Author Playlists

Candi Sary’s Playlist for Her Novel “Magdalena”

“Music is magic. Whenever I listen to songs from my childhood, they recapture the old days with such detailed clarity, it’s like time travel.”

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Candi Sary’s Book Notes novel Magdalena is a ghost story as imaginative as it is captivating.

Mark Haskell Smith wrote of the book:

“Beautifully written and satisfyingly creepy, this is one of the most poignant and original ghost stories I’ve ever read.”

In her own words, here is Candi Sary’s Book Notes music playlist for her novel Magdalena:

Music is magic. Whenever I listen to songs from my childhood, they recapture the old days with such detailed clarity, it’s like time travel. Becoming my old self for a spell is a small miracle. I often listen to ’70s and ’80s music so I can slip back into my younger skin, and I always come back to the present renewed. But nostalgia is not music’s only destination for me. I’ve learned how to latch onto its miraculous sounds for another kind of travel—one that takes me deep into my imagination.

While working on my novel Magdalena, I created a playlist, and after each writing session, I’d go for a walk and listen to it. In time, the music became almost other-worldly in its power to pull me right into the story. This was the time I spent with my characters off the page, getting to know them. I did this for years. I came to love the characters as if they were real. And in a sense, they were. I’m currently working on a new novel, but sometimes I miss Magdalena and Dottie and all those wondrous beings I once carried with me every day. They are no longer a part of my life since their story ended, but I know a way to bring them back for a few miraculous minutes when I want to be with them again. All I need are these songs:

1. “Sam’s Town” (acoustic version) by The Killers

Before the novel took shape and I hadn’t yet made my playlist, I listened to my favorite band, The Killers, over and over on my walks. Something about their sound and Brandon Flowers’ haunting, longing voice perfectly captured the vibe I wanted for the novel. My imagination felt at home in their music, and with their storytelling. The acoustic version of “Sam’s Town” was the first song I put on the playlist and soon it began to feel like the novel’s theme song. I even named the fictitious town after it.

2. “Life in a Northern Town” by The Dream Academy

Magdalena is set in a small Northern Californian town, and the repetitive refrain from this song told my imagination where to go. The song’s haunting sound—more heavenly than creepy—always had the power to transport me to the foggy streets of Sam’s Town, and once I was in place, the characters always came.

3. “I Know” by Fiona Apple

This third song brought another kind of haunting sound—that of a woman’s longing. The song is about a woman’s unwavering faithfulness to a dysfunctional relationship. Her vulnerability and her need to pretend conjured my protagonist’s heart beautifully. The lyrics, “You can use my skin, to bury secrets in,” has deep meaning to the novel, and I always felt a strong connection to this storyline when Fiona Apple’s raw and silky voice sang out those words.

4. “My List” by The Killers

Along with the lyrics “Don’t give the ghost up…” there’s a ghostly cry at the beginning and the end of this song that created the ideal eeriness for my ghost story. I tried to immerse myself in the exquisite moodiness so I could recapture it on the page. Yet even in its darkness the song is still hopeful. It reminded me to keep empowering Dottie despite all her misfortunes.

5. “Never Let Me Go” by Florence + the Machine

Florence’s melancholic feel is so delicious in this song! The ethereal undertones of her voice were perfect for pulling me into Magdalena mode. Occasionally I’d abandoned my official playlist and have a “Florence Day” where I’d listen solely to her music. Those were the days when my protagonist really spoke to me. There is a quirkiness and oddity to Florence’s gorgeous voice that helped me capture the oddness in Dottie.

6. “Miss Atomic Bomb” by The Killers

I am convinced that this song offers an auditory blueprint for the perfectly paced novel. It starts with gentle intrigue and then slowly builds and builds. Just past the halfway point, a musical explosion spills emotion all over. “I’m standing here and you’re too late,” Brandon Flowers’ voice sort of cracks with desperation. Soon his voice finds stability in repetitive lyrics, and the intensity winds down, giving closure. Every time I listened to “Miss Atomic Bomb,” my imagination took inventory of my novel as a whole. I tried to place my story into the rhythm of the song and give Magdalena a touch of its melodic magic.

7. “Death and All His Friends” by Coldplay

The title alone speaks to why I chose this song for a ghost story. But there’s more to it. One night at 3AM, I woke to music coming from downstairs. It was an eerie song I’d never heard before, though I did recognize Chris Martin’s voice. The next day, I looked it up and discovered “Death and All His Friends” had woken me. I told myself it was no coincidence, and added the song to my Magdalena playlist so I’d remember the actual feel of experiencing my own gentle haunting.

8. “Read My Mind” by The Killers

Dottie has the suspicion that Magdalena can read her mind, but there is more about this song than just the title. “I don’t shine if you don’t shine” is one of my favorite lines of all The Killers songs. I really believe that those who help others become their best are the people who shine the brightest. In Magdalena, there is a nun who lives by this line, and her generosity of spirit makes her one of the most impactful characters of the novel.

9. “Believe Me Natalie” by The Killers

The Killers fans will likely recognize nods to the band throughout the book. I often found myself listening closely to their lyrics, and seeing how their stories might overlap into mine. It was really fun coming up with connections—like in this song, Flowers asks Natalie to “leave the ‘oh no’s’ out.” In my novel, Natalie is an old woman who decides not to leave them out as she wanders the hall of her rest home chanting “oh no” over and over. Just as I sometimes abandoned the official playlist for “Florence Days,” I also had “Killers Days”… and far more of them! Readers who know their music will recognize the influence.

10. “Youth” by Daughter

I didn’t even know the artist’s name was Daughter when I chose this song, and yet how appropriate for my novel where Dottie secretly fantasizes that Magdalena is her daughter? The song itself has a quiet intensity as it muses over heartbreak and loneliness. With the lyrics near the end, “And if you’re in love then you are the lucky one,” I not only heard Dottie, I deeply felt her.

11. “River” by Joni Mitchell

In Magdalena there is an old stereo at the market that plays 60s and 70s albums, like Fleetwood Mac, Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, The Beatles and Joni Mitchell. Dottie is so lonely, she believes the voices are speaking to her. One rather difficult day, Bob Dylan tells her, “Don’t think twice it’s alright.” Near the end, Dottie hears “River” and is convinced Joni Mitchell gives her an answer that leads to the novel’s finale. Listening to this song had the power to place me in the market when Dottie is struck with that pivotal answer.

12. “Magdalena” by Brandon Flowers

Brandon Flowers wrote this song inspired by the annual pilgrimage in Mexico every October 4th, when thousands of people walk 60 miles from Nogales to Magdalena.  “Tell him that I made the journey, tell him that my heart is true.” It’s a joyful song unlike the more somber ones listed above. It not only inspired a character as well as the title, it also reminded me that I had a destination with my writing. Every day I walked with my characters on this journey in the hopes of reaching something special and true. And in the end, we got there. Just like those in the song who make the annual pilgrimage, we made it to Magdalena.

Candi Sary is the author of Magdalena from Regal House Publishing.

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