I am just beyond excited to be interviewing Candace Bushnell who is the internationally best-selling author of nine books including Sex and the City, Lipstick Jungle, The Carrie Diaries, and Four Blondes. Her latest book called Is There Still Sex in the City? is currently in development as a TV series with Paramount already. Two of her previous books, as you all probably know, were made into popular TV shows on NBC and The CW. Sex and the City, of course, became the show on HBO and two blockbuster feature films. She's written for many publications including Mademoiselle, Hamptons, and the New York Observer for which she wrote the Sex and the City column. She hosted a radio show on SiriusXM radio. She wrote a web series starring Jennie Garth. She even does some music videos. A Connecticut native, she currently divides her time between New York and Sag Harbor.
Welcome, Candace. Thanks for being on “Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books.”
Candace Bushnell: I am thrilled to be here. It’s an amazing setup here. As an author coming in, it’s maybe the most beautiful place I've ever been interviewed.
Zibby: Thank you. Candace came into my apartment and has taken sixty-seven videos. I'm worried she's going to put my house on the market or something. What is this for, now? [laughs]
Candace: It’s wonderful. I love the idea of the salon and all of that. It was great.
Zibby: I'm so psyched to have read Is There Still Sex in the City? I was a huge Sex and the City fan in every way, shape, and form. I was an extra on Sex and the City, one of the episodes.
Candace: Which episode was it?
Zibby: Samantha had just been diagnosed with cancer and was trying to break up with Smith Jared. They were at Lotus night club. You can see the top left corner of my forehead if you pause it.
Candace: I was an extra in the pilot. Again, it’s a top left corner thing. I'm in for two seconds. After doing that, being an extra, it’s kind of the worst. You are stuck there. Then I was an extra in The Carries Diaries in the ‘80s dance scene. They dressed me up. They put me in a huge top hat and a red maestro circus leader jacket. I was dancing. That, actually, was fun. They didn't actually play the music. You had to pretend dance. That made it even more interesting.
Zibby: That does not sound fun to me.
Candace: That was fun.
Zibby: Can you tell listeners a little about what Is There Still Sex in the City? is about? What made you write it right now?
Candace: To me, it’s really about a journey that I had in my fifties. My fifties were not anything like I thought they were going to look. For one thing, I got divorced when I was about fifty-three maybe. I was in my early fifties. I got divorced. I really didn’t want to live in New York all the time anymore. Something was happening in my brain. My brain was changing. I was somebody who -- I never wanted to leave Manhattan. If I left Manhattan, I was wearing all black and heels. I was getting back to Manhattan as fast as possible. I just changed quite a bit. Then I lived, basically, at my house in Connecticut. I have a little, small country house. I spent a lot of time alone. I guess I was doing the thing that you always dream about when you're a kid and you're a writer. I'm just going to live in the cabin in the woods. I'm going to write because that's all I need. I’ll have a little bit of food. I’ll have dogs or something. The weird thing is that if you are a writer or a particular kind of creative person, that actually is enough. You can do that. I moved to an area where people had been doing that traditionally.
Arthur Miller lived up the road. On his property was the writing shack that he built with his own hands where he wrote The Crucible. He was also in that house with Marilyn Monroe. I found that super, super inspiring. Frank McCourt lived across the street. Then Calder was up the road. Of course, they're all dead now. It was that kind of place where I went for walks. Then I wrote whatever I wanted. When your editor says “Write whatever you want,” they do not mean that. That is a lie. They do not want you to write whatever you want. They want you to write what you want within the confines of what they want from a book. It’s a business. I just wasn’t conforming. I wouldn't write that commercial novel that they wanted. Then a lot of my girlfriends moved to Sag Harbor. They all said, “Maybe you're going crazy up there.” I really spent three years pretty much alone. I rode horses. I didn't date. I really just wrote all the time. I wrote so much. It was during that time that I made this crazy music video and wrote a song on GarageBand. People are like, “What the hell’s going on with her?”
