Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Q&A with Candi Sary




Candi Sary is the author of the new novel Magdalena. She lives in Southern California.


Q: What inspired you to write Magdalena, and how did you create your characters Dottie and Magdalena?


A: The year both of my kids went off to college, I really struggled adjusting to the empty nest. That’s what was happening in my life when I started writing Magdalena. I thought I was writing a ghost story, but the main character, Dottie had several miscarriages and she kind of steered the novel in an unexpected direction.


Magdalena, her 15-year-old neighbor, is the town’s “sensitive.” She helps Dottie conjure a ghost. Magdalena’s gift is quite miraculous, but Dottie is less intrigued with her supernatural ability than with having the girl in her home. She begins to secretly pretend that Magdalena is her daughter, and it helps to heal her grieving heart.


Only after completing the first draft did I recognize that I wrote Magdalena to help me mourn the empty nest.


My own longing and loss were the seeds that created Dottie, though she grew into her own distinct person, very different from me.


Magdalena originated from that space in my heart where I missed my daughter. She looks like my daughter and has some similar personality traits, and yet the character became her own unique spirit. I loved writing both characters and still feel their presence sometimes.

Q: How would you describe the relationship between the two?


A: Dottie is infatuated with the girl who is both refreshing and destabilizing to her. Magdalena is the type of girl who knows how to pull people in effortlessly, and Dottie, longing for a daughter, is obsessively drawn in.


Magdalena’s initial intentions with Dottie are somewhat manipulative, but their connection organically grows. The motherless girl unexpectedly finds her first real friend in this peculiar neighbor.


Q: The writer Mark Haskell Smith said of the book, “Beautifully written and satisfyingly creepy, this is one of the most poignant and original ghost stories I've ever read.” What do you think of that description?


A: I love the description! Everything about it. It was the first blurb I’d received and the first time I’d heard the word “creepy” associated with the novel. That felt like an accomplishment.


Having put so much heart into the characters, I believed the story’s tenderness would come through, but I was less certain I’d sufficiently conveyed the eerie, obsessive and haunting aspects of the novel. So to read “beautiful” and “creepy” in the same sentence thrilled me.


Q: Did you know how the story would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I had no idea how the story would end. I spent a lot of time getting to know the characters through the writing, and ended up deleting quite a bit along the way. It took years to find the clarity I needed to reach the ending.


Writing feels magical to me at times. (And of course it feels tedious and difficult at other times.) But there are moments when situations unfold in mysterious ways and the plot comes together as if it had been waiting for me to recognize it. Sometimes I’m shocked by what a character reveals to me—as if I’m not really the one in control of the story.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Currently I’m working on another novel that started as a ghost story and has grown into much more. It’s about a woman who escapes her past by taking on a life that doesn’t belong to her. She befriends a pregnant teen and a homeless woman, and together these characters discover what it is to find one’s place in the world.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I hope readers connect with these characters as much as I do. The creepiness is a reflection of who we all are at times, the beautiful and the not so beautiful, and our deep need for human connection.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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