Monday, January 08, 2007


Monday’s post from Daniel Olivas

With the publication this month of her debut novel, Underneath It All (Kensington Books, paperback $14), Margo Candela introduces Jacquelyn “Jacqs” Sanchez, the fictional personal assistant to the wife of a fictional San Francisco mayor. Jacqs has the brains and beauty (not to mention fashion sense) to survive the political and personal high jinks of her boss, a former soap opera star who finds herself struggling in the role of big city mayor’s wife. Jacqs suffers the pain of a failed marriage and battles a slightly self-destructive impulse to pursue men who are simply wrong for her. And there’s the culture gap between Jacqs and her more traditional parents and friends back home in Los Angeles. The novel moves along at a fast clip with clever dialogue and memorable characters.

Candela, whose parents came from Mexico, grew up in Los Angeles but attended college at San Francisco State University where she majored in journalism. The middle of five children, she eventually moved back to Los Angeles where she now lives with her husband and son. Candela was kind enough to answer a few questions about writing and getting published:

OLIVAS: Your protagonist, Jacqueline Sanchez, is funny, smart and sexy. Is she modeled on any particular people you know? Also, I really liked the family dynamic between Jacqueline and her parents, who are more traditional than she is. Was that difficult to write?

CANDELA: I’ll admit to noticing mannerisms and quirks from a wide variety of people I know and incorporating them into different characters, but Jacqueline’s mostly a made up person. It made it much more enjoyable to figure out what kind of person she would turn out to be since she was her own person, not based on anyone in particular. She’s a little frustrating, but that’s what makes her interesting. She’s not perfect, she makes mistakes but her heart is (usually) in the right place.

As for the dynamics between her and her parents, it wasn’t hard at all to write. Her interactions with them and the rest of her family allowed me to explore some of her flaws and strengths. Her parents are set in their ways and don’t understand why Jacqueline insists on rocking the boat, but they love her even though they have a not so obvious way of showing it.

OLIVAS: When did you decide that you were going to be a novelist?

CANDELA: I wasn’t sure how to translate wanting to write into an honest job, so I considered doing something useful like becoming a social worker. When I mentioned this to my mother she wondered why I wouldn’t do something in the realm of writing since I seemed to enjoy it so much. It hadn’t really occurred to me that I should enjoy my eventual job or even aim for something as ambitious as a career. When it came time to transfer out of junior college I signed myself up as a journalism major (since I figured a job with newspaper or magazine combined my love of writing with my need to be employed) and things developed from there.

OLIVAS: Did you have any mentors who helped you on your road to becoming a published novelist? What’s the best advice offered to you?

CANDELA: I went into this whole thing blind. A lot of the time I faked it, pretending to be comfortable with my decision to take such a huge gamble. Other times I really had to stand my ground to pursuing my goal of getting published. I really didn’t have anyone to look to for guidance so I kind of made things up as I went along, setting goals and time frames for myself. When people questioned me or made light of what I was doing, I told them it was like I was starting up and trying to run my own business and, eventually, that mindset gave me more confidence in what I was doing and helped me through some rough spots when things weren’t working out the way I’d hoped. In the end, this is a business. Everyone from the agent who signs you to the person who ships your book off from the warehouse thinks of it as such and I think writers should too.

OLIVAS: Who are your literary influences?

CANDELA: I’ve always enjoyed reading Anne Tyler. Celestial Navigations (Ballantine Books) is my all time favorite novel. I read a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction but I don’t really have anyone who I can point to as a direct influence of my writing.

OLIVAS: Did you listen to music when you wrote your novel? If so, did the music influence your fiction? What is your writing process in general?

CANDELA: I have a huge collection of Putumayo compilations on my iPod. They find and put together some of the best world music out there. One of my favorite “finds” is Lhasa De Sela and her song “De Cara A La Pared.” I played it again and again when I was working on my literary novel.

