The Wissahickon Valley Public Library was abuzz with anticipation as one best-selling author stopped by for a visit April 16.
Famed mystery novelist Mary Higgins Clark visited the WVPL’s Blue Bell branch for a book presentation and signing at 2 p.m. as part of National Library Week.
Close to 150 people purchased copies of Clark’s new book,“I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” and tickets to hear her speak inside the library’s presentation room.
“I’m always so pleased to meet my readers,” the 84-year-old Clark said, “because you write in solitude, so it’s so good to see the people.”
The best-selling author, who’s written 40 books since 1975, including such titles as “Where Are the Children?” “We’ll Meet Again,” “All Around Town” and “Pretend You Don’t See Her,” arrived in style as her limo pulled up in front of the library and she walked arm-in-arm with her husband, John, in through the back entrance.
Clark spoke for about a half-hour, before she began signing copies of her new book, telling her life story from her time working in a New York City advertising firm, to her time as a Pan Am flight attendant, to the early days of her writing, first at New York University and the short stories and eventual novels that came after.
The first piece of advice she learned at NYU was to begin every story with “something that grabs people’s attention [like] ‘a shot rang out in the night.’”
Clark said most of the ideas for her stories are loosely based from either personal experiences, such as her first short story about a Pan Am flight attendant who smuggles a refugee onto a flight to France, to things she reads in the newspaper, such as a killer who finds his victims using the personals section.
“The personals are the Mecca for psychos,” she said.
Clark recalled one of her favorite early rejection letters, in which the editor called her work “light, slight and trite.”
“I read that and said, ‘I’ll make them pay,’” she said to a laugh.
Those working behind the scenes at the library were ecstatic to bring such a big name to town.
“We are so excited because we’ve never had such a big name author,” said WVPL Director Anne Frank. “Someone who’s written over 30 books and has sold over 100 million copies in the United States alone, but a worldwide author. So this is our biggest event we’ve ever had so we’re super excited.”
Frank said community outreach librarian Sue Burdick spearheaded the task of reeling in Clark. Burdick often works with Kit Little, the marketing director for the Towne Booke Café in Collegeville, and Burdick asked if Little could get some authors to come for National Library Week.
“So when she called she’s like, ‘Yeah let’s try for someone big, let’s try Mary Higgins Clark,’” Frank said. “It just so happened she had a book out this month, it came out April 1, ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin,’ and so she was doing book tours and she agreed to it.”
Frank said the library was fortunate, because Clark rarely will make an appearance for less than 200 people, but since it sold tickets to the event, which included a book, 150 books were sold.
“This is a major event,” Burdick later added, “one of the two events that occur during the year. One of the events is our gala. We just finished our appraisal and this will be our second large event. The staff and the board of library trustees have come together to make this happen.”
“The library has been phenomenal,” Little said during the event. “And I wanted to say thank you to everybody on the library staff and the volunteer list. They have been phenomenal.”
Little said she’s been a fan of Clark’s since she was about 9 years old and first picked up a copy of “Where Are the Children?”
“I read the covers off that book,” she said. “And to this day it is one of the best mystery books I have ever read in my life. Well the stars aligned for us and it is an incredible honor that we have Mary Higgins Clark with us today. I’ve been calling her the ‘mistress of mystery’ and her wonderful husband, John, told me he’s been calling her the ‘queen of suspense.’”
Fans of Clark began lining up inside the library at about 1 p.m., including Vickie Abbey and Celeste and Lauren Gibson, of East Norriton, the first and second fans to purchase tickets and arrive at the library.
Abbey, the circulation attendant at WVPL, purchased the first ticket and said she was very excited to hear Clark speak.
“I’ve read her books,” she said. “I enjoy reading them. I like the suspense; I never know really who does it in the mystery, because she always has two or three possible contenders. So she always keeps me guessing until the end.”
“I like the mystery,” said Celeste. “My favorite book actually is “Kitchen Privileges,” which is her memoir. I listen to that when I travel out of state.”
“I like the mystery books a lot, they’re my favorite ones,” Lauren said. “They’re the best.”
Celeste said she enjoyed the way Clark used suspense in her novels.
“It scares me just reading the books,” she said. “So I think she has a very nice style of writing.”
Follow Eric Devlin on Twitter @Eric_Devlin.