Mexican American author Margo Candela is the author of five novels including her latest, The Neapolitan Sisters, which follows Bernal sisters Maritza, Claudia, and Dulcina as they are brought together for the first time in many years for Maritza’s dream wedding. Told with humor and heart, the book touches on themes of sisterhood, family, and the true cost of keeping secrets.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: Who or what inspires the stories you tell? What drives you to write?
MARGO CANDELA: I was pragmatic about wanting to write even if I didn’t necessarily think of myself as a “writer.” This is why I graduated with a degree in journalism. I needed a job and wanted health insurance, and, at the time, that meant getting a staff job at a newspaper or magazine. I was very focused on facts even as I’d already accepted that my natural style of writing was more narrative. When I decided to write fiction, it was an acknowledgment of my innate creativity as well as a practical application of my journalism training. No matter what form of writing I did and continue to do, it’s a huge leap of faith both in myself and that readers will find value in my work. This is what keeps me motivated to challenge myself as a writer.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: Is representation something that you value and explore in your work?
MARGO CANDELA: My novels center on how characters craft their own identities by what they do for work. I’m also fascinated by work relationships and the dynamics that occur between people when they’re functioning in that capacity. My novels also explore the conflict characters feel and face when it comes to working hard and being successful. One is expected, the other gives rise to discomfort which is something that I, as a Latina from a working-class family, have had to contend with from the moment I decided to pursue writing as a career.
I’ve reached a place in my life where I’m aware of having a very distinct point of view and won’t apologize for it.Margo Candela
SOFÍA AGUILAR: The Neapolitan Sisters is your fifth novel after a decade-long hiatus from writing. What did you do during that hiatus and how did TNS help you find your way back to writing?
MARGO CANDELA: I never stopped thinking about writing and tried many times to force myself to write during those years. It took a long time for me to accept that what I needed to give myself was compassion, not criticism for my lack of productivity. When I finally did start writing again, it was exhilarating and more than a little scary. I had to relearn good writing habits, but this time around, I was able to be much kinder to myself and approach writing as a creative endeavor while also focusing on meeting my daily word count goals. The Neapolitan Sisters was a very challenging novel for me, which is why it took almost two decades for me to be ready to fully commit to telling Dulcina, Claudia and Maritza’s story. My editor Toni Kirkpatrick loved the draft I sent her, but I knew it could be much, much better, so I dug deep, set my ego and my own issues aside, and went for it. I needed all those years between the first draft and what I turned in to her to finally, truly appreciate not only what I get to do, but what I can do. Like all of my books, The Neapolitan Sisters is about dysfunctional family dynamics, the complicated bonds of sisterhood, and the corrosive power of secrets. It wasn’t until I was revising that I also realized it’s, at its core, a story about how painful, scary, frustrating, and healing it can be to receive and give unconditional love.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: How did you find that you grew as a writer?
MARGO CANDELA: I’ve reached a place in my life where I’m aware of having a very distinct point of view and won’t apologize for it. I’ve more than earned my unique perspective. I’m much more comfortable with writing about difficult, messy, even ugly things. This novel was risky, both personally and professionally, and I’m proud of myself for being brave enough to handle both the good and not-so-good that’s come with the experience.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: The novel centers around the sisters Maritza, Claudia, and Dulcina. What did you learn about them and their voices during the writing process?
MARGO CANDELA: I was able to explore various issues that come with being a Latina, a daughter, a sister, and a woman through each of their perspectives. At first, I had a hard time connecting with Maritza, but once I did, it was a moment of pure empathy for a difficult, even unlikable character. Her story is just as valid as Claudia and Dooley’s and what she can’t and doesn’t say speaks volumes. Dulcina had been in a very dark place for most of her life. Her being able to take those first steps to not only reconnect with her sisters but finally connect to herself was very emotional. Claudia was an exploration of ambition and self-worth. She seems to have everything, including a lover who loves her, but she can’t wrap her very logical mind around what her heart needs and wants. Writing each sister revealed more about them and each other. They became very real to me and I grew to love them, which might be weird, but it’s very true.
Publishing is a small world and word gets around, so keep this in mind when it comes time to vent. And believe me, there’s plenty to vent about.Margo Candela
SOFÍA AGUILAR: What is your advice to the next generation of writers, particularly Latina writers?
MARGO CANDELA: Writing is a creative endeavor, while publishing is a business. Merging the two requires a myriad of skills, as well as a grounded mindset to deal with inevitable criticism and rejection. Making connections with other writers and those who work in publishing is not only good for networking, it’s also a way to build and strengthen a sense of community and can lead to friendships. Also, publishing is a small world and word gets around, so keep this in mind when it comes time to vent. And believe me, there’s plenty to vent about.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: What are you working on next?
MARGO CANDELA: I’m in the process of outlining my next novel which will focus on a minor character from my fourth novel, Good-by To All That, Nicolette Meyers. It’s set both in San Francisco and Los Angeles and will explore what it takes for her to recreate herself while staying true to who she really is.