Remembering Mary Higgins Clark, the Queen of Suspense, in Morristown

SUCCESS IS NO MYSTERY to authors Mary Higgins Clark and Karin Slaughter. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
SUCCESS IS NO MYSTERY to authors Mary Higgins Clark, left, and Karin Slaughter, pictured at the 2016 Morristown Festival of Books. Photo by Kevin Coughlin


You, too, can write a best-seller.

“The trick is to sit down, and start it, and maybe go look at books that you really like, and say, ‘I’d like to write like that.’ And analyze them,” Mary Higgins Clark told listeners at the Morristown Festival of Books in 2016.

Clark, who died Friday at age 92, knew what she was talking about. The Queen of Suspense penned more than 50 novels, most of them best-sellers.

Fans pack St. Peter's to hear authors Mary Higgins Clark and Karin Slaughter. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Fans pack St. Peter’s to hear author Mary Higgins Clark in 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Ignoring dozens of early rejections and snarky critiques of her writing style, the former flight attendant found success in her 40s, as a widowed mother of five.

Her steely resolve informed her novels.

“I write about strong women. She may get some help. But she basically solves her own problems,” Clark said in conversation with fellow author Karin Slaughter, before a big crowd at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, in what will be remembered among the highlights of Morristown’s book festival.

Clark seldom wanted for material. News headlines were a rich resource.

“Take a true case and spin it around,” she advised aspiring novelists in the audience.

Video: Mary Higgins Clark de-mystifies mystery writing for Morristown audience in 2016:

Her first best-seller, Where are the Children?, took the true story of a woman convicted of murdering her two children, and re-imagined it with an innocent mother falsely accused.

It was a formula that helped sell more than 100 million copies of her whodunnits.

Clark continued writing into her later years, sometimes collaborating with her daughter, Carol Higgins Clark, and also with Alafair Burke on the Under Suspicion series.

“But at my age,” she told the late Morristown Green correspondent Peggy Carroll in 2016, “half of my social life is with doctors.”

Clark’s books always included “a sprinkling of romance,” the author told the Morristown gathering, “because I am a romantic.”

When Bill Clinton’s stepfather offered to introduce her to an eligible bachelor, however, the thrice-married Clark wryly acknowledged she also was a realist. She remembered responding:

“When I grew up, I thought of myself sitting in the swing, with flowers around it, and Beauregard was pushing me… I grew up to be Beauregard, pushing the swing.”


Video: The late Mary Higgins Clark reminisces about the Clintons in 2016:

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