Clipper Staff Writer
DAVIS COUNTY — With this family, skeletons in the closet generally means there’s a killer on the loose.
Best-selling mystery novelists Mary and Carol Higgins Clark shared some of their family and writing history with a packed crowd of fans who had gathered at Northridge High school on April 21. The event, jointly sponsored by the Davis County Library and Davis Reads, allowed the mother-and-daughter authors to answer questions asked by the audience and moderator Betsy Burton, owner of the King’s English Bookstore in Salt Lake.
The two authors, who both have books that just recently came out (Mary’s is “Just Take My Heart,” while Carol’s is “Cursed), write in the same genre but have developed very different styles. Mary explained that her more frightening style stemmed from a lifetime of devouring scary suspense stories such as those written by Agatha Christie.
“I always wanted to be the smartest reader. I wanted to know on page 32, not 200,” said Mary. “What I didn’t know at the time was that I was teaching myself to write crime fiction.”
After her first book of historical fiction failed to get a wide audience, she turned to the crime stories that lined her bookshelves for inspiration.
“What I really knew is that I wanted to be scary,” she said. “I wanted the sound of footsteps in the dark.”
Carol said that she had learned a lot as a writer by retyping her mother’s manuscripts in the days when Mary had to use a typewriter. She even influenced some of the stories, such as the timeliness update she gave her mother’s book “Loves Music, Loves to Dance.”
“I changed all the clubs in the book,” said Carol, who has also worked as a professional actor. “When it came out, ‘People’ wrote that ‘Clark offers a well-informed tour of New York singles haunts.’”
Her own style, though, leans more toward humor, satirizing Hollywood and other groups rather than going for cold chills.
“As an actor, I was always known for comedic scenes,” said Carol. “I’m glad for our different styles, because I wouldn’t want to write the same way as Mom.”
During the five Christmas-themed books the pair has co-written, however, their styles merge into stories that are a little bit more frightening than Carol’s and a little bit funnier than Mary’s.
“I can’t use humor in my books because it breaks the step-by-step suspense,” said Mary. “But I can really let loose when we write together.”
Both women said that they really enjoyed the collaborative process, each contributing characters, setting, and plot points as they build the story.
“We really enjoy working together,” said Mary. “We’re not competing. We’re the parents of the story.”
Carol agreed. “People always ask us about our fights, but we never fight.”
In fact, the two have been known to inspire each other. Carol shared a story of a book she was working on about a butler school, and she called the head of one in London to ask if she could audit a few classes to get research. When he screamed at her, accused her of wanting to steal his ideas, and hung up on her, Carol knew exactly what to do.
“I took my mother’s first piece of advice about writing,” she said. “When someone’s mean to you, make them a victim in your next book.”