A Conversation with Margo Candela, Author of Good-bye To All That
What inspired you to tell this story of a temp worker’s foray into the corporate world? Were you interested in exploring the consequences of a tryst in that particular environment, or did the two themes blend together once you started writing?
I’ve worked from home for the past few years, and as a consequence I’ve developed a fascination with office life. For someone like Raquel, whose office life and personal life have become intertwined, having her get involved with someone she worked with seemed only natural. She loves Belmore and could never be with anyone who wasn’t also, in a sense, married to the company, too. Plus, it makes for a lot of interesting complications to play with.
How has your background in journalism helped you as a novelist? Do you see yourself ever venturing into the world of nonfiction?
Journalism has absolutely structured the way I write, from giving myself deadlines to meeting word count goals—it all goes back to what I learned in Journalism 101. I do give myself a bit more leeway with structure, but I think my style will always lend itself to shorter chapters. If the right nonfiction project presented itself, I’d love to take a crack at it. It would mean a different approach to writing— more research and actually talking to real people—but it might be a nice change as well as a challenge.
Your first three novels all took place in San Francisco. Good-bye to All That, of course, is set in your hometown of Los Angeles. Why the change of scene? Did you find your native city creatively inspiring, or was it a struggle to bring it to life?
I lived in San Francisco for a decade and the city was a good fit for the characters in my first three books. More Than This is my sort of love note to the city. I had a wonderful time there and visit as often as I can. When it came time to move back to Los Angeles, I knew my own life would change and so would the characters and stories I would write. I realized how very different L.A. is not only from San Francisco but also from how I experienced it when I was growing up here. In some ways, Raquel is also experiencing that same culture shock. Like her, I grew up in northeast Los Angeles, which is not at all like Westside L.A. The part of Los Angeles I live in now is nothing like where my parents still live, even though it’s only about twelve miles away.
Have you ever worked as a temp or in the corporate world? If not, how did you go about conducting your research for the novel?
I was a horrible temp, which is why I only managed to do it for a few months, maybe weeks, right out of college. Some people thrive on hopping from job to job, but it made me feel unmoored. I relied on friends who have been much more successful at temping and made the transition to full-time jobs at the companies where they’d temped. Everyone likes to talk and complain about their jobs, so I was able to form a very distinct impression of what life in a company like Belmore would be like.
Your third and most recent novel, More Than This, has brought you a considerable amount of accolades and critical attention. Is it difficult to write with these new expectations, or do you feel a certain amount of freedom now that you have established yourself as a strong literary voice?
I took a break between writing More Than This and Good-bye to All That, and it’s one of the smartest things I’ve ever done,writing wise. I knew I needed to step back and give myselftime to think and get used to living in Los Angeles again.When it came time to start something new, I had to figure outwhat kind of story I wanted to tell. It took more than a fewfalse starts, but it was worth all the hard work. Good-bye to All That is its own book and I hope readers can find value in thatI’ve tried something new but familiar and entertaining.
How do you come up with the great names for your characters like Frappa Ivanhoe, Cricket, and the twins Cat and Cara? Are the names of your characters important to you and to the telling of the story?
I spend a lot of time on naming characters. More than once all work has come to halt when I realized someone didn’t have the right name. In real life people get stuck with the names their parents give them at birth, even if it doesn’t match up to the person who they turn out to be. As a writer, I get to think of a character, realize what kind of person she is, and give her the perfect name that goes with her personality. It’s a lot of fun and I always try to pick names that are unique but believable.
Did being a mother yourself influence the way you wrote the truly hilarious character of Raquel’s mother?
Raquel’s mother was more of a result of observing other people’s behavior and realizing that a person doesn’t stop being herself, for better or worse, the second they become someone’s mom. Raquel realizes this about her mother and it helps her accept Marlene as a person.
What sort of books do you read for pleasure? Do you feel any of your literary influences seeping into your own writing?
I read just about anything and everything. One of life’s greatest pleasures is finding a good book when you least expect it, so I try to keep myself open to all genres. Personally, I admire tidy writers like Delia Ephron and Anne Tyler, who write about messy life situations. As a reader and writer, their styles really appeal to me.
Your blog is a lot of fun, and seems to feature a number of nascent ideas that may eventually turn into subjects for future novels. Has the popularity of blogs and the opportunities they create changed your trajectory as a writer at all? Do you ever prefer writing blog posts to writing fiction?
Blog writing and book writing are two separate things. Some days, writing a blog can fire me up for a day of working on a manuscript. But blogging can take up a lot of time, as can keeping up with all the other social media out there. It’s a fun distraction, but as with all things in life, it’s all a matter of balance.
I always keep in mind that whoever reads my blog will be doing it while on a break or sneaking a read while at work. I’d never tackle anything too heavy or political on my blog, because there are other writers who can do that much better than I ever could.
What can your readers expect from you next? Will we hear from Raquel Azorian again in the future?
Raquel was a lot of fun and I’d love to revisit her in her new life as an agent in training. The parties, the swag, the scandals! It would be a very L.A. story if I ever get the chance to write it. For now I’m tucking Raquel away to make room for my next batch of characters. They deserve my undivided attention and I’m looking forward to getting to know them.