The fateful words, ‘God, it was beastly hot in Calcutta’, uttered by a friend who was a Pan Am stewardess (the politically-correct term back then), had put the future Queen of Suspense on a very different career trajectory than the one she has become famous for the world over. Deciding that she, like her friend, wanted to see the world, a very young Mary Higgins signed up as a fellow Pan Am stewardess and was soon doing runs to Europe, Africa and Asia. Some were more memorable than others like the time she ended up in Syria during a revolution or the time she found herself on the last flight into Czechoslovakia before the Iron Curtain went down. These adventures would later prove valuable fodder for her best-selling books.
When her children were young, Higgins Clark would get up at five in the morning and write at the kitchen table until she had to get the children ready for school at seven.“For me, writing is a need,” she has said.“It’s the degree of yearning that separates the real writer from the ‘would-be’s’.Those who say, ‘I’ll write when I have time, when the kids are grown up or when I have a quiet place to work,’ will probably never do it.’”
Mary Theresa Eleanor Higgins Clark’s first book was a biographical novel about George Washington called Aspire to the Heavens.Although Higgins Clark acknowledges that the book was a commercial disaster, it proved to her that she could write a book and get it published.Despite the commercial failure of her first book, she went to work on a suspense novel next because those were the ones she liked to read.The book was called Where Are the Children? and it became her first bestseller as well as a turning point in her life and career.Each of her subsequent 41 books have been bestsellers in the U.S. and in various European countries.As of 2007, all of Higgins Clark’s books remained in print, with her debut suspense novel, Where Are the Children? in its seventy-fifth printing.
Her own father died when Higgins Clark was ten, leaving her mother to raise her and her two brother alone.Her mother took babysitting jobs and while still in high school, Higgins Clark babysat and worked as a switchboard operator to help with the family finances.She went to college after her own children were grown and she was already an established writer.In 1979, Mary Higgins Clark graduated from Fordham University at Lincoln Center summa cum laude with a B.A. in philosophy and to celebrate, she gave herself a graduation party with the invitation proclaiming:‘This card is 25 years overdue – help prove it’s not too late.’
And by all accounts, Mary Higgins Clark has been a role model extraordinaire to her five children and has done a superb job raising them single-handedly.Her daughter, Carol Higgins Clark is an author of suspense novels like her mother; her second daughter, Marilyn, is a superior court judge, while her daughter, Patty, is an executive assistant at the Mercantile Exchange.Her son, Warren, is a lawyer and a municipal court judge and her other son, David, is president and CEO of Talk Marketing Enterprises, Inc.Dating throughout her widowhood, Higgins Clark was married to Raymond Ploetz from 1978 to 1986, an experience she once described as a ‘disastrous’ marriage and one which she had annulled.In 1996, she remarried again, this time to John Conheeney, the retired CEO of Merrill Lynch Futures.They had been introduced to each other by her daughter, Patty.Higgins Clark has stated that her marriage to Conheeney greatly expanded her family since between them, they boast nine children and about 17 grandchildren.
Now in her late eighties, Higgins Clark shows no sign of slowing down.When asked once whether she would ever consider a life of leisure, she refers to a saying she once heard:‘If you want to be happy for a year, win the lottery.If you want to be happy for a lifetime, love what you do.That’s the way it is for me – I love to spin yarns.’And with any luck, the Queen of Suspense will keep spinning those yarns for years to come.