Candace Bushnell recently met with readers in Bryant Park to answer questions about her new book Killing Monica. The author is known for creating the iconic Sex and the City series and has written many other books. Author Jay McInerney sat with her to discuss the new book and her career.
Jay McInerney– Killing Monica is a great send-off of our celebrity-obsessed show biz saturated culture clearly written from an insider’s perspective and it would be outlandish if it weren’t so terribly accurate…I’d like to begin by asking you, Candace, about the genesis of your latest novel.
Candace Bushnell– Well actually, I think that people think that novelists get their inspiration from real life, and we do in a sense, but we also get our inspiration from other books. To me, when I’m thinking about starting a novel, I’m always thinking about other books and the kind of book I want to write. I was thumbing through Philip Roth’s Zuckerman Unbound, which is about a writer who writes a book and everybody hates him. Everybody knows his life and he’s suddenly famous… And then I wanted to write just a really comic novel that had a lot of influences from 1940 screwball comedies and crazy movies like “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.” There’s quite a big plot twist in Killing Monica; usually people don’t die in my books or have mistaken identity or that sort of thing, but in this book they do. It interestingly took a lot of drafts to get the plot right.
JM– But when you first started it, as I recall, since I’ve been talking to you about it for the last two years, wasn’t it almost a different book?
CB– Well actually, I started writing a completely different book. It was a book that I worked on for probably a year, and it really wasn’t coming together. So then I started writing this book and I really was just gonna write about a woman who lives in New York, gets into her mid-40s, and her life falls apart, so she moves to the country, but then something about this book took over. Sometimes there are books where you feel like the book is just demanding to be written, and that’s what it felt like with this book. This book took on a life of its own, and it took me in all kinds of crazy, madcap directions. But there were times when I was writing this book and it felt like I was wrestling an alligator.
JM– [Concerning] Connecticut, you spend a great deal of your time there now, and most of us think of you as a New York writer. What do you think your relationship to your subject matter is? Do you think it’s going to change? Do you feel like New York is still your subject? It is pretty much your subject in this book. Or do you feel like you’re moving away from being specifically a New York writer.
CB– I don’t know. You know, New York is such an exciting place, and there are so many interesting characters here, and one of the things that’s always fascinating about New York is that people come here to make it. There’s a sort of self-selection kind of process where you do get people who are very determined and they’re very, very sharp and ambitious and I think that creates a certain kind of atmosphere in New York. It’s also a place where I think people come and they feel like they meet kindred spirits. They’ll come from maybe a city that’s not quite as big as New York and they’ll come here and sense it and find their peeps, find people that are similar to them. I think that’s one of the reasons that people get very attached to New York and don’t want to leave because it’s a place they feel very, very comfortable. I don’t know. I think that New York will always be in my books…some aspect of New York.
JM– Tell us about some of your other literary influences. I mean, I’ve known for years that you’re a huge Edith Wharton fan and, speaking of New York writers that you love, Dawn Powell, but who else is in your pantheon?
CB– Gosh. Well, you! Jay is just a master of writing about this city, and again, the anxieties that people have of living here and trying to make it and the stresses. You know, I would say you, Bret Easton Ellis… I love books that are about society and those would be, for instance Vanity Fair by Thackeray, back in the 1800s. Certainly books like Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary and all of those great novels about women. In those novels it’s usually about women versus society. They’re about how women are trapped in societal expectations, and while that still exists today, it doesn’t exist to the degree that it used to. I think today our attitude much more towards women is that you can fix these things and you can overcome all of these issues or difficulties. I’m not sure that it’s all that simple, you know just to suddenly say, hey, I’m just gonna overcome everything! So I think it’s still really fertile material to write about, you know. It’s like how do you be yourself in a society that still has very strong expectations for women?
JM– Well, since I’ve already asked about your favorite authors, I know you’re gonna hate this but people ask me all the time, whether I have a favorite among the books that I’ve written, so now I’m gonna ask you.
CB– It’s always the latest book that I’ve written, so it would be Killing Monica. But I would say that my other favorites are Trading Up and One Fifth Avenue, and I love Four Blondes. It’s interesting because I think books that I’ve written when I was younger, I wouldn’t have written today. When I was younger, I was more concerned about making it. Now I’ve made it a little bit, that doesn’t mean one can relax, though. I was probably a little bit angrier when I was younger, back in my early 30s, mid 30s, late 30s, and I think it’s just a natural progression that as one gets older, one has a bigger grasp on the big picture. I think everything isn’t quite as big a deal as when you’re younger.
JM– Do you think the state of the publishing industry is such that somebody can become Candace Bushnell in 2015? Do you think there’s a future for the kinds of novels that you write and for fiction in general.
CB– Absolutely. I think that there are lots of great young writers out there. I loved Rachel Cusk’s book Outline, but you know it is harder these days for young writers to break through. There’s a lot of pressure to be a certain kind of genre writer, you see a lot of young writers are writing in certain genres. I think one of the reasons for that is publishers know there’s an audience for those books. So I think it is hard as a young writer to break in.
JM– It seems we still have some readers.
CB– Hopefully a lot! Readers are great!
Killing Monica comes out today, June 30, so be sure to get your copy here!
Cover image courtesy of: bit.ly/1GXlRNI