Thursday, February 25, 2021

Patricia Leavy on Her Highly-Anticipated Novel, Film

Patricia Leavy, Ph.D. is an independent sociologist and best-selling author. She has published over 25 books, earning critical and commercial success in both nonfiction and fiction, with over one million copies in equivalent sales. Her work has been translated into numerous languages. She is also the creator and editor for eight book series with Oxford University Press and Brill/Sense, the co-founder and co-editor-in-chief of Art/Research International: A Transdisciplinary Journal, and a blogger for The Creativity Post and other outlets.

In addition to numerous accolades for her books, Patricia has received career awards from New England Sociological Association, the American Creativity Association, the American Educational Research Association, the National Art Education Association, and the International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry. In 2016 Mogul, a women’s empowerment network, named her an “Influencer.” In 2018, she was honored by the National Women’s Hall of Fame and SUNY-New Paltz established the “Patricia Leavy Award for Art and Social Justice.” Patricia’s latest novel, Film, is a return to the form audiences have grown to love from her. Patricia is a long-time supporter of Mental Fitness, Inc, and a blogger for We Are the Real Deal and we’ve spoken with her several times over the years. We recently had a chance to chat about her beautiful new novel.

There’s been great anticipation for Film, which is a return to the genre you’re known for. Congratulations! It’s being lauded as “a tour de force,” “absolutely gorgeous,” and your “bravest novel.”

Thank you. I’ve truly never enjoyed writing anything more. It’s the book I’ve always wanted to read so I’m over-the-moon that it’s being embraced.

What is Film about?

Film follows three women who moved to Los Angeles to pursue their dreams. Tash Daniels aspires to be a filmmaker. Her short film was rejected from festivals, she has a stack of rejected grant proposals, and she lost her internship at a studio when her boss harassed her, forcing her to take a job as a personal shopper. Lu K is a hot deejay slowly working her way up the club scene, but no one is doing her any favors. Fiercely independent, she’s at a loss when she meets Paisley, a woman who captures her heart. Monroe Preston is the glamorous wife of a Hollywood studio head. As a teenager she moved to LA in search of a “big” life, but now she wonders if reality measures up to fantasy. When a man in their circle finds sudden fame, each of these women is catapulted on a journey of self-discovery. As the characters’ stories unfold, each is forced to confront how her past has shaped her fears and to choose how she wants to live in the present. Film is a novel about the underside of dreams, the struggle to find internal strength, the power of art, and what it truly means to live a “big” life. Frequently shown bathed in the glow of the silver screen, the characters in Film show us how the arts can reignite the light within. With a tribute to popular culture, set against the backdrop of Tinseltown, Film celebrates how the art we make and experience can shape our stories, scene by scene. 

Without giving too much away, the ending of Film is incredibly satisfying, and yet it defies convention. What was your intent?

Thank you. I knew from the day I started writing exactly what the ending would be and honestly, it’s my favorite ending from any of my novels. I have a writing buddy who is also one of my closest friends and she was reading as I was writing, chapter by chapter. I kept telling her, “I can’t wait to write the ending. It’s everything I always wanted to say.” My intent was to show that it’s possible to for two people in a relationship to be in love and live their dreams. So much of what we see in pop culture makes it seem as if there’s always a choice we have to make. For example, think about the film La La Land which was a critical and commercial smash. What was the message of that film? The entire film was based on the idea that two people in love can’t make it, that you can’t have deep love and successfully pursue your dream. You always have to choose between your career and true, deep, “movie love.” A lot of people accept that idea and it’s so limiting. There’s room for more than one passion in our lives. It’s a beautiful thing to have two people that are passionate about each other, passionate about their work, and passionately support each other. To me, that’s a happy ending, or perhaps better put, a happy beginning. I wanted to show that the best relationships help us to become more, not less. I hope the ending reminds readers that they needn’t settle for low-fat love in any area of their lives.

The character Tash Daniels first appeared in your debut novel Low-Fat Love and then resurfaced as the protagonist in your novel, Blue. Film can definitely be read on its own or as a sequel to Blue. What made you want to revisit this character?

