Sarah Addison Allen’s debut novel Garden Spells was one of my all-time favorte books. I was pleased to find that her sophomore effort, The Sugar Queen, was equally delicious and her characters just as memorable as they were colorful.
There’s Josey, the rich girl with a closet full of romance novels, a secret cache of sweets, and a squatter-cum-fairy-godmother named Della Lee. Then there’s Chloe, whose passion can boil water and who is haunted by books that follow her around and present themselves whenever she needs them the most… however annoying. It’s the best kind of story: full of love, laughter, and a little bit of magic.
Which, of course, makes our interview with Sarah the best kind of interview.
Alethea Kontis: Genre labelers would probably pin your books as “magical realism.” Do you have any favorites in this genre?
Sarah Addison Allen: My favorites in this genre continue to be the first I ever read, in college. I think the newness, the way this literary device opened a whole new world for me when I discovered it, made these titles unforgettable, like first loves: The Passion by Jeanette Winterson, I Am One of You Forever by Fred Chapppell, Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, and A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters by Julian Barnes
AK: In honor of Children’s Book Week (May 12-18), what was your favorite book as a child?
SAA: I loved picture books as a child. Some of my favorites were Millicent’s Ghost (“Great Aunt Agatha!”), The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes (“Come to the Palace tomorrow afternoon, for that is Easter Eve, and you shall be my fifth Easter Bunny.”), and The Funny Little Woman (“Tee-he-he-he.”)
AK: In Garden Spells, eating an apple from the apple tree showed you the most wonderful moment of your life. What has been the most wonderful moment of your life so far?
SAA: I’ve honestly never thought in terms of best and worst moments. For me, the beauty of life is found in the bigger picture, the cumulative power of experience. It’s like Claire burying the apples from her tree. She wants to keep people from eating them so they won’t see the biggest event in their life and lose sight of the fact that every day is an event, that every day should be lived to its fullest.
AK: Do you like apples? Crave sweets at all?
SAA: I love apples! Covered in caramel, preferably. I have a ferocious sweet tooth. My upcoming book is even titled The Sugar Queen.
AK: If you had a knack that developed into a magical power, what would it be? Conversely, what do you *wish* it would be?
SAA: I have a knack for attracting stray cats. Could that be a magical power? I could be Cat Woman. No, wait, that one’s already taken…
If I could wish for a magical power, I would wish for the ability to visit characters in books. To actually live in books for a while, instead of through them.
AK: Does any sort of magic run in your family?
SAA: Hmm, we all seem to have an irresistible urge to offer food to anyone who visits. Walk through our doors and a plate will appear in your hands, like magic.
AK: Do you have any sisters?
SAA: I have one sister named Sydney, the name of one of the sisters in Garden Spells. The fictional Sydney doesn’t bear any resemblance to the real one–I’ve just always loved the name. That was a big point of contention when we were kids. I thought Sydney got the better name… and when I was five years old, this necessarily meant our parents loved her more.
AK: You have the most amazingly unique characters–Evanelle in particular stood out for many of us. Are any of your characters (Evanelle in particular) based on anyone you know?
SAA: Evanelle is based on a real woman with the same name, which she pronounced EVEN-NELL. She was an elderly friend of my great-aunt’s, and she would drop by out of the blue with something she’d cooked or something she’d picked from her garden. She was a gift-giving woman, like generosity was in her genes.
AK: Garden Spells deals with the very serious issue of spousal abuse. How did you do research for Sydney? Was writing her character difficult?
SAA: For Sydney, I tapped into very base fears. The lack of physical safety is a base fear. Vulnerability is a base fear. It took so much courage for Sydney to leave her abusive situation. I love all my characters in Garden Spells, and they all deserved their happy endings. But Sydney didn’t just deserve hers. She earned it.
AK: Will all your books be set in North Carolina?
SAA: The next couple, at least. There are magical aspects to the South I’ve yet to explore–superstitions, Moonpies, the religious experience that is North Carolina barbeque…