PW: In writing your memoir [Kitchen Privileges], did you have difficulty recalling your childhood?
Mary Higgins Clark: No. I've kept diaries since I was six. Not as much now, because I'm busier, but I can look back at 12, 16 or 25. And the minute you open up one memory, another follows.
PW: You say you were never discouraged by rejection, and always knew you'd be a writer. What gave you such confidence?
MHC: My mother was always supportive. So many parents discourage children. I say praise the creativity. Don't talk about the child's penmanship or spelling. It's so easy to snuff [creativity] out when the child is sensitive.
PW: What were the key steps you took toward polishing your craft and gaining publisher acceptance?
MHC: I wanted to learn how to tell a story. I took courses at NYU to learn the craft of writing. Some people will come to me and say, "Tell me how to find a publisher." I always say, "Do your homework. Check Publishers Weekly, the bible of the business. Find out, for example, which publisher has left a large company to open his own. A new agent is looking for clients. If there's a suspense editor and that's your specialty, contact that person directly. Take classes." If you have an assignment to write a short story, you're much more likely to do it if you have professional advice and meet other people in the same category.
PW: This book, like all your others, has incredibly swift pacing. How do you maintain that forward thrust?
MHC: I always avoided pages of description. Minimal description helps people to visualize. My first professor, William Byron Mowery, once defined a character in a short story: "He had a stoic face." Everyone filled in the rest. Isaac Bashevis Singer said, "I don't care how eloquent your phrasing. Unless you're a storyteller, you're not a writer."
PW: Did you enjoy writing nonfiction?
MHC: All the radio scripts I wrote were nonfiction, so God knows I've done enough of them. It's harder to explore your own life. There were scenes that were painful to write. I lost my husband, Warren, in 1964, and it was like flying with one wing. I've missed him all my life. But I had to handle it.
PW: What sort of organization and discipline did it take to raise five children and still write?
MHC: I worked from five to quarter to seven in the morning, then got the kids off to school. I was literally getting dressed in the car.
PW: What was your main emotional focus in creating this memoir?
MHC: I wanted to write about things of general interest, things with universality that people could identify with. About a young widow who has to work and bring up a family. People who are faced with the challenge of coping and making it.
PW: You quote your teacher and mentor, William Byron Mowery, as saying, "write about what you know."
MHC: For starters, at least. Until you get more experience. I learned to pick out an incident and turn it into fiction. I used my flight hostess background. I moved into the family story, the boy meets girl kind of thing, then the young family.
PW: Did you ever imagine the enormity of a success that includes 27 bestselling suspense novels?
MHC: My mother had great faith in God, and so do I. I remind the Lord every day, I'm not getting arrogant. I know how blessed I am.