Most people might have slowed down by now. But Mary Higgins Clark is decidedly not most people. With more than 50 best-selling books to her credit (100 million copies of her thrillers are in print in the United States alone) and a new novel, I’VE GOT MY EYES ON YOU, just released, the “Queen of Suspense” is still on the move. In fact, this Bronx-born denizen of Saddle River, N.J., produces two books a year.
Clark, who celebrated her 90th birthday on Christmas Eve, always makes time for her many (many) fans and will put her pen down long enough to be recognized by her fellow writers. For her “distinguished service to the literary community,” the Authors Guild Foundation on May 16, 2018 will honor Clark, along Fulcrum Publishing’s Charlotte and Robert C. Baron, and Vida: Women in Literary Arts.
Beyond her prodigious and well-received work, Clark has been an indefatigable supporter of the FRAXA Research Foundation, a Massachusetts-based non-profit leading the way into research of Fragile X, the most common inherited form of autism.
Clark indulged our own (resident Clark fan) Carol Beggy in a few questions about her work, her fans, and her philanthropy.
CB: Mary, if I can be so bold as to call a literary hero by her first name, how do you do it? Specifically, you’ve continued to write books that resonate with readers when other authors would have taken their winnings and retired to the beach or the mountains.
MHC: Yes, call me Mary. It’s very flattering that readers have enjoyed my books over the last 43 years. I am at heart a storyteller. That’s what I do. I’m not much of a cook, although my five children did not starve to death. I can’t sew a stitch. Nothing I planted in the garden grew properly. So, what would I do all day if I didn’t write? I hope I never find out!
CB: Are your fans really as loyal as they seem? I overheard two people waiting at the airport, one was reading one of your books, and the conversation involved them first trying to not ruin any plot lines and then debating various stories you told. Do they engage you about your stories? How do you keep it all straight?
MHC: I have been blessed with many readers who say, and they mean it, “I’ve read every one of your books.” We’ve had a relationship that’s lasted over 40 years. I love it when readers tell me my book kept them up until 2:00 in the morning. It’s also great when they tell me which of my books is their favorite. It’s gratifying that their answers are many different titles.
CB: Even within the industry, you have a large following of fans. I have been at Book Expo, the annual publishing industry trade show, and when you are doing a signing the editors, librarians, other authors in attendance “fight” for a spot in your line. (You and James Patterson get that same treatment.) Does it ever surprise you or make you pause that you’ve achieved a kind of rock star status?
MHC: I can honestly say I am living my dream. I know so many people who are wonderful writers who can’t make a living doing it, who get very modest contracts if they can get published at all. I must share a story from the old days. The first book I wrote was a historical novel on George Washington. Its title was ASPIRE TO THE HEAVENS. This was 1968. I would go around to the few bookstores that carried it and volunteer to autograph the copies. In those days the stores could not return a signed book for credit, so every signed book meant a sale. I made a pact with God. If I ever become famous, I’ll never refuse a request to sign a book. I’ll always remember that a signed book meant a sale.
CB: I have a Little Free Library (one of those take a book, leave a book, swapping stations) in front of my house. Your books, any time or format, are among the fastest moving. I put one in the Library’s shelf and it is gone. I even saw an older man take one telling me that he loves to read your books, but people give him a hard time. Has it ever surprised you to learn that someone was a fan?
MHC: My publisher tells me that about three quarters of the people who buy my books are women. But I’ve been delighted to hear from so many men who became readers when their wife, girlfriend or mother insisted that they give my books a try.
CB: As new audiences find you, do you ever want to go back and re-tell a story or re-do a book?
MHC: Not really. Whenever I finish a book, I say, okay, I’ve told the best story I can possibly tell. The only time I have regret, and maybe that’s too strong a word, is when a lot of readers tell me they figured out early on who the killer was, and they were right. I remember in one of my early books I introduced a character who was expert at imitating other people’s voices. That skill makes people very uncomfortable, and they immediately suspected him. I try to keep readers guessing, but when the killer is revealed, I want the reader to agree that there were clues along the way that built a case for this person to be the killer. Nobody likes an ending that comes out of left field.
CB: I understand your son Dave plays an important role in your writing. Can you tell me about that?
