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Success and the City

The author behind a TV phenomenon shifts her focus from sex to power.

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Talking to Candace Bushnell on the phone is like hearing from an old friend. After all, we spent six years watching Sarah Jessica Parker play a thinly veiled version of the author on HBO's Sex and the City.

We're not sure which came first -- Bushnell's lilting vocal mannerisms or Emmy-winner Parker's eerily similar cadences. Bushnell certainly isn't far removed from the character she conceived for a popular New York Observer column. A best-selling book -- about four New York City women who chat about sex, booze, shopping, and more sex -- followed. The hit TV show made it a culture-changing phenomenon. "It reflected a certain zeitgeist," says Bushnell.

Her fourth book, Lipstick Jungle, revisits familiar territory (it takes place in N.Y.C. and revolves around a group of gal pals). But this time the heroines get off on power, not sex. "About five years ago, I realized I know all these women who have gone through their Sex and the City years, and now they need to be in a different place," she says. "They're very successful, they've found themselves, they're doing incredibly well in their careers, and they're finding the right guys."

Unlike Bushnell's previous books, the women in Jungle aren't single thirtysomethings. They're in their 40s, and some are married with children. "They're not talking about sex anymore, they're talking about careers," says Bushnell, herself a 46-year-old wife. "And I definitely understand what's going on in their heads, having gone through it myself."

The book's heroines struggle with jobs -- as an editor, movie-company president, and fashionista, respectively. Each has the same occupational hazard: Wield too little power, and you're perceived as weak; too much, and you're labeled a bitch. "We still live in a society where we're uncomfortable with the idea of a powerful, successful woman," says Bushnell.

Of course, since Jungle qualifies as bona fide chick lit, most guys won't even get that memo. Sighs Bushnell, "Maybe I should have put a car on the cover, instead of lipstick."

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