In ‘Magdalena,’ Newport Beach author pens novel about ghosts and motherhood

Author Candi Sary is a Newport Beach resident.
Author Candi Sary is an award-winning writer and graduate from UC Irvine. Sary is releasing a new book, “Magdalena,” in July.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

As a child growing up in San Pedro, Candi Sary remembers her neighborhood as small, where everyone knew everyone, and her parents were involved in the biggest facets of the community’s lives: baptisms, weddings and funerals.

And though she didn’t go to the funerals as a child, Sary recalls being fearful of death.

“I was really aware of it,” Sary said in a recent interview. “I was worried what would happen if I lost someone that I loved, but I would hope they could come back to me. So, ghost stories always really stuck with me, and I was comforted by the idea that people could stay with you even when they passed on.”


It’s no small wonder then that Sary’s two books — her debut novel, “Black Crow White Lie” — and her soon-to-be published second, “Magdalena,” deal intimately with the supernatural. Ghosts are the focus of the latter, which will be released on July 11 by Regal House Publishing.

Author Candi Sary holds a copy of her book "Magdalena" at her home.
Author Candi Sary holds a copy of her latest book, “Magdalena,” at her home in Newport Beach on Thursday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“Magdalena,” according to its summary, is a novel about town outcast Dottie, who after suffering from a history of miscarriages, develops a “strange, motherly interest” in her 15-year-old neighbor, Magdalena, who sees ghosts. When Magdalena goes missing, Dottie finds herself at the center of a town scandal.

Sary said she started writing the first draft for “Magdalena” the year that both of her children went off to college in 2012. Sary said the narrative started out as a ghost story but eventually evolved as she began processing being an empty nester, “that longing for a child.”

“I feel like this always happens with writers. When I’m writing something, I am processing something that is happening my life in a very indirect way,” Sary said. “The first draft … it took a few years. The first draft usually takes anywhere from two to four years and then after that, there’s so much rewriting. As I edit, get feedback, there’s a ton of rewriting — so, the initial draft is nothing like what it comes out like at the end.”

She said her book looks at motherhood, grief and longing while also allowing a sense of hopefulness to shine through.

The town is based loosely on San Pedro, according to Sary, who now lives in Newport Beach. The book contains references the rock band the Killers.

The character Magdalena was so named because Sary liked the name but also because of the song “Magdalena” by Brandon Flowers. She said she often listened to the Killers’ music while taking walks around the Back Bay after writing and described Flowers’ voice as “haunting and longing.”

“[It’s] an experience and something very different. It’s finding hope in this woman who had such a difficult experience and her unique way of healing,” Sary said of ‘Magdalena’. “There’s a lot of quirky little fun things. I hope it’s entertaining. I hope the ghost story is intriguing. I hope it’s a great escape. That’s what I love reading for.”

Sary will be launching the book with an event at 5:30 p.m. on July 11 at Arvida Books in Tustin, where she will be speaking with fellow author Lisa Cupolo.

Author Candi Sary's book "Magdalena".
Author Candi Sary’s book “Magdalena.”
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)