Candace Bushnell: Author of Sex and the City and The Carrie Diaries

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Mary Altaffer / AP

Candace Bushnell, author of Sex and the City and The Carrie Diaries

Meet Carrie before Carrie. Before Big, Samantha or Sex and the City, Carrie Bradshaw was an impressionable 17-year-old girl from rural Connecticut who had yet to make her New York City dreams a reality. She'd yet to be published as a writer. She hadn't even — if you can believe it — had sex yet. This young, innocent Carrie is the subject of Candace Bushnell's The Carrie Diaries. Bushnell talked to TIME about turning back the clock on a beloved character.

As a young woman you dreamed of coming to New York City to work as a writer. You've said this book is not autobiographical, but how much of it is based on what you felt and experienced?
There's nothing that happened to Carrie that happened to me, but obviously, as a novelist, I do draw from my own experiences. I really tried to capture the emotional reality of being 17.

How do you get inside the head of a 17-year-old girl?
I've been writing fiction probably since I was about 6 years old, so it's something that is second nature to me now. I just sit down and start writing. I don't sit down and start writing and it comes out perfectly — it's a process. I worked on the book for a year. I spent a lot of time on it. It's a job. When I'm writing I'm going to do it five to six days a week and I'm going to work for four to six hours a day. There's no magic writing fairy. It's just hard work.

It seems you know this topic well — many of your books are about young women who came to the big city to make their dreams come true.
I've always been fascinated by young women who come to New York. The characters in Lipstick Jungle were once young women who came to New York and we see their early experiences through flashbacks. It's something that really interests me and I really wanted to flesh it out more with Carrie Bradshaw. I mean, who better to take that journey with than Carrie Bradshaw?

Had you always pictured Carrie's adolescence this way?
I know this character very well and I certainly came to the book with ideas about her adolescence and her background. But I really do the work when I sit down and start writing. As I'm writing, certain things become clear to me and certain things begin to feel right and make sense. The pieces start to fall into place. So while I came to the book with ideas about who she was, when I sit down to write the character takes over.

What were some of those original ideas you had about 17-year-old Carrie?
That she uses fashion in some sense to define herself. And, I'd also always felt that the character had some kind of loss when she was young and overcoming that loss gave her a slightly different perspective on the world. I'd always felt she was an original — that she looks at the world from her own point of view.

Why did you decide to gear this book toward teens rather than an older audience?
That's just how it worked out. You know, the character is 17. I think it's very appropriate for a young-adult audience. But, honestly, I've had so many adult readers who loved it. One of the comments that I've heard again and again is that the book makes them love Carrie Bradshaw even more. I think for women my age — and I'm 50 — it brings them back to their high school years. And for young adults, it's this great story of a 17-year-old girl and they can identify with the trials and tribulations. I think anyone who's gone to high school can, actually. I've had a lot of women say that they read the book, loved it and gave it to their teenage daughters. Sex and the City had a real mother-daughter following too. Whenever I would do readings and lectures I would always have women who came with their daughters. It was something that mothers and daughters could share. I hope the same will be true of The Carrie Diaries.

Speaking of Sex and the City, could you ever have imagined that it would become so huge?
You never have any idea. I had no idea even when the TV shows started. I think at our first little premiere we had 100 people. It was just like a little family and nobody had any idea. But it was something from the beginning. Everyone loved the material. My column was very popular, but it had a small, cult audience. It was never intended for a mass audience, so the fact that it took off and has had all these iterations is just so wonderful. You can't plan for these things. All you can do is do the absolute best work that you can do and keep your fingers crossed.

Why do you think the topic resonated so well with women?
When I started writing Sex and the City in 1994 there weren't supposed to be any single women in their 30s. These were not 25-year-old girls who just came to New York and couldn't find boyfriends. These were women who found themselves in a new paradigm of being in their mid-30s and still not having found "the One." These were characters that people hadn't seen before. That's why it was so eye-opening — there were so many single women who felt like, Oh, finally here's something that's about my life.

What do you think of the evolution of the characters through the TV series and now two movies?
The thing that is interesting is the characters are always the characters. Carrie's still Carrie. Samantha's still Samantha. And I think that's what the audience loves. Like all of us, a heck of a lot has happened to them, but they've stayed true to themselves.