MHC: Dave started working with me about five years ago. In the beginning he was doing research and handling my email correspondence with my editor. I developed arthritis in my hands and typing became difficult. I started dictating to Dave. He would bring back what I wrote with some suggestions on how things might be said differently. They were good. It quickly evolved into talking plots and characters with him and the results have been very good. Dave came up with idea for my current book, I’VE GOT MY EYES ON YOU.
CB: Now to the non-writing work that you and your family have dedicated yourselves to: advancing research toward improved treatments and a cure for Fragile X, which affects your grandson. What’s the most important thing people who have not been directly affected by this genetic condition should know about it?
MHC: It’s not always obvious that a child has Fragile X, so if you see a child who is having a hard time – anxious, afraid. having a meltdown – it’s quite possible that they are doing the very best they can. But despite challenges, most people with Fragile X are very friendly and love humor.
CB: Fragile X has been a cause close to your heart. Tell us why it’s so important to you?
MHC: There are so many worthy causes and diseases to be cured, but the impact is greatest when it hits close to home. When my grandson was born, his parents quickly became aware of a relatively new organization called FRAXA Research Foundation. Almost 30 years ago, shortly after my grandson was diagnosed, Katie Clapp and Mike Tranfaglia came to my house, shared the story of their son Andy and how they were devoting their lives to finding treatments and a cure. I was so moved that I pledged $1 million to FRAXA and I hosted a fundraising gala in New York City.
CB: You and now so many members of your family are big supporters of FRAXA Research Foundation. Could you tell us a little bit about FRAXA?
MHC: FRAXA is a national 501c3 nonprofit founded in 1994 in Newburyport, MA. FRAXA’s mission is to find effective treatments and a cure for Fragile X, the most common inherited cause of intellectual disabilities and autism. To date, FRAXA has invested over $27 million into cutting edge biomedical research, yielding discoveries that are changing the lives of families coping with fragile X.
CB: Of the many FRAXA fundraising parties/events you’ve attended, tell me about the one when your granddaughter Elizabeth gave a remarkable speech, “This is my brother”, about her brother David who has Fragile X.
MHC: I thought it was remarkable. Elizabeth has always been so wonderful in how she has gone out of way include her brother in every facet of her life. I’ll never forget her line, “I judge people by the way they treat my brother.”
CB: How can people help?
MHC: There are two ways people can help. Research is expensive. FRAXA is such a worthy cause. And the research they are doing is making a difference in the lives of those affected by Fragile X. There’s another way the relatives and friends can help a family with a child who has Fragile X. Many of them are so good about minding the kids so the parents can have a break. What they should also consider is the sacrifice that siblings of Fragile X kids make. If you can take care of the child with Fragile X while the family and the non-affected siblings have a chance to do an activity together, that is so helpful. We should remember that the siblings of kids with Fragile X are really special, too.
“When I finally did this thing,” Flavin said, “it was a wake up call to me. I had loved these poems and the lyrical connection. I started writing them, and I loved doing them. I loved the Red Sox all my life. I tell people I was born a Red Sox fan and baptized a Catholic.”
Flavin, a 22-year veteran of Boston television, recited some poems and told more than a few stories about the Red Sox and the game he loves as part of a City Club of San Diego event at Michelle and Bill Lerach’s beautiful La Jolla Farms estate.
The well-attended event was organized by San Diego native George Mitrovich, president of the City Club and the Denver Forum and chair of the Red Sox & Great Fenway Park Writers Series. Mitrovitch invited Red Sox fans young and old to hear Flavin do what he does best — humorously recite his favorite poems as he weaves the history and emotion of the game throughout the words.
The 224-page book is published by HarperCollins.
“When I was in the third grade,” Flavin said at an interview at the La Valencia Hotel before his appearance, “I made a discovery. It was a poem by Ernest Lawrence Thayer called ‘Casey at the Bat.’ I loved the story of it, and it was about baseball. I loved the music of it as the words took you inexorably to the conclusion. I loved hearing and saying it more than reading it. I learned the poem on my own. It became part of my act, and I would recite it for anyone who would listen.”
That iconic poem was the inspiration for the poetry Flavin would write about the Red Sox and baseball for the next 15 years.
Ted Williams, a native of San Diego and in Flavin’s opinion the greatest hitter in the history of baseball, had an important influence on Flavin, as is evident by the number of poems and stories around him. Flavin got to know Williams through his pals on the team – centerfielder Dom DiMaggio, a hero of Flavin’s and to whom the book is dedicated, and player-manager Johnny Pesky.
