Excerpted from Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen. Copyright © 2007 by Sarah Addison Allen. Excerpted by permission of Bantam Discovery, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
The four Waverley women all have special talents: Evanelle’s gifts, Claire’s knack with herbs, even Bay’s sense of belonging. Which of these gifts would you most like to have?
I would love to be able to cook with instinct and abandon, like Claire. Unfortunately, cooking is such a tricky alchemy to me. I once thought lettuce and cabbage were interchangeable. Then there’s the whole baking soda/powder conundrum. And I’m completely confounded by exactly how much is a pinch of salt. But it’s always been a fantasy of mine to be able to create gorgeous, unusual dishes.
If you knew that biting into a Waverley apple would reveal your future would you bite? What do you think you might learn?
I think I would resist taking that bite. Having your future revealed would be like finding out that someone was planning a party for you. The surpise is the best part about it.
Forced to choose, how would you categorize your book? Contemporary romance? Romantic fantasy? Fairy tale? Southern fiction? Something else entirely?
I’ve always called it Southern-fried magical realism. But, at it’s heart, it’s a love story.
Bay’s innocence and gentle curiosity rejuvenated the Waverley household. How do you think Bay inspired the entire Waverley family?
Bay’s gift is knowing where things belong, so when Bay is satisfied that things are where they’re supposed to be, I think it gives not only the Waverleys, but the reader, a sense of security. It means all is right with the world.
Evanelle delivers such a broad range of gifts, from a lighter to strawberry Pop-Tarts, and even a mango splitter. How did you come up with such quirky gifts?
I let my mind wander to crazy things that would fit into a large purse, like the kind Evanelle carries. The content of a woman’s purse says a lot about her. Evanelle’s bag tells her entire story.
In past interviews, you’ve said that the Waverley tree didn’t become a character until the end of your novel. How did this magical tree weave its way into Claire’s garden and your story?
When I reached the scene when an apple rolls out of the garden and stops at Sydney’s feet upon her returning home, I was surprised. I didn’t intend for that to happen. But that’s when I realized the tree itself had a personality. I went back to the beginning of the story and wove that personality in. The tree is a character in its own right, and it wanted me to know that!
Claire obviously has a lot of resentment built up for her younger sister Sydney. It seems to be a case of one-sided sibling rivalry. Do you have any siblings who have inspired your thoughts on this?
My real-life older sister is named Sydney, actually! But we’re so far apart in age that the only rivalry I can think of is that I always thought she got the better name…
In September 2007, Garden Spells was chosen as both a BookSense pick and a Barnes & Noble Recommends selection, how have these achievements changed your goals for your future books?
The attention Garden Spells has received has been a wonderful surprise. I’m incredibly grateful. But my goals remain the same—to keep writing books I love, quirky as they may be.
A prominent theme in Garden Spells is the effect of Claire’s catering dishes on her clients. Do you have a favorite “go to” recipe when you have guests over?
If I can make this, anyone can. Seriously.
Ziti with Artichokes
1 box of ziti, cooked and drained
1 can tomato sauce
2 small jars of marinated artichokes, quartered (save oil)
2 chopped fresh tomatoes or 2 cans of chopped tomatoes, drained
2 small cans of sliced ripe olives
Salt, pepper, sweet basil
In large warm skillet, pour about 3 or 4 Tbs of the artichoke marinade. Add artichokes and tomatoes, then sauté. Add tomato sauce. Simmer for about five minutes. Flavor with salt, pepper and sweet basil. Remove from heat and add cooked ziti and ripe olives.
How do you think your father, being a writer himself, has influenced your work?
When I was in junior high, Dad was getting a lot of recognition for his work at the newspaper. My lit teachers were aware of his work, and I think they wanted to see something of him in me. If there was a glimmer of something good in my writing, they praised it. They found something in me I didn’t know was there. I’ll always be grateful for that.
Can you tell us a little about your next book, The Sugar Queen?
