It’s indeed a pleasure to welcome Candace Bushnell to my ongoing author Q&As. Ms. Bushnell, of Sex and the City, Lipstick Jungle and The Carrie Diaries fame, talked to me about her new novel Killing Monica (Grand Central Publishing, 2015).
Killing Monica is classic Candace Bushnell and yet it’s new terrain. It feels like you had a lot of fun writing it and poking fun at our world today. You also neatly tucked in how sexist it still is, especially in show business. And I did not see the ending coming!
Thank you! I really wanted to write a mad-cap spoof of a book with a crazy plot—I’m a huge fan of those wonderful 1940’s comedies with great strong female leads—like Bringing Up Baby. I haven’t ever tackled a book with as intricate a plot as Killing Monica, and it took so long to try to get the pieces to fit together, I’m not sure I’ll do it again! But as usual, I had a great time writing the book and was laughing out loud while I was writing it. And yes, Hollywood remains very sexist. It’s frustrating. No one ever really demands a change, because if they do, they’ll be black-balled. So everyone keeps going along with the system. The men are still in control of the money. If women want to succeed, we need to be able to do business with other women. Give me a woman who is in control of the money and is willing to invest some of that money in another woman’s project. That’s how the men do it.
The main character, a writer, struggles with the pros and cons of her success. I’m sure you are quite over the topic of how much of you is in P.J. Wallis. It’s fiction, people. But you mentioned in your talk at the Bookmarks book festival in Winston-Salem, NC, that “all writers are scared.” Can you expand on that?
Scared you can’t write the book. Scared you’ll write the book and no one will like it. Scared that you can’t continue. That you don’t know what the hell you’re doing. Scared that your career is over—penury is around the corner. It’s very, very hard to make a living as a novelist over a long period of time. Most writers are done by the time they’re fifty.
A big theme in Killing Monica is the need to reinvent ourselves as we move through life, either out of necessity or boredom. I found myself thinking about Patrick Dennis, author of the novel that Mame was based on. He lived lavishly, then it was over. He wanted to stay in the lap of luxury, though, so he became a butler for rich families like the Krocs. The most unbelievable part of all is that he never told anyone who he was. Today he couldn’t get away with such a thing. The Internet knows all. But what writer can’t talk about their work! If you could “do a Dennis” and become someone new or work in another profession, what would you do?
Ha! At least once a month I wonder if I should be in another profession. Although I don’t think I’d become a butler. A couple of years ago, when I was riding horses and doing Dressage, I had a fantasy that I was going to become an adult amateur champion rider.
I’ve always wanted to be a philanthropist but that would require wealth I’ve yet to amass. Let’s talk about the Internet/social media/cell phone age. It factors into the storyline of Killing Monica often. It can be helpful with all that research at your fingertips, and when someone loses their cell they can truly hide. How do you feel about the lack of privacy the net has brought to our lives? The Selfie generation?
I personally don’t worry too much about privacy. My everyday writing life is so regimented and predictable I can’t imagine anyone would be interested. In fact, it’s so boring, I actually did get hacked once—by a famous hacker called “Guccifer”—and when the FBI and the CIA called me to find out what happened, it was sadly the most exciting thing that had happened to me in months.
I think there’s something wonderfully childlike about taking photos and posting them on the internet. It reminds me of little kids drawing pictures and then their parents taping the pictures on the refrigerator door and every one saying how great the little drawing is. It’s absolutely charming.
Your father was an inventor. (He patented the first fuel cell made for the Apollo space rocket.) Being a novelist is a form of inventing. What would you like to see invented?
I’d like to invent some kind of special screen or sensor that could read the users eyesight and adjust the type-size/images accordingly on your phone. One of the huge advantages that the young have over the old with the new technology is that they can see those tiny screens with that tiny type a whole hell of a lot better. I’d love to be able to pick up my phone and see the screen without having to hold it a) either two inches away from my face; or b) two feet away from my face.
I’m curious about your writing for the YA (Young Adult) market that started with The Carrie Diaries. What adjustments did you make? Are there topics that were too mature or just not interesting to that age? Or is every kid now as wise as Yoda by age ten.
I just started writing a new YA novel for HarperCollins, so I’ve been doing a lot of reading in that area. YA leans more towards romance (and longing) as opposed to actual sex. For me, the challenge is to get away from the relationship aspects and develop a female character who wants something other than a boy.
Like you, I never had children. I loved that P.J. Wallis in Killing Monica hasn’t either and she talks about that decision. One huge societal change is the acceptance of women having babies outside of marriage. What would you say to a woman who wants to be a mother, hasn’t found the right partner, and is dedicated to her work?
There ought to be a way for a woman to have a child and yet still be able to support herself and her child without the need of a man or the state. But we’d have to be a very advanced society to pull that off and we’re not even close.
You lost your mother ten years ago, as did I. There’s something about that loss that’s like no other. Tell us about your mom and if your view of her has changed since her passing.
My mother was my best friend. She was beautiful and lovely and gracious, and everyone admired her. It’s funny, because she was quite reserved, and I’m the opposite, but she really encouraged me to be a writer, and was always passing on books she thought I might be interested in. She was also a businesswoman, who started her own business when I was about eight. She loved working. My view of her hasn’t changed—I often still wish she was here so I could pick up the phone and talk to her. It’s a sad ache that never goes away.
Tell us what’s on the horizon for you?
Besides writing, I have other little projects that I continue to explore, like writing a theme song for Killing Monica and making a music video. I did one version but now I have to completely rethink it and do a reshoot. It’s all part of the process! I also have a line of emoji’s available, and a line of stationery for Dempsey and Carroll.
Let’s hope the “HER” director’s chair gets used more often in Hollywood. Thanks, Candace!
For more on Candace Bushnell’s books click here.