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INTERVIEW: Candace Bushnell doesn’t need a man for her happy ending

Candace Bushnell wants to kill someone. She earned her big fame by creating the immortal character of Sex and the City‘s Carrie Bradshaw, but with her newest release, she wonders if fame and celebrity are a blessing or curse.

No, she’s not planning to kill off Carrie Bradshaw. Instead, in Killing Monica, Bushnell’s protagonist PJ (Pandy) Wallis watches her own career plummet while that of her fictional character, Monica, rockets to the moon. Of course, Monica must die.

Pandy created Monica when she was little (just like Bushnell created a childhood character she and her sister called “Marigold”). There have been books and a full movie franchise featuring Monica, portrayed by ranch hand turned Lady Gaga, SondraBeth.

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But Monica’s fame comes with a price, as Pandy navigates her way through faux friends, money-grubbing men and even electrocution. The Hollywood presented in Killing Monica is a pretty scary place, which Bushnell has seen firsthand.

In our interview, we talked about celebrity and the effect it has on women. “I’ve never been that famous, where I walk down the street and people recognize me, but I’m fascinated with the concept,” said Bushnell, a sassy cross between Sex and the City‘s smart-talking Miranda and sex goddess Samantha. “I’m always wondering: What does [celebrity] do to you? It’s interesting because there are these huge demands made on actresses. You’re always being judged. I think about someone like Princess Di. She wasn’t very fashionable, but then you start seeing pictures of yourself and comments people make, and it does cause you to change. You have to.”

She continued, “It can be relentless. Actresses are judged much more on their looks than men are. You don’t ever see people ripping apart attractive guys.” Well, not until Killing Monica.

The male characters in the novel are vilified. They’re greedy, vain and totally self-centered. Bushnell put it best when she called them “buffoons.” Despite this, Pandy and SondraBeth both give up too much for the men in their lives, as is the fate of many successful women, especially when marriage comes into play.

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Bushnell said, “When women are married to a very successful man, the man’s schedule and his work dominate the schedule of the family. It rules. Everything is done around the man so that he can make money. People are much less willing to grant women that kind of power. I don’t think it’s right, but it’s one of the reasons we still don’t have a female president. In general, society is uncomfortable with this idea of women being in power.”

Of course, there’s a way to stop the cycle. Bushnell continued, “It’s important to call men out on their shit, kind of from the beginning. You don’t want to drink the man Kool-Aid. All of a sudden, you’re agreeing to things you never thought you’d agree to!”

Pandy has to learn this the hard way in Killing Monica, as she does drink the Kool-Aid and suffers for it. She loses her best friend because of a man. She loses tons of dough. But this isn’t a man-bashing revenge novel. It’s about reclaiming self.

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Pandy recognizes the Frankenstein’s monster she created in Monica, especially when she hears fans cooing, “I love Monica.” Pandy’s response? “I hope you love yourself just as much.”

As women, we’re hard on each other and hard on ourselves. Some of it’s society’s fault, but as Bushnell told me, “I think women put so much pressure on themselves. It comes from within, but it’s that feeling that if you don’t try harder, everything is going to fall apart.” She jokingly added, “And it usually does.” Pandy chides herself, “You should be doing more. You should be doing better.”

Maybe it’s time we all took a break from the judging, the primping and the pressure of always being on. Killing Monica is about an identity crisis, sure, but it’s also about regaining the upper hand as Pandy struggles to get her life back, minus Monica… and minus men. She wants to find a career to care about, unapologetically and passionately.

Toward the end of the novel, Pandy asks a very important question: “Can a woman dedicate her life to her work without apology?” I asked Bushnell the same. Her response? “I don’t know. I’m trying to find out, but they certainly should be able to!”

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