Friday, May 22, 2020

Nancy Star

Photo credit: Leslie Dumke
Nancy Star is the author of the bestselling novel Sisters One, Two, Three, a Publishers Weekly top ten print book and Amazon Kindle bestseller of 2016. Her previous novels, which have been translated into several languages, include Carpool Diem, Up Next, Now This, and Buried Lives. Her essays have appeared in the Washington Post, the New York Times, Money, and Family Circle. Before turning to writing fiction full-time, Star worked for over a decade as a movie executive at the Samuel Goldwyn Company and the Ladd Company, dividing her time between New York and London.

Star's new novel is Rules for Moving.

My Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Rules for Moving was the title of the novel when I submitted it to my editor and I was delighted that she loved it as much as I did. We both thought it worked on multiple levels. For one thing, the main character, advice columnist Lane Meckler, grew up in a family that moved so often, her mother made up a list Lane had to memorize, called Rules For Moving (Rule Number 1: Take Only What You Love). As for why Lane’s family moved so much, that’s a mystery to her—which she will eventually figure out! There’s another layer to the title, which speaks to a feeling Lane has, that everyone around her seems to effortlessly follow agreed upon rules for how to move through life, rules she somehow never received!

Readers will find a lot of rules woven through the novel, some which seem really useful and some of which are not helpful at all!

What's in a name?

I’m all for characters with distinctive names! But I have to admit that sometimes my main characters go through multiple names before I settle on the right one. That happens because I start writing a novel before I know everything about the characters. I learn who they are while I’m writing the first draft. So at some point in the writing, that first name can feel totally wrong. Too ordinary, too breezy, ill-matched to the person. By now I can’t imagine that Lane Meckler had any other name. But here’s a secret: when I first started writing this novel, she was Nora and then, for a brief period, she was Susanna! Please don’t tell Lane! She doesn’t know!

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

As a teenager, I read a lot of psychological horror—thank you for Carrie, Stephen King, and thanks Ira Levin, for Rosemary’s Baby! But I also loved novels that mixed the funny with the serious; one of my favorites that I’ve continued to reread into adulthood was Catch 22. I also loved the unique voice of Kurt Vonnegut. And I devoured Mad Magazine! With all that going into my brain anything could have happened! Turns out Rules For Moving has many of the qualities I loved in books when I was a teenager—psychological depth, surprise, humor, and a strong narrative voice—so, No! I don’t think teenage me would have been surprised! But she would have been delighted that I ended up following my dream to become a writer.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I did not know how Rules For Moving was going to end. I’m fascinated by writers who do know the end of their books before they start. I’m one of those writers who, for the first draft, feels like they’re driving in the dark with dim headlights showing the way. I knew I was writing a novel about someone who felt different. I knew she seemed self-assured at work but in her real life she struggled. But the story itself, Lane’s relationship with her son Henry, who’s stopped speaking to everyone but her, her move from New York City to New Jersey and then to Martha’s Vineyard as she searches for a home, the reasons for why she turned out the way she did, and the relationship that blooms with Nathan Knapp, those all happened in the writing. I’m a big reviser, though. By the time the novel is done my intention is for it to feel like I must have known everything when I started!

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Bits of me are in any character I write, along with tiny bits of anyone I’ve ever known or heard about or eavesdropped on. But the characters always end up taking on a life of their own. Most often it works the other way around: when I’m writing a novel, I become my characters. Rather than putting me into them, they enter me. So I imagine: what it would be like to be Lane, so intent on protecting herself, so committed to keeping her Ask Roxie fans at a distance. I had a fun inhabiting Lane, the advice columnist who wants to be left alone. And I adored spending time in her son Henry’s head. As to writing about a mother’s devotion to her child, that’s an example of somewhere i may have tucked in a little bit of myself, or at least of the self I’ve tried to be.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I worked for over a decade in the movie business in New York City. My job was to look for novels, plays and stories that had potential to be movies, and then to help adapt that material from one form (book, play, magazine article) to the other. For over ten years I read during every spare second—books, magazines, newspapers, screenplays and plays. I also went to theater several times a week and had to find time to see small independent films looking for a distributor. What stuck from that experience was a deep appreciation for the responsibility a story teller has to their audience. No one has time to be bored. Even now, when we have more time than ever, boredom is not what we’re craving. I hope when people read my novels they feel that I’ve done them the honor of making it worth their time. Life is short. Stories are everything!
Visit Nancy Star's website.

--Marshal Zeringue