it was finally my turn to check it out, I read it in one day. Growing up I read the Nancy Drew series, which intrigued me. I thought she had the most exciting life! Now I enjoy hearing from readers that they think my character Regan Reilly is a grown-up Nancy Drew.
Gone With the Wind was always a favorite. Who can't be captivated by it?
My mother's first suspense novel, Where Are the Children?, hooked me from the time she handed me a few typewritten pages to read when I was in high school and said she was trying her hand at suspense. That book is one of my favorites for a lot of reasons!
When I'm about to start a new book, I often reread John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley. In it the author sets out on a cross-country adventure with his dog. As I start writing a new story, I feel as if I'm going on an adventure with Regan Reilly.
Of course I enjoy all different mysteries as well as the classics. It's wonderful to pull an old book off the shelf and remember the feeling I'd get when I was reading it in high school. There are so many great books out there!
What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?
I remember when my mother took us to The Sound of Music. My brothers and sisters and I wanted to go see something else but she told us this was sure to be a good one. She was right. I must have seen it at least a dozen times. Another favorite is The Wizard of Oz. Viewing it once a year was such a special event. That was before videocassettes and DVDs. If you wanted to see a certain old movie, you had to be home when it was on!
I enjoyed being scared to death by Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. The Exorcist was another one that kept me on the edge of my seat. I also enjoy comedies -- everything from It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World to Arthur.
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
I enjoy many different types of music -- classical, jazz, pop. But I can't listen to music when I'm writing. It's too distracting for me.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading?
If I had a book club, I'd want to choose a different kind of book each month. It's always interesting to read a current book that is being talked about. My friends in book clubs say they really enjoy their discussions and exchange of ideas.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
I like to give books that either tell a great story or are in some way meaningful to the recipient -- such as a coffee table-style book on a topic that interests them. It's what I like to receive too!
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
I like to get up early in the morning, make a pot of coffee, and turn on the computer. It's my best time to write. I have a laptop and I love its flexibility. I move around my apartment and don't have just one place where I work. I often prop myself up in bed on those early mornings!
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
To those of you who want to write, please keep at it. Take a course. Accept constructive criticism. Read the kind of book you'd like to write. It takes a lot of work, but you have to keep at it!
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
Again, I'd say to take courses and write anytime you get the chance.
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