Wednesday, October 21, 2020

An Exclusive Interview with Renowned Novelist Patricia Leavy about Shooting Stars

Patricia Leavy, Ph.D., is an independent sociologist and best-selling author. She has published over 30 books, earning critical and commercial success in both nonfiction and fiction, and her work has been translated into numerous languages. She is also the creator and editor for ten book series with Oxford University Press, Brill/Sense, and Guilford Press, the co-founder and co-editor-in-chief of Art/Research International: A Transdisciplinary Journal, and a blogger for various outlets.

In addition to numerous honors 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 release, Shooting Stars, is an epic love story about how love can help us heal from past trauma. 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 many times over the years. We recently had a chance to chat about her stunning new novel. The back cover describes the novel as follows:

Tess Lee is a novelist. Her inspirational books explore people’s innermost struggles and the human need to believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Despite her extraordinary success, she’s been unable to find personal happiness. Jack Miller is a federal agent. After spending decades immersed in a violent world, a residue remains. He’s dedicated everything to his job, leaving nothing for himself. The night Tess and Jack meet, their connection is palpable. She examines the scars on his body and says, “I’ve never seen anyone whose outsides match my insides.” The two embark on an epic love story that asks the questions: What happens when people truly see each other? Can unconditional love change the way we see ourselves? Their friends are along for the ride: Omar, Tess’s sarcastic best friend who mysteriously calls her Butterfly; Joe, Jack’s friend from the Bureau who understands the sacrifices he’s made; and Bobby, Jack’s younger friend who never fails to lighten the mood. Shooting Stars is a novel about walking through our past traumas, moving from darkness to light, and the ways in which love – from lovers, friends, or the art we experience – heals us. Written as unfolding action, Shooting Stars is a poignant novel that moves fluidly between melancholy, humor, and joy.

Congratulations! Shooting Stars is being heralded as “beautiful,” “resonant,” “haunting,” “one of the grandest love stories of all time,” and your “most powerful work to date.”

Thank you so much. I truly love this book more than anything I’ve ever written before and if anyone else does too, that’s the icing on the cake. This novel came directly from my soul.

Please describe Shooting Stars.

It’s a love story. Really it’s a love letter to love itself. Love in all its forms—for our lovers, friends, country, art. It explores love and healing, darkness and light.

This novel is a departure for you. It’s your first love story. What inspired you to write it?

When I was about ten years old I first thought in a serious way that I wanted to be a writer. I tried writing a novel at the time, but of course I was ten so it didn’t pan out. But it was always an epic kind of love story between people who help each other heal. By the time I actually became a professional author I had long ago abandoned the idea. Then one day Shooting Stars came to me in a burst. It’s very different from how my other novels have materialized. Usually I stew on the idea for a while and then spend a year or two drafting it. Shooting Stars came to me quickly and I wrote the entire first draft in about ten days. I barely slept, I didn’t respond to emails, and if anyone spoke to me, I’m sure I didn’t hear a word they said. I was completely immersed, more so than with anything before. Honestly, it’s the novel I wanted to read. That’s why I wrote it.

Wow. You would never know reading it how quickly you wrote the first draft. What was the writing process like and what kinds of literary choices did you make?

I spent every moment, day and night, mentally in this story-world. It was completely immersive and wholly engaging. It was an emotional, cathartic experience. While the characters are fictional, I drew on personal experiences and deep wells of feelings. It was the best and most challenging writing experience and one I doubt I’ll ever have again. The writing process itself was also completely different this time around. Typically I write some degree of an outline and I write the novel in chronological order. This one I viewed as scenes and that’s how I wrote it, completely out of order. In fact the last chapter in the book is the first one I wrote, then I skipped around to the middle, and the first chapter was the last chapter I wrote. I also didn’t draw on some of the literary devices I’ve used in the past. There’s no interior monologue in the entire book nor are there any flashbacks. I wanted readers to experience these characters as they experience each other, together and in real-time through their interactions and dialogue. Most of my novels also follow a three-part structure, but this one doesn’t. There are short chapters and there’s a chapter that’s the longest chapter I’ve ever written in a novel. The lengthy chapter follows the protagonist through a depression and I wanted it to unfold the way that experience does in real life. Moreover, the novel is fifteen chapters plus an epilogue and the major conflict or turning point of the book doesn’t happen until chapter 10, which is further than in most novels. The structure of this novel is completely organic.