A secret closet full of candy…Books that won’t go away…Three women with more in common than they think…
The Sugar Queen, a novel of love, candy and magic, on sale Summer 2008.
From the Hardcover edition.
The morning after Anna Chapel’s party, Claire went to the garden for a basket of mint. She was going to start on the food for the Amateur Botanists Association’s annual luncheon in Hickory on Friday. Being botanists, they liked the idea of edible flowers. Being a bunch of rich eccentric old ladies, they paid well and could give a lot of referrals. It was a coup to get the job, but it was a big job, and she was going to have to buck it up and hire someone local to help her serve.
The garden was gated by heavy metal fencing, like a gothic cemetery, and the honeysuckle clinging to it was almost two feet thick in some places, completely closing in the place. Even the gate door was covered with honeysuckle vines, and the keyhole was a secret pocket only a few could find.
When she entered, she noticed it right away. There, in the cluster of Queen Anne’s lace, tiny leaves of ivy were sprouting.
Ivy in the garden.
The garden was saying that something was trying to get in, something that was pretty and looked harmless but would take over everything if given the chance. She quickly pulled the ivy out and dug deep for the roots. But then she spied a hairy vine of it sneaking up lilac bush, and she crawled over to it.
In her haste, she hadn’t closed the garden gate behind her, and a half hour later she jerked her head around in surprise when she heard the crunch of footsteps on the gravel pathway that snaked around the flowers.
It was Tyler, carrying a cardboard milk box and looking around as if he’d entered someplace enchanted. Everything bloomed here at once, even at a time of year when it wasn’t supposed to. He stopped suddenly when his eyes found Claire on her knees, digging up the roots of the ivy under the lilac bush. He gave her a look like he was trying to make her out in the dark.
“It’s Tyler Hughes,” he said, as if she wouldn’t recognize him, “from next door.”
She nodded. “I remember.”
He walked over to her. “Apples,” he said, crouching beside her and putting the box on the ground. “They fell over the fence. There are at least a dozen here. I didn’t know if you used them for your catering, so I thought I’d bring them over. I tried your door, but no one answered.” Claire scooted the box away from him as subtly as possible. “I don’t use them. But thank you. You don’t like apples?”
He shook his head. “Just occasionally. I can’t figure out for the life of me how they got in my yard. The tree is too far away.”
He didn’t mention a vision, which relieved her. He must not have eaten one. “Must have been the wind,” she said.
“You know, the trees on campus don’t have mature apples on them at this time of year.”
“This tree blooms in the winter and produces apples all spring and summer.”
Tyler stood and stared at the tree. “Impressive.”
Claire looked over her shoulder at it. The tree was situated toward the back of the lot. It wasn’t very tall, but it grew long and sideways. Its limbs stretched out like a dancer’s arms and the apples grew at the very ends, as if holding the fruit in its palms. It was a beautiful old tree, the gray bark wrinkled and molting in places. The only grass in the garden was around the tree, stretching about ten feet beyond the reach of its branches, giving the old tree its room.
Claire didn’t know why, but every once in a while the tree would actually throw apples, as if bored. When she was young, her bedroom window looked out over the garden. She would sleep with her window open in the summers, and sometimes she would wake in the morning to find one or two apples on the floor.
Claire gave the tree a stern look. Occasionally that worked, making it behave. “It’s just a tree,” she said, and turned back to the lilac bush. She resumed pulling at the roots of the ivy.
Tyler put his hands in his pockets and watched her work. She’d been working alone in the garden for so many years that she realized she missed having someone there. It reminded her of gardening with her grandmother. It was never meant to be a solitary job. “So, have you lived in Bascom long?” Tyler finally asked.
“Almost all my life.”
“My family is from here. My mother was born here. She left but moved back when I was six. I’ve been here ever since.”
“So you are from here.”
