There wouldn’t be a Carrie Bradshaw, Janey Wilcox, Samantha Jones, Miranda Hobbes without Candace Bushnell, the author whose hit book “Sex and The City“ turned TV show then movie, defined a generation. She is an international best-selling author of titles such as Sex and the City, Summer and the City, The Carrie Diaries, One Fifth Avenue, Lipstick Jungle, Trading Up, and Four Blondes. The vivacious Bushnell is back with another book “Killing Monica“ and ahead of her book signing event in Chicago Friday at the Standard Club, we had the chance to play 23 Questions where we talked about everything from how she deals with challenging times, her writing process, heels that hurt crunching your baby toe and why single ladies looking for men should head to Aspen.
SLC: What does a perfect day look like for you?
Candace Bushnell: A perfect day would be simple—I would get up, do some writing and sometime in the afternoon try to get some exercise. Either on my horse, bike riding, or maybe a long walk. I love to cook in the summer because of the great fresh vegetables and head to the farmers market. I put everything on the grill (tomato, pep, corn, squash, zucchini, corn) and make a delicious summer meal. I might visit a friend for a little bit but like to go to bed early, and just read for a couple of hours. I play with my two standard poodles—one knows how to open doors and also sings. I write these songs on garage band and when he hears it he starts singing along. It’s all about the simple life.
SLC: Speaking on behalf of many women, you were an influence to many with Sex & the City there was a large generation of women who felt empowered by your words and characters, who were some female role models you had as you went through your career?
CB: From a young age I knew I wanted to be a writer so my mother would give me books like “The Group” by Mary McCarthy. Edith Wharton and George Eliot were really my inspirations; I love to read female writers.
SLC: What process do you take when it’s time to write?
CB: I have several contracts for books so I will start writing another book probably a month after I finish this book tour. I already know what the book is about because I know that I have a book due and I’ve known that for a couple of years. It could be that when I sit down to write it, it will all come but right now I have an idea of what it might be and so I think about it. I take notes and write about 50 pages; which is better to do six times a week than not. The problem with writing is that when you stop, it takes time to get back into it again. For example, if I’m writing and I have to stop for a few days or a week, when I come back to it, I feel like it would be easier to be a plumber at that moment (laughs)
It’s about getting into the head, I know how to get myself into that head but some days you just can’t get into it and you just sit there and hate yourself but you have to try. Some days I only write two sentences in six hours and other days I’ll write six pages in five hours. You just never know, just go with the flow of it. The one thing that writers do is learn to trust your brain and your process, there are times you might be stuck on a scene then you go to sleep and wake up knowing what you need to do; or it could be that you take a walk and it sparks something.
SLC: Soulcycle or Barry’s Bootcamp?
CB: You know I don’t go to a gym. I’m not a gym person. When I say I am going bike riding, I rack my bike up to the back of my car and go by the lake or a land trust. I’m very outdoorsy, like ride horses. Riding is a grimy business, you will always get dirt under your fingernails.
SLC: Of the characters in your book which one was the hardest to bring to life?
CB: Usually when I get the name of the character, the name will come to me and then it will tell me everything about the character, once I have that it will come to life naturally. On the other hand, you might put in a character and realize you don’t need it because it’s not doing anythin. If a character isn’t working from the beginning and doesn’t need to be there, boot it!
SLC: What was the moment that launched your career?
CB: I have been writing professionally since I was 19. So when I started writing Sex & the City in 1994 for the NY Observer, I had been working for 15 years. I always felt that Sex & the City was going to be big and it was one of the first things I had written that was in a publication not just for women.
SLC: How did you know SATC was going to be big? When you began writing the column for the observer or was it from the feedback you received from readers?
CB: Yes to writing the column. I just sensed it. As soon as I got the column, before even writing a word I sensed that this was going to be a big break. In those days, having your book turned into a TV series just never happened to anybody I knew. I didn’t even imagine such a thing could be possible. But people started reading and what happened was people in NY would fax it to their friends in LA who were in the TV and movie business. It was soon after I started writing the column that I began getting calls from Hollywood. The show started airing in 1998 but in 1995 I already had a lot of interest.
