Candace Bushnell at her Connecticut Home, Courtesy Grand Central Publishing.
Legendary Manhattan It-girl, best-selling author, and the woman responsible for Manolo Blahniks being strapped to the feet of women everywhere, Candace Bushnell has made a career of writing gossipy novels that rip back the curtain on Manhattan’s social elite.
Lately she may have traded in some of her Prada with a move to rural Connecticut (across from Alexander Calder’s old studio), but the allure of Manhattan still inhabits her work. Her new book Killing Monica is raising some over-plucked eyebrows because of its premise: Pandemonia “PJ” Wallis is the glamorous New York author of a wildly successful series of books-turned-films about a sultry heroine named Monica, but now PJ wants desperately to distance herself from books’ reputation—and from the actress who portrays her on the silver screen. Sound familiar? Uhh-huh. Candace insists that her life was not an inspiration for Killing Monica in the slightest. We’ll take her at her word.
Here we speak with Candace over the phone in her West Village pied-à-terre about feminism in the arts, what she thinks about Tinder, and if, once and for all, she’s sick of being Carrie Bradshaw.
Since we’re talking on the phone, I have to start off by asking: what are you wearing?
Oh my lord. I’m wearing Feel Good flip-flops, purple Lulu Lemon yoga pants, cropped just below the knees, a gray t-shirt with thin straps, and a pink shirt that says, “Turks and Caicos Sporting Crop at Ambergris Cay” that’s made for fishing. This is my usual sort of outfit.
What originally got you into writing?
I knew I wanted to be a writer from an early age, and I can’t exactly say why, but I come from a creative family. My father is a scientist, he had gotten a patent to make something they used in the first Apollo space rocket and he was considered a genius, so I grew up in the sort of environment where creativity and making a contribution to mankind was something important. As a kid I had this weird thing where I’d try to get into someone’s skin and feel what they’re feeling and know what they’re thinking, and I think that’s one of the things that makes people want to become writers.
Why do you chronicle the social stratosphere of metropolitan women in particular?
I was always fascinated by books about people in New York, like Eloise, and it just resonated with me and I just so wanted to live in New York, even before I had ever been there. Once I arrived, I immediately started writing short stories about being in New York, all the different characters there, and all the societal aspects fascinated me. And I love books about society like Anna Karenina and Edith Wharton’s books, so those books were always the kinds of books I wanted to write. It was really just about pursuing my instincts as a writer.
Your new book Killing Monica seems very roman à clef — a woman who wants to escape the reputation a fictional version of herself has taken on the big screen. There seem to be obvious parallels to your own life and work; is this an accurate analysis?
You know, I’m always very confused by that question. I’m always interested and think “Oh God, people see me that way.” I don’t see myself that way. And for me as a writer, my inspiration comes from other books. People always think that writers get their inspiration from “real life,” but I actually don’t. It comes from other books. It’s like being a musician — you get your inspiration from the great artists who come before you. And it’s the same thing with actors, too, they get their inspiration from other actors. So in this particular book, I was inspired by Philip Roth, and I think it’s sad to me that you feel that way, and I think you missed all the great wonderful things in the book and the great writing. Do you remember that tennis scene? I mean you have to read that scene and think, “this is a great scene.”
I just think, given the subject matter, it’s natural for people to make that connection when they’re first getting into the book.
People are going to make whatever connection they’re going to make, and I don’t have any control over that. I only have control over my work, my art, and where my creative voice is taking me. So for me, Killing Monica is a farce. My influences on this book were Philip Roth, Groucho Marx — It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.
That’s where I got my inspiration and for me, this was an experimental book. It started off as being very, very surreal and I really wanted to make something that would pop — that had a ’70s, bright-colored, Pop Art feel to it. And that’s why I added that line of emojis to the book, and I even wrote a theme song for it, and I’m making a music video and hiring dancers.
Could you expand a little more on the world you’ve created, and are continuing to create with Killing Monica?
When I was writing the book — I can’t even tell you where the book took me, like there was one point when Pandy went on a psychedelic trip and she thought she was 17, and it’s just crazy stuff — I just had to go with my imagination. I started listening to a lot of pop music again, and I loved the female empowerment of the pop singer. I feel like its one of the few places where women are allowed to truly speak their voice. And in TV, movies, books, you just don’t see that level of empowerment.
So I started listening to it again, and then as soon as I handed in the manuscript for Killing Monica, this weird thing came over me where I had to learn GarageBand. I’m not kidding. It only took me about two or three hours to learn, and I started playing around with and thought that I really needed to write a theme song for Killing Monica.
Since you’re learning GarageBand and created a line of emojis, I’m sure you’re keeping up with the innovations of social media today. You know what Tinder is, right?
I have a swipe right/swipe left emoji in my line, but here’s the thing — it’s important to remember that these apps were created by men, and all the coding and etc. were also created by men, so if you really want to use those tools, they have a certain male logic to them.
It would just be wonderful if we had female inventors who — and I’m gonna get in trouble for this — would put more of a female logic to these apps. I mean you’re always getting explanation from a man, not a woman. And for some women, that’s a boundary at the point of entry. It would be like asking a man to come to a girl’s night for a few hours and say nothing.
Is there pressure to be a strong female voice in the writing world, for yourself and as an example for other women?
I always thought that the very best feminism was to be the very best person, and woman. It doesn’t matter what field you’re in, all that matters is being your best self. To me, that’s inspiring to women.
I think it’s about empowering women to be self-actualized. There are a lot of messages out there about who you’re supposed to be and who you’re supposed to look like, and I think it’s important for women to find self-esteem through outlets other than their looks. We certainly do have that, but I think it would be great if we had just a little more than that.
Do you ever get sick of getting compared to Carrie Bradshaw or having that relationship at all?
No, I really don’t. Sex and the City is something I wrote a long time ago, and it just really took off, and it felt like the world was turning on the same axis as Sex and the City at the time. But there’s such a strong entertainment factor added to it that I don’t see in my own skin, so watching the TV show I’m just like, “Oh, that’s so great!” So all these things are fine, they don’t bother me. I have such a strong sense of self and I know what’s real and what isn’t, and my work is just my guiding light. And who knows, Killing Monica could be sold to the movies and become a huge thing, too. And if that happens, then I’ll just continue writing my next book.
Killing Monica is on sale today from Grand Central Publishing.