“I’m taking the road trip of a lifetime,” Flavin begins, “and I’m with Dom DiMaggio and Johnny Pesky. We all drove down to Florida to visit with Ted, who was gravely ill. I had to do something to justify my presence among these mythic heroes of my boyhood. So we’re in Ted’s living room, and I do a rewrite in my head of ‘Casey at the Bat.’ I made it about Ted, and the Red Sox and recited it for the three of them. I knew ‘Casey at the Bat’ cold, so it was easy to do. Ted loved it, and every time he saw me, he asked me to do ‘Teddy at the Bat.’”
Flavin also has a deep admiration for “the man with the vision,” as he refers to Larry Lucchino, former Red Sox CEO and a longtime La Jolla resident. Lucchino, who is mentioned often in the book, led the efforts to restore Fenway Park to more than its original grandeur, modernized it and brought it back to life, giving a great gift to the community of Boston. But Flavin considers Lucchino’s impact on baseball to be far greater than just one park.
“Larry’s great legacy to the game,” he explained, “is what he’s done for ballparks. Baltimore is a perfect example of that. He studied what it was about the older parks that people loved and folded that into Camden Yards. He built a retro modern park that has all the bells and whistles but also the traditional aspect to it as well.
“Larry came to San Diego and built Petco Park, a beautiful facility that would not have been built without Larry. They were all Larry Lucchino’s doing. Those three ballparks and what he has done for the community in those three places, Baltimore, San Diego and Boston, should put him in the Hall of Fame as an executive.”
It was Lucchino who asked Flavin to be the poet laureate of the Red Sox, the only team to have one. Even with the season completed — and long after the Sox were in contention — Flavin is still high on the game he loves and preparing for next season.
“When you love something the way fans love baseball,” he said, “you don’t stop just when your team isn’t winning. Baseball is still being played, and I’m still watching. I’ll be ready for spring training, like all baseball fans. We can’t help ourselves.”
For his latest (soon-to-be) bestseller, “Once Upon a Time in Russia: The Rise of the Oligarchs and the Greatest Wealth in History,” Ben Mezrich turns his laser-like gaze to the high-stakes story of two Russian oligarchs. The rise and fall of Boris Berezovsky and Roman Abramovich may seem more like a Robert Ludlum novel than a Ben Mezrich-crafted true-crime account, but Ben, who lives and writes in Boston, covers this new turf like a seasoned foreign correspondent. The author of a dozen books, including “The Accidental Billionaires” (which became the Oscar-winning film “The Social Network”), Ben sat down with our own Carol Beggy just a couple of days after the book’s release to talk about his “first grown up book,” what he learned while researching some of the world’s wealthiest (and most corjrupt) people, and what his next project is going to be. And, yes, he talks about his next Hollywood deal.
(Ed. Note: Ben’s wife, Tonya, is styleboston’s chief fashion correspondent.)
Video produced by V-Neck Media
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Boston was represented at BookExpo America—right from the start. The line to have B.A. Shapiro sign advanced copies of “The Muralist” snaked around the corner of the Algonquin Books booth on the first day of BookExpo America but the novelist still took the time to chat with her fans. As those with Massachusetts’ ties reached the Boston-based novelist’s signing area, the topic quickly changed to the 1990 heist of the 13 precious works of art, including an important Rembrandt seascape. “I hope that they are found one day. I hope they aren’t lost,” she told one fan from Western Massachusetts. It’s not just a passing interest for Shapiro, who has also taught creative writing at Northeastern and sociology at Tufts. Shapiro’s bestselling novel of a couple of years ago, “The Art Forger,” explored the underworld of art theft and forgery. “The Muralist” is set in 1940 and centers on an American painter who disappears and neither her family living in German-occupied France nor her patron, Eleanor Roosevelt, knows what happened to her. The 352-page book is scheduled to be released on Nov. 3.
Other novels from Algonquin that are already getting notice—and it’s only Day 1 of BEA, the country’s largest book industry convention—are Jonathan Evison’s “This is Your Life, Harriet Chance!” due out on Sept. 8; Ron Childess’ “And West is West,” due out Nov. 13; and “The Fall of Princes” by Robert Goolrick due out Aug. 25.
