Alumna Publishes 5th Novel, Credits GCC Experience as Foundational

Writing as an act of bravery, compassion, and risk

An image of the author, Margo Candela.
(Courtesy of Dennis Menendez)

“I’ve always wondered how it’s possible for two people who are essentially identical – genetically, at least – to view and experience reality in such diametrically opposite ways. How is it that we can both be right and wrong at the same time?” muses the middle sister, once again thrust into the role of surrogate parent for her sisters. Margo Candela’s latest novel,The Neapolitan Sisters,” presents a complex family drama told by three Latina sisters, each with alternating points of view, examining what it means to be a sister, daughter, and ultimately, your own self, despite the pressures that come with being part of a family.

Author Margo Candela, a commercial women’s fiction writer and author of five published novels, will be at Village Well Books & Coffee in Culver City at 3 p.m. on Oct. 23 to promote her latest novel, “The Neapolitan Sisters.” She will also be speaking virtually to GCC on Oct. 13. When we spoke on Sept. 23, she mused about the impact of GCC on her career, what it takes to be a successful writer, and finding the courage to tell stories that need to be told.

Q. So, tell me about yourself.

A. Honestly, I am just a regular person; other than I have a very good sense of humor. You know, working class, first in my family to go to college, with my sister, who also went to GCC. There’s absolutely no reason you should be interviewing me…nothing in my early life set me up for success as an author. When I set out to be a writer, I made some crucial decisions to create a very different life for myself.

That’s a good and honest question! Like, who am I? I know who I am. 100%!

I’m a writer, a mother, and a good friend. I try to be a good sister and daughter. And I’m very grateful and lucky to be where I am right now.

Candela, a Mexican-American born and raised in the Los Angeles communities of Lincoln Heights and Cypress Park, was a passionate consumer of the community library. Raised in a working-class family, living in east and northeast Los Angeles, Candela had no ties to the publishing world. She credits a series of life choices and experiences at GCC in the early 1990s for her career as a professional writer. And to the college newspaper via a college professor who was kind and encouraging. Her experiences at GCC proved to be a solid foundation. She transferred to San Francisco State University, where she continued journalism studies and focused on magazine writing.

Margo Candela features strong Latina voices in her commercial women’s fiction, writing on subjects typically whispered about but not openly discussed in the Latino community. Topics like sex, alcoholism, drug abuse, and parental abuse.

The first in her family to attend college, Candela initially struggled. In 2008, fourteen years after being a student at GCC, she returned to the campus as a Language Lecture Series featured speaker and shared her experience. “I signed up for a full load of classes and managed to fail every single one of them. Not because I couldn’t do the work, but because I didn’t do it,” Arpee Markarian reported in El Vaquero. “I eventually met with an academic counselor, something I suggest everyone do a lot sooner. You don’t always have to shoulder it on your own; there are people here who will help you.” Through hard work and determination, Candela went on to make the dean’s list and was invited to join the staff of El Vaquero, the college newspaper.

Q. How did your time at GCC prepare you for a writing career?

A. Mr. Eberts was the advisor for El Vaquero when I came on staff. He taught me how to write. I was a voracious reader and a natural writer, but I hadn’t put those two things together. I never even considered writing as a career or even something that I could do. This is what I discovered working on the college paper. I enjoyed writing. It fulfilled a need in me to be creative and be heard.

I needed to maintain 12 units to be a full-time student. My sister had been taking Mass Communications 101, and she would tell me how interesting it was. So I went to the professor, Mr. Eberts, on the last day to add a class and pleaded with him to let me in. Although he already had a full class, he was kind enough to make room for me. I ended up getting an “A” in that class. When he asked if I was interested in continuing, I said, “Yes.” I found it very interesting. That summer, he sent me a letter asking if I was interested in being on the school paper. That, and a comment in passing from my mom as I was reading the letter, changed my life.

