Excerpted from The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen. Copyright © 2008 by Sarah Addison Allen. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, 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.
Random House Reader’s Circle: What inspired the story of The Sugar Queen?
Sarah Addison Allen: I know someone who retired from the postal service after thirty years of running a rural route. I loved hearing the stories of elderly patrons who would stand by their boxes with iced tea or a slice of cake for the mailman. It wasn’t the mail they looked forward to, it was the mailman–the only person they saw on a regular basis. Josey’s Rapunzel-like character was born from this. I began to wonder, what if there was a young woman trapped in her own house? The mailman would be her only contact with the outside world. What if she fell in love with him? What an interesting dynamic that would be–the young woman, living for the arrival of the mail, and the mailman, with no idea he was carrying off her heart when he left each day.
RHRC: How did you decide on the specific candies mentioned in The Sugar Queen? And which candy is your favorite?
SAA: I knew I wanted to focus on candy that would realistically be found in a small Southern town like the one in The Sugar Queen, so I decided on Southern and rural candies. And I took my research very seriously. I made it my mission to try every cookie, candy, and sweet mentioned in the book. A hard job, but someone had to do it. Of all the candy I tried, my favorite was probably Cow Tales. Caramel-apple-flavored Cow Tales, in particular.
RHRC: The town of Bald Slope in The Sugar Queen is described as a ski resort town. Is there really skiing in North Carolina?
SAA: Yes! When you think of the South, snow doesn’t automatically come to mind. But there are many great ski resorts in the Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina. I based the fictional town of Bald Slope in The Sugar Queen on the small ski towns in this area.
RHRC: What’s the most unusual thing in your closet? Do you hide secret things in your closet like Josey?
SAA: My closet is so crammed with stuff that most of what’s in there is a secret even to me. I’m planning an archeological dig soon. But the most unusual thing I know of is probably several boxes of old Star Wars memorabilia I collected as a kid. You never know when a Luke Skywalker action figure might come in handy.
RHRC: What are you working on now?
SAA: I’m not through exploring the lovely and vast strangeness of the South. My next books will have all the magic, romance, food, and Southern settings that readers have come to expect from a Sarah Addison Allen novel. I have the warmest, most enthusiastic readers. These books are a joy to write because of them.
RHRC: Why do you think your books have struck such a chord in readers?
SAA: Maybe because the books explore the magic of the ordinary. Everyday things are magical, we just take them for granted. Apples. Candy. A good haircut. Books. Community. Family. Friends. A small gift. A letter in the mail. Falling in love.
RHRC: Speaking of falling in love, many readers would love to know what happens to the characters in The Sugar Queen. Where do you see them now?
SAA: Josey and Adam continue to travel. Adam wants children, but it will be years before he’ll tell Josey this. He wants her to experience all she can, all she wants to. They come back to Bald Slope to have their first and only child, a little boy named Parker. Josey chooses to have her child in Bald Slope, not because of her mother–who never even sees the baby–but because she wants Chloe with her.
Chloe and Jake have a solid relationship and three redheaded children. Jake eventually becomes district attorney. Books still follow Chloe around. They also follow Chloe’s youngest child, a little girl named Hanna. Josey tells Chloe about their father, and Chloe accepts it, mostly because the book The Princess Diaries hounds her until she does. Margaret and Rawley marry, but no one knows this until Margaret passes away years later. Margaret and Josey never truly reconcile. From the beginning, their stories were meant to diverge and never reconnect. It’s the only way for them to be truly happy. It’s a hard truth, but we are sometimes happier without some people in our lives. I don’t know what happens to Julian. He loses his power after Della Lee passes away. And without the magic that defined him, he slowly ceases to exist, until no one can see him anymore. I can’t see him.
Marlena moves back to South America ten years later. She lives with her sister and sometimes dreams of Bald Slope, of mountains covered in a patchwork quilt of colors. And sometimes ghosts from her time in North Carolina visit her and she chases them away with salt and sand, but not before sitting down and discussing what’s going on in the lives of those she left behind. That’s what she and ghosts have in common–concern for the living.
1. What keeps Josey from leaving home? What makes Adam stay in Bald Slope? In what ways do they feel the same about North Carolina and its landscape?
2. What has Josey hungered for throughout her life? What transformed her from a difficult child into a woman who hides her cravings?
3. Why does Margaret want to prevent the arrival of unexpected visitors? What fears are captured in her peppermint-oil ritual?
4. What are Julian’s motivations in his pursuit of Chloe? How did your opinion of him shift throughout the novel?
5. In her conversation with Livia’s granddaughter (chapter six), Josey suggests that Amelia might want to have a life of her own. Amelia immediately dismisses that idea. What enables Josey to free herself, rather than becoming like Amelia? Could Josey have done it without Della Lee?
6. How does money influence Josey’s outlook on life? How did her father use it, through lavish parties and an eye-catching house, to get what he wanted? What was he not able to buy, no matter how wealthy he was?
7. Josey lives in a world of rules, from a neighborhood that bans snowmen to a mother who bans a snug red sweater. What is the purpose of these rules? What stifling rules in your life–at work, with your family, or in your community–do you sometimes dream of breaking?
8. Discuss Chloe’s relationship to the world of books. What is the significance of the magical way they appear in her life, and the equally magical way she finds a house to call her own? How do books become a home for her?
9. What is Nova Berry’s role in Bald Slope? How do her remedies–such as stinging nettle tea–compare to Josey’s sweets?
10. How did Margaret’s past shape her future? Who ultimately is to blame for standing in the way of her love for Rawley? How have notions of love and motherhood changed for Josey’s generation?
11. How did you react when Della Lee’s situation was revealed in the end? Have you ever been guided by the wisdom of someone like her?
12. Would you have forgiven Jake? How did you feel about him after you learned the identity of his lover?
13. How are Adam and Josey able to heal each other as their attraction grows? What does it take to propel Josey’s crush beyond the realm of fantasy? When are they able to trust each other enough to have a real-world relationship?
14. What were your thoughts as Josey tore up the attorney’s note aboard the ship? What do you believe it said? Are secrets ever useful in a family, or do they always result in pain?
15. What themes appear in both this novel and Sarah Addison Allen’s debut, Garden Spells? What forms of mystical hope appear in both books?