In New Novel, A Family’s Secrets Run Deep

Montclair writer Nancy Star talks about her new book, Sisters One, Two, Three.

The seeds for Montclair writer Nancy Star’s new novel, Sisters One, Two, Three, were planted at a neighbor’s dinner party in 2008.

“The host was telling a story about her first marriage,” says Star. “Right then, we heard someone coming down the stairs, and the host said in a nervous, hushed voice, ‘That’s my 13-year-old! Don’t say anything. He doesn’t know I was married before.’”

Star, who has written a children’s mystery series for Scholastic and four other novels, including the soccer saga Carpool Diem (5 Spot, 2008), was startled to learn that her neighbor had hidden her past from her nearly grown child. But soon the surprise wore off. “I started talking to people about family secrets,” she says. “It seemed like everybody had a story.”

Star herself was no exception. “My mother, like a lot of mothers, used to say, ‘If you only knew,’ just in general. But I still don’t know,” she jokes.

The family secret at the heart of Sisters One, Two, Three is way darker than a buried first marriage. In the aftermath of an accident on Martha’s Vineyard in the 1970s, the fictional Tangle family returns home to New Jersey, tight-lipped and cautious about upsetting the fragile, post-trauma family equilibrium. Only years later, when the Tangles’ kook of a matriarch dies, are they able to tease out the details of that shattering day on the Vineyard.

Writing the book was a challenge, but Star had plenty of support. She and her husband, Larry, a retired advertising executive, moved to Montclair with their two daughters in 1993. There she found an extended family of local writers—an informal group that meets monthly. “It’s just talking about the business of writing,” says Star. “Supporting each other during the process and saying, ‘This is what I’m thinking about,’ or, ‘This is what’s giving me trouble.’”

Sisters One, Two, Three—due January 1 from Lake Union Publishing—benefited plenty from the encouragement of her fellow Montclair writers during the six years it took to write. “Oh, they heard a lot about it,” Star says.

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