What was Carrie Bradshaw like before Sex and the City? That's the question Candace Bushnell answers in The Carrie Diaries, a young adult prequel to her 1997 book Sex and the City, which spawned the iconic HBO television series. In the new novel, out next month from HarperCollins's Balzer & Bray imprint with a 500,000-copy first printing, Carrie weathers her sometimes stormy senior year in a small-town Connecticut high school, coping with a turbulent family life, an unreliable boyfriend, friendships in flux, and uncertainty about her chances of launching a writing career.
Bushnell explains that a comment made by her agent, Heather Schroder of ICM, sparked the idea for The Carrie Diaries. "She suggested that I write a memoir about when I first came to New York, and I said that I only wanted to write fiction," says the author. "I've always thought about doing a novel about a young person coming to a big city to make it as some kind of artist. It's a classic tale. But that story backs up to senior year in high school, when you begin to want more and begin to wonder if you want to stay in your hometown, or go off to college. That got me thinking about Carrie as a senior and wondering what she was like then."
While Bushnell, like Carrie, grew up in a small Connecticut town, she says that events of Carrie's senior year are entirely fictional, though she did draw from her own emotional experiences. "Senior year is a time when you feel like acting on your life rather than just letting things happen to you," she says. "I graduated from high school a few years before Carrie does in the novel, but the actual year doesn't really matter. It's really about the emotions of being that age."
Perhaps the novel's strongest parallel to Bushnell's own life is Carrie's devotion to writing. She spends time sifting through stories she wrote as a child, pens articles for her school newspaper, and finally achieves her dream of being admitted to a summer writing seminar in Manhattan. "I knew I wanted to be a writer since I was eight," the author recalls. "I recently found a little children's book I'd written when I was a teenager. I'd actually sent it out-with it was the original rejection letter. But someone at Simon & Schuster did call me and tell me that I should be a children's book author. There's something fun—and a bit horrifying—about finding your old writing. I'd written about some crazy things!"
The narrative voice she uses in The Carrie Diaries was a departure for Bushnell. "I wrote this in the first person present, and all my other books are written in the third person," she explains. "It was a little bit tricky getting the voice, because the narrator doesn't know what's going to happen, so you can't offer any hints. But the first person voice does give the story a certain immediacy-you feel as though you're on a journey with the character. My editor suggested using this voice, and I think it was a good choice."
Her editor, Alessandra Balzer, co-publisher of Balzer & Bray, believes Bushnell got the voice just right. "I'd say Carrie's voice is my favorite part of the novel," she comments. "It is a unique, independent, and timeless voice. I think readers who are 13 and those who are 60 will respond to Carrie and the other characters." In fact, Balzer (who serendipitously came to acquire the book after Schroder, over lunch, casually mentioned that Bushnell was thinking of writing a novel for teens) calls the novel's crossover potential "huge." She adds, "This is a realistic coming-of-age story that will appeal to multiple audiences and will definitely win Candace new, younger fans who may have never even heard of Sex and the City."
HarperCollins's marketing push for The Carrie Diaries includes a 10-city author tour, national online consumer and trade advertising, ads on New York City buses and on mall panels in 31 markets, an extensive social media promotion campaign, a video trailer and author interview video, and retail floor displays.
Asked whether they envision The Carrie Diaries on either the small or big screen, both Bushnell and Balzer respond that they would love to see that happen but have no idea if it will. Bushnell is now writing a sequel to her prequel. Scheduled for spring 2011 release, the still untitled novel will chronicle Carrie's post-graduation summer in New York, where she meets the first of her Sex and the City friends, Samantha Jones.
And there may well be additional young adult fiction from Bushnell. "I'd love to do more YA books, since I find it such an interesting area," she says. "The Carrie Diaries is the book I always wished I'd written when I was 17. Oddly enough, it took more than 30 years of writing for me to go back and finally do it."
The Carrie Diaries by Candace Bushnell. HarperCollins/Balzer & Bray, $18.99 Apr. ISBN 978-0-06-172891-4