oday we welcome author Candi Sary, the author of the newly released and celebrated novel, Magdalena (Regal House Publishing, 2023), which earned a Chanticleer International Book Award (CIBA). A graduate of the University of California, Irvine, Candi has advanced through the finals of several prestigious writing competitions, including the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and the William Faulkner - William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition. Her novel, Black Crow White Lie (Blue Mary Books, 2015) won a Reader Views Literary Award, a CIBA, and was First Runner-Up in the Eric Hoffer Book Award and was made into a short film by Chase Michael Wilson. A mother of two adult children, Candi lives in Southern California with her husband, a dog, a cat and several ducks.
WOW: Hi Candi! I just finished reading your engrossing and unforgettable novel, Magdalena, and I’m so honored to meet you. For someone who’s a fan of magic, ghosts, and quirky characters, this book was meant for a reader like me!
I have to say that Magdalena, the precocious teenaged medium, is one of the book’s most fascinating characters. I love how you balanced her world-weary wisdom with ordinary adolescent behavior, such as her reliance on her smart phone. So, this is my “chicken or egg” question! What came to you first, the character of Magdalena or the idea for the book itself?
Candi: Hi Ashley! Thanks so much for the opportunity to chat with you. I’ve been a fan of WOW for quite some time!
I began writing Magdalena with the intention of exploring Dottie, a lonely woman who finds companionship with a ghost. When Magdalena showed up in the story, she disrupted all my plans. She’s just that kind of girl. So to answer your question, the general book idea came to me first, but then Magdalena came along and everything changed.
As I spent time writing her and getting to know her on the page, she felt eerily familiar. She resembles my daughter, but there was something more I recognized in her. One day, probably a year into the writing, I figured out that she is the daughter of a character in my previous novel. Juliette Bravo from Black Crow White Lie apparently never left my imagination—and even gave birth in there without me realizing it. Once I discovered that Juliette was Magdalena’s mother, their two stories merged with unusual ease, as if I’d planned their mother-daughter connection all along.
WOW: That is so cool how a character from your previous novel led the way to the character of Magdalena. And it’s simply golden about how she disrupted all your plans. We writers need to run with these serendipitous moments.
When I think of my most favorite novels, one common denominator is a vivid setting. And with Magdalena, you pulled out all the stops! In fact, the setting for your book—Sam’s Town, a little fishing village still haunted by the devastating consequences of an earthquake and a landslide—is almost like a character unto itself. How did you create such an evocative setting?
Candi: Thanks for your kind words about Sam’s Town. Early in the writing, when I was only 40 pages in, I asked my daughter to read what I’d written so far. She gave me her thoughts and we ended up talking about it for a couple hours. She was in film school at the time and very visual about storytelling, so a lot of our talk focused in on the setting—a foggy, moody, haunting town that reflected the protagonist herself. Our discussion gave me a lot of clarity and then I just built on that. My dad, who had been a commercial fisherman, helped me conjure the fishing village characteristics. And the landslide was inspired by my hometown, a coastal town that has had landslides along the cliffs.
Every morning when I sat down at my desk to write Magdalena, my imagination transported me to the little ghost town. I loved spending time there and it became so real to me. Even on days when the writing itself was difficult and I couldn’t move the story forward, just being in Sam’s Town felt good.
WOW: How interesting. This just reinforces the joys of writing! Your work has been compared to that of Shirley Jackson, another favorite author of mine, and now that I’ve read Magdalena, I can see why. Dottie, the narrator and protagonist, has a tenuous grip on reality, much like Eleanor Vance in The Haunting of Hill House, and we’re not quite sure if we can trust her, at least in the beginning. At the same time, countless women will easily identify with Dottie’s desire to have a child of her own and her obsession to protect the ones she loves. Can you talk about the writing journey behind creating such a compelling character? And forgive my nosiness, but is there a little bit of you in Dottie?
Candi: Oh, I love your nosiness! I always wonder about the similarities between authors and their characters. On the surface, Dottie and I are very different, but if you look deep enough, there certainly is a bit of me in her.
