Call me a snob if you will but I generally have a distrust of best-selling authors. While there are notable exceptions such as Michael Connelly, Ian Rankin, Robert Crais and Laura Lippman, most best-selling authors do not deserve that status.
Too often the bestseller lists is full of authors like Patricia Cornwell and David Baldacci, who were good in their early books but over time resort to formulas while their books drop in quality. I say this to explain why, until this month, I had not read any books by Mary Higgins Clark. But then a publicist sent me a copy of Clark’s latest book, I Heard That Song Before, which came out last week.
I initially balked at reading and reviewing the book, citing a backlog of books to read, and said the only way I’d consider reading it would be if I could interview the author. Well, that plan certainly backfired, as you can see. How often does one get the chance to interview a female writer who has written 24 best-selling novels, and sold more than 85 million copies of her books in the United States alone? Not bloody often.
As you will see she was unfailingly polite in the interview. Thanks to Clark, her assistant and her publicist for arranging this interview.
Scott Butki: Please summarize, in your words, what this book is about.
Mary Higgins Clark: The main character in I Heard That Song Before is a 28-year-old woman, married in a whirl-wind romance, who has to find out if her new husband murdered three people, including her father, while he was sleepwalking.
How did the idea for this book come about?
I read an article about two cases in the U.S. where men are now serving lifetime prison terms for murdering someone they loved while sleepwalking, and two men in Canada who were acquitted by a jury for the same crimes.
Which comes first in books like this one – the plot or the characters?
The basic storyline comes first, the main character is next, and then the plot develops.
What has been the high point in your literary career? The low point?
There are two – selling my first short story for $100 and my first suspense novel to Simon and Schuster for $3,000. I can honestly say I have not had a low point.
What is the best part of being a bestselling author? The worst part?
The best part is that the books (my ‘literary children’) are enjoyed and valued by so many readers. Obviously the financial end of it is joyful. There is no worst part, unless you count the moment the first sentence of the new book is written, and I wonder if I can tell a new tale.
What question do you most wish interviewers would ask but always fail to put forth? Here’s your chance to ask and answer it.
Since Where Are the Children was published in 1975, I cannot think of a single question I have not been asked.
I was reading a profile of you at Wikipedia which, if correct, notes an unorthodox thing you do when writing. Do you really send each chapter directly to your editor as you finish it rather than waiting until you finish the book? Why?
Yes, I do send about 25 pages at a time to my editor, Michael Korda, which works wonderfully well for both of us. It saves me a great deal of rewriting. Michael has an uncanny ability to make a suggestion that strengthens the book from the onset. As an example: Two Little Girls in Blue, which was a hardcover last year and just came out in paperback.
When Michael read the first 50 pages, he said, “Mary, you have got to have an authority figure to validate the telepathy between identical twins for the reader.” At that point I created Dr. Sylvia Harris – a pediatrician who only handles twins, and who has cared for the twins in the book since before they were born.
That profile also says your main character is usually a strong independent young woman. If true, why is that? Is that an intentional choice?
It is an intentional choice to have a strong independent woman. In almost all my books she is self-made in her job or profession. She recognizes the problem and solves it. It is the kind of woman I admire and I think today’s reader expects of me. The days of the "Perils of Pauline," when the Lone Ranger scoops the victim off the railroad tracks as the train is approaching, are over.
Finish this sentence – I still want to write a book in which….
I still want to write a book that is a generational saga. The only mystery will be is whether I will get to do it.
What are you working on next?
My next novel is, Wither Do you Wander, in which a young lawyer tries to find the brother who disappeared while a college student.