More from Mary Higgins Clark
Published: October 29, 2004
|How do you create a villain the readers can identify with on some level?|
In Nighttime Is My Time, the villain is someone who has been holding a grudge all these years. I thought it would be interesting if this guy killed at first by mistake and felt empowered. He was suddenly on the front page. There was a true case in Westchester County [New York] where two doctors were murdered viciously. The door was locked, there was no sign theft. They were looking for someone with a grudge. Years later, a guy who was drunk told his girlfriend that he was whacked on drugs, and he had a memory of going in there. And he was trying to kill his own mother and father. He put their faces on the victims [who were not his parents]. He had the wrong house. I used the same thing. In Nighttime, the girl had moved. Everything is grist for the mill.
Villains are not just thugs. You're talking about somebody who is vengeful enough, psychotic enough, that he has gone over the line.
Talk about the props you use to help define your characters, such as their clothes or houses.
My mother was a bridal buyer at B. Altman & Co., and I do love clothes. In fact, it was more fun to shop for clothes when I couldn't afford them. I'd walk down Fifth Avenue in search of the bargain. The triumph of the bargain was like winning the Kentucky Derby. It was pure heaven.
The way I feel about clothes, it's not a case of being snobby about them, but the way you dress is part of who your are. Laura [a character in Nighttime] has the Chanels. You don't have to say, "She lived too high." You say, she has a lien on the house. That tells it.
Jeanne wears sweaters and slacks. She dresses elegantly and quietly. As for her house, she had seen it was a jewel, even thought it was an absolute disaster when she bought it. She had vision.
The following excerpt appeared on the Powell's Books Web site, www.powells.com, and is reprinted with permission.
By Dave Welch
A year before Where Are the Children was published, you went back to school. Why did you study Philosophy?
My daughter, when she was in school, had been a philosophy major. She's a judge now. And I was always intrigued by what she was studying. And, of course, philosophy also covers a lot of psychology, which is very good for a writer. You have logic, too, and logic, of course, to a suspense writer, is fascinating. I enjoyed it.
The first course I took was on C.S. Lewis. It was a very good, broadening background. I was a voracious reader, but I'd gone to secretarial school initially because my father had died and money was tight. I wanted to get a job. I wanted to grow up.
Your first published book was a biographical novel based on the life of George Washington, Aspire to the Heavens. How did you come to write that?
I thought he was the biggest bore in the world until I started to do a couple radio scripts--I was doing a patriotic radio series--and I kept coming back to him because I found more and more stuff. Most people don't know he was the best dancer in the colony of Virginia. Do you think of him like that? He rode his horse like an Indian; he was a marvelous rider. He had a very wry, dry sense of humor. But those idiotic allegorical tales, which of course got him free dinners for the rest of his life, he made up all those silly stories that we know.
Well, I was writing and selling short stories, but the short-story market had collapsed. I was a young widow. My agent said, "Write a book. I can't sell short stories." So I thought I'd write a book about George Washington. I knew him and I liked him. And I considered it a triumph: I'd written a book, and it had been published.