This was a pivotal moment in Candela’s life. A time when the kindness of a college professor and a parent’s keen observation of her child’s passion, coupled with a word of motherly encouragement, turned Candela toward a career as a writer. A time when a passion for reading and writing began to coalesce into what would become her career as a writer.

Q. What was it that your mother said?

A. It was the summer between semesters, and I’d decided I was going to stop going to GCC and get a full-time job. That was what was expected of me – get an honest job and do a day’s work and hopefully get health insurance and maybe join a union, that type of thing and I didn’t necessarily need a college education for this to happen.  My mother saw me reading a letter and asked what I was doing. I told her it was from Mr. Eberts and he was inviting me  to be a writer for El Vaquero, the college paper. She said, “Oh, you’ve always liked to write. You should think about it. You should try it.”

Years earlier, I had started writing for fun on a manual typewriter I picked up from Goodwill. I scrounged some money together, went down to Goodwill, tried out all the typewriters, and found one I liked. I would take scraps of paper, write little stories and make pamphlets, like bogus informational pamphlets, and leave them around for my siblings to read them. I thought I was just entertaining myself, but my mother noticed that I was writing. Even though I didn’t think much of it, she was the one who noticed. I give her a lot of credit for that.

I enrolled for the fall semester, got on staff at the college paper, and had the best time ever. My mom and Mr. Eberts really did change my life.

The work I did myself, but they each had a pivotal role in me becoming a writer.

Q. With no connections and no background in publishing, how did you make a successful writing career for yourself?

A. After graduation from GCC, I got a Journalism degree from San Francisco State University (SFSU) with an emphasis in magazine and feature writing. My natural inclination was toward that type of writing as opposed to newspaper writing. And I just started hustling like mad for a job. First, I took an internship that paid a bit above minimum wage at a magazine called, yes, ComputerLife Magazine. I learned a lot there and made a good friend in one of the editors who recently told me he still considers me one of the few people that he still likes to this day. The feeling is mutual! Being an intern was hard in a city like San Francisco where the cost of living has always been high. There were times when my rent was paid before I was fed. They were lean times and sometimes the work sucked, but I got it done and I really appreciated that on my last day, most of the staff took me out to lunch to thank me and congratulate me for having landed a paying gig writing for a news website that covered the Bay Area.

I graduated from SFSU right before the first dot-com boom happened. Dot-com companies were hiring writers like crazy. I managed to get a series of dot-com jobs and to write for websites. I was paid a good wage and had insurance. I could cover my rent, go out to dinner every so often, and pay back my student loan. That is why I knew it wouldn’t last, but I figured I would get it while the getting was good. I rode that wave until it crashed.

The change in the dot-com world coincided with the birth of my son. I found myself at home with a 3-month-old. The dot-com peak work had dried up. So I shifted gears and focused on raising my son. Once he started preschool, I decided it was time for me to start writing.

I treat the process of writing and publishing exactly like what it is – a job. I work hard to meet my deadlines. And I always try to do the best job possible to make it as easy as possible for my editor to do her job. That just makes me a better writer who is easy to work with.

I freelanced for a bit, some magazines and more websites. Then my attention gradually turned to fiction. Looking to give myself a broad perspective on the process of writing and publishing a novel, I read The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing a Novel and Getting Your Book Published For Dummies. After reading those books, I wrote two novels and then started writing query letters.

I created my career by doing a lot of research, working hard, and writing very good query letters. Also by being very determined and treating getting an agent as a job. And that’s how it happened.

One person said yes and published my work, and I went from there.

Being a decent person and a hard worker and making your deadlines also matters!

Candela parlayed her work experiences in customer service jobs she held in her adolescents to her approach as a young adult, entering the publishing world and carving out a successful career. She took the mall skills she gained while working at the Glendale Galleria and put them to work in all areas of her life. “I find people interesting. I learned how to be very approachable, interacting with people in a straightforward, friendly manner.” Candela likens mall customer relations skills to writing skills, “All those skills, writing to a word count, meeting a deadline, how to structure a story, cold calling, making phone calls, getting information – those are customer service skills. Everything I learned while I was at GCC and at the Galleria still serves me today. You might think you’re not learning much from what you’re doing now, but you are. You can build on it. You never know where it will take you. I went from being really happy working on a college newspaper to being in print to having 5 novels.”

