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Exclusive Interview: A Conversation with Carol Higgins Clark

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Carol Higgins Clark’s 15th Regan Reilly mystery, Gypped, will hit shelves April 3, 2012. Her first Regan Reilly mystery, Decked, was nominated for both the Agatha and Anthony Awards. The other books (in order) are Snagged, Iced, Twanged, Fleeced, Jinxed, Popped, Burned, Hitched, Laced, Zapped, Cursed, Wrecked, and Mobbed.

Carol is the daughter of bestselling suspense writer Mary Higgins Clark. They have co-authored five bestselling holiday novels, Deck the Halls (the book in which Regan Reilly met Jack “no relation” Reilly), He Sees You When You’re Sleeping, The Christmas Thief, Santa Cruise, and Dashing Through the Snow.

Also an actress, Carol lives in New York City.   

How long does it take you to write your mysteries and what type of writing schedule do you have? 

I write one book a year, except when my mother and I write a Christmas book. I like to get up early and get to work. When I’m really into a book, I write all day. When I’m getting to the end, sometimes I don’t know what’s going on around me! Two years ago, I was finishing Wrecked and didn’t realize we were in the middle of a huge snowstorm! I live in New York City and have a view of the East River so I couldn’t tell that snow was piling up when I glanced out the window!

When did you first realize you had a passion for murder?

I don’t really have a passion for murder! My books are more lighthearted so I keep the murder count down.

 

 

How did you come up with the idea for the Regan Reilly series?

Someone suggested to me I try writing a mystery because I’d retyped my mother’s books for her since the time I was in college and I’d been studying acting. I came up with Regan Reilly — the publisher suggested I make her mother a mystery writer.

Did you have deadlines for yourself throughout your writing process?

I never have specific deadlines for myself throughout the writing process. I know when I have to get a book done. During the process, I’m either working on it at the computer or mulling over ideas in my mind as I go about my life. And being a writer, I’m always looking for new material. Whenever something weird occurs, which seems to be fairly often, people always say to me — “You have to use this in a book!”

What do you think the hardest part of being a mystery author is?

I think the hardest part of being a mystery author is dropping the right clues along the way and keeping the readers guessing. Plotting is so important. There have been so many advances in technology and science that sitting down to write a mystery now is certainly different than it was just a few years ago. When I first started writing, I was excited that fax machines had just come into use. My character, Regan Reilly, was on a cruise ship, and she was able to keep in touch with the police in Oxford, England, by fax. There were no cell phones, the internet was not in use. Now with all those devices, you have to have a good reason why a character is out of touch with her family and friends.  

Where do you get inspiration for your characters?

The inspiration for my characters comes from people I come across in life. Or I might think of someone I know and take one of their characteristics, or a mannerism, or the way they talk, and build a character around that. I never base a character completely on a real person. As a writer, I am always observing people. And as we know, truth can be stranger than fiction! Walking down the street, or waiting in line at the store, I’m sure we all come across interesting types! What is exciting  is when I start to write and the characters feel as if they are coming alive.  

Was there a mystery author who influenced your writing?

My mother, Mary Higgins Clark, obviously had the biggest influence on me. I started retyping her books for her when I was in college. This was before computers. It was all about rolling one piece of paper at a time into the typewriter, with correct-a-type or liquid paper by my side! It was fascinating to be retyping the manuscript while she was still making changes, or planning the last part of the book. We’d talk about the plot and her characters. I’m so glad computers weren’t around yet. She wouldn’t have needed my help.

Do you ever get writer’s block?

If I feel as if I have writer’s block, I try and figure out why the story doesn’t feel right. Or I’ll take notes or do research on the place I’m writing about, or the crime, and usually that helps. In Mobbed I have a garage sale. The homeowner is selling everything a famous actress left behind after she rented the house. It was fun to look up on the internet stories about garage sales. I found an article about a garage sale, I think it was in New Zealand. They quoted a woman named Cleo Paradise who said it was a wonderful sale. That’s the name of the actress who is missing in Mobbed. I couldn’t believe it!

What are the greatest challenges to you as an author?

I think the greatest challenge as an author is coming up with a fresh original story each time. No author wants to let down their readers.

Carol, do you think the Kobo, Kindle, Nook and other e-book/tablet readers help or hurt the book industry?

We are all wondering what effect electronic books will have on the book industry. On the one hand they’re wonderful — people can just order up a new book and some people say that now they’re reading more. But I think most of us would agree that we would never want to see bookstores go away. Already so many have closed. It would be great to find a happy medium between the two.

If you could turn back time, what era would you go and visit?

If I could turn back time, I think I’d like to go back to New York City in the early 1900s. My grandfather arrived from Ireland at that time and both my grandmothers grew up here. Of course I’ve heard the family stories, but I would love to experience for myself what life was like back then. My grandmother once spoke of dancing barefoot in Central Park with her friends!

What do you feel are the essential elements of a great story?

For a good story, I think you need characters that readers care about, and a conflict that keeps them turning the pages.

Do you feel your writing is character driven or plot driven? How do you balance these two elements?

Because I write a series, PI Regan Reilly is in all my books. She got married to Jack in my ninth book, Hitched, so he’s now part of the action in my books as well. What’s nice is when people tell me they love Regan and Jack and are looking forward to what they’ll be doing next. In that sense, my books are character driven. But it’s obviously very important to come up with a plot that interests the reader.  

What was the inspiration behind the collaboration with your mom, Mary Higgins Clark?

When I signed with Scribner, which is a division of Simon & Schuster (my mother’s publisher), they suggested we write a Christmas book together. We thought it was a great idea!  We’ve written five so far, and plan to write more in the future. It’s great sitting down with her and coming up with a plot. We put my character, Regan Reilly, together with a character my mother has used in two books and several short stories, Alvirah Meehan, and come up with a story that takes place around the holidays. It’s fun to throw ideas back and forth. We work really well together. Everyone wants to know about the fights we must have — believe me, there are none! Because the Christmas books have humor in them, we laugh a lot. Creating a whole different world (with some crazy characters) is a terrific way to spend time with my mother. 

Visit Carol’s website for all the latest news.

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About Diane Morasco

  • http://notesfromme.wordpress.com Dru

    Great interview!

  • http://fictionforyou.com Marilyn Meredith

    I loved reading this. I met Mary Higgins Clark years ago at a small mystery writing conference in the mountains in California. She was so friendly and gracious. Years later I saw her again at an Edgar week event, and she said she remembered me. I doubt that she did, but it was so nice of her to say so.