Almost Famous

Sex and the City author Candace Bushnell isn't Carrie Bradshaw. Like, really.

Whether it's a true story is a moot point. Remember: Candace is not Carrie, nor is Candace really the woman at the end of Four Blondes. But for a moment, she considers the fact that, yeah, it might be easy to lose one's self in a world of fictions piled atop fact.

"But I don't get lost, and the reason why is probably because..." She stops, then begins again. "A friend of mine once said about me 10 years ago, "That Candace Bushnell, she's got a lot of different sides.' And it's true. Ever since I was a kid, I was basically like this. I was in drama club, I played tennis, I rode horses, I ice-skated, I was a huge reader, I used to write little plays, I was in school plays. I was always doing...I do have a lot of different aspects to my personality, probably because I'm somebody who doesn't put the brakes on myself. I grew up in this family where we were really allowed to be who we were, so I've never said, "Oooh, I can't do that.' Actually, that's not true: I can't be an actress, because I went to acting school, and I sucked. But I'm very...I think I'm just a very secure person at my core, so I feel like I know who I am."

Not so long ago, she was unknown outside the Upper West Side. In 1994, 17 years after the Connecticut-born Bushnell left Rice University for New York and a never-happened career as an actress, her column began appearing in the New York Observer, the upscale broadsheet weekly that still employs Rex Reed and manages to make everything about New York seem, like, totally fabulous. (Last week, Christopher Walken cooked dinner for one of the writers.) Contrary to popular myth, the book on which the show is based is not simply a compendium of columns. Bushnell got her book deal after a mere five columns had appeared in print; the rest she likes to consider a serialized novel. Although each piece was self-contained, she didn't want to take it for granted that people read all the pieces and always knew where she was in the story.

This is Candace Bushnell--not Carrie Bradshaw, not Sarah Jessica Parker. Get it straight.
This is Candace Bushnell--not Carrie Bradshaw, not Sarah Jessica Parker. Get it straight.

When Sex and the City was published by Atlantic Monthly Press in 1996, Bushnell visited bookstores in two cities, Miami and Los Angeles. Now, the book tour has become a lifestyle: She will visit more than two dozen cities between now and the middle of November, stopping along the way in such towns as Madison and Cincinnati, as far from London or Manhattan as one can travel without a space ship. Though she still schleps from hotel to book signing in a handler's Honda--and not a limousine, she reminds us, not like a movie star--she recognizes that such a tour confirms her status as a pop culture figure. A few months ago, she even wrote a piece about being "semi-famous" for Harper's Bazaar.

"Someone asked me about that: "Why semi-famous?'" she says. "Well, the truth is, semi-famous is funny. Famous isn't funny, and not famous isn't funny, but that concept of semi-famous is a funny concept. I think I am a funny writer. I think that some of my stuff is hilarious. I don't mean to be boasting, because that is the one thing I will say. I think Four Blondes is hi-la-rious. I love it. But being somebody who's a funny writer, you just instinctively know where's the joke, and the joke is in those word semi-famous. But do I really think I'm semi-famous or not semi-famous? Like, no. Somebody who is quite famous said to me, "You don't define if you are going to be famous or not famous. The public decides if you are going to be famous.'"

For the moment, the public has made its decision: She has been granted her fame, her great table at a great restaurant where she can show off her great wardrobe and great boyfriend. It's a great life, all carved from a column about sex and its messy residue--not bad at all. Actually, this is how fabulous her life is: When informed that USA Today, on the morning of this interview, has referred to the characters in Four Blondes as "pathetic and despicable," Bushnell gushes. She takes the knock as high praise. Her whole life is one giant silver lining. Actually, it's probably more like platinum.

"Oh, my God--that's great!" she says of the USA Today review. "I love that. Honestly, I think somebody who thinks those characters are pathetic and despicable is themselves pathetic and despicable. Reading is really interactive pursuit, because you bring to whatever you read whatever is in your head. I can understand somebody saying, "Oooh, I don't want to be those characters,' but all of those characters are sympathetic. What Four Blondes does is it brings out resentment and jealousy. If you are a resentful and jealous person, that is what you will think of those characters, and I probably shouldn't tell you this, but if you truly are a generous and nonsuperficial person, you will understand these characters a bit. These characters are cautionary tales. They're not meant to be everybody. Pathetic and despicable is the ultimate compliment, and it means that I am doing my job."

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