HarperCollins offered a tease (just a booklet sample) of T.J. English’s “Where the Bodies Were Buried: Whitey Bulger and the World That Made Him,” about the trial of James “Whitey” Bulger, which will be released on Sept. 15. The booklet, copies of which English signed, is the book’s introduction and promises to be a review of Bulger’s “reign of terror.”
From the BEA Editors’ Buzz Panel: Grand Central Publishing’s release of Julie Checkoway’s non-fiction tale “The Three-Year Swim Club,” due out on Oct. 27, 2015; Dr. Damon Tweedy’s highly anticipated “Black Man in a White Coat,” from Picador, which will be released on Sept. 8; Dan Marshall’s memoir “Home is Burning” will be released by Flatiron Books on Oct. 20; Simon & Schuster’s imprint Scout Press makes its debut with Ruth Ware’s haunting novel, “In a Dark, Dark Wood,” which is due out this summer; “City on Fire,” is Garth Risk Hallberg’s sweeping debut novel set against the backdrop of the 1977 blackout that nearly crippled New York City, which Knopf will release on Oct. 13; and, finally, Boston-based fiction writer Ottesa Moshfegh’s “Eileen,” which Penguin Press will release on Aug. 18.
When the convention floor opens on the first day there is a rush—not a run, but at a clip that could quickly turn to a stampede—by attendees to grab the copies of the advanced reader copies (ARCs) of the hottest titles. We didn’t want to miss out so we risked our safety and road the wave of librarians heading toward the Hachette area. For those of you who aren’t “label queens” when it comes to your reading, Hachette is the parent company of Little, Brown and Company, which will publish Sunil Yapa’s anticipated novel “The Heart is a Muscle the Size of Your Fist” on Jan. 12, 2016. The bright yellow cover of this debut novel set against the conflict of Seattle’s 1999 WTO protests was an easy way to spot the literary trophy hunters. And Hachette’s Grand Central Publishing has Pulitzer Prize winner Oscar Hijuelos’ “Twain & Stanley Enter Paradise,” slated to be released on Nov. 3, 2015. In this novel, Hijuelos looks at the real-life relationship of Mark Twain and Sir Henry Morton Stanley. For those who love historical fiction, this will be on their “wish lists.”
One of the fastest growing segment’s of the publishing industry is the young adult category (called “YA” in the biz) and while it would be impossible to say which title was the hottest, it can be said without fear of argument that Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s “Illuminae: The Illuminae Files__01” is a book, from Alfred A. Knopf for Young Readers that will make some waves when it is released on Oct. 20. With an elaborate layout and design, the book is that rare find: it offers enough to get both male and female younger readers to pick up a nearly 600-page book.
Another first day stop is the booth for Soho Press, which is known for finding the brightest new voices in crime fiction, where they were promoting Matt Bell’s “Scrapper,” a novel about a Detroit that never rebounds from its economic depths. Think that might not be enough to base your fall reading list on? How’s this for an opening sentence: “See the body of the plant, one hundred years of patriots’ history, fifty years an American wreck.” Soho also has Peter Lovesey’s “Down Among the Dead Men,” a Chief Superintendent Peter Diamond investigation story, out this July and “One Man’s Flag,” by David Downing, which is a follow-up to his “Jack of Spies.” Set in 1914, “One Man’s Flag” covers a lot of history and territory and works, we were told, without having read the first installment. The book is due out in November.
We’ll be back with Day 2’s roundup.
Stopping by the Harvard Book Store to get a copy of “Master Thieves” by Stephen Kurkjian seemed easy enough. (I’ve always thought the hardest part about shopping at the store is finding a parking spot or making the trek up from the Red Line station.) Then I started to puruse the “staff recommendations” and look at the “signed editions” available for sale in the Massachusetts Avenue shop.
First, let me say that the staff at the Harvard Book Store takes the idea of recommendations seriously, very seriously. This staff has a running list of the “Top 100” as well as their own—printed on-demand—book with staff recommendations.
And the “Staff Recommendation” section contains more than 750 suggestions online. Here are a few I’d recommend as well:
Melissa L.-O. calls Sarah Manguso’s book of essays “Ongoingness: The End of a Diary”, which was released by Graywolf Press on March 3, “a dazzling philosophical investigation of the challenge of living in the present.” High praise, indeed.