Claire froze. How could he do that? How could he do that with just five little words? He just said to her the very thing she’d always wanted to hear. He was getting in without even knowing how he did it. He was the ivy, wasn’t he? She very slowly turned her head and looked up at him, his lanky body, his awkward features, his beautiful brown eyes. “Yes,” she said breathlessly.
“So, who are your guests?” he asked.
It took a moment for the words to penetrate. “I don’t have any guests.”
“As I was coming around the front of the house, someone pulled up to the curb with a car full of boxes and bags. I thought they were moving in.”
“That’s strange.” Claire stood and took off her gloves. She turned and walked out of the garden, making sure Tyler was following her. She didn’t trust the tree alone with him, even if he didn’t eat apples.
She walked along the driveway curving beside the house, but then she came to a sudden stop beside the tulip tree in the front yard. Tyler came up behind her, close, and put his hands on her arms, as if aware that her legs had turned boneless.
There was a little girl, about five years old, running around the yard with her arms stretched wide like an airplane.
A woman was leaning against an old Subaru wagon parked on the street, her arms crossed tightly over her chest, watching the little girl. She looked small, frail, with unwashed light-brown hair and deep circles under her eyes.
She seemed to be holding herself to keep from trembling. Claire wondered absently if this was how her grandmother felt when her daughter came home after years away, when pregnant Lorelei showed up on her door-step with a six-year-old clinging to her leg. This relief, this anger, this sadness, this panic.
Finally making her legs move, she crossed the yard, leaving Tyler behind.
Sydney pushed herself away from the car quickly, startled. Her eyes went all over Claire before she smiled. That insecure woman with her arms wrapped around her was gone, replaced by the old Sydney, the one who always looked down her nose at her family name, never realizing what a gift it was to have been born here. “Hi, Claire.” Claire stopped on the sidewalk, a few feet away from her. She could be a ghost, or maybe someone who looked incredibly like Sydney. The Sydney Claire knew would never let her hair look like that. She wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a T-shirt with food stains on it. She used to be so meticulous, so put together. She always tried so hard not to look like a Waverley. “Where have you been?”
“Everywhere.” Sydney smiled that spectacular smile of hers, and suddenly it didn’t matter what her hair or clothes looked like. Yes, this was Sydney.
The little girl from the yard ran up to Sydney and stood close to her. Sydney put her arm around her.
“This is my daughter, Bay.”
Claire looked at the child and managed to smile. She had dark hair, as dark as Claire’s, but Sydney’s blue eyes.
“And this is . . . ?” Sydney asked suggestively.
“Tyler Hughes,” he said, extending a hand past Claire. She hadn’t realized he’d come up behind her again, and she gave a start. “I live over there, next door.”
Sydney shook Tyler’s hand and nodded. “The old Sanderson place. It looks good. It wasn’t blue the last time I saw it. Just a hideous moldy white.”
“I can’t take credit for it. I bought it like that.”
“I’m Sydney Waverley, Claire’s sister.”
“Nice to meet you. I’ll just be going. Claire, if you need me for anything . . .” He squeezed Claire’s shoulder, then left. She was confused. She didn’t want him to go. Yet of course he couldn’t stay. But now she was alone with Sydney and her quiet daughter, and she had no idea what to do.
Sydney wagged her eyebrows. “He’s hot.”
“Waverley,” Claire said.
“You said your last name was Waverley.”
“Last time I checked.”
“I thought you hated the name.”
Sydney shrugged noncommitally.
“What about Bay?”
“Her name is Waverley too. Go play some more, honey,” Sydney said, and Bay ran back to the yard. “I can’t believe how great the house looks. New paint, new windows, new roof. I never imagined it could look so good.”
“I used Grandma Waverley’s life-insurance money to remodel.”
Sydney turned away a moment, ostensibly to watch Tyler climb the stairs to his front porch and then walk into his house. She had stiffened, and it occurred to Claire that this was shocking news to Sydney. Had she really expected to find their grandmother here, alive and well? What was she expecting? “When?” Sydney asked.