That actually is a phase of what I would call middle age madness. The whole menopause thing has all these freakin’ stages. You don't even know where you are. Then after you've gone through this thing, you're postmenopausal. It should just be something like period-free. I don't know. I tried to look these things up. As your hormones change, your brain is going to change. What's happening to women when the hormones change is that you're going from a reproductive brain to a nonreproductive brain, which could mean a brain that's more about the self in a sense. It seemed to me that maybe because women spend most of their lives taking care of others, this is nature’s way of saying “I'm going to free you from those hormones that bind you so tightly to others and make you feel like --” Women, when you're in those reproductive years, you really are second to other people. You put everybody else and their needs first.
This was what launched this idea. I realized I'm going through something. I'm doing the thing that I always wanted to do but never had permission to do. It didn't exactly work out the way I wanted. I ended up moving to Sag Harbor. When I felt like I was the only single person around with the exception of a couple of girlfriends I had who never married, all of a sudden, I had all these friends who were single again. They were in their fifties. They were getting divorced or had gotten divorced. It seemed like, again, there's a coming together of single women. There's certain times when you really need your single women friends. Those are times before you're married and you have kids. After you've done the reproductive life system, which is meet, get married, partner up, whatever, have kids, raise them to a certain point, get divorced, you've done a full cycle. What I realized was there's still people, they still want to do the cycle again. Even though they did it, they had it all and it didn't work out, yet people still want to go back and do that again. That, I found fascinating.
I really started taking a look around. There were all of these single women coming through Sag Harbor. There were a couple of women there who had houses. They have friends. Then the friends of the friends come. I realized everybody was going through something that was very similar, which I call middle age madness. It’s a confluence of events. There's a lot of loss. There are a lot of socks to the jaw. Whoa, didn't see that one coming. Boom! Then you get up again. You're like, “I think I'm going to be okay.” Then, boom! There's menopause. There's divorce. There's children leaving the nest. There's usually the death of a parent. It’s just that statistically that's how it’s going to work out. It’s a time when somebody's, maybe, going to get sick. It’s also a time where if you have gotten divorced or even if you're not, money becomes important in a way that it wasn’t before. Now you are thinking about retirement. You can see that future. That's something that people have to deal with in a way that they haven't dealt with. If you're divorced, chances are you're going to be moving.
If you look at the overall picture, you have life’s biggest stressors, which are divorce, death, and moving on top of about four other major stressors. You have women who are in a transitional period. That was really what I wrote about. I felt like I didn't really get through this middle age madness period until I turned sixty. I see so many of my friends going through it too. It’s funny. There also is a lot of pain there. The death of a parent or the end of a marriage or children leaving home and therefore leaving a void in time and energy, it causes you to look at yourself and who you are. What is your value? What is your worth? You're also confronted, if you have to go out there and support yourself again, what is your value and what is your worth in the world? Now you find it’s very different than it was when you were twenty or even thirty. In your fifties, your value in the world has greatly changed. That's what it’s about.
Zibby: Wow. That was a great answer. You can go home now. [laugh] I'm kidding. Don't leave. That's awesome. You said something about having a middle life crisis when you’re in your forties is just really dumb.
Candace: Yes. It’s so funny. When I look at all of my books, I see exactly where I was in life. I was actually writing pretty much the same thing as Sex and the City when I was in my twenties in New York. I wrote for women's magazines. It was a good gig. You got paid $2,500. It was 2,500 words. You had a month to write a 2,500-word piece. I cannot tell you why, but it took every single day that month. I don't know. At one point, I worked at Self Magazine. There were four staff writers. It was a big-deal job. We were paid really well. We made $30,000 a year. The writing had to be so precise. We were writing about mascara. You would hand your copy in. If you got your copy back with just a couple of changes, you'd be like, “Oh, phew.” If you had all these sentences or “Looks like you didn't quite get the point. Try again,” it was horrifying. It was the walk of shame. I was writing about women in their twenties in New York. It was really about dating. That was a super interesting time because it was the first time where women en masse, although it happened in the 1920s, moved out of the home and into the workplace.
