'Sex and the City' Scribe Candace Bushnell on Her Juicy New Novel and Life in Her 50s

·Senior Writer
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Candace Bushnell in 1996. (Photo: Instagram)

When Candace Bushnell wrote her Sex and the City column in the New York Observer in the mid-90s, she covered sex, drugs, Manhattan hotspots and power players, and women who were trying to succeed in both their careers and their love lives. Her heroine Carrie Bradshaw was not-so-secretly based on her (she created the alter-ego because of her conservative parents). Mr. Big was based on her own off-again-on-again boyfriend Ron Galotti–then a bigwig at Condé Nast. Her column delved into the hilarious, shocking, lonely, and exciting world of being single in your 30s in Manhattan. It was insidery, revelatory, cool, hysterical, and you couldn’t wait to read each week’s column. As she wrote in a 2001 intro to the book, “Sex and the City set out to answer one burning question. Why are we still single? Now with a few years perspective on the issue, I can safely conclude that we are single because we want to be.” It was that frankness, and embrace of being independent, that made her writing so appealing to women who were more interested in leading rich lives than having marriage be their main goal.

It’s no secret that the HBO show Sex and the City became a cultural phenomenon, and that Bushnell has penned countless bestsellers since, including Lipstick Jungle, One Fifth Avenue, and the SATC prequel, The Carrie Diaries. However SATC is arguably her most famous creation, and the show’s star Sarah Jessica Parker has become synonymous with the Carrie Bradshaw character. So it’s a bit of a genius move that Bushnell’s latest book Killing Monica starts with an intriguing premise: A 40-something author can’t escape her biggest creation and has had a falling out with the actress who has become famous playing her. Given that the actress in the book’s name is SondraBeth Schnowser, it’s created some buzz that it’s based on Parker. Bushnell is adamant that it’s not at all based on any feelings she has towards Sex and the City, or the Parker, whom she has publicly said she loves. Instead, Bushnell claims, author Philip Roth, not real life, is what really inspired the idea. As for the name SondraBeth Schnowser? She says it just came to her. “The character is so different and doesn’t even feel anything close to Sarah Jessica Parker,” Bushnell told Yahoo Beauty.

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Candace Bushnell’s new book, Killing Monica. (Photo: Grand Central Publishing)

The character of SondraBeth is quite different than Parker. As for the book’s zany, madcap plot, it’s definitely the stuff of fiction. Bushnell now 56, spends most of her days in her house in Connecticut and says the wild days of her youth, and in her novels, are behind her, “I like to keep the energy and excitement on the page,” Bushnell says. Of course, just the idea that she’s lifting the veil of her life once again will keep fans racing back for more of her page-turning plots.

Yahoo Beauty: What inspired you to write your new book Killing Monica?

Candace Bushnell: Honestly, what inspired me was Philip Roth. I get my inspiration from other books. People always think of writers getting their inspiration from real life but actually one gets inspiration from the art form one is in. So, it’s like actors are inspired by actors, musicians are inspired and influenced by musicians, and as a novelist, I am inspired by and influenced by other novelists.

Was it a specific book of Philip Roth’s that influenced you?

Zuckerman Unbound. It’s a comic novel about a writer who writes a book that becomes huge and everybody hates him. It’s a hilarious comic premise.  I really would not have ever had the thought of writing Killing Monica if it weren’t for him. The book was very experimental at the beginning, very surreal and super comic, so I feel like for me, writing this book is just about moving closer towards like what my work is really about, and who my influences are. You know, like Groucho Marx and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World, so it’s really about wanting to explore this absurdist humor.

The heroine in your book is known for writing chick lit, but really wants to write a serious historical novel. Did you ever want to break out and write different kinds of books?

I think every writer dreams of that. It’s part of the nature of the best of being a writer. The reality is that there are so many writers who do get trapped in writing a certain genre. I personally do not feel like that. I feel like I’ve always written what I wanted to write and what I needed to write as a writer at that time. I really think that my work is going in the direction of more experimental and more surreal and with as many outrageous plots as I can get away with. Originally, there was a subplot [in Killing Monica] where Pandy accidentally drinks some ginseng weed and she thinks that she’s seventeen, but she’s in a forty five-year-old’s body. And she’s like trying to dance with these seventeen year olds at a wedding and they are like ‘What the f***?’ It’s wild stuff.

Your writing has sometimes reflected where you are in your life, does Killing Monica reflect your life at all?

I feel like I’m in a time of reinvention. It’s just really about driving forward. It’s something that as an artist you feel it like maybe two or three times in your life, and you go with it. I had the same feeling when I started writing Sex and The City. That felt like a change, and with this book I feel like the same energy, so I’m just going straight on forward.

You have said publicly that you love Sarah Jessica Parker, and that your Killing Monica’s actress character isn’t based on her, but of course you would know that creating a character named Sondra Beth Schnowser would invite comparisons. 

No, to me the character feels so different. Names come to me and they’re sacred and when the name comes, it’s like the character comes to me. The character is so different and doesn’t even feel anything close to Sarah Jessica Parker. So that’s where I am coming from.

As a writer, you’ve changed the whole dialogue around talking about sex and being single, what do you think about the cultural effect that your work had?

It’s a little bit chicken and egg. Because usually what happens with these situations is that you just catch the zeitgeist, it’s just something that started in the zeitgeist and Sex and the City was there to capture it. I think I am always writing about zeitgesty things, like Lipstick Jungle, but that just didn’t catch and I don’t know why. That always puzzled me, it seemed to be so much of what women were asking for, wanting to see women in careers but it didn’t catch on. I still don’t even think we’re there. I still don’t think that the world has caught up to Lipstick Jungle.

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Candace Bushnell talks her new novel and life in her 50s to Yahoo Beauty. (Photo: Candace Bushnell)

What do you know about yourself now in your 50s that maybe you didn’t know back in your 20s?

I feel like we’re all born with a certain amount of knowledge and at different times in our lives, these different things are illuminated. Hopefully as a well-rounded human being, one is open to this idea of continued knowledge, continued learning and a continued gaining of knowledge. So I think that’s pretty much, should be the goal and is certainly my goal.

So do you feel like you’re wiser now?

I feel like I’m fuller. I feel like I’m more me. I feel like a lot of women my age have said this, you just really start to feel like you’re inhabiting your own skin. It’s something that when you’re a younger woman, you sometimes feel like your body doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to the public where it can be judged and commented upon, being sexy or not sexy, hot or not hot. It takes a while for women to grow into their own skin where they really can be free from that kind of scrutiny and they just don’t care.

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