“When did she die?”
“Ten years ago. Christmas Eve, the year you left. I had no way to contact you. We didn’t know where you went.”
“Grandma knew. I told her. Say, do you mind if I pull this clunker behind the house?” Sydney knocked on the hood with her fist. “It’s sort of an embarrassment.”
“What happened to Grandma’s old car, the one she gave you?”
“I sold it in New York. Grandma said I could sell it if I wanted to.”
“So that’s where you’ve been, New York?”
“No, I only stayed there for a year. I’ve been around. Just like Mom.”
They locked eyes, and suddenly everything was quiet. “What are you doing here, Sydney?”
“I need a place to stay.”
“For how long?”
Sydney took a deep breath. “I don’t know.”
“You can’t leave Bay here.”
“Like Mom left us here. You can’t leave her here.”
“I would never leave my daughter!” Sydney exclaimed, a touch of hysteria tinging her words, and Claire was suddenly aware of all that wasn’t being said, of the story Sydney wasn’t telling. Something big had to have happened to bring Sydney back here. “What do you want me to do, Claire, beg?”
“No, I don’t want you to beg.”
“I don’t have anywhere else to go,” Sydney said, forcing the words out, like spitting sunflower-seed shells to the sidewalk, where they stuck and baked in the sun, getting harder and harder.
What was Claire supposed to do? Sydney was family. Claire had learned the hard way that you weren’t supposed to take them for granted. She’d also learned they could hurt you more than anyone else in the world.
“Have you had breakfast yet?”
“I’ll meet you in the kitchen.”
“Come on, Bay, I’m pulling the car around back,” Sydney called, and Bay ran to her mother.
“Bay, do you like strawberry Pop-Tarts?” Claire asked. Bay smiled, and it was Sydney’s smile made over. It almost hurt Claire to look at, remembering all the things she wished she could take back from when Sydney was a child, like chasing Sydney out of the garden when she wanted to see what Claire and their grandmother were doing and hiding recipes on high shelves so Sydney would never know their secrets. Claire had always wondered if she was the one who made Sydney hate being a Waverley. Was this child going to hate everything Waverley too? Bay didn’t know it, but she had a gift. Maybe Claire could teach her to use it. Claire didn’t know if she and Sydney would ever reconcile, or even how long she was going to stay, but maybe she could try to make up for what she’d done with Bay.
In mere minutes, Claire’s life had changed. Her grandmother had taken in Claire and Sydney. Claire would do the same for Sydney and Bay. No questions asked. It’s what a true Waverley did.
“Pop-Tarts are my favorite!” Bay said. Sydney looked startled. “How did you know?”
“I didn’t,” Claire said, turning toward the house.
Sydney parked the Subaru beside a white minivan at the back of the house, in front of the detached garage. Bay hopped out, but Sydney got out a little slower. She took her tote bag and Bay’s backpack, then she went around to the back of the car and unscrewed the Washington State license plate. She stuffed it into her bag. There. No clues as to where they’d been.
Bay was standing in the driveway that separated the house from the garden. “This is really where we’re going to live?” she asked, for about the sixteenth time since they’d pulled in front of the house that morning. Sydney took a deep breath. God, she couldn’t believe it. “Yes.”
“It’s a princess house.” She turned and pointed to the open gate. “Can I go see the flowers?”
“No. Those are Claire’s flowers.” She heard a thud and watched an apple roll out of the garden and stop at her feet. She stared at it for a moment. No one in her family ever found anything odd about having a tree that told the future and threw apples at people. Still, it was a better welcome
than Claire had given her. She kicked the apple back into the garden. “And stay away from the apple tree.”
“I don’t like apples.”
Sydney went to her knees in front of Bay. She pushed the little girl’s hair behind her ears and straightened her shirt. “Okay, what’s your name?”
“And where were you born?”
“On a Greyhound bus.”
