Monday, October 23, 2017

An Interview with Renowned Feminist Author Patricia Leavy about Low-Fat Love

An Interview with Renowned Feminist Author Patricia Leavy about Low-Fat Love

 

Patricia Leavy, Ph.D. is an independent scholar and novelist (formerly Associate Professor of Sociology, Founding Director of Gender Studies and Chairperson of Sociology & Criminology at Stonehill College). She has published eighteen books including the best-seller Method Meets Art: Arts-Based Research Practice (Guilford Press, 2009, 2015). She is the editor for five book series with Oxford University Press and Sense Publishers. Frequently called on by the media, she has appeared on national television, radio, is regularly quoted by the news media, publishes op-eds and is a blogger for The Huffington Post and The Creativity Post. The New England Sociological Association named her the 2010 New England Sociologist of the Year and she received the 2014 Special Achievement Award given by the American Creativity Association. She just released a special anniversary edition of her best-selling novel, Low-Fat Love. We had a chance to chat with Patricia about the concept behind Low-Fat Love and what this anniversary edition means to her.

 

Congratulations on the anniversary edition of Low-Fat Love!

 

Thank you.

 

How would you describe the genre?

 

Feminist chick-lit, which I know may seem like an oxymoron. It’s a novel but it is informed by years of research I did as a sociologist as well as my general feminist perspective.

 

The title is intriguing. What does it mean?

 

Low-fat love is a concept. It’s like love-lite. It’s about settling for less than we really want and trying to pretend it’s better than it is. It’s the idea of accepting butter substitute in place of butter and trying to pretend it’s the real deal. In relationships, including the relationship we have with ourselves, there is no substitute for the real thing. Faking it never works. It just increases the gap between our life as it is and our life as we truly wish it to be. So this idea of low-fat love as settling in life and love is really the guiding concept in the book. For me, this is linked to identity and self-concept. How we see ourselves and how we think about ourselves impacts the extent to which we settle and the ways in which we settle, pretend or otherwise try to fake ourselves out.

 

How did you come up with the term, low-fat love?

 

It was inspired by a Tori Amos song, “Caught a Lite Sneeze” off of her record, as she says, sonic novel, Boys for Pele.

 

What is the novel about, in terms of the characters and plot?

 

The novel follows Prilly Greene and Janice Goldwyn, adversarial editors at a New York press. Both women are experiencing personal change relating to the men in their lives and they are each isolated in their own way. Prilly suffers because she wants to have a “big life” which she equates with having a fabulous romance but she fears plain-looking women have to work hard for a shot at a big life. She falls for Pete Rice, a non-committal artist who exacerbates her insecurities. While at first she thinks she is finally experiencing the big life she always sought, his unconventional, free-spirited views on relationships unsettle her, causing her to doubt herself and ultimately to start to unravel over the course of their relationship. Meanwhile, Janice, a workaholic, feminist in-name-only editor, overburdens and undermines Prilly. Janice has tried to build an identity that denies her past but when her father is injured in a car accident she is forced to face her own demons. Along with Prilly and Janice, there’s a cast of offbeat characters whose stories are interwoven throughout the book. In the end, Prilly and Janice are pushed to look honestly at themselves and the central male figures in their lives. Likewise, all of the characters have to find their voices or suffer the consequences.

 

What inspired you to write about that topic?

 

A combination of personal experiences and things I heard and observed from women I interviewed as well as my college students. Although it’s a novel, it is loosely based on interviews I collected with women over many years, as well as lessons learned from my college students both inside and outside of class, and my own personal experiences. On the personal front, I definitely suffered from self-esteem issues growing up and I think I looked to find myself through a romantic relationship, when of course you have to become yourself so that you have something to offer in a relationship. I needed to learn to spark my own fire. When you do that, it also changes your relationship priorities and what you’re willing to accept. I think my experiences probably pushed me in the direction of interviewing others and maybe even making myself open to students sharing their experiences, which for many years was a regular part of my life as an academic. I was the professor many students sought out to talk about their personal issues ranging from body image struggles to boyfriend or girlfriend troubles to sexual assault and harassment. I heard so much.

 

At the end of the day I think all of these personal and professional experiences have been a life roadmap for me. I believe that if we don’t find our voices than our lives become very small. You can’t find your voice unless you’re brutally honest with yourself about who you are, how you see yourself, your fears, your history, all of it. I think a lot of people avoid that honest look at self because it is scary but once we walk through that, our worlds expand. I know that has been true in my own life and I have seen it with others. So I was motivated to write a novel with characters who need to confront their own issues in order to get un-stuck. Also, I have gained so much strength from friendships with strong women; friends who truly want the best for me and I for them. I think those relationships are vital and so I chose to write a novel about women who lack those kinds of relationships and as a result, their dysfunctional relationships with men who withhold, occupy a more prominent space in their lives.