All of a sudden, there are all these women in the workplace where there weren’t before. The male system has to figure out how to deal with them. We had all kinds of office romance. It was also the time of sexual freedom. You were allowed to have premarital sex for the first time. The Big O was on the cover of Cosmopolitan. It was revolutionary, the idea that a woman could have an orgasm. I was writing about all of that. Then in the ‘90s, it really was the single woman who wasn’t still supposed to be single. That was me. That was Carrie Bradshaw. Why are we still single? Somebody promised us that if we worked hard and had a career and looked good and we were smart and in control of our lives, because that’s what we were supposed to do, that we'd get this great guy. No. One of my favorite books is Trading Up. The woman is a borderline narcissistic personality loose in Manhattan, which was something that was great. Then one step was I thought about being middle aged. This is a long and super boring answer to your question.
Zibby: Not at all. Honestly, I could just sit here and watch you talk all day. I should be filming this. You should have your own stand-up comedy show. There are no boring answers you could come up with.
Candace: When I wrote One Fifth, I was in my forties. I was married. That book is about a couple in the lassitude of -- when you're in your forties, you think you are middle aged. You're going to have a certain kind of middle-aged crisis. What that’s really about is saying no to the man. That's why only men had middle-aged crises. It was about railing against the society restrictions of the office and having to be buttoned up and having to get home every day and have those responsibilities. It was about men breaking out of that. Of course, women weren’t allowed to have one. Now so many people are. You're in the beginning of your reproductive life cycle. People in their forties, they're just starting to have kids or their kids are ten. There's so much involved in having kids these days and having a family and so many obligations and so many things to do. It seems like you don't have a lot of time to say, “Am I doing the right thing?” You don't have time to ask if you're doing the right thing. You’ve got to do, do, do. That's the long answer.
Zibby: I can relate to that.
Candace: You are too busy. When you could stop and look at it all or you're forced to stop and look at it all, some people go, “Ahh!”
Zibby: What happens? Give me the preview. I read it all in your book. In your fifties then, you’re divorced. Tell me about dating in your fifties again. How does that look versus when you were younger?
Candace: One of the interesting things is that in some ways, it’s very similar to being a virgin again. If you think about it, usually when people get divorced, they're not having sex a week before they get divorced. These are usually people who, there hasn’t been sex there for a while. They haven't had sex for a while. They probably haven't dated for twenty years. That's a real possibility. So much has changed in those twenty years. All of the things that you're expected to do with dating in your twenties like you're going to take your clothes off in front of strangers, that's great when you're in your twenties. When you're in your fifties, I've got to take my clothes off in front of strangers? How am I going to do this? What are they going to look like? Can I kiss someone my age?
Zibby: I love how in the book one of your friends is saying, “Can I date him? He's sixty-four years old. Isn't that too old?” You're like, “Well, how old are you?”
Candace: There's so much self-ageism in the sense that it’s exactly what you said. When I read somebody's sixty or sixty-four, I think, some old person. Then I remember I'm sixty. It doesn't feel old. It didn't feel old to that person either, even though we have so much ageism. It’s disheartening because I think that dating isn't great for anybody of any age now. Twenty-something women, they're not coming up to me and saying, “Candace, dating’s never been better.” They're saying dating’s never been worse. What's a date? Have you ever gone on a real date?
Zibby: Your chapter on Tinder was so great. After experiencing the whole thing, what's your main takeaway? You started the whole chapter thinking that everybody told you Tinder was terrible.
Candace: Weirdly, the way it ends, it’s really just a way to get Instagram followers. I'm not kidding. At the end of the day, that's what it is. I should probably go back up on Tinder and update my photos because I feel like need more Instagram followers.
Zibby: I could not believe in the book when you said you used your real name on Tinder. People are like, “Are you the real Candace Bushnell?” You're like, “Yep, that's me.” I'm like, “I cannot believe she did that.”
Candace: First of all, I didn't know how to fake my name. For some reason, I couldn't fake my name. I had to use my real name, so I did. It was fun. People were very nice to me on Tinder. They were sweet. Everybody else has so many other bad experiences. I wasn’t going on there as an anonymous person. Dating apps like Match, they really do want you to find a match because so many people say they met somebody on Match. Something like Tinder, it’s a money-making algorithm designed by men to play into the most base instincts of the male hormonally driven person. That's really what it’s about. It’s about making money and keeping people on there.