“Who is your father?”
“I don’t know who he is.”
“Where are you from?”
She took her daughter’s hands. “You understand why you have to say these things, don’t you?”
“Because we’re different here. We’re not who we were.”
“You amaze me.”
“Thank you. Do you think Claire will like me?” Sydney stood, then took a moment to steady herself when dark spots appeared in front of her eyes and the world tilted off its axis for a moment. Her skin felt prickled, as if with goose bumps, and it hurt to blink. She was so tired she could hardly walk, but she couldn’t let Bay see her like that, and she certainly couldn’t let Claire see her like that. She managed to smile.
“She’d be crazy not to.”
“I like her. She’s like Snow White.”
They walked into the kitchen through the sunroom and Sydney looked around in awe. The kitchen had been remodeled, taking over most of what had been the dining room beside it. It was all stainless steel and efficiency, and there were two commercial refrigerators and two ovens. They wordlessly went to the kitchen table and sat, watching Claire put on coffee and then slide two Pop-Tarts into the toaster. Claire had changed–not in big ways but small ones, like the way light changed throughout the day. A different slant, a different hue. She carried herself differently; she no longer had that greedy, selfish way about her. She seemed comfortable, the way their grandmother used to seem comfortable. Don’t-moveme- and-I’ll-be-fine comfortable.
Watching her, it suddenly occurred to Sydney that Claire was beautiful. Sydney had never realized her sister was so beautiful. The man she was with earlier, the man from next door, thought so too. He was clearly attracted to Claire. And Bay was captivated by her, not taking her eyes off her even when Claire put warm Pop-Tarts and a glass of milk on the table in front of her.
“So, you run a catering company?” Sydney finally asked when Claire handed her a cup of coffee. “I saw the van.”
“Yes,” Claire said, turning away in a swish of mint and lilac. Her hair was longer than it used to be, and it veiled her shoulders like a shawl. She used it for protection. If there was one thing Sydney knew, it was hair. She loved beauty school and loved working in the salon in Boise. Hair said more about people than they knew, and Sydney understood the language naturally. It had surprised her that some other girls at beauty school thought it was hard. To Sydney it was second nature. It always had been. She didn’t have the energy to keep talking to Claire when Claire was making it so difficult, so she took a sip of the coffee and found it had cinnamon in it, just like Grandma Waverley used to make it. She wanted to drink more, but her hand started shaking and she had to set the cup down.
When was the last time she’d slept? She’d made sure Bay slept, but she was too scared to sleep more than small pockets at a time at rest stops and Wal-Mart parking lots along the way. Miles of highway ran on a permanent loop in her mind, and she still felt the hum of the road in her bones. It had taken them ten days, surviving on the food she’d packed, white bread and gingersnaps and cheap packages of peanut butter and crackers, the ones where the peanut butter tasted oily and the crackers crumbled at the touch. She wasn’t sure she could last much longer before she broke down in tears.
“Come on, Bay,” Sydney said the moment Bay finished her breakfast. “Let’s go upstairs.”
“I left new sheets from Evanelle on the beds,” Claire said.
“Your room is still your room. Bay can sleep in my old room. I sleep in Grandma’s now,” she said, her back to them as she began to bring down large canisters of flour and sugar from the cabinets.
Sydney led Bay straight to the staircase, not looking around, because she was disoriented enough and didn’t want to discover what else had changed. Bay ran up the stairs ahead of her and waited, smiling. It was worth it. All this was worth it, just to see her child like this.
Sydney led her to Claire’s old room first. The furniture was different, mismatched. The sewing table used to be in the sitting room downstairs, and the bed used to be in their grandmother’s room. Bay ran to the window.
“I like this room.”
“Your aunt Claire used to spend hours at that window, staring out at the garden. You can sleep with me, if you want to. My room has a view of the blue house next door.”
“I’m going to start bringing in our things. Come with me.”