 

Pop culture is a theme in the novel. Can you talk about that?

 

Pop culture is really the subtext. There are loads of pop culture references throughout the book and each one was selected with intent. I used popular culture and women’s media in particular as a signpost throughout the book in order to make visible the context in which women come to think of themselves, as well as the men and women in their lives. Our ideas about beauty, appearance, romance, love, and so forth, those ideas are shaped in a context not just in our own heads. I wanted to show how that context can impact some people. As a feminist sociologist, I attempted to offer a critical commentary about popular culture and the social construction of femininity. For instance, the main character Prilly is repeatedly engaged in consuming media targeted at women, such as tabloid TV, home shopping, Lifetime movies, plays, books, and even music videos. The sociologist in me was trying to link the macro context with people’s individual, micro-level experiences. So, media culture, which is the macro level, impacts Prilly personally, which is the micro level. I also used pop culture to mirror what was going on with the characters, including their relationship and life mistakes.

 

What do you hope readers take from the novel?

 

I hope that readers are prompted to reflect on their own lives. I think our lives improve dramatically when we get really honest with ourselves about how we feel about ourselves and what we want out of our relationships. I hope the book offers readers a chance to do a personal inventory, a gut check of sorts. I think scholars are charged with helping us to understand human experiences and the contexts in which we live our lives. Artists are charged with reflecting what others are feeling and experiencing. They hold up a mirror for us to look honestly at ourselves and others. So as a scholar-artist, my goal was to try to make sense of and reflect what many experience in their relationships with others and in their own psyches. I hope readers use the book as a springboard for reflection and that ultimately it encourages people not to waste time and energy settling in life and love. It simply isn’t worth it. Find and nurture your fire.

 

This is a special edition of a novel that is your publisher’s #1 selling title. Is the new edition a gift to fans?

 

Well, I’m proud of the first edition because it was the best I was able to do at that time. However, I feel a responsibility to put out the best work I am capable of. The novel needed a good copyediting and some other refinements. It wasn’t the best I could do now. So I felt it was important to offer both dedicated readers and new readers a better version of the book. Because the book is used in college classes it felt particularly important to put a stronger version out. I will say although I badly wanted to put out a new version of the novel, it was quite daunting to take on revising a novel that many people have already read. I had to walk through the fear which was sort of perfect, because the whole book is about walking through personal fears and finding our voices. My process of going back and revising in some ways mirrors the very lessons of the book. I think at the end of the day the anniversary edition was really a gift to me and I am overjoyed to be able to share it with readers.

 

You are so closely identified with this particular book. What does this book mean to you?

 

What it means to me has changed over time and perhaps will continue to change. This book changed my life in more than one way. When I first wrote it, I think I was sort of possessed in a way. No one except for the man who is now my husband knew about it. It was a secret project. I had developed ideas about identity, relationships and settling after years of interview experiences, teaching and my own personal battles. I was compelled to get my ideas out in an uncensored way. There was no plan to publish the book or any thought about how people might receive it. I simply had to write it for myself. It was cathartic. I had no idea that the book would resonate with so many people. As a result, people, and women in particular, started seeking me out to tell me their identity and relationship stories. So at book signings, after talks at conferences, in university hallways and in non-professional settings all over the place, women who had read the book wanted to share with me. Those conversations have forever changed me. As a person and as a writer I feel like I am in a very different place than when I wrote the first edition so I am deeply grateful that I had this opportunity to go back and give it another go. I think now I am at peace with both the book and the stories that informed it, my own and those of others. So if I had to describe what the books means to me now in one word, I would say, healing.

 

What do you think is the best part about the novel?

It’s honest. It’s raw and honest.

 

What is your #1 piece of advice for someone in a dysfunctional relationship?

Work on the relationship you have with yourself. When that is strong, your other choices will become vast and clear.

 

You can find Patricia at www.patricialeavy.com

 

Sense Publishers is currently offering free shipping and a 15% discount on Patricia’s novels, Low-Fat Love: Expanded Anniversary Edition and American Circumstance if you buy them directly from www.sensepublishers.com and use promo code 24601 during check-out.

 

Her book Method Meets Art: Arts-Based Research Practice second edition can be purchased here with free shipping and an automatic discount: http://www.guilford.com/

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