Creativity requires time to think. To be still. To have compassion for oneself. To be kind and let the ever-elusive creative process take place. “I take much more care and consideration of myself and allow myself to enjoy being creative,” reflects Candela. “Coming from a working-class background, that’s very hard. I was raised to have a job, to always be working. Sitting and staring out of a window and letting my thoughts take me wherever they need to go… it’s taken a long, long time to be comfortable with this. Honestly, it’s a privilege.”

An image of the book, "The Neapolitan Sisters."Q. How do you know when the book is done?

A. I’m very hard on myself, as well as very critical. Someone once told me that I was a perfectionist. I had a hard time wrapping my mind around this concept because I never considered what I did was good enough to even come close to being perfect, so how could I be a perfectionist? I realized that that’s exactly what a perfectionist is. They never feel that what they do is good enough.

For example, The Neapolitan Sisters had a really short editing window. It could be better. But there came the point where I had to be okay with where it wound up and just accept that this is the book it’s going to be. This took a lot of compassion for myself.

For those with a strong work ethic and those from a working-class background, it can be easy to confuse the creative process with laziness. “You’re not being lazy if you’re not always working. I realized that there are times when you have to step away from what you’re doing to discover what it is you actually have to do,” Candela reflects. “Have compassion for yourself while holding yourself up to a high standard and set goals and meet deadlines.”

Q. Who do you write for?

A. I write for the reader. It goes back to having a strong work ethic, a customer-service-focused background, and being a journalist. I write for the reader. Period.

My goal is to always give the reader a good experience and tell a good story that makes it worth their time and money to read my book. It’s a great privilege to have somebody immerse themselves in a story you thought of. I never take that for granted.

The early draft of a novel may be a bit self-indulgent and it should be. There comes a point when writing a manuscript where I can take a step back and be very objective about it. And that’s when I start paring things down. I may like how it reads, but that doesn’t mean it serves the story. And if it doesn’t do anything for the reader, I cut it out.

Who do I write for? I am a Latina. I am a Latina author, but my goal is to write a universal story. While my characters are Latina and will always be Latinas, I write for a general audience. I write for a reader who wants a good story and I hope this is what they find in my books.

On the home page of her website, Candela’s biography outlines her career and acknowledges her 10-year hiatus from writing. “I wrote four novels and saw them published in four years before taking a long break from fiction to focus on real life responsibilities. After making some significant life changes, I’m writing again and am very glad to be exactly where I am.”

Q. Your website mentions a long break from fiction to focus on real-life responsibilities and make significant life changes. What were the real-life responsibilities?

A. Publishing went through a huge change between writing More Than This and Good-bye To All That. Self-publishing took over. Publishing houses were laying off people right and left. I had to ask myself what I was going to do, but also consider the why behind my decision. My primary responsibility was to be a good parent and a very present mother to my son. When you’re in a circumstance where being creative isn’t a priority, setting aside this part of life to focus on what’s most important may not be an easy choice to make, but for me, it was the right one. Getting myself and my son to a point where we could go forward in life with a strong sense of self, honesty, and integrity was important. That takes a lot of energy and it paid off for both my son and myself, as we have a strong bond and very loving relationship.  He knows he can count on me for anything, anytime, anywhere and I know he’s grown into a self reliant young man as well as a decent human being.

I was married at the time. Marriage is a job and I eventually fired myself from that job, very happily!

That is where my energy went. I needed to do real life, and fiction had to take a back seat. Once I was on my own and my son was at college, I was able to go back to writing.

