Next Page: A Mary Q&A with Karen Moy

A glimpse behind the veil of creating the Mary Worth saga

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ary Worth is syndicated to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and other outlets around the world by King Features Syndicate. The syndicate provided this roundu-up of frequently-asked questions posed to the comic strip's current writer, Karen Moy.

Q: What's the most common question you're asked about your job?
A: Where do I get my ideas. I get my ideas from everywhere - newspapers, magazines, books, film, tv, celebrity gossip, etc. Real life is stranger than fiction, so there's an endless supply. For example, when I heard about Donna Hanover reconnecting with a former beau after her divorce from Rudy Giuliani, it inspired me to research other rekindling stories. I really enjoyed writing the Brian and Anna story which resulted from that. As for the current story involving agent orange children in Vietnam, I read an article in Vanity Fair magazine about those children and I was very moved by the efforts of those trying to help them.

Q: What do you do in your free time?
A: What free time? I haven't quit my day job so it's a real balancing act. But it's all good. I enjoy writing the strip. I've always loved continuity strips. I grew up on classics like Tintin, Brenda Starr and Dondi.

Q: Do you have complete freedom as to the type of story that you write?
A: Complete freedom? No, but it's not like there are things I want to write that I can't. I propose story ideas to my editor. After I'm given the go-ahead, I write a more detailed outline for myself as a guide. I often add things as I go along because ideas come to me at all times, but for story structure, I pretty much stick to the basic outline which I've written for myself.

One enjoyable aspect of my job is that the story topics are open to many possibilities since they usually center not on Mary but on happenings involving Mary's neighbors, acquaintances and friends. Some social issues which the strip has covered include mental illness, sexual harassment in the workplace, alcoholism, divorce, and unrequited love.

Q: What about length of each story?
A: My predecessor sometimes wrote stories that lasted 18 months apiece. But that's too long in today's world. The pacing was too glacial. I try for three stories per year. They vary in length somewhat, but that's the number I work towards. There are times I wish I could continue with a story. As a writer you tend to fall in love with your characters. But I generally aim for three stories per year.

Q: How far in advance do you write?
A: I have to write my stories and scripts several months in advance to allow for production time (drawing, inking, coloring, printing, distribution). If I want to change an element in a story that is currently running, it's too late. The strips are already being processed in the system.

Q: How did you get this gig?
A: When the previous writer John Saunders died in mid-story, I volunteered to finish it. I loved the Woody and Dawn story and wished I could have kept writing that one. Who knows? Maybe I'll bring Woody back some day.

Anyway, after I wrote the conclusion of that story, I tried out for the permanent position. My editor liked my story ideas and writing style so I got the gig. I wrote as a ghostwriter for about a year before I received a byline on the strip.

Q: What kind of feedback do you get from readers?
A: People can write to me at: Karen Moy, c/o King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th Street, 15th floor, New York, NY 10019.

I received a nice letter from a fan who said she could really relate to the Kelly Stirling story about her husband needing a diet and exercise overhaul. I also got a nice letter from someone who reads the strip with his kids and pastes the strips onto pages so they read like books. I try to keep the strip clean with good values so people of all ages can read it. There used to be books of Mary Worth strips in the 60s. Maybe that will happen again.

Q: Your story about Mary's former neighbor Aldo Kelrast generated a lot of reader reaction several months ago. What's your take on that?
A: That story had it all: mystery, passion, unrequited love, and a heckuva finish. Mary's usually not the center of the story. She's usually an advisor, an adjunct to someone else's story. I thought I'd write one where she needed her friends' advice to handle a situation in her own lifefor a change.

People laughed at the Aldo character because of his fruitless attempts to woo her. Some readers were upset when I killed him off. Like I said, my stories only last 3-5 months and I wanted to wrap that one up with a bang. I also wanted to make a statement against drinking and driving. Plus it was in character with Aldo's personality and history. The aftereffects of guilt and remose by Mary and her friends was also something I wanted to explore.

Q: Can you talk about Mary's history?
A: As she was before, Mary is today: a gentle, white-haired widow who has become a mender of broken hearts, confidante and counselor to young and old (resisting a suitor or two along the way), leaving a trail of problems solved, happier people - and faithful readers. Mary's proactive. She wants to help others, like a modern-day senior citizen Pollyanna.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish with your stories?
A: The world is a chaotic place. I try to write Mary as a figure of common sense and compassion, someone stable who people can depend on.

She's human and sometimes feels jealousy, self -doubt, fear and anger, but overall she handles herself with dignity. I hope she can be an example of compassion and wisdom in this hectic world that we live in. As she has said, "In every situation, I always try to do the kindest thing possible."

I hope to follow that motto. I hope others do, too.

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