2013-08-02 / People

Sociologist’s novel studies appearances

By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer

Patricia Leavy Patricia Leavy KENNEBUNK — Patricia Leavy, founder and editor of the Social Fictions Series, has released a second novel.

“American Circumstance” explores appearances versus reality — “how our lives and relationships look to other people versus what we’re experiencing behind closed doors,” Leavy said.

Leavy, a Kennebunk resident, received her bachelor’s in sociology from Boston University before receiving her master’s and PhD, also in sociology, from Boston College.

“I found a back-door way to becoming an author,” Leavy said. “I think I’ve taken one actual writing course in my entire life.”

After earning her PhD, Leavy taught sociology classes at Boston College, Northeastern University, and Curry College.

Most recently Leavy was a tenured Associate Professor at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass. from 2002 to 2012 where she taught a variety of sociology classes.

During her life as an academic, Leavy published myriad academic articles, a dozen nonfiction books, and interviewed about 500 women about various individual experiences and topics.

“No one reads the academic articles, because most people don’t find them interesting,” said Leavy. “So, basically I took everything I had learned over the years and spun it into a novel,” Leavy said of her first novel, and the first novel in the Social Fictions series, “Low-Fat Love.”

“Low-Fat Love” explores women’s identity development in the context of popular culture, Leavy said.

“The characters in “Low-Fat Love” and in “American Circumstance” are written entirely as fiction but it’s really underscored with what I have learned over the years,” Leavy said.

When “Low-Fat Love” was initially published, “I didn’t know what to do with it; I was just an academic,” Leavy said.

“Low-Fat Love” was printed in 2011, and by 2012 it was her publisher’s top-selling book.

Bolstered by the success of her first novel, Leavy said the idea for the Social Fiction Series, which has since become a compilation of novels written by researchers from varying academic fields, came from the idea of using arts-based research.

Essentially arts-based research is used to make what many consider to be dry topics, interesting. In the case of the Social Fictions series, contributors who are also researchers write fiction that is informed by social research and produced in the form of novels, plays, poetry or short stories.

“How the idea (for the series) came about is, as a sociologist, what I do is arts-based research: researchers in different fields — sociology, medical, psychology — they turn to the arts in order to make their work more engaging for the public,” Leavy said.

Leavy is now the editor for the Social Fictions series. Unlike most literary compilations, the series has no joint theme.

“What all the pieces have in common is that they are written by professors who do this research,” Leavy said.

In the year since she stopped teaching and began writing her second novel, Leavy left the Boston area and relocated to Kennebunk.

While writing “American Circumstance,” Leavy joined an adult authors’ group at Kennebunk Free Library.

“The best thing I did was join that local writing group in Kennebunk; it is one of the best things I’ve done in my life,” Leavy said. “Every word of that second novel had gone through at least one member of the group. I think it’s the best thing I ever wrote, and it’s completely due to that group,” Leavy said.

When asked which genre she groups her novels into Leavy said, “chick-lit.”

“They’re meant to be fun, easy reads that you could take to, say the beach; but as you’re reading them you I hope people see that they’re more dimensional and more substantial,” Leavy said.

“One radio host once told me that my two novels are like dried fruit that are put into water and then they start to come to life,” said Leavy.

“I think a lot of women place a lot of their identity in their relationships as opposed to in themselves. And I think a lot of women fall into that without realizing what that could take away from their lives,” said Leavy. “Relationships are important. One of my goals has been to give women a positive mirror.”

In her effort to appeal to a wide range of women with her writing while also being informative, Leavy said she tries to dismantle certain stereotypes.

In “American Circumstance” the three protagonists, all women in their 40s, live in New York City. It examines issues such as the effects of wealth, social class, social perception, and gender and the impact thee issues have on one’s life and relationships.

Said Leavy, “I hope people can see something in the characters and then see that in their own lives.”

“American Circumstance” is available on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and SensePublishers.com.

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