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So What Do You Do, Carole Radziwill, Journalist, Author and Reality TV Star?

'I think journalists are all attracted to spectacle, whether it's war, politics or cultural phenomenon.'

- February 11, 2014
Carole Radziwill has had one roller-coaster life. She reported from war zones, covered the Menendez murders, interviewed movie stars and produced numerous award-winning stories in more than a decade of working for ABC News. That's where she met fellow producer Anthony Radziwill, a prince in a line of Polish royals and the nephew of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, whom she wed in 1994.

Tragedy struck when Anthony died of cancer in August 1999, just three weeks after his cousin, John F. Kennedy Jr., and his wife Carolyn (Radziwill's best friend) died in a plane crash. Radziwill incorporated that painful summer into her 2005 best-selling memoir, What Remains, a candid account of love and loss.

Radziwill is a full-time author now, with her first novel -- a roman à clef titled The Widow's Guide to Sex & Dating -- out today. But reality-TV junkies probably know her best as one of The Real Housewives of New York City, which launches a new season on Bravo next month. So how does she explain jumping on board a show best known for catfights and drunken brawls?

"You have to say yes to what the universe puts in front of you, even if it seems counterintuitive at the time," she says. "I've gotten much more carefree and reckless and wild as I age. I'm the opposite of conventional wisdom."

Name: Carole Radziwill
Position: Journalist, author and cast member of Bravo's Real Housewives of New York City.
Resume: Started her career at ABC News in 1989 working for Peter Jennings' documentary unit, reporting from Cambodia, Haiti, India and Israel. Also produced segments for 20/20, Primetime Live and Day One; her work earned three Emmy awards, a Robert F. Kennedy Humanitarian Award and a GLAAD award. Spent four weeks filming with the 101st Airborne Division during the 2001 Afghan War, before leaving the network in 2002 and writing What Remains. Columnist for Glamour magazine, interviewing celebrities and newsmakers such as CNN's Anderson Cooper, actor Alec Baldwin and rocker Jon Bon Jovi. Joined the RHONY cast in 2012.
Birthdate: Aug. 20
Hometown: Suffern, N.Y.
Education: Bachelor's degree from Hunter College; MBA from New York University
Marital status: Widowed
Media mentors: Peter Jennings, Diane Sawyer
Best career advice received: Trust your instincts.
Guilty pleasure: Watching bloopers from newscasts, game shows and other programs on YouTube. "It really makes me laugh and puts me in the best mood."
Last book read: Undisputed Truth, boxer Mike Tyson's recent autobiography. "When you read the book, you realize there's a tremendously deep-feeling person under all the Iron Mike façade."
Twitter handle: @caroleradziwill

Congratulations on your first novel. Are you nervous about how it will be received, particularly since your memoir spent more than three months on The New York Times best-seller list?
When I was writing the memoir, I thought it would be so much easier to make it up. Then when I started writing this, it was so much harder to write fiction because the only limitation is my imagination. I think fiction says as much about you as a writer -- and as a person -- as memoir does. So I'm extremely nervous. It's like giving birth to something that you care about very much, like a little child. But of course… you don't really get celebrated like you do when you pop out a kid!

Writing your memoir must have brought up a lot of painful memories.
I started writing it four years after the summer of '99, and maybe I'm romanticizing it now, but I feel like it was a beautiful thing to get that story down on paper. I can look at it and read passages now and smile. It's true about time -- it's a cliché, but it's true -- that it can heal a lot. This wasn't emotional in that way, writing Widow's Guide. I had more laughs doing this.

How much of the novel is based on your own life?
Everyone thinks I'm (the main character) Claire! As a writer, all characters are both real and imagined. There are parts of this person and that person: some friends from high school, and this one date here, another there.

"When I was writing the memoir, I thought it would be so much easier to make it up. Then when I started writing this, it was so much harder to write fiction because the only limitation is my imagination."

Writers have their real life and their imagination, and sometimes the two just blend. But I'm sure every guy I ever went out with will think he's the love interest.

There are a lot of dating rules in the book. Do you have your own No. 1 rule when it comes to romantic relationships?
I don't have that many rules, but I think the No. 1 rule that women should generally abide by is that you can't have sex with a man until he thinks he's in love with you. Certainly there are stories of women who've slept with their boyfriends on the first date, or second date and they end up getting married. But I guarantee [those men] thought [they] were in love. Men really believe in love at first sight and fate… women are much more practical. I've had a couple of boyfriends I knew by the second or third date, they were thinking, 'I think I'm in love with this girl.' You know they're not; they're in love with the idea.

You said until a man "thinks" he's in love -- not until he actually is in love.
It's a big distinction. He just has to think he is. Men oftentimes think they are before they actually are. This French philosopher has this [theory] that's kind of about that. He called it 'crystallization.' It's the moment a man crystalizes a women in his mind as the object of his desire. That's the moment he thinks he's in love. Sometimes it happens instantly. I've had boyfriends who've said, 'I loved you the minute I met you.' And you're like, 'No, you didn't, but OK.' But he definitely believes that he did, and that's cool. That's one of the differences between men and women.

This is a busy time for you, with the novel's release and a new round of Housewives premiering March 11. Did you have to think hard about signing up for another season?
I've been working since I was 13, and at the end of the day, I'm a single girl with bills. I tend to look at things as job opportunities, so that's how I thought of it, and it worked out pretty well the first season.

"When I signed up to do the show, I made a commitment to be honest about my life, what I do and who I am. I thought everyone else made a similar commitment, and it turns out that they didn't."

The second time around… it was much more work for me. But I knew I had this book coming out, and it's not enough to write anymore; you've got to hustle. And I thought: It's a TV show. I'm not thinking about getting married or having a child, something that would really change my life. It's a TV show and life goes on. So I said, 'OK, I'll do it.'

What's the most shocking thing that's happened to you so far on the show?
Believe me, from a scale of 1 to bat-s*** crazy, this season is bat-s*** crazy. The drama that involves me involved another woman on the show making up a lie about my career, and then trying to sell it as industry gossip. That was an eye-opener for me. I thought: You can't air that. It's completely made up. It's not true. Then to turn to the producers and see them smiling, saying, 'We're not looking for the truth. We're looking for drama.' And [you realize], wait, this isn't 60 Minutes.

Was that a huge surprise, after spending so many years behind the camera as a news producer?
It was, and shame on me, because it's an entertainment program and not a news program. But when I signed up to do the show, I made a commitment to be honest about my life, what I do and who I am. I thought everyone else made a similar commitment, and it turns out that they didn't. That's OK -- my bad. But there's gossip and then there's outright lies. I feel like we're all in it together in a way, but clearly, there are people who are just looking out for themselves.

Backing up a bit, how did an Emmy-winning journalist end up on reality TV in the first place?
I think journalists are all attracted to spectacle, whether it's war, politics or cultural phenomenon. I'm also an experience junkie and this was an experience. It's something I'll do for a few years, and when I'm 80, I'll look back and say, 'Oh, that's why I did it.' If it's the worst thing I ever did in my life, I'm OK with that. But I don't think it will be.

Heather Salerno is a freelance writer based in the greater New York City area. Follow her on Twitter @heather_salerno.

NEXT >> So What Do You Do, Lola Ogunnaike, Freelance Journalist and TV Personality?

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The foregoing is the sole property of Mediabistro Inc. The opinions and views expressed in the interviews and/or commentaries are solely those of the participants and are not necessarily the views of Mediabistro Inc., its affiliates or subsidiary companies.

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