FRANCES BRODY: Now that you mention it, Hallie, I see connections. Mary Higgins Clark develops the classic theme of a woman in distress: a likable young woman whose life is turned upside down. In A WOMAN UNKNOWN, Deirdre Fitzpatrick needs to earn money to care for her sick mother. Philippa Runcie wants to escape her faithless marriage. Kate Shackleton, widowed detective, seeks truth and rights wrongs. MHC takes inspiration from real life events. The title for A Woman Unknown jumped at me from a social commentary on the period between the two world wars, a time when women’s lives changed dramatically.
LORI RADER-DAY: Just before my first novel THE BLACK HOUR was published, I went through the full manuscript and checked every f-bomb like a loose tooth. Could it be pulled? I imagined my parents reading it; my dad had already announced my forthcoming book to his church group. I was prepared to leave the words in—I enjoy a fine word bomb in real life as much as anyone—but I found that none of them were essential.
They came out. And then when that book was nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award, I felt vindicated. LITTLE PRETTY THINGS got the same treatment. I’m not anti-That Word, even now, but like every other word in a manuscript, it has to pull its own weight. Mary Higgins Clark is the better angel of my editing process, helping me watch my saucy mouth.
HALLIE: My favorite criterion: She solves her problem by her own courage and intelligence. I'm 100% onboard. Not so much on good family relationships. My protagonist's are often complicated by things like alcoholism. Explicit sex and graphic violence are easy for me to leave out, and four-letter words have always felt like lazy witing. Unless (BIG exception) it’s in dialogue. Then if there’s a character who cusses, and that’s just who she is, I need to put her on the page and let her cuss. Sorry. Mary.
Reds and readers, where do you draw the line with sex and violence and 4-letter words? Extra points to anyone who knows what squaddie means.