Thursday, November 10, 2022

Without the aid of a finishing school, by Catriona

Have you met your literary hero at a conference, or other event? Or have you maintained your author crush from afar?

My meeting with my literary hero was a calamity of uncool that I can laugh about now, years later.

I had always known of Mary Higgins Clark, of course - I worked in a public library and she was one of those prolific authors you navigate by when shelving - but it was when Harlan Coben said he learned plotting from reading her books that I started devouring her considerable oeuvre. 

I fell in love, as if I'd tripped at the top of a staricase, carelessly place at the edge of a cliff. Splat.

Everything about her fictional world entranced me: the chessmaster moving around of her chracters; the effortless-seeming shuffling of POVs; the shameless nods to beloved bits of real New York; the love letter to Catholicism that was always there somewhere . . . 

I was equally beguiled by her real life too: the determination it took to get started - rising at five to write before work, as a young widow with five children; the polish of her author photos in whch she never wore fewer than five pieces of serious jewellery; the loyalty (I thought) of staying in her hard-scrabble, blue-collar New Jersey town - I didn't know what Saddle River was like.

I adored her.

Fast forward to Bouchercon in Cleveland, 2012. I was nominated for a Macavity award for best historical novel for THE PROPER TREATMENT OF BLOODSTAINS, to be announced at the opening ceremony in the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame. Heady stuff, right? I took a look at the other names on the shortlist, though, and concluded that I, who had never won anything, certainly wasn't going to win this and so didn't have to worry about what I might say.

Guess what happened? Correct. (Which is why I still say to every nominee "Never assume. Even if the others on the shortlist are Shakespeare, Jane Austen and God - write your editor's name on the back of your hand.")

I had no names on the back of my hand and I was so flabbergasted I thanked one person - Janet Rudolph - who handed me the award. Her I thanked for having such pretty hair.

Afterwards, my friends assured me that the acoustics were terrible and no one had heard what I said. It didn't seem likely to me that the acoustics in the Rock'n'Roll Hall of fame were terrible, but I clutched the comfort anyway.

The next morning, I was headed for the desk in the hotel lobby to ask for a replacement key because I had left mine in my room, and I noticed that I was neck and neck with none other than Mary Higgins Clark and her "spouse extraordinaire", John Conheeney. I didn't want to push in front of her so I swerved to one side and slightly backwards. Subtly, I hoped. Actually, however, I got my feet tangled in the easel displaying a huge poster advertising the librarians' tea with . . . guess who . . . Mary Higgins Clark. I managed not to fall over but the easel and poster came clattering down.

MHC turned to see what the noise was, clocked me, and said, "Contratulations, honey!" Then she paused and, with perfect comic timing, added, "Boy you were surprised, huh?"

I've loved her even more ever since, for turning a mortifying moment into a happy memory. 


James W. Ziskin said...

Great memory! Beautiful story.


Gabriel Valjan said...

"...the shortlist are Shakespeare, Jane Austen and God - write your editor's name on the back of your hand." Brilliant advice, and I can picture the easel catastrophe. Lovely memory...and MHC was known for her generosity in Jersey. And I know where Saddle River is, too. I was I-280 Exit 10.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Great post, Catriona. You've got me wanting to read some Mary Higgins Clark.