I never desired to revisit any of my characters or write a sequel to any of my novels until I finished Blue. I knew there was another story to tell, Tash’s LA story. Tash grew significantly as a person from Low-Fat Love to Blue, but she had further to go to recognize her privilege, develop healthy relationships, and continue to create her identity as an artist and woman. I wanted to go on that journey with her and based on emails I received from readers, I knew that others wanted to as well.

I’m sure fans who love your work will want to know, is this the last book Tash will appear in?

I’ve learned that you never know, so I can’t completely rule it out, however, I would be surprised if she appeared as a primary character in another book. I’ve told her story in a way that feels complete to me. Readers are free to imagine how her story continues. I will say though that writing this character has been one of the great privileges of my life. It’s just been a joy. Ironically, when I wrote Low-Fat Love I didn’t like Tash. She represented things I observed over the years with students or interviewees that had frustrated me. I never thought I would write a book in which she was the protagonist, but when I started writing Blue, for some reason I turned to her. I’m so glad I did. After following her through three novels I’ve perhaps learned more from her than any of my other characters.

What have you learned from Tash?

That we can each do better. Who we were, doesn’t dictate who we are. I also think despite some of her rough edges, she’s an incredible friend. My friendships are important to me and I try to prioritize the people who matter most to me. Tash has reminded me over the years how important it is to show people that you get them and to appreciate those people who get you. She’s also been a constant reminder that all problems are relative. Many of us face challenges in our day-to-day lives, but at the same time, we may benefit from great privilege. It’s important not to lose sight of that. Perhaps more than anything, she’s taught me to try to enjoy the ride, enjoy the process, and just have fun with it all. Things don’t always turn out the way we want them to, but if we can find some joy and courage along the way, we’re in good shape. Above all, Tash and all of the characters in her life remind me that we are possibilities. I think about that every day and my life is better for it.

Lu and Monroe are equally compelling characters. Can you talk a little about them without giving too much away?

I love both of these characters. I would want them in my life. While my story is very different from hers, I relate to Lu. I think a lot of people grow up feeling like a misfit in their childhood family and like they don’t quite fit in. Lu had to learn to take care of herself and pursue her dreams through hard work. There’s a line that says she learned early on a girl with a dream is on her own in the world. That’s an important part of her story and the book as a whole. Lu is definitely someone I’d want in my circle. She’s clever and quick with her wit, she’s a loyal friend, she has an incredible work ethic, and she loves music without getting too preoccupied with external ideas of success. Art matters to her. She’s the real-deal and a total boss. Monroe is someone who could be written off as a typical beautiful and wealthy LA blonde, but she’s far more complex. Peeling back her layers was enormously satisfying. I don’t want to give too much away but I see her as an unlikely feminist, much like her idol Marilyn Monroe. She represents the shadow side of dreams, but also the possibilities. I have a deep respect for both of these women.

Do you have a favorite character in Film?

I truly love all of the characters, more so than in anything else I’ve written. I wrote the book partly because of Lu’s storyline. That was a story I long wanted to tell. I had envisioned Tash and Lu as the two main protagonists. But during the writing process, Monroe became a more significant character than I had originally intended. I fell madly in love with her and did quite a bit of research while telling her story. I’m fascinated by her and as an author, I’m extremely proud of how her character was written. She’s definitely my favorite. She’s my favorite character I’ve ever written.


Settings play an important role in your novels. Your first three novels are set primarily in New York City. Your last novel, Spark, is set in Iceland. How did you choose Los Angeles as the setting for Film?

The decision was really made when I wrote the ending to Blue, and the protagonist, Tash, was moving to LA to pursue filmmaking. Settings are an important part of novels both for their physical, material realities and also for how they represent ideas and even mood. Film is very much about the pursuit of dreams, and LA is considered the city of dreams. This is no more true than for those in creative, artistic fields. The art of film itself is important in the book and LA is the center of cinema. The book could only take place in LA. There’s a mood or tone that LA provides, too. It’s bright, sunny, and sparkling on the surface, but the darker undersides of dreams lurk beneath. 

