Monday, December 19, 2022

Q&A with Margo Candela


Photo by Dennis Menendez



Margo Candela is the author of the new novel The Neapolitan Sisters. Her other books include Good-bye to All That. She lives in San Francisco.


Q: What inspired you to write The Neapolitan Sisters, and how did you create your characters Claudia, Maritza, and Dulcina?


A: In all of my novels, I’ve explored how difficult it is for my characters to find a balance between the needs and wants of others with what they need and want for themselves, but I’d never written about how complicated relationships between sisters can be.


In the decade between Good-Bye To All That and The Neapolitan Sisters, I arrived at a place in my own life where my needs and wants as a woman, mother, writer, friend, daughter, and sister became much clearer to me.


This directly influenced how I approached who Dulcina, Claudia, and Maritza are and why they each took such different paths in life. Through them, I was able to explore how sister relationships are not only sources of conflict, misunderstandings, and resentments but they can also be a bottomless well of loyalty, generosity, and love.


As I was writing and revising The Neapolitan Sisters, I was mindful to give each character her own personality and speaking style while remembering that, as sisters, they share some of the same quirks and tendencies. They spent their childhood and teens together and, even though they may not remember or interpret that period of their lives the same way, they’re strongly bonded because of it.  


When they’re together once again as adults after years of avoiding each other, the Bernal sisters fall into the familiar roles from their childhood—Dooley is treated like a problem waiting to happen, Claudia aggressively points out the obvious which everyone wants to avoid acknowledging, and Maritza is all about Maritza.


Knowing this about each of them, I had to let each sister go where she needed to go even if it made me uncomfortable or took me by surprise.


This was especially the case with Maritza who, on the surface, is selfish, unlikable and immature because she is until she, in her own way, tells why this is which doesn’t excuse that she can be selfish, unlikable and immature. As Claudia says about her sister, Maritza “is as she was.”


Writing her chapters revealed the stinginess of my own compassion. Once I accepted that her story was just as valid as Dulcina and Claudia’s, it was a huge breakthrough and I was able give all three of the sisters added depth and humanity by accepting their flaws as part of who they needed to be.


I really love these sisters and it was such a joy, even if sometimes a painful one, to get to know them and bring them to life.


Q: The San Francisco Chronicle review of the book, by Kathryn Ma, says, “There’s love behind this book — and painful honesty, too.” What do you think of that description?


A: I loved that line in her review because it applies not only to the novel but also real life. It’s very freeing to admit that it’s possible to not like someone you love and still have love for them. That’s a painfully honest truth in any context.


This is the point-of-view I kept in mind when revising The Neapolitan Sisters—Dooley, Claudia, and Maritza embody this push-and-pull between like and love of not only each other but of their own selves.


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: The first and last chapters of The Neapolitan Sisters always remained essentially true to the first draft I wrote many years ago. I also knew each character was always going to do exactly what she ends up doing.


What did change was my own broader insight into relationships of all kinds. These insights, once fictionalized, made for, I hope, a more complex story and richer characters. This is why I sat on this novel for almost 20 years. I needed to get to a place where I was ready to give voice to stories that are more challenging not only for readers but for myself as a writer.


The Neapolitan Sisters confronts some sensitive cultural issues in the Latino community and I was determined to write about them in an honest way and not hide behind humor, even though there are parts of the book that are funny.


Some people have expressed their discomfort with how I, a writer who is Latina, choose to take on what they considered taboo subjects—sex, addiction, abuse, success/failure, bad parenting—but once I committed myself to going there, I went full speed and haven’t looked back.  


This isn’t an easy novel, which is what my editor Toni Kirkpatrick found appealing and I’m grateful she took a risk on it and me after my long hiatus from writing.  


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?


A: At its core, The Neapolitan Sisters is about Dulcina, Claudia, and Maritza finding compassion and love for not only for each other but for themselves as women, sisters, and daughters so they’re able to move forward with their lives and, also, be in each other’s lives.


Acceptance of who they are to each other is the greatest gift they can both give and receive. Compassion, love and acceptance are essential components to intimate relationships and the Bernal sisters are, to different degrees, able to experience and realize this by the end of the novel.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: My sixth novel focuses a minor character from my fourth, Good-Bye To All That, Nicolette Meyers. She goes from being a shunned and shamed teen to, 10 years later, a star-making red carpet debut. How she gets herself from Orinda, California, to Hollywood is going to be a trip and a half.


I’ve always told myself I’m a one-and-done novelist, but she came to mind one day, randomly, and I started working backwards to figure out who she was. Her story has all sorts of possibilities that I’m excited to dive into and I will, just as soon as I finish the outline.


Once it’s done, I’ll be dedicating blocks of time to do the actual work of writing while being mindful not to turn into a complete hermit. Just a partial one.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: With a decade between books, I've had to get comfortable with connecting with readers in new ways. I'm active on Facebook, Instagram, and, yes, Twitter, write a monthly newsletter and have been lucky to be asked to do podcasts and Zoom interviews.


By far, the trickiest author task on my plate has been asking readers to post reviews of The Neapolitan this is me asking. Posting a review is a great was to show support for a book and author. Reviews, even the not so good ones, really make a difference for the visibility of a book. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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