The protagonist, Tess Lee, is a novelist. Did you draw inspiration from your own experience?

In some ways Tess is a character you are more likely to meet in a novel than in real life. She’s one of the most successful novelists in the world, her novels are adapted into films, she’s built an empire that truly is like no other, and she has a slew of famous friends. So she’s very much a larger than life, imaginative character. That said, I did draw on my experience both as a writer and as someone navigating the publishing world. I took some of my feelings about writing and sharing what could be termed “inspirational fiction” as well as my experience in publishing negotiations and I transplanted them into Tess, imagining what it might be like for someone in her position.

Tess and Jack are wonderful characters. They have a truly beautiful relationship. How do you see them?

There’s a saying that ‘hurt people hurt people’ but sometimes that’s not the case. Sometimes people in pain are able to love others in extraordinary ways, and they only hurt themselves, until the unconditional love of those who truly see them, allows them to move through their pain. The love between Tess and Jack is beautiful, pure, and unconditional. They see each other.

The relationship between Tess and her best friend Omar is equally beautiful. I love how Omar calls her “Butterfly.” What would you like to say about their friendship?

Thank you. The friendship between Tess and Omar is actually my favorite relationship in any of my novels. I adore these characters. They’re wickedly funny with one another, but also endlessly giving. They understand and support one another. Near the end we find out why he calls her Butterfly. It’s one of my favorite moments in the book.

Your novels usually center on female characters. Other than Tess, all the main characters in Shooting Stars are male.

Popular culture is filled with examples of toxic masculinity, and I wanted to create just the opposite. The characters in this novel represent several different versions of masculinity that are strong, compassionate, loving, and nurturing. These are wonderful men.

What’s your favorite thing about this novel?

The characters. They are genuinely good people, trying to do some good in the world, as they try to love one another and themselves. They make me laugh and cry. I’ve so enjoyed spending my days in their world. They’ve touched me deeply and are forever in my heart.

The last chapter of the book is absolutely gorgeous and then the epilogue comes and it’s a “wow.” It was beautiful and deeply satisfying.

Thank you so much.As I mentioned earlier,I didn’t write this book in order. In fact when I wrote it I couldn’t even number the chapters because I didn’t know how many there would be or the precise order, so I labeled each file things like “cereal scene” or “cake scene” and I only put it together at the end. I wrote the last chapter first. I’m really proud of the writing in that chapter and the messages. If I had to pick one thing I’ve ever written and say it’s my favorite, it would be that chapter. As a reader, it would appeal to me.

It’s remarkable, too, because in that last chapter there are wickedly funny moments of dialogue and also profound, painful moments, and it all works seamlessly.

Thank you.

What do you hope readers take away from this book?

Healing is possible. Love is possible. Healing is possible if we let love into our lives, whether that love comes from friends who get us, lovers who truly see us, or the art we make or experience, like a song, a movie, or even a novel.

Who is the audience for Shooting Stars?

Anyone can read it. I don’t think anyone escapes this life without some kind of pain. This novel shows how a couple of people make the journey from darkness to light. I think that’s something we can all relate to. Of course if you happen to enjoy a love story or stories about friendship, it’s definitely for you.

The love story between Tess and Jack is truly epic. Will you write more books about them?

Sometimes when I complete a novel I feel like I can say goodbye to the characters and imagine them as I left them. Other times, I know the next chapter. That was the case with this book. I’ve already written four more volumes, all of which I love as much as the original, if not more. I’m not sure when we’ll release them. Stay tuned! Each Tess Lee and Jack Miller novel explores love at the intersection of another theme; in Shooting Stars the theme I explore is love and healing. The next book explores love and doubt. The series as a whole creates a huge love letter to love, in all its forms.

Buy Shooting Stars on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/900443934X/ref=nav_timeline_asin?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1

Buy Shooting Stars from the Publisher (Brill):  https://brill.com/view/title/58920?rskey=q2uaue&result=1

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