SLC: In this day and age, writing in some aspects might not be the most financially lucrative profession, what advice would you give someone that graduates with, say, a creative writing degree that may be second guessing their decision?
CB: It’s always an uphill battle. To me, being a novelist is a creative art form, kind of like being an artist or a composer; that’s what writing fiction is. I would say that people who are successful as novelist really deeply feel like it’s their calling and they can’t do anything else. It really comes down to the individual. Nobody can go into somebody else’s head and say: “you know, I see you feel this way or that way,” that has to be between yourself. And you know, people always want advice on how to become a writer but for writers the advice is really how do you become a professional. If you’re a writer you’re a writer, you’re going to write and feel driven to do it and along that journey of doing, you will find out ways to become a professional and make a living out of it. It might be that you work for a magazine though there aren’t much that those anymore, so it’s just about doing the work and putting it out there.
SLC: How long did it take from when you were contracted to having a set release date?
CB: It was originally scheduled for release March 2015 but I made some big changes, you know the dates for when a book is coming out is usually set a year and half in advance because publishers work way in advance.
SLC: Mentors, yes or no and how did you go about finding yours if you had any?
CB: You know, I don’t really feel like I had a mentor. I’ve also never looked for one. I think that one needs to be self-propelled. Mentors are really great for some people depending on their circumstances but if you don’t have a mentor its fine as well.
SLC: With the boom of digital media and the way people interact and date now, how do you think Carrie Bradshaw would have fared?
CB: She’d fare great. People are pretty good with adapting to the technology of their time so I think she’d fare absolutely fine. I personally have a line of emoji’s that are coming out with the book Killing Monica. I love social media, I love all that stuff. I have really fun emojis like the eye roll, food baby, finger wag, clinking champagne glasses, bitch face and all that fun stuff.
When the Carrie Diaries came out, a couple of girls wrote “I think Candace Bushnell is secretly a 15 year old girl!” I was like, I’ve got to stop putting stickers on everything.
SLC: What is confidence to you?
CB: Confidence is courage. I think it’s easy to be out in the world, look at what other people have and you can lose your confidence. It’s self-possession, belief in oneself in a good way; in that you can rely on yourself.
SLC: Do you see or hope for the same kind of trajectory of success for “Killing Monica” as “Sex & the City” had?
CB: There’s absolutely no way to predict. You also have to remember that I’ve had three TV shows (Sex & the City, Lipstick Jungle, and The Carrie Diaries). In Hollywood, they call it “lightning in a bottle” you just never know. If the entertainment gods decide to smile down on you and your project that’s great but it’s up to them, that’s just the way they are. You always do your very best work and what happens after, happens because there are so many factors that come into play.
I feel like Killing Monica has a ton of energy and it feels to me like it has the same kind of energy as Sex & the City; there’s something about this book, it was determined to be written. It would go off in other directions and I felt like I had to wrestle it back. Sometimes it felt like I was wrestling with an alligator, so writing is a very physical kind of thing for me. There has been interest from Hollywood, so we’ll see.
What I really want is for people to read the book and have a laugh and have a really good time, It’s an entertaining book. Life is tough enough as it is, have a laugh.
14) SLC: What would you define your personal style to be?
CB: Honestly, my personal style is comfortable. I will wear leggings or exercise pants and the truth is, since I spend more time in the country, I don’t wear high heels as much but when I go to the city I do and realize, man my feet hurt but it hurt just the same when I was in my twenties but I didn’t care then, you know. If I could, I would wear flip flops, maybe the kind you get at the drugstore (laughs).
SLC: Do you like to online shop or prefer to go into the store?