I began writing Magdalena the year both of my kids went off to college. Becoming an empty nester felt like a heavy loss and it took me some time to adjust. Without realizing it, my feelings bled into the writing. Dottie’s melancholy, her longing for children and her obsession with Magdalena all came from the complicated feelings I was sorting through. I didn’t see it right away. Her story was different enough from mine to disguise how much of myself I’d given to her, but once the first draft was complete, I clearly saw it. Creating a character like Dottie and working through her challenges helped me mourn the empty nest.
WOW: Another similarity with Jackson is the central role of food in your writing, for example, the use of meatloaf, mushrooms, and even mayonnaise! Yet you take it to another level with lemons, and their eerie ability to conjure the ghost of Cecilia, another character in the story. What inspired your use of lemons as this pivotal plot device?
Candi: In my research, I learned that smells sometimes accompany ghosts—often a scent from their previous lives. I describe smells throughout the novel as a suggestion that a ghost could be anywhere in this haunted town. Then an idea came to me. What if a smell had the power to “conjure” a ghost because of its significance to their previous life? I had no explanation in mind when I decided on lemons. I wrote the chapter where Magdalena brings Dottie lemons from her tree and everything about it felt right. So I kept moving forward. It wasn’t until I’d made it to the end of the story that I discovered why that particular smell would inspire Cecilia to show up. Sometimes I just trust early instincts, and I’m glad I did with the lemons.
WOW: I adore lemons, and I have to say that I will never think of them in the same way after Magdalena! Your book draws from a rich and layered backstory, that of the history of Sam’s Town and also Dottie’s past. How did you manage to tie all the threads of the story together so well?
Candi: Author Terry Pratchett says, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” I had to tell myself all that backstory and history in detail so that I understood it well, but the threads of the first draft were too bulky and uneven to tie up neatly. It needed a lot of smoothing out before it got to readers. That’s where all the rewrites came in. I lost count of how many drafts I ended up writing, but with each draft the novel improved. I went through the manuscript several times focusing in on a particular layer to develop and refine, and then I’d go through it to trim and tighten it up. I spent more years on rewrites than on the initial first draft. That’s how all the threads finally came together so well.
“I spent more years on rewrites than on the initial first draft. That’s how all the threads finally came together so well.”
WOW: Novelists are encouraged to incorporate secrets into their books as a way of intriguing and engaging the reader. And Magdalena is chockfull of little mysteries. No one is what they seem to be! Does the use of secrets keep the writer engaged as well?
Candi: Yes! There is so much I didn’t know as I was writing Magdalena. I think if I knew, I would have lost interest. Sometimes it felt magical the way things came together that I hadn’t planned. Writing can be tedious and difficult, but when the magic happens, it’s exciting and even fun!
WOW: This is so reassuring to read. Sometimes when I’m planning a piece of writing, I’ll get stuck because there will be so much ahead to work out. In your example, I’ll try to approach the unknown with a sense of wonder.
As an animal lover, I absolutely adored the mischievous character of Ringo, the crow. In fact, it was his thievery that led to a rather climactic moment in the book! Do animals usually factor into your writing?
Candi: Animals do factor into my writing... and specifically, crows. While writing my first novel Black Crow White Lie I had several crow encounters that occurred at eerily significant times.
Once, when I needed to describe a crow for a scene, I came across one sitting in my neighbor’s driveway. He let me sit a few feet away from him, and we just watched each other for a half hour. I don’t believe he was injured since he eventually flew away. The crow seemed old and wise and as curious about me as I was about him. With each encounter, my fondness grew for the unpopular and misunderstood bird. Researching them, I found out how intelligent, clever, family-oriented and faithful they are. So when I started writing Magdalena, I had to include crows again. I’m currently working on my next novel and one of the most important characters is again... a crow!
WOW: Awesome! I’m looking forward to another one of your crows. There is quite a bit of superstition and magic in Magdalena but at the same time, at least in my view, the book carries themes of faith and the human power to change and grow. Was this your intention?
Candi: Yes, this was my intention. The magic and superstition are fun to include in my novels, but it’s the power of the human spirit that make stories meaningful for me to write. I like to explore how someone who has hit bottom finds the courage, strength and hope to rise back up. I especially like to write about the power of imagination. You can’t have hope without imagination. It takes creative vision to see better possibilities ahead or to change perspective on current challenges. For all that Dottie lacks, she is rich in imagination and ultimately that’s what helps her heal.
