"Sex and the City" scribe: country girl at heart, at home in Litchfield
we met with the Connecticut-born Candace Bushnell at an inn near her Roxbury retreat, seeking—as it were—clues about her skill at probing the depths of modern-day behavior. Taking a sip of champagne, the vivacious, sleekly attired raconteuse came up with a not altogether tongue-in-cheek theory. “Maybe it has to do with DNA,” she said. “I am, in fact, a descendant of David Bushnell, a Saybrook patriot who invented a bomb-carrying submarine in 1776. The Turtle, as he called it, knocked British ships to pieces. The family patriarch really knew how to snoop things out.”
We had a thought: Does Candace’s genetic code urge her, in some way, to emulate her famous ancestor’s ability to dig under the covers and reveal the true surprises that lie beneath? Until a better answer comes along, Candace and I agreed to let it go at that—and to get on with a conversation about what she’s currently up to, interested in, and why she’s become so enchanted with life in the Litchfield countryside.
For someone who’s made Manhattan life your métier, how come so strong an interest in Connecticut lore?
Well, no matter what, this is home territory and I’ve always loved the area’s rural atmosphere and small-town charm. So how could that not be in my genes? The Bushnells landed near Saybrook a century before the Revolution and built homesteads all across the area. Grandmother’s house in Middletown dates from that era. It originally had a sod roof, one large keeping room and was gradually expanded over the years. I’m still rooted here; so are my sisters—one of whom runs a woolen mill in eastern Connecticut. For all of us, it goes back to childhood. Would you believe, when I was a kid in Glastonbury, I once had a summer job teaching horseback riding at the Kent School?
How long have you had a country retreat in the area?
I first started renting a little house in Kent—let’s see—in 1997, long before I ever imagined I’d get married. It was where I escaped to do a lot of my writing. Then, in 2002, magic! Charles Askegard and I got married—the two of us squeezing into the cottage on weekends and in the summer for the next three years. In 2005, I started poking around in Roxbury for something a bit more spacious. A home that had echoes of history and character. I found it that year, pretty much by accident: an old Victorian-ized farmhouse that was originally an 18th-century eyebrow Colonial. Charles and I adored it. The house and its Roxbury setting have had a life-changing effect on both of us.
Could you expand a bit on that?
Sure. What you’ve got to understand is that much of our life is still centered in the city, where we have a flat in the Village. Charles is a principal dancer at the New York City Ballet, and I’m up to my ears in writing and media projects. So Roxbury is where we take refuge whenever time permits. It’s where we wind down, catch up on sleep, read, enjoy nature, make new friends, see old ones, and take part—when we can—in community activities. Oh, and we’re into cooking, big time. I don’t think people can imagine us crouched over a kitchen stove together—but I find it kind of romantic.
Aren’t you inspired to do some writing as well?
It depends. If I’m up here but under some deadline pressure, I might roll out of bed at dawn, have a cup of tea, and bat away for a few hours at the computer. I write in spurts, especially when my characters have come to life and I’m “getting” what they’re telling me.
Clearly, they’ve told you all. Or almost all. How does that sync with your New England family upbringing?
In kind of an interesting way. Yes, in my family, one didn’t talk about affairs, gossip, or out-of-the-ordinary goings-on. Modesty was de rigueur. But that’s not to say we weren’t encouraged, as kids, to be creative—put on plays, puppet shows, and make up fanciful stories. I think that’s what sparked my idea of leaving college early, when I was 19, and trying for a career as a children’s-book writer in New York. My folks were supportive of that—and very proud of what has since transpired in my life. Isn’t that New England-ish in its way?
Any special sources of inspiration along the way?
Early on it was Roald Dahl, who set a standard for children’s books that made him my hero. Later, Gail Sheehy’s Passages helped me understand how new priorities affected people’s lives. And sure, 18th-century novels cram my bookshelves—you have to read Jane Austen time and again. I’m into the niche of young-adult, pop-culture fiction, but you can’t crack it—at least to my way of thinking—unless you’re an avid reader. That’s what drives me; it always has. How could you not be influenced by Henry James, Edith Wharton, John O’Hara, Tom Wolfe, and so many others who wrote about manners and morals? I probably should have read more of Samuel Pepys’ secret life before starting on my latest epic, The Carrie Diaries.
What does fill the non-working hours for you?
The life we lead in Roxbury is rather sedate, but in the city it still involves a good bit of socializing—not nearly, though, like it was when Cosmos and club-hopping were all the rage. There are dinners, an occasional fashion show, lots of meetings on TV shows and other projects, plays, and movies—along with my number-one priority of staying in touch with Charles’s ballet career. Of course I’m also on the road a lot for book tours—which, believe it or not, I rather enjoy!
What’s on your road map to the future?
I really don’t have one; and never did. What comes along just happens, mostly based on my novels. Or what my publishers and editors come up with. The variety, from TV production to being on “The View,” has been exhilarating. Is being a workaholic another sign of my New England roots?
Related to one of the main themes of your work, how did you meet Charles Askegard?
It was, as the song goes, across a crowded room. I’d been invited, sans a date, to a benefit gala for the New York City Ballet—and there was this tall, beautiful guy standing some distance away. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Nor did he stop grinning at me. I guess some sort of chemistry connected us. We made our way to each other, talked for hours with imaginary love songs playing in our heads. We went back home to the Village that night, and the rest is history. Charles and I married not long after. How could any fiction writer ever dream up a plot like that?
What’s that big blue watch you keep peeking at?
Sorry, it’s one of Michael Kors’s gizmos. It got me here at three on the dot because I’m punctual to a fault. And it’s about to tell me to scoot out shortly. Tonight, I’m off on a who-knows-what’s-going-to-happen tour for The Carrie Diaries. I hope they like me as much in Raleigh as in Roxbury!