In a competitive publishing environment where it can take many years to publish a first novel, a former GCC student proved that dreams can come true sooner than you realize.
“I think for me it was a matter of timing and luck and having what somebody was looking for,” Maria Del Torro said modestly.
This wife, mother and novelist has written “Underneath It All,” her debut, and “Life Over Easy,” both women’s fiction novels-books that focus on strong women characters, written in a lighthearted conversational tone aimed to entertain, even though they might address more serious issues.
“I write about modern women in contemporary situations dealing with traditional families who may not fully understand the choices their daughters and sisters make,” said Del Torro.
“I include a wide variety of characters – both male and female, gay, straight, white, black, Latino, Indian – because it makes the stories much more interesting to me when I get to explore different perspectives.”
Her books can be found at Barnes & Noble, Borders Books and through online sites such as amazon.com – but only under her pen name Margo Candela: a name that she enjoys and helps her feel connected to her writing.
“I went with a pen name because I wanted to diversify what kind of writing I could do,” said Del Torro, referring to the flexibility it gives her to produce other types of fiction under her own name.
“My first agent suggested a pen name and the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was another way for me to take ownership of what I was writing and give myself a name that went with the overall tone of the novels.”
But she began writing under this name years after working in the El Vaquero newsroom, where her writing career first took shape.
Del Torro, a Mexican-American born and raised in Northeast Los Angeles, went to GCC in the early 1990s after graduating from Franklin High School. With encouragement from Mike Eberts, her Mass Communications 101 professor at GCC, she joined the El Vaquero staff.
“It was when I took Mr. Eberts’ class that I realized that what I always liked in life was taking information, digesting it and putting it in my own words,” said Del Torro. “He encouraged that in us, to not take things on the surface, but to think a step beyond.”
For three semesters she wrote profiles, news stories, columns, and more for El Vaquero.
“I have never had more fun in my life,” said Del Torro. “From the minute we sat down until the time we put the paper out, we were laughing and joking. We were surrounded by wonderful, creative, and smart people. It was the best school experience I ever had and one that I haven’t yet equaled.
“Going to a community college. . . does open a lot of doors. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t taken those first steps at GCC,” she said.
Eberts was the adviser to the El Vaquero staff at that time, and he remembers Del Torro.
“Pretty early on it was apparent that her talents were in the more creative type of writing,” said Eberts. “And for a journalist that meant feature stories and essays. Being on El Vaquero was a good experience for her. She became more outgoing, and we all came to realize just how screamingly funny she could be. Everyone just adored her.”
Completing a column on sisterhood for El Vaquero, Del Torro noticed a change in her writing: It was the first time she blended her beliefs, family experiences and outlook on relationships. This article was the “embryo” of her career, material she would present later in her work.
With her newfound writer’s voice, she pursued higher education at San Francisco State University after graduating from GCC in 1993 with an associate degree in humanities.
During the next four years, she studied journalism, concentrating on magazine writing. This style appealed to her so strongly that for her last two semesters before graduation in 1997, she wrote for Prism Magazine, the university’s publication.
Within a year of earning her bachelor’s degree in journalism, Del Torro was working in San Francisco, earning $40,000 writing columns, news and feature stories for various websites, including BayInsider.com, despite what she had been told in college about the salary of a beginning writer being half that.
As she worked for the websites, she freelanced for two consumer print magazines: Computer Life Magazine and Estylo, a women’s magazine.
Del Torro made a comfortable living until her writing jobs at the websites came to an end.
“My parents were worried about me for a while,” said Del Torro. “During the dot com era I jumped from job to job every six months. After the whole thing crashed, it coincided with the birth of my son, when I found myself without a job.
“I knew it [writing for websites] wouldn’t last. I was confused about what I was going to do,” she said.
Being a wife and having a newborn son to raise, Del Torro moved her writing in a direction that would offer her more job security. Determined to pursue her interest in writing novels, she set herself up in her little home office and wrote the next three years, while her little boy napped.
When he entered preschool in September 2003, she started work on her novels, giving herself six months to find an editor and publisher – a goal she achieved.
Del Torro was on her way to realizing her dream.
Two years later her book deal was announced. “Underneath It All” was on bookshelves in January 2007 and “Life Over Easy” later that October, both under 400 pages, published by Kensington Books. Favorable reviews by The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly and others soon followed.
She continues writing from her Los Angeles home where she lives with her husband and 8-year-old son, keeping a focused perspective on her work.
“For me this is a creative job, and it’s a wonderful opportunity, and it’s difficult,” she said. “It’s something that people don’t get to do every day. But it’s still a job.”
Touchstone Books will publish her next two novels within two years; her third, “More Than This,” in August 2008; and her fourth, currently untitled, next summer.
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