Q. What were the significant life changes?

A. It was mostly getting my confidence back. Given my background, it’s really implausible that I was ever published in the first place. But to be published again, after such a huge break – it’s like winning the lottery! This is just such a wonderful opportunity. I’m going to make the very, very most of it. I don’t take any of it for granted. None of it.

Writing is a solitary experience. Candela reflected that based on her background as a working-class Latina from East LA, it was improbable that she would be successful. She credits her success to life choices she made (attending college, pursuing journalism as a major), jobs she has learned from (customer service jobs), her tenacity, being a person who pays attention to the details (professional and personal), and follows through. She’s successful because she is a hard worker. Why would someone choose a career that is so hard and solitary?

Q. Why do you do it?

A. I have seriously asked myself, “Why am I doing this?” It’s a very vulnerable, very exposing thing to do, to write a novel. Even though it’s fiction, you’re inviting people, mostly strangers, into your world. Sometimes these strangers become friends who come to know your writing better than you do.

When I was writing “The Neapolitan Sisters” and realized what I was doing, that there could be some backlash – there has been some backlash – I thought, “Am I really going to do this?”

The Neapolitan Sisters” is a darker, heavier story. There’s still a lot of humor. There’s also a lot of dysfunctional family dynamics that aren’t really discussed in the Latino community. They’re whispered about but not discussed.

I prepared my family for The Neapolitan Sisters. I told them there’s going to be a lot of sex in this book and a lot of reckoning with the long term effects and consequences of drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and parental abuse. They are very proud of me. But they were a little concerned about it. I had to assure them, “This is fiction.” It’s a story that needs to be told and I’m very proud of the way I did it even if it’s far from perfect.

So, why did I really write this book? I had to be honest with myself and say, “Because I don’t want to be quiet anymore.” Latinas are underrepresented in the media. Our stories aren’t being told. I’m sick of being silent. This is my medium; I am a writer and I will write. And whoever gets in my way, better take a few steps back. For me, this book was an act of bravery, compassion, and also, risk. All those things are intertwined in the novel for me as a writer and for the characters I wrote.

Subletting in San Francisco while looking for her own place, Candela continues to be a self-declared die-hard LA Kings fan. She keeps her hand in the writing game while running the publicity gauntlet for her latest novel by penning a collection of essays, “Juicy Musings & Dry Observations,” subscribers receive when signing up for her monthly newsletter. Her love of a good quality loaf of bread and the guilty pleasure of raunchy comfort food are evident here.

As the interview concluded, she reminisced about the bread her mom brought her from a Mexican bakery in Lincoln Heights and lamented her inability to find a comparable Mexican bakery in the Bay Area. “Those days were always, my god, like treat days! Mexican bread is very particular. I’ve tried a few bakeries in San Francisco, but I’m still looking.” And while she does enjoy cooking, “I would never learn to bake,” she says with a laugh. “Because I would not leave the house,” implying that she would stay home all day, baking and eating bread.

Candela looks forward to her Los Angeles trip to promote her book and to visit the places where she has connections with people, where her family is, and her friends. When she’s in town in October, she and her mom may do a little sneak-out to grab a bite at King Taco (you’ll have to subscribe to her newsletter and read “Juicy Musings & Dry Observations” for the inside scoop!). “There’s nothing like it in the Bay Area. It’s so raunchy-good!” 


Meet Margo Candela at her virtual GCC author event on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022, at 12:20 p.m. For more information on the author event, refer to:

Join Margo Candela at her author event, Algo Nuevo: New Fiction from Latina Authors, at Village Well Books & Coffee in Culver City on Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022, at 3 p.m. For more information on the author event, refer to: and

To learn more about Margo Candela and access her free newsletter, refer to. https.// and

Become a part of one of society’s most important traditions by enrolling in journalism classes at Glendale Community College. To learn more about GCCs Journalism program, refer to. https.//

To read other El Vaquero articles about Margo Candela/Maria del Toro, refer to: https.// and https.//

To find the King Taco nearest you, refer to: