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Mary Higgins Clark, Bestselling Suspense Novelist

January 26, 2010
by findingDulcinea Staff
Mary Higgins Clark, a widowed mother of five children, spent two decades writing short stories and novels before receiving her big break at the age of 47. She has authored or co-authored more than 40 bestsellers, most of which are suspense novels featuring female protagonists.

Mary Higgins Clark’s Early Days

Mary Theresa Eleanor Higgins was born Dec. 24, 1927, in the Bronx, N.Y., to a family of Irish immigrants. After her father died when she was 11, she took a job as a secretary to help support her family. She also worked for a year as an airline stewardess before a 1950 marriage to Warren Clark, with whom she had five children.

She wrote short stories in her spare time, selling her first in 1956 for $100 and having others published. Following her husband’s death in 1964, she was forced to take a job writing radio scripts. She managed to continue writing her own stories every morning between 5:00 and 7:00, and soon transitioned into writing novels at the suggestion of her agent.

Clark’s Notable Accomplishments

Clark completed her first novel, a fictionalized account of George Washington’s life called “Aspire to the Heavens,” in 1969. Though the book was not widely released, it encouraged Clark to continue writing novels.

Her next work, a suspense novel about a mother falsely accused of killing her children, changed her life. Sold to Simon & Schuster for $3,000, “Where Are the Children?” became an immediate bestseller when it was published in 1975. Now financially stable, the 47-year-old Clark decided to enroll at Fordham University—graduating in 1979 with a philosophy degree—as she continued her work.

In 1977, Clark sold “A Stranger Is Watching” for $1.5 million. She went on to become one of the most prolific and financially successful writers in the U.S., earning the nickname the “Queen of Suspense.” Her books, including her memoir “Kitchen Privileges,” have sold more than 100 million copies in the U.S. alone.

The Rest of the Story

Clark was honored in 2000 as a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America, which also created an award in her name. The Mary Higgins Clark Award honors novels that, like Clark’s, feature a young, independent female protagonist “whose life is suddenly invaded” and who “solves her problem by her own courage and intelligence.”

A devout Catholic, Clark was named a Dame of the Order of St. Gregory the Great, a papal honor. She has also been honored by other Catholic organizations and Irish-American organizations.

Clark, now 82, has not slowed down in her writing career, having released at least one novel every year since 1989, including five with her daughter, Carol Higgins Clark.

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