Themes of sexual harassment and assault serve as a subtext to the novel. Did the #MeToo movement influence the writing?


I decided to write Film before the recent iteration of the #MeToo movement had begun. Themes of sexual harassment and assault were always going to be a part of the subtext of the narrative. The #MeToo movement is responding to what women have long been dealing with, so the issues aren’t new. That said, I definitely felt a timeliness to the novel I hadn’t originally anticipated and I do think it influenced the writing and some of my choices. All three of the protagonists have experienced sexual harassment that has negatively impacted their professional lives, limited their career options, made them feel unsafe, and influenced their personality and mindset. These issues have profound effects on people’s lives and are shockingly common, as #MeToo suggests. I hope Film highlights what it’s like for women and how far we have to go.


In addition to your work as a novelist, you’re a well-known, award-winning sociologist. How, if at all, did that impact the writing?


We all have different worldviews or lenses available to us based on our backgrounds. My sociological perspective is a lens I bring to bear on everything I do and experience, whether it’s how I interpret a television show I’m watching or how I write a novel. My sociological background is a part of my blueprint or filter, it’s a part of how I make sense of the world, and I bring those insights to bear in my creative writing. How I use that lens might differ across books based on the topic, but it’s always there in the way I understand relationships, popular culture, how people’s lives play out in larger environments. I can’t turn off this lens anymore than one can turn off the filter of their education, or religion, or personal experiences. As fiction writers, I think it’s best to embrace what we bring to the table because it helps create our signature style.


This is an exquisitely written novel. You used flashbacks and other literary devices extremely well. Can you describe your writing choices?


Thank you. I truly love this book so that means the world to me. I’ve used different literary devices in my novels based on my goals. I try to use tools that reinforce the major themes. In Film, the characters are looking back in order to understand their present and to move forward. Flashbacks facilitated that. I also wanted an unfolding over the course of the novel, where you peel back layers for each character and learn more about her as the novel progresses. Flashbacks were the ideal vehicle.


Do you always know where you’re going as you begin writing? What’s your creative process like?


I always know the general theme and the major plot points, typically including the last line of the book. I also know the storyline to various degrees, but not necessarily every scene. Sometimes a scene is needed that you didn’t anticipate or something needs to be reordered. It’s important to be open because it’s a process of discovery. What I never know in advance is how multiple themes will develop or how a theme will be reinforced across characters. In other words, the layers of meaning that build, the unfolding that happens, is always a surprise. It’s what keeps me in love with the creative writing process. It’s in those layers of meaning that beauty occurs. Writing fiction is truly a process of discovery, and if you’re open to it, magical moments happen. The best aspects of my novels weren’t planned, rather they came into being through this process. This was very much the case with Film.


What’s your favorite part of writing a novel?


There are some days when you’re in the zone and it’s just flowing out of you. When that happens, you write things you didn’t expect to write. It’s an incredible process of discovery. All of a sudden these beautiful lines comes out that you can’t believe you wrote. Layers of meaning start to develop beyond what you had planned. For example, there may be connections between the characters that you hadn’t planned, or words and phrasing that reappear, and it all further builds meaning into the narrative. It’s an incredible experience. This is the best of the creative experience for me. It’s magical. You can’t plan it and it doesn’t always happen. But if you are disciplined about writing, you’ll get more of these days and you’ll be ready for them when they happen.


What’s your least favorite part of writing a novel?


Finishing a novel is incredibly emotional. The more I love a novel, the greater the sense of loss when it’s done. You know when you get up the next day, you won’t be entering this imaginary world and seeing what your friends are up to. There’s a real sense of loss. It was the hardest with Film because it wrapped up a decade of writing about one character.


Do you have a favorite part of Film?


I love the chapter endings. As a writer, chapter endings have become really important to me and a part of my personal style. I worked hard on the chapter endings for my last novel, Spark, and felt it made a huge difference in the book. I took everything I’d learned and applied it writing the chapter endings in Film and I’m pleased with the result.


