What Friends Do For CandyJim Clark’s first novel is a poignant personal tale of “virtual” loveBy Zandra Wolfgram

Like many friends, they shared the highs and lows of what life throws at you. Like many friends, they spent a lot of time together, especially on Facebook. Like many friends, they brought out the best in each other.

And, like many friends, they fell in love. But unlike many friends we know, they never actually met.

This is the “boy-doesn’t-actually-meet-girl” story of “Making Friends with Candy,” an intriguing first novel by Jim Clark of Santa Rosa Beach, written as a memoir to his “virtual” friend, Candy, who died of cancer Aug. 5, 2010.

The book is intentionally conversational in style and, because of that, highly relatable. E-mail exchanges, text messages, photos and, as Clark says “whatever comes to mind,” detail a kismet bond growing stronger by the day. Conversely, Candy’s daily battle with cancer inevitably weakens her health, but not her resolve to live life and love friends to the fullest.

After sharing his story over 17 chapters, Clark transcribes Candy’s journal and closes the 260-page book with contact information for support resources such as the American Cancer Society, Locks of Love and National Domestic Violence.

While romantics will surely love this unconventional story of unconditional love, naysayers may wonder if Candy ever existed. As Clark notes in his book, “Even though this is a work of fiction to some people, many of the events are very real.” Whatever you believe, whether fictional or real, the story is still gripping.

After Candy died, Clark immediately began writing her story, and just five months later, it was published. Though it was an “emotional roller coaster” to relive a relationship when her death was still new, Clark says it was the least he could do to honor her memory. “I believe people are put into our lives and it’s up to us to make the most of those encounters,” he writes. “And, that you can find love within the most troubling times or darkest moments in your life, as well as in the lives of others. This is the story of a chance meeting and my commitment to do what that voice in my head, as well as my heart, said was the right thing to do.”

This excerpt from “Making Friends with Candy” follows with the author’s permission.

Getting to Know Candy
After talking through the chat area with Candy a few times I really started to like her spunky personality. She is a little bit of a smart ass like me, but with a bit of “Southern girl” thrown in on top. She didn’t mind voicing her opinion on how she felt about something or someone. She would tell someone if they were being an ass or just plain mean to people. She said this about herself: “I am just me. A far cry from amazing. I’m a little complex and confusing at times, but that’s just who I am … if you want to know the real me … hang on, fasten your seatbelts … it’s gonna be a bumpy ride!” I didn’t know the journey I was about to begin by just meeting her.

Chapter 16
Sharing Candy with Strangers
One day, I was having lunch and checking my e-mails and Facebook messages at Johnny Rockets. After receiving my cheeseburger, I see a little smile made in catsup by the server. I thought Candy would enjoy seeing it too, maybe it would put a smile on her face. So I took a picture of it with my phone and posted it online. While doing this, my server Christine asks me what was I doing and if everything was alright. I told her about Candy and the battle she is going through.

I decided to ask her if she, and maybe the other servers, would like to say hi to Candy as well. She said: “let me check”; they said “yes,” so I got my computer ready and took our group photo. I sent it to Candy who says it was “so sweet.” I told her it was nothing but me acting like a fool. Candy told me to continue being “you” because it’s a good thing for her. The servers asked me to let them know if there was anything they could do to help, and that they would keep Candy in their thoughts.