The store recommends this young readers (ages 8 to 12) book “Dragons at Crumbling Castle: And Other Tales,” a specially released “never-before-published collection of 14 funny and inventive tales.” It is a great way to celebrate the life of this talented writer.
If you love books, you’ve really got to like Newtonville Books. First, let me just note how much affection I have for any bookstore that keeps a separate area for Europa Editions. Yes, I’m judging a book by its cover (they are wonderfully designed) and by its content. Europa is the publisher of dozens of notable novelists including Fabio Bartolomei, Seth Greenland, and Elena Ferrante, whose “Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay” has become a book club staple since its release in September 2014. (It is the third in a series.)
Speaking of book clubs, Newtonville hosts a half dozen book clubs. The store runs and stocks a number of books that are favorites of area book clubs. The selection is well-curated to reflect a broad taste – both popular and new and titles that have been on shelves for a while and might just be gaining a following.
But back to the task at hand: The Staff Picks. This bookstore’s staff clearly has as much love for fiction as it does for non-fiction (something that appears to be rarer than I might have guessed.)
Some of the staff choices that I’d like to point out:
David Peace’s “The Damned UTD,” which The Times of London called “probably the best novel ever written about sport.” The book was originally released in 2006 and was made into a movie. (See The Guardian’s review here: I would suggest, Peace’s book from last May, “Red or Dead” but I do so with a warning. It is a 700-page experimental novel about a soccer coach. Yeah, I know.
Notable in the non-fiction category is Eula Bliss’s “On Immunity: An Inoculation” from Gray Wolf Press that was released last fall. This title was among the “Buzz Panel” titles from last spring’s Book Expo America, which means that the industry and stores had a head’s up about the its release. What I can’t figure is that why a book about how humans are afraid of vaccinations hasn’t prompted even more discussion. Even if this book weren’t as well written and researched (and, I hate to admit an easy to read and share 216 pages), it should be a book all parents are required to read.
Newtonville Books, 10 Langley Road, Newton Centre, MA
When newly minted Super Bowl champ Rob Gronkowski appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” on Monday night, the host asked the dancing tight end if he would read an excerpt from Lacey Noonan’s erotic novel “A Gronking to Remember.” Not one to be easily embarrassed, No. 87 told Kimmel that he’d give it a go, but that he hadn’t read a book “since the ninth grade.” Gronk even referred to that last book as “A Mocking to Remember” and then “A Mockingbird to Remember.”
That got us thinking that now that Gronkowski is in the off-season, we’d make a vacation reading list for him. (I asked the help of our Facebook friends to offer some suggestions as well.)
The Gronkowski Summer Reading List:
- Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird” (or the Gregory Peck movie adaptation) since Scout & Co. didn’t seem to leave much of a lasting impression. And, Gronk can be caught up when the new sequel is released.
- Nicole Barrick Chiasson suggested we “keep it classic and start easy?” So her suggestion is Maurice Sendak’s classic “Where the Wild Things Are.”
- Kathleen Drohan wrote that she thought Gronk should have some spirituality on his readling list so she proposed “The Tao of Pooh.”
- Meg Harris gave a twist on Don Miguel Ruiz’ “The Four Agreements” and suggested that Gronk might create “The Four Agronkments: 1. No Readin’ 2. No Writin’ 3. No ‘rithmetic 4. Girls
- Ryan Bruner thinks that maybe Gronkowski would make for the perfect replacement in “The Gronk That Stole Christmas.”
- styleboston’s dear friend Mary J. Kakas “went there” and suggested Gronk might first start with elocution lessons, but lightened up a bit and said that he should read “War and Peace.”
- Cathy Kleinbart made such a wonderful suggestion that we almost claimed we thought of it: “Make Way for Ducklings.”
And, we’d like to throw on the list the not-yet-released (due in March from Triumph books) “Pumped” by the staff of the Boston Globe. Yes, that’s its actual title.
By the way, since Gronkowski’s appearance on Kimmel’s show, “A Gronking…” has since risen to a “No. 1 Bestseller” on Amazon.com.
If you’ve even turned on your TV in the last month you’ve seen the ads with Jason Bateman, Tina Fey and the amazing Jane Fonda hyping the release of the film “This is Where I Leave You.” But the real buzz for this film began months before Jonathan Tropper’s novel of the same name was released.
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