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Big Books Intro

Career High

In Candace Bushnellís Latest Book, Itís All Work and Not So Much Play

Deanna Staffo

Big Books Issue 2005

Requiem for a Theme You know school is back in session when you see more required reading than escapist distractions in ...

Dire Education Jonathan Kozolís The Shame of the Nation Fires Off a Crucial Wake-Up Call For Rapidly Resegregating Public School SystemsóSuch as Baltimoreís | By Michael Corbin

Navy Views Academy English Professor Bruce Fleming Takes Civilian Snapshots of Military Culture | By John Dicker

Cash Woes A New Spate of Books Show How the Love of the Green Infects Our Lives | By Joab Jackson

Urban Legends Paul Coates and Rudy Lewis Offer Alternatives to the Current Crop of Contemporary Black Literature | By R. Darryl Foxworth

Career High In Candace Bushnellís Latest Book, Itís All Work and Not So Much Play | By Wendy Ward

Good Vibrations Margaret McCraw Focuses Her Psychotherapeutic Lessons on Relationship Woes | By Christina Royster-Hemby

By Wendy Ward | Posted 9/14/2005

More information about the Baltimore Book Festival.

Shame on you if youíre more familiar with Sarah Jessica Parker than the original cosmo-swiller, Big-lover herself, Candace Bushnell. Bushnell wrote the dating/drinking Sex and the City column for the New York Observer in the early 1990s, compiled a book of the same, and sold the rights to her column and book to HBO in 1996 for $60,000óminutes before it became an identifiable, however slight, fantasy for single women everywhere. She has since found her niche as the author of 4 Blondes and Trading Up, novels that continue the story of New Yorkís girls in high heels. Now in her mid-40s and married for the last three years, Bushnell focuses Lipstick Jungle, out this month, on career women who work harder than they fuck and find theyíre butting heads against a glass ceiling, not a pair of Mr. Bigís balls. This genuine girlís girl hits the Baltimore Book Festival Sept. 23-25 to discuss and sign but talked to us with her cigarette-smoky voice from New York.

City Paper: Lipstick Jungle has been called a grown-up version of Sex and the City. Do you agree?

Candace Bushnell: Yeah, I do, I do. Sex and the City was really about thirtysomethings and Lipstick Jungle is about fortysomethings. Of course, the characters arenít the sameótheyíre marriedóbut theyíre like the characters in Sex and the City. Theyíre very much indicative of a certain kind of woman who lives in New York.

CP: Do you think that youíre maturing at the rate of your characters?

CB: I hope so. I donít feel that mature sometimes. (laughs) I feel like I should be a little more mature. Iím in my mid-40s, so itís more interesting for me to write about women in their mid-, early-mid-40s.

CP: Your earlier characters use relationships to forward their careers, or their relationships almost are their careers, while the characters in Lipstick are working on their careers while trying to hold on to their relationships.

CB: I think thatís absolutely true.

CP: When it comes to love and life, is it possible to have it all?

CB: I think the key is to decide what you want, and itís so funny, because no one asks men if they can have it all. The problem is so indicative that we would even ask that question of women. You can certainly have lot of things. Can you have a huge career, can you be married to Mr. Big, and can you have kids? Probably not. Can you have a huge career and can you have children? Yes. I know lots of women that do. Are you going to be married to Mr. Big? Probably not. And if youíre married to Mr. Big, youíre probably not going to have a career, because being married to Mr. Big is your career. I feel like I have it all, but I donít have kids. But Iím happy with that decision. I think there are plenty of women that donít work and take care of their kids. That can be having it all, too.

CP: It seems the three characters in Lipstick Jungle have worked their asses off, have found success, and are happiest working.

CB: I think the reality is that they enjoy their work and love what they do. I think that Nicoís really happy when sheís with her daughter. Wendy has all those issues at home with her husband. But what I see here is women who have a real passion and excitement for their work, and to me, when Sex and the City first came out, people said women donít have sex like that and they donít talk about sex. That simply wasnít true. I think again, this is a situation where weíre saying women arenít happy with their careers and they donít talk about work. That simply isnít true. One thing that inspired the book was I noticed about five years ago [that] my friends and young women spend more time talking about their careers than they do about relationships. They spend more time talking about their triumphs at work, their problems at work, their goals, their ambitions. And you have to remember, New York City is a place where we see women who are super-successful.