“You can’t have hope without imagination. It takes creative vision to see better possibilities ahead or to change perspective on current challenges.”
WOW: In your acknowledgements, you thank a number of people for their help and support, including someone who gave you “ghost guidance.” I was really impressed that your research led you to the “other side.” What can you share with us about this work?
Candi: While I did general research and read up on the supernatural, Deborah “Atianne” Wilson gave me my most valuable ghost guidance. I am lucky enough to have had a 20-year friendship with this beautiful, wise soul. I specifically asked her questions for the novel since she is clairvoyant and an intuitive coach, but even in our personal conversations I learn from her and am inspired by her. I love how she opens herself to the mysteries of her unique gifts, yet also manages to stay grounded and keep a healthy dose of skepticism on hand. Writing a novel like Magdalena, it was wonderful having my own personal connection to the “other side.”
WOW: What a great connection to have. Any writer would be lucky to have such a coach as Deborah on hand. We spoke of Shirley Jackson earlier, and I’m wondering about any other writers who may have influenced you. Who are your role models?
Candi: I read a lot and I truly learn from each writer I read—even those who simply teach me what not to do. Some of my favorite authors are Toni Morrison, Mary Oliver, Ann Patchett, Anne Tyler, and José Saramago.
WOW: I should have guessed Toni Morrison and Ann Patchett! I also love Mary Oliver and Anne Tyler, and since you’ve named a Portuguese author I’ve never read, José Saramago, now I’ve got a new one to check out, so thank you very much.
At WOW, we always love to know more about the habits of writers. Describe your writing life. For example, when do you do your best work? I’m wondering if you have a secret weapon, maybe a certain kind of tea or perhaps, hmmm, a lemon!
Candi: You’ve inspired me! I just might start squeezing a lemon in my office each morning to see who it conjures.
I usually write for a few hours in the morning and then go for a walk. I listen to a playlist that captures the mood of the novel, and it helps me work out characters and storylines in my mind. As far as having a secret weapon... mine is persistence. I’ve been writing for almost thirty years. I have 6 manuscripts in a drawer that were never picked up by a publisher. I did have agents with three of them, and several made it to the finals in competitions, but ultimately they did not succeed. Still, I persisted. I didn’t quit after all those rejections. My seventh novel, Black Crow White Lie, was finally published, and now I’m thrilled that my eighth, Magdalena, is also making it into readers’ hands.
WOW: We’re thrilled, too, and so happy that Magdalena is now out for the world to enjoy. Your journey is proof positive that persistence is indeed the key to success. You are also one busy lady! From the bio on your website, with your mention of family and all of your assorted pets (including ducks!), it sounds as if you have a very stimulating life in Southern California. Tell us about how you like to relax, or in other words, how do you like to spend your time when you’re not writing?
Candi: When I’m not writing I love to stay active. I walk, work in the garden (alongside the ducks), surf, paddleboard, do yoga and recently I started golfing with my husband. Family time is my favorite time and I also love getting together with my wonderful, playful group of friends. I’m fortunate to be part of a vibrant literary community here as well. I started a book club over 20 years ago that’s still going strong, and I’m in three writing groups—two of them focus on critiques, but one is a lively monthly get together where we just share what we’ve been up to.
“As far as having a secret weapon... mine is persistence.”
WOW: What’s next for you?
Candi: I’m currently working on my next novel. 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. I’m hoping to complete it this year.
WOW: Candi, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my many questions. It was a true privilege to meet you, and we at WOW wish you all the best for your next book and all your future endeavors. Please stay in touch with us!
Candi: Thank you so much for reading Magdalena and for this wonderful interview! I’ve had a great time chatting with you.
Ashley Harris (formerly Memory) is a regular contributor to WOW and has written for numerous magazines and websites, such as Poets & Writers, Wired, and Healthline, and most recently for GreenPrints magazine, N.C. Literary Review and Off Topic Publishing, which named “Pedal, Pedal, Pedal,” her one-sentence flash memoir, the winner of the June 2023 contest on the theme of “Moving.” When she’s not writing she’s either hollering for the dogs or trying to figure out where in the garden she can squeeze in just one more rose bush. For more about Ashley, visit her blog at