Bay looked at her hopefully. “Can I stay up here?” She was too tired to argue. “Don’t leave this room. If you want to go exploring, we’ll do it together.” Sydney left Bay, but instead of going downstairs to get the boxes and bags left in the car, she walked to her old room. When she was young she spent a lot of time by herself in her room, sometimes imagining that she was trapped there by her evil sister, like in a fairy tale. For two years after her mother left, Sydney even slept with sheets tied into a rope under her bed so she could crawl out the window when her mother came back to save her. But then she grew older and wiser and realized her mother wasn’t coming back. She also realized that her mother had the right idea by leaving in the first place. Sydney couldn’t wait to leave, to follow her boyfriend Hunter
John Matteson to college, because they were going to be in love forever, and even if they came back to Bascom it would be okay, because he had never treated her like a Waverley. Not until the very end, at least.
She took a deep breath and entered the room reverently, a church of old memories. Her bed and dresser were still there. The full-length mirror still had some of her old stickers on it. She opened the closet and found a stack of boxes full of old linen that mice had gotten into. But the room didn’t have an air of neglect. There wasn’t any dust, and it smelled old and familiar, like cloves and cedar. Claire had taken care of it, hadn’t turned it into a sitting room or filled it full of things she didn’t need or use anymore or taken Sydney’s old furniture out.
That did it.
Sydney went to the edge of the bed and sat. She put a hand over her mouth as she cried so Bay, singing quietly in the next room, wouldn’t hear.
Ten days on the road.
She needed a bath.
Claire looked prettier, and cleaner, than she did. Grandma Waverley was gone.
Bay liked it here, but she didn’t yet realize what being a Waverley meant.
What was David doing?
Did she leave behind any clues?
So much had changed, but her room was exactly like she’d left it.
She crawled to the pillow at the top of the bed and curled into a small ball. She was asleep seconds later.
Excerpted from Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen Copyright © 2007 by Sarah Addison Allen . Excerpted by permission of Bantam Discovery, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
From the Hardcover edition.
1. Could you be persuaded that certain plants have powers, as Claire describes and uses them? If you believed you possessed the magical powers that Claire has inherited, how would you use them? What’s the first thing you would do?
2. Which of the sisters resonates with you personally? Claire believes everything–everyone–is temporary. She clings to home and makes herself content. Sydney’s philosophy is “you can’t hold on to everything,” and so has a history of very temporary, noncommittal relationships. Are their outlooks two sides of the same coin? What is the nature of the shift that occurs for each of them?
3. Sydney does what she feels she has to do in running with her daughter. What is your reaction to her dilemma, and her choice?
4. Sydney uses her birth name, Waverley, when she returns to her hometown, after hating the name all her life; she even gives her own daughter the Waverley surname. Why do you think she does this?
5. Do you relate to Emma’s passion for Hunter John? Is it possible for someone else to manipulate personal circumstances as Emma and her mother do?
6. How do you explain Claire’s attraction-repulsion to Tyler? Why do you think Claire sees violet sparks hovering around him the first time she meets him? What makes her eventually realize they are destined to be together?
7. Do you think a child can have the kind of insight and sensitivity that Bay demonstrates? Could a man have it? If not, why?
8. The four Waverley women in this novel (Claire, Sydney, Bay, Evanelle) have special gifts. Which of the four gifts would you like to have yourself? Why?
9. Fred observes, “You are who you are, whether you like it or not, so why not like it?” How does this statement relate to the different characters in the book?
10. Claire thinks, “When you tell a secret to someone, embarrassing or not, it forms a connection. That person means something to you simply by virtue of what he knows.” Do you agree with this? Can a secret be a positive thing? A negative thing?
11. Which character changes the most over the course of the book? What does he or she learn? What had to take place in order for this to happen?
12. Do you consider this to be a “southern” novel? Besides its setting, what characteristics make it so?
13. If you knew that biting into a Waverley apple would reveal your future… would you bite? Why or why not?