It seems to hurt people's souls who are on it. What struck me was how they seemed sad, which makes sense because there's so much disappointment. It’s a casting call, really, at the end of the day. When I think back, because I used to go on casting calls when I first moved to New York, they were so awful. I felt so bad. I said to myself, I'm giving you permission to never have to do that again in your life, to never have to stand in line in a casting call and be judged. It’s harsh. You're there with all the other girls. They’ll reject you if you don't have the right eyelashes. We’re like, “I know!” Then there are people on it for all different kinds of reasons.
Zibby: On balance, do you think social media and the introduction of it since the Sex and the City days versus where we are today, how have you found it? To help? To hurt? You're obviously an Instagram junkie. This was, by the way, a question I wanted to ask but also from Jennifer Anglade Dahlberg, who’s an author who wanted me to ask it. Shout out to her.
Candance: Hello. Shout out. One of the things that I always wanted to do when I was a kid, my sisters and I did little radio plays. I used to make little movies when I was a teenager. I studied a little bit of filmmaking. I used to do it with the -- it had the prongs and the sprongs. You had to cut it with a machine. I was really into making these little movies. Then I never really did it again. When Instagram started, I loved the visual aspect of it. When it first started, it seemed like it was super fun and great because they had the weird filters. You could do these different things. I started looking at the world much more visually. I really liked it. I really liked making the little movies and using it creatively. Then of course, I want a zillion more followers.
Zibby: All right, a zillion more. You have a goal?
Candace: I don't. I don't know. Maybe I'd try to get fifty thousand.
Zibby: You could do that.
Candace: They won't verify me. I'm not even verified. That's how messed up this whole thing is.
Zibby: That is messed up. That's crazy. Did you apply?
Candace: I did.
Zibby: They said no? That's insane.
Candace: No, they didn't say no. They just haven't done it yet.
Zibby: You have to apply again if it doesn't happen. You have to. That's crazy.
Candace: Yes, I am. Someone from Instagram, are you listening?
Zibby: [laughs] I know we’re almost out of time here. It was a really emotional ending to your book, an unexpected level of emotion.
Candace: That's good because the thing about this book -- we’re calling it autofiction -- is real things happened while I was writing this book. My father died while I was writing this book. Then my friend died. I was almost at the end of the book. That part about her and her MNB, they were going to get married.
Zibby: Don't give it away. Do you feel like there's some sort of closure? Do you feel like writing the book helped cap off your fifties?
Candace: I really do. I feel like I needed to do that. There's so many questions of moving forward. How do you want to move forward? Where do you want to move forward? What do I want to do? This is all about work stuff, by the way. Moving forward to me is just about work. Do I want to try to write a Broadway musical? Yes, I do. Do I want to do a bunch of other stuff? Yes.
Zibby: That's amazing. That's great. Last question, do you have advice for aspiring authors out there?
Candace: Read a lot. The reality is that if you're going to be a writer, you'll be a writer. The trick to being a writer is figuring out how to be a writer. That is an individual path. Also, the question is what kind of writer? I always wanted to be a writer like F Scott Fitzgerald. It doesn't make sense to want to be that kind of writer anymore because nobody writes those books anymore. People don't really read those books about society. That's still what I write about. It’s knowing what kind of writer you want to be.
At the beginning though, writing, it’s like playing an instrument. Let's say you want to play the violin. The first thing you do is you play lots of other pieces. As a writer, you try on different styles. That's what I did. You try to write like Hemmingway. Then you try to write like Edith Wharton. Part of that is it’s an exploration of finding your voice and your point of view. It’s more than words on the page. You have to see the world in a certain way that nobody else sees it. That's something that only the writer as the individual can figure out on their own. I do feel that people who are meant to be writers, you find the way in. Maybe you do a blog. Maybe you do this, do that. In the end, it’s about getting people to read your stuff. That's the bottom line. Listen, I see people writing things on Instagram that are fantastic. It’s just doing it, doing it and putting it out there. Keep knocking on the doors.
Zibby: I love that. Thank you so much for this entertainment and all this extra information about the book and yourself. Thanks for coming on the show.
Candace: This is so much fun.
Zibby: Good. [laughs]