Maybe your response about chapter endings already answered it, but what do you think you excel at as a novelist?


Well, chapter endings, yes, I think I’ve gotten pretty good at those. But overall, I guess I would say I feel confident about the way I write the soufflé bits, you know, the light, airy parts. All of my novels deal with some heavy topics and usually, at least in part, portray characters suffering in isolation. You need to counterbalance that. So the scenes of fun dialogue between characters, the playful teasing and witty banter between friends and lovers, all of that becomes important in creating a quick read, even though there’s substance. I think I’m good at attending to the soufflé and I have the most fun writing those scenes. Readers often comment on the dialogue, remarking they enjoyed it and found it relatable. I feel good about that.


Over the years you’ve spoken a lot about the publishing side of life as an author. Did you feel pressure writing Film after the success of earlier books?


I try not to think that way and rather focus on the work and making the best art I can make. I can’t control how people respond to my work. I can only control how I feel about what I’ve done. I’m a human being so of course there are moments when thoughts of how readers or my publisher will feel creep into my mind, but I try to let them go. All of that is distraction and can be harmful to the creative process. I try to view any previous success not as a benchmark, but rather as a gift because it provided the opportunity to do it again. I take each book contract seriously and feel deep gratitude for the opportunity without expectation that it will happen again. Likewise, I don’t take readers for granted. I’m grateful each time a reader chooses to spend their time and resources on my work.


What about how your work is labelled? You wrote three novels that were often described as women’s fiction or chick-lit. Then your last novel, Spark, was a real departure. If Spark were to be categorized as genre fiction, perhaps it would fall into the adventure category. Or perhaps it defies genres and would best be understood as literary fiction. With Film you’ve returned to the genre you’re best known for. Do you consider Film women’s fiction or chick-lit or what do you make of these categories?


I’m so glad you asked this because it highlights how work by women authors is often regarded. There are many novels I’ve read by women that feature female protagonists. For these reasons alone they’re often labeled “women’s fiction” or “chick-lit.” Whereas male authors who write male protagonists aren’t saddled with “men’s fiction” or “dude-lit.” We simply consider that work fiction, whether it’s popular or literary fiction, also a problematic dualism. The assumption is clear: male characters are somehow universal and female characters are not. Of course this creates all kinds of cultural issues because we should all be exposed to many people’s stories– it’s broadening and critical to developing empathy across differences. Last summer I read multiple novels by two women novelists, all featuring female characters. One author’s work is labeled “chick-lit” and the other is labeled “literary fiction.” I think either could fit into either category. It’s merely how others have labeled their work, or if they’re lucky, how they’ve been able to have it categorized. And that’s really my point. Who is doing the labeling? How does that limit audience? How does it affect book reviews, awards, grants, and other professional opportunities? Women’s work often isn’t considered for significant recognition because it has been labeled as “women’s fiction” which is viewed as lesser than “literary fiction.” To me, this seems quite convenient for the male dominated publishing industry. Ironically, women buy more books. Yet their stories are not held in as high regard. And the idea of literary fiction itself is arguably misleading. Can’t any novel have literary value? In terms of my own work, I’ve always allowed people to label it as they choose. I’m not terribly concerned about it and I respect “women’s fiction” so I don’t see it as a slight. But that doesn’t meant there isn’t a larger issue at play.


What’s next for you? Any more novels underway?


I can’t share the details yet because I want it to be a surprise, but I have a very special collection coming out in a matter of months. Let’s just say it will cap off a decade of my work as a novelist. It’s meant to be something special for new and old readers. Other than that, I’m working on a few nonfiction books. I wanted to take a break from fiction after releasing back-to-back novels, but an idea I had many years ago started taking over my mind. It became fully baked and I just had to start writing. So yes, although it wasn’t planned, I’m writing another novel. I plan to take my time with it. It’s quite different from the recent ones. It’s dark.



Patricia’s Novels:


Film at Amazon:


Spark at Amazon:


Low-Fat Love at Amazon:


Blue at Amazon:


American Circumstance at Amazon:


Learn More about Patricia Leavy:




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