CB: If you have a horse you have to buy a lot of stuff online. Don’t ever have a horse, the horse’s clothes are more expensive than mine are. There are certain places I will order from; I always order sweaters on sale from the Gorsuch catalogue, and sometimes I order stuff online. You know if I’m in the mood to do some shopping that’s great but most times I’m not and I just get by with whatever I’ve got. If I do go shopping I’ll pick out a couple of stores, run in, pick up a few things, and run out. I like to shop really fast; when you get to be my age you know what will work on you or won’t regardless of the trend.
SLC: If you weren’t writing, though it’s what you’ve wanted to do since you were little, what other profession do you think you’d be doing?
CB: I would do something creative like music. I think I would be very good at writing jingles. There was a brief period when I wanted to be a professional horseback rider but that is NOT in general a good idea as a job. It’s super hard, you don’t make a ton on money unless you have a lot of money, because the horses are expensive. I would be in some type of creative field.
SLC: What’s your favorite meal to cook?
CB: I grew up cooking so I’ll put a meal together and say “oh it’s my recipe” but right now I’m into this Shrimp and Garlic pasta, it’s really easy. I use frozen shrimp, sauté the garlic in olive oil until it’s brown, put the shrimp in, and it’s delicious, so I say to myself “I invented this recipe, I discovered it.”
SLC: What advice have you been given that’s helped you through some challenging moments?
CB: I think writers feel like every other writer must have a much easier time of it but whenever I read interview with writers, regardless of who they are, they all have the same struggle. Realistically, I can get really down on myself and drag around but you just have to take a break or go for a walk. Walking away from it for a long while is not such a good idea though. What gets me through is when I call my friends and I say: (sobs) “It’s not gonna happen, it’s over, I can’t go on” and they say to me: “you do this every time you’re writing a book” and I remember that they’re right. I actually have friends who will tell me, get over it. Friends are really helpful.
SLC: When things get too much to handle, how do you decompress?
CB: I come from a family of worriers, whenever we went on family trips my mother brought a big bottle of Kaopectate. For me, what works is stretching. Taking 20 minutes, I find that really helps and relieves tension. Hard exercise like riding your bike up a steep hill is great too. Anything that’s physically hard, relieves all that mental stress.
SLC: What advice would you give 25- year old Candace?
CB: When I was 25, I was interested in relationships and finding a guy which I think is normal but I just wish that I said to myself “don’t worry about the opposite sex so much, just don’t worry about men so much!” If a guy didn’t call, my feelings would be so hurt (groans). I wish I could shake my young self, they are not that important, they will come when you are in the right place. They usually come when you are not looking for one; One day you are saying to yourself: “Hey my life is so great, everything is perfect!” and then BOOM, here comes this guy.
SLC: What do you mean by when you’re not expecting it?
CB: Doing stuff that makes you happy and fulfilled and you’re in a good place with yourself. It also goes back to confidence, people are attracted to confidence.
SLC: What was the dating scene like for you?
CB: When I was 25, it was in the 1980s and men would call you up and ask you on a date and you would talk to them for hours on the phone. Now I think men are lazy.
In New York City, there are more women than men but places like Aspen where there are more men. Actually it’s not a bad idea, maybe I should head to Aspen.
SLC: There have been inferences drawn on Killing Monica and Carrie Bradshaw, set the record straight for us…
CB: I think it’s really funny. Monica is not Carrie Bradshaw, if there was a Carrie Bradshaw, it would be PJ Wallace because they are both writers. In the book, PJ Wallace does not want to kill Monica. People will always make comparisons to Sex & the City and that’s fine, but they are twisting things around to find these parallels that just isn’t there. I love Sex & the City, I’m always going to love Sex & the City. In Killing Monica, the character does not even want to kill Monica, that only comes about because Sondra Beth tells Pandy that if they do it together the mob will go after Jonny and bring her back to life at another event. But, she finds out that Pandy does not want to play Monica anymore. In an act of friendship, she said “I don’t want to kill her;” Pandy is the one that wants to keep Monica alive.
Photo source: RW/MediaPunch; Candace Bushnell