CP: Even Victory, in Lipstick Jungle, a fashion designer, is told she wonít see any successful women fashion designers.

CB: I think unless you live in New York and unless you are in the fashion business, you wouldnít put those two things together, but itís really true. Most successful designers are men. And for the women who are fashion designers itís a struggle to be taken seriously. Although everyone is really making clothes for women, the fashion business is oddly a little bit sexist.

CP: The women in Lipstick Jungle didnít have body issues, although Wendy was worried about her sagging breasts.

CB: You know what? It happens. [laughs] And you know she was saying that maybe she would get implants, but she never would. I think when you donít need to get your self-esteem from male approval, when you get self-esteem from inside and from the work that you do and the contributions that you make, you donít need to worry about your body that much. Most of the women who I know that are successful, yeah, theyíll exercise and they do whatever, but at a certain point, itís not the most important thing on their list. You know, you are what you are.

CP: With some of your books, characters continue to move on and to grow through your novels, like Janey Wilcox, now in in three of your novels.

CB: Exactly.

CP: So do you think that Carrie Bradshaw would have ended up a character in one of your novels had she not gotten her own TV show?

CB: Probably. Once you have a character that goes on TV or appears in a movie, people then associate the character so much with the actress.

CP: Who would you want to play you in a biography of your life?

CB: I never even thought that anyone would make a biography of my life, so I guess it if were a biography it would have to be me. [laughs] I have never really thought about that it. I have no idea. I do sometimes think about who would play the characters in Lipstick Jungle, and I think there are so many actresses out there who could play those characters.

CP: And these characters are in pretty good parts of their careers.

CB: One thing thatís hard to realize when youíre in your 30s, because I didnít realize this when I was in my 30s, I thought I wanted to be really successful and Iíve got to keep working, but I donít know if Iím ever going to get there. Should I give up? Am I doing the right thing? If you stick with it, when youíre in your 40s things really start to come together. People kind of donít tell women that. A career is kind of like a marriage: Thereís times when itís bad and itís just about not giving up.

CP: Do you think love works the same way? Like when youíre in your 40s things eventually smooth out?

CB: Things do get easier when you get into your 40s. You just know yourself so much better, and when youíre younger you always want to try on different personas. You know, maybe if Iím like that person, maybe Iíll be happy. When you get to be a little bit older, youíre more accepting of, well, Iím this way and thatís it. Thatís usually when you do find the right guy.

CP: How did you manage to find a straight New York City Ballet principal dancer, and is it true you asked him if he was gay when you first met him?

CB: No.

CP: I totally found that quote on the web.

CB: No. [laughs] I mean, of course you have to ask that question, probably half of the male dancers are gay. On the other hand, half of them are straight. And, believe me, I figured out pretty quickly [laughs] that my husband was straight. It really wasnít too much of a question.

CP: Was doing Wickedly Perfect any kind of fun?

CB: Oh, I loved that show, but they cut us down to like two minutes. We had so much fun. Well, the truth is we were laughing all the time, and the crazy thing was when they did those parties we had to drink. So after a couple of hours, we were like, whoo-hoo.

CP: Is fashion as important to you as it was 10 years ago?

CB: Ten years ago I really would find myself a little bit in that mind-set, for instance, that Janey Wilcox has in Trading Up. Janey always feels like if she has the right shoe, or the right handbag, or the right skirt that sheís OK.

CP: It was like armor.

CB: It was like armor for her. And Iíve loved fashion since I was a kid. I donít feel like, oh, I have to the have the latest bag. Itís weird, yes, I like to have a nice handbag, but I donít care if people see me with the same handbag. You know, I donít have the time.

CP: I like how Nico wore Victoryís suits almost as a uniform in Lipstick Jungle.

CB: Those three women dress in different ways. Nico, I would love to dress like Nico, you just get it all made, itís all kind of the same, itís consistent. You know what youíre going to put on every day. No fuss. It fits perfectly. Victory, of course, is kind of the independent, noncorporate person, so she would dress much more creatively. And Wendy [laughs] just tries to wear something clean.

CP: Are you working on a something now?

CB: Yeah, well, I havenít starting writing it yet, but Iím thinking about it. Iíll start writing it soon.

CP: Whatís your favorite cocktail?

CB: Ummmmm, you know I do like a nice glass of pink Champagne.

CP: So when youíre in Baltimore, would you like to have a cocktail after the Book Festival?

CB: (laughs) Letís do it.

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