I turn my computer on first thing in the morning and turn it off when I can’t face it anymore. I set word count goals for myself and it’s always a good day when I exceed what I was aiming for. Sometimes I’m really into what I’m working on and time flies, other times I’m sitting at my desk with my head in my hands wondering why I can’t write. It’s always a huge sense of relief when I finish a manuscript, even though I know I still have to revise and polish it.

OLIVAS: What are you working on now?

CANDELA: Right now I’m in a bit of a holding pattern. My agent has sent out my novel about three sisters from East Los Angeles whose lives take very different paths before they come back together again and we’re waiting to hear from editors. I have two proposals in the works to be presented to my editor at Kensington. The first will be my third women’s commercial novel about two people who fall in love but never meet. I’m also hoping to write a young adult book about a girl dealing with the ups and downs of planning for her Quinceañera.

OLIVAS: What has been the reaction of your family members to your writing?

CANDELA: They’re very proud of me, but for a long while they were waiting for me to come to my senses and get a real job. I write fiction, but it’s inspired by life and I hope that if they read my books they’ll realize any events (or characters) that seem familiar are written out of love and respect. My family and friends are a constant source of inspiration. They do funny, sad and interesting things I can’t help but notice, but I would never intentionally embarrass them or reveal anything private since I want to keep being invited over for dinner.

OLIVAS: How did you go about finding a publisher? Any interesting stories that you can share?

CANDELA: My editor found me. She had insomnia and a search engine lead her to my site. She sent me an email asking for me to submit and it couldn’t have come at a better time. I had just asked my second agent to release me from my contract and was hoping my current agent was still interested in my work. Within 24 hours I’d met my future editor and found my agent. It’s all about timing, perseverance and a healthy dose of luck. Oh, and the writing. A good manuscript doesn’t hurt either.

OLIVAS: Any plans for a movie version of your novel? Who do you see playing Jacqueline?

CANDELA: I’d love to see Underneath It All be turned into a movie and I don’t think many writers out there would say they wouldn’t. In my case, especially since there are very little roles out there for Latinas, especially commercial roles, which don’t either romanticize or make a caricature out of us. It would be great to see the story brought to life by any of the Latina actresses out there, especially Jessica Alba or Eva Mendes. I think Michael Pena, from Crash and World Trade Center, would make a perfect Noel, Jacqueline’s charming but aimless brother. On the other end of the spectrum, I think Heather Graham could be excellent as Mrs. Mayor, who is a calculating but naïve person.

OLIVAS: What are your thoughts about the whole “chica lit” phenomenon? Are you offended by the label? Is the label empowering? What advice would you give to an aspiring Latina writer?

CANDELA: I hope readers who like chica lit will like Underneath It All, but at the same time I was very conscious when writing it, and my subsequent books, that I wasn’t specifically writing chica lit. The writers who have fully embraced the label like Mary Castillo, Sophia Quintero and, of course, Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, have turned it into something vibrant and a literary movement that has filled a need for readers. If my book can be included in amongst theirs as well as in the ranks with Jennifer Weiner, I’d be honored. My goal has always been to tell the stories of Latinas while aiming for a general audience. It was very important for me to work with an agent and editor who wouldn’t try to make me fit a mold but use my unique perspective as a Latina writing about Latinas to its best advantage.

The only piece of advice I could give to an aspiring Latina writer is to treat the whole experience as a business. You have to invest the time, effort and make sacrifices to get anywhere in life, writing is no different. There are lots of great resources out there for writers, but don’t expect anyone to give you a free pass just because you’re a woman or a minority. You have to earn it, just like everyone else. Know what you’re writing and why you’re writing it. A healthy dose of pragmatism doesn’t hurt either, but aim high.


Anonymous said...

Great interview, Dan.

Gina MarySol Ruiz said...

As usual, great post.

Killa Kam said...

Thanks for this interview. Margo Candela has been a huge inspiration in my own career. Besides the fact that we're both Latina, I also grew up in L.A., received a B.A. in Journalism from San Francisco State, and returned back to my roots to pursue my career. Her debut novel had me hooked.

daniel olivas said...

Killa and Gina...thanks! And good luck, Killa, with your writing.