By Margaret Lucke
I don't pay a lot of attention to celebrities, though I did know the answer to the question when a friend, puzzled by the peculiar word, asked, "What's a Kardashian?"
I have friends and relatives who meet famous people routinely. One of my clients for writing services is an event planner who has staged a concert with Lionel Richie and helped out at a conference put on by Maria Shriver, to give just a couple of examples. My good friend Rita Lakin, a former Hollywood scriptwriter, has lots of tales to tell about notable TV personalities both in front of the camera and behind it (read her memoir, The Only Woman in the Room, for juicy details). My uncle, now retired, was a TV set designer; he began his career with The Ed Sullivan Show, where he created the set for the first American appearance of The Beatles.
So I can claim six degrees, or less, of separation from many well-known folks. But when I lay eyes on a celebrity, it tends to be from a distance, like when they're on stage singing or speaking and I'm in the audience. I've seen Robin Williams, Carlos Santana, and baseball legend Reggie Jackson at nearby tables in restaurants where I was eating, and I exchanged brief words with Al Gore, Jimmy Carter, and Julia Child after standing in long lines at booksignings. For close encounters, that's about it.
Except when it comes to authors. I've met quite a few writers whose fans would call them celebrities. Some of them I'm fortunate to call my friends, but I can't claim friendship with the one I'm about to mention. In fact, I doubt she knows who I am or has any recollection of our meetings. But I remember these encounters with pleasure and gratitude.
The writer in question is Mary Higgins Clark.
The first time I met her was at the Cabrillo Suspense Writers Conference. This wonderful conference is, alas, defunct, but it was held for a dozen years in a rustic setting near Santa Cruz, sort of a summer camp for writers. That year Mary Higgins Clark was the guest of honor and principal lecturer and I was a wannabe writer at work on my first novel. One evening she and I sat together at a dinner table and chatted like colleagues and equals. A boost to both my ego and my writing.
The next time I saw her was when I was president of the Northern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America. In that capacity I had gone to New York for MWA's national board meeting and the Edgar Awards banquet. After the banquet I tagged along with some other writers and soon found myself at a large party in Mary Higgins Clark's apartment overlooking Central Park. Mary herself made the rounds, offering everyone her cordial hospitality.
The most recent time was at a Malice Domestic conference in Bethesda, MD. The sessions were over for the day, and most people had returned to their hotel rooms to get ready for the banquet. I was staying with family members, and having no room to go to, I sat in the lobby, planning to kill a couple of hours by reading a book. Mary came by with two or three others and settled on sofas across from me to enjoy a pre-banquet drink. She invited me to join them and even bought me a glass of wine. Instead of dragging, the time flew by as I enjoyed their convivial company.
At each of these encounters she showed herself to be gracious and warm, and genuinely interested in the others around her. I'll take Clark over a Kardashian any time.