The bestselling author of Sex and the City talks about her latest book, Killing Monica.
Author Candace Bushnell
Tavis: Pleased to welcome Candace Bushnell to this program. The international bestselling author has written seven novels, including “Lipstick Jungle”, “The Carrie Diaries” and, of course, “Sex and the City” which served as the basis for the revolutionary HBO series and two subsequent blockbuster films.
Her latest book is titled “Killing Monica” which is being called an addictive story about fame, love and foolishness. The new novel available everywhere as we speak. Candace, an honor to have you on this program.
Candace Bushnell: Well, thank you. I’m thrilled to be here.
Tavis: I’m glad you’re here. Tell me about Pandy Wallace.
Bushnell: Well, PJ Wallace [laugh], she’s a writer. Really, the impetus for writing the book was Philip Roth’s “Zuckerman Unbound”. I actually had been working on another book that wasn’t gelling and I got that terrible phone call from my agent which every writer dreads saying, “I just don’t think this book is working. Why don’t you put it aside>” She said, “Take a couple of months off and then come up with something else.”
Well, I was like I can’t take a couple of months off. I need to come up with a new idea now. So I went to my desk and I was thinking about writing a book about a middle-aged woman such as myself who moves to the country and reinvents her life and starts over.
And that was a little bit of my story. I got divorced and I decided to rent my apartment in the city for a couple of years and go to this little tiny house that I have in Connecticut. And I started doing all kinds of things that I hadn’t done since I was a kid, riding bikes and going for long walks.
You know, for me it was really–I was worried about it at first leaving New York for a couple of years, but I realized that it really gave me a chance creatively to hear my own voice. And in New York City, you’re hearing everybody’s voice and everybody else’s opinions, so it was really quite freeing in that way.
I was sitting at my desk and I picked up one of my collected volumes of Philip Roth novels and started paging through “Zuckerman Unbound” which, of course, is about a writer who writes a book. Everybody thinks he’s the main character and they hate him.
So I thought this is a great comic premise and I know a little bit about this, so let’s go. And I wanted to write something that was a little bit more kind of out there in terms of the comedy, that had a broader kind of comedy to it, because I love that kind of comedy.
Tavis: Let me go back. You said a few things I want to pick up on. Let me go back a few minutes ago to your comment about the editor telling you that the book wasn’t working. A couple questions. Prior to the editor saying that, were you feeling that, number one? That it wasn’t gelling?
Bushnell: I was actually really, really absorbed in this book. You know, I think so much of one’s creativity is in a sense tied to a little bit where you are in your life. And by that, I would say it’s tied to whether or not something emotionally devastating has happened to you. I was in the same situation before actually when my mother died and I was writing a lot, but it just wasn’t gelling, and so…
Tavis: But my question, but you weren’t feeling that, though?
Bushnell: I wasn’t feeling that, but I was writing–it was about the two women and I started in their childhood and I think I’d just gotten into their twenties and I’d written about 400 pages, so…
Tavis: So how does one of your stature, one of your celebratory stature, respond when the editor says, “This ain’t working”? How do you take that? How do you process that?
Bushnell: It’s always a shock at first, but, you know, I’ve been writing professionally since I was 19 and it actually brings me back to the moments when I was a staff writer at Self Magazine and I was about 23 or 24 years old.
We got a lot of criticism on our copy and it’s always devastating to get criticism at first, but I think I’ve worked out a way to try to separate myself a little bit emotionally from it and to sort of stand back and look at the bigger picture and not to take everything so, so personally.
Tavis: Just because I’m curious, what kind of critique do you recall getting about the copy itself back then?
Bushnell: It was word changes and, you know, there would be critiques like, “This doesn’t really have a strong enough ending” and these were little. I mean, these were little stories about mascara. But we were held to really, really high standards and there were four of us in the writers room.
So if you’ve got your copy back and maybe there was, you know, a little semicolon change or something, one was very happy [laugh]. Something that’s really important, you know, is the work.
Tavis: So the flip side of working on something that doesn’t work is being in the moment, you know, when all cylinders are clicking.
Tavis: You felt that way working on this one?
Bushnell: Yes, I did. And with this book, I had a bit of a different experience with this book. I think, you know, because I’m older now, I’m in my fifties, one sort of gives one’s self permission to try new things. So with this book, I tried a lot of new things and this book took me in so many different directions.
Tavis: New things like what, Candace?
Bushnell: Well, there were some really surreal parts to the book. I was really playing around a lot with this idea of creativity and where it comes from and originally there was some magic in the book. The character accidentally drank some Jimson Weed, which is something that is found in New England, not recommended, which causes delusions and hallucinations and that sort of thing.
So the character went on a Jimson Weed-fueled trip. And at the end of the book, when it’s really very madcap and the two -characters are sort of running from an angry crowd, that was much more surreal and kind of changed–it changed from third person to second person. You know, as a writer, one has to try these things.
Tavis: How would you describe what the story is?
Bushnell: Well, I would say the story is about–it deals a lot–I think Monica is a metaphor and it deals a lot with this idea of how we create a better self that we present to the world and trying to live up to that better self. So she has created this character, Monica, and she created the character, you know, like on a dark and stormy night.
This was the character that she and her sister created when they were kids and the character was kind of their barrier against the unfortunate realities of their lives. So in a sense, they created this character as a way to feel better.
So when Pandy moves to New York, again, when she’s down and out, she decides to resurrect Monica and she moves to New York and she thought she left, you know, her childhood and Monica behind. But then, she decides she needs Monica again and she resurrects her and Monica, of course, becomes a huge hit and makes her life and then…
Tavis: Until she wants to kill Monica [laugh].
Bushnell: Well, she actually…
Tavis: Hence the title [laugh].
Bushnell: You know, the title’s really tongue in cheek because she actually doesn’t want to kill Monica. And it turns into a very madcap adventure where the actress who plays Monica tells Pandy that, if the two of them bond together and kill Monica, the mob will go after Pandy’s evil ex-husband who’s trying to take all of her money.
So they have this–Pandy thinks that they’re going to kill Monica at one event and bring her back to life at another, and in the course of that time, she realizes that the actress who plays Monica doesn’t want to play Monica anymore and she’s actually the one who’s trapped by the character, which I think is an experience that so many creative people have when you think about the actors on “Friends” or “Seinfeld” or “Star Trek”.
You know, the same thing happens for novelists, you know, novelists who they’ll create a detective or something like that and everybody wants more of that. So as a creative person to always really scary, you know, to step out of that comfort zone, will the follow you? You don’t know.
Tavis: As if you didn’t know, Candace Bushnell is The New York Times bestselling author of “Sex and the City” and she has a new one out now. It’s called “Killing Monica: A Novel”, so I’m just waiting to see how big this one’s going to be [laugh] and what will come from this, given her fine track record. Candace, good to have you on the program. Congratulations on the new text.
Bushnell: Thank you so much.
Tavis: Good to have you here. That’s our show for tonight. Thanks for watching and, as always, keep the faith.
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