XOXOAD is pleased to welcome writer and Real Housewife Carole Radziwill! Ms. Radziwill is the author of the memoir, What Remains, about the loss of her husband Anthony, and can currently be seen as one of the cast of The Real Housewives of New York on Bravo TV. She has just completed her first novel, The Widow’s Guide to Sex and Dating, available now from Henry Holt.
One lucky reader will win a copy of Carole’s new book by answering this question in the comments: if you were to write a novel based on your life, what would it be called?
The narrative voice in this novel is strong, fresh and unique. What are your literary inspirations?
I will write as long as I have something to say in a way that hasn’t quite been said before. Fitzgerald once said the cleverly expressed opposite of conventional wisdom is worth a fortune to somebody. I’m holding out for my fortune.
What inspired you to write a Widow’s Guide?
I originally thought of writing my memoir as a work of fiction but decided it wouldn’t be believable as a novel. I wanted to explore the tragicomic side of loss. Also, novels give you a resolution you rarely find in life and that is comforting to me. I get to write the ending, and that is very satisfying.
How was the process of writing this novel different than your 2005 memoir What Remains?
To be honest I thought fiction would be much easier than journalistic reporting or nonfiction writing, but I quickly found that it was much, much harder. You are only limited by the depth of your imagination and that was incredibly daunting. I kept thinking, I can come up with something more interesting than THAT. I think the burden of “truth” is greater in fiction. When I read memoir I’m conscious that it happened to someone so I take leaps of faith that I don’t necessary do in fiction. So the level of detail, what Claire and the other characters wear, what they say, how they behave all had to be perfectly consistent as to avoid false notes.
What is The Widow’s Guide about?
It’s a novel is about death, sex, and love—in that order—which, if you think about it, is the opposite of the conventional narrative. In that regard it’s about getting a do-over as a young woman. Going through something difficult — whether its a death or divorce or simply a bad breakup — and finding the silver lining. Claire’s story will ring true for any young women faced with starting over and embracing the journey.
What do you have in common with the protagonist, Claire?
Claire and I are alike in some obvious ways: We’re both young widows and writers by trade. We both tend to overanalyze, and write the ending of the story before the beginning has taken shape. But Claire, having been married to an older, successful man at a young age, is a bit more naïve than I ever was. I was a messy widow. Claire has her shit together. It took me a lot longer than Claire to find perspective and meaning after losing my husband.
What went into your research for this book?
Like Claire, I was widowed at a young age so, of course, I used some of that experience. But Widow’s Guide is a satire really, a comedy. I don’t mean for this to be a guide in any sense. When I started writing the book, nearly 10 years after my husband died, I was in a different state of mind than I’d been in as a newly widowed person. It had taken me a long time but I’d found the humor in the absurdity of life and I give that to Claire very early in the story. I didn’t dwell on 5 stages of the grief; that is for other books. To have some fun for the set-up of this novel, I skipped fairly quickly to Acceptance, and Oh shit, now what?
Did you speak to other young widows about their dating experience?
Yes, and also divorcees. I found that being widowed is different than being divorced. For instance, no one wants the widow to have sex again. At least not right away. Meanwhile, divorcees are encourage to get laid before the ink is dry! But the strange thing about experiencing the death of a spouse is that in order to recover,you seek life affirming activities. Sex is literally the most life affirming experience one can have. So you feel the tug in that direction. I watched what my girlfriends and other divorced women were going through and used some of that in the novel. I learned to love dating, or as I say , first dating. I’ve never really had a bad first date, even the blind ones. By nature and training I’m an interviewer so I love meeting new people, hearing their stories, telling mine. And each time I get to re-invent myself. I’d go out with anyone, one time. To get me on a second date, well that’s a different story. That’s chemistry and magic and fairy dust.
Are any of the characters based on people you know?
As in most novels, the characters are both real and imagined. The story is based on my experiences, observations, imagination, and things I overhear at restaurants. There are two characters that are fairly accurate to people I know. Derek, for instance, is based on a real tour guide I once knew in NY. All the stories I tell in the book are his and are true. And the professor in the first chapter is based on someone I interviewed once at ABCNews. Also, all the animal sex is real.
Some of the novel takes place in Hollywood around the love interest and movie star Jack Huxley. Readers may think Jack is based on one very recognizable movie star: George Clooney. Would they be right?
Well, first any town fueled by ego and insecurity (not to mention it’s carefree attitude on hot tub sex) gets my attention.
I spent some time in Hollywood and the parties and life in the novel are what Hollywood is really like, at least as I observed it. Second, anytime you create a character who all women fantasize about there’s always going to be some George Clooney in it whether you know him, or not. I know who I had in mind when I wrote Jack. When Carly Simon publicly tells who she wrote ‘You’re So Vain’ about I’ll tell you who Jack is.
Why would an award-winning journalist and critically-acclaimed memoirist throw herself in to the dramatic ring of the “Real Housewives”reality TV program?
I’m asked this a lot. It’s simple. It’s because I was a journalist that I am in the ring. Journalists are experience junkies. For the most part we are attracted to spectacle, whether its war, politics, or pop culture, and this was no different. When Andy Cohen asked me, sure, I thought it was a weird job made more interesting because I was a writer. But I don’t have kids or a husband to embarrass so If I humiliated myself I’m okay with that. Sometimes you have to say ‘Yes’ to what the universe puts in front of you even if it seems counterintuitive at the time. And it’s not as though it was a life-changing decision, like having a baby or getting married. It’s a TV show….and life goes on.
Was your novel inspired at all by your time on RHONY?
Not at all. To be honest the first draft of Widow’s Guide was nearly finished before I even started on the show. I don’t think anyone could seriously write while filming a reality show. Writers need introspection and calm, which is the antithesis of Real Housewives.
What do you hope readers will take away from Widow’s Guide?
That all new beginnings are disguised as endings. Every beginning starts out as an ending. No pain, no gain.
Remember to enter to win a copy of The Widow’s Guide to Sex and Dating! Tell us in the comments what the title of your own autobiographical novel would be.