Read this: Living a Big Life in Patricia Leavy’s Candy Floss Collection

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Want to read about living a big life? One that is honest, searching, and includes relatable characters? One of our favorite authors, Patricia Leavy, is back with a collection of 3 novels, re-released in her new book, Candy Floss Collection. We love–and highly recommend–it!

Read this: Living a Big Life in Patricia Leavy’s Candy Floss Collection

We were lucky enough to catch up with Leavy to talk about her book, writing, and more. Here’s what she had to say…

Blue: Identity, Self, and Possibility - an interview with Dr. Patricia Leavy

Please tell is about your book, Candy Floss Collection. 

Candy Floss Collection is a set of three previously released novels: Low-Fat Love, Blue, and Film. Together these novels create an overarching message about what it truly means to live a “big life” and the kinds of relationships we need with others and ourselves along the way. This is not a traditional trilogy. This collection can be understood as installation art. We follow each female protagonist and cast of offbeat characters as they search for love, friendship, and a sense of self. The characters must learn to mind the gap between their lives as they are and as they wish them to be, to chase their dreams even as they stumble on their insecurities, and to never settle for low-fat love. Along the way, characters are imaged in the glow of television and movie screens, their own stories shaped and illuminated by the stories in pop culture. Set in contemporary New York and Los Angeles, with special tributes to 1980s pop culture, each novel questions and celebrates the ever-changing cultural landscape against which we live our stories, frame by frame. 

Even if someone has read the novels as standalones, I hope they will pick up the collection. The novels have each been revised and there’s a new preface and afterword. Beyond those revisions and additions, there are nuances in each novel that are signposted in the others—so you see more, when you read them as a collection. Moreover, there is a larger story and message—an arc— that is only revealed when all three are experienced chronologically.

Tell us about each of these novels.

Low-Fat Love unfolds over three seasons as Prilly Greene and Janice Goldwyn, adversarial editors at a New York press, experience personal change relating to the men (and absence of women) in their lives. Ultimately, each woman is pushed to confront her own image of herself, exploring her insecurities, the stagnation in her life, her attraction to men who withhold their support, and her reasons for having settled for low-fat love. Prilly lives between who she is and who she longs to be. She falls for Pete Rice, an unemployed, ever-sexy, curiously charming aspiring graphic novelist. Prilly thinks she is finally experiencing the “big” life she always sought but feared was beyond her grasp because she was “in the middle” (not beautiful or ugly, not greatly talented or totally hopeless – someone who could work for it). Pete’s unconventional, free-spirited views on relationships unsettle Prilly, ultimately causing her to unravel over the course of their on-again-off-again love affair. Meanwhile, Janice, a workaholic, feminist-in-name-only editor, overburdens Prilly, her underling, with busywork, and undercuts Prilly’s professional identity. Janice’s regimented life is set on a new course when her alcoholic father becomes injured in a car accident and she is forced to face her own demons. Along with Prilly and Janice, the cast of characters’ stories are interwoven throughout and eventually connected in the third and final section of the book. The offbeat characters include: Melville Wicket, Pete’s awkward friend who lives one beat outside the moment; Jacob, Melville’s younger, pothead brother; Kyle Goldwyn, Janice’s seventeen-year-old son, who appears ordinary in every way but is actually quite extraordinary; and Tash, Kyle’s wild-child, flighty, sexpot cousin who attends NYU and ends up dating Jacob. In the end, momentum builds as the characters struggle to escape the consequences of their decisions. Unexpected events cause changes in the characters that appear minor but carry significant implications for their futures. With a subtext about commercial pop culture, Low-Fat Love questions the cultural landscape against which we live our stories, day by day.

Blue follows three roommates as they navigate life and love in their post-college years. Tash Daniels, the former party girl, falls for deejay Aidan. Always attracted to the wrong guy, what will Tash do when the right one comes along? Jason Woo, a lighthearted model on the rise, uses the club scene as his personal playground. While he’s adept at helping Tash with her personal life, how does he deal with his own when he meets a man who defies his expectations? Penelope Brown, a reserved and earnest graduate student, slips under the radar but has a secret no one suspects. As the characters’ stories unfold, each is forced to confront their life choices or complacency and choose which version of themselves they want to be. Blue is a novel about identity, friendship, and figuring out who we are during the “in-between” phases of life. The book shines a spotlight on the friends and lovers who become our families in the fullest sense of the word, and the search for people who “get us.” The characters in Blue show how our interactions with people often bump up against backstage struggles of which we are unaware. Visual art, television, and film appear as signposts throughout the narrative, providing a context for how we each come to build our sense of self in the world. With a tribute to 1980s pop culture but set in contemporary New York, Blue both celebrates and questions the ever-changing cultural landscape against which we live our stories, frame by frame.

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 sexually 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. Tash struggles with staying invested in art-making when she has nothing but rejections to show for her efforts. She begins to spiral into old habits and question her path and identity. Lu and Paisley may be the perfect couple, but the idea of a perfect connection bewilders Lu. She has always pushed uncomfortable thoughts out of her mind, but when she enters Paisley’s world of close friends and family, Lu finally allows herself to remember her past. Monroe develops crippling insomnia as she begins to obsess over turning points in her youth and a painful revelation about her mother. 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 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.

What inspired you to write these novels?

I’m interested in women’s lives and relationships, our dreams and the struggles we find chasing them, and the notion of a “big life”—what that really looks like and feels like. I hope readers find these novels inspiring. I hope they remind readers that we are all possibilities and we can live many lives.

Why did you want to put them together as a collected work?

When I was writing Blue, the second novel, it became clear to me there was another story to tell and that I was actually creating a three-part installation. While each novel can be read on its own, together they create something larger than the sum of its parts. There are overarching messages about women’s lives, relationships, popular culture, and the pursuit of dreams. Putting this collection together completes a work, a decade of writing, and a lifetime of thinking about these topics. It’s my full artistic vision for these works. I took preparing this collection seriously. All three novels have been revised. I also created new front and back matter.

There’s a subtext about popular culture throughout this collection. Please talk about this.

Pop culture is active in our lives. The music we listen to, movies and television we watch, and so on, helps shape our identities, our perceptions of what relationships look like and feel like, and what a “big” life means. We have emotional connections to these things too. Our favorite song, movie, or television show matters to us. We don’t all select pop culture the same way nor does it impact each of us precisely the same way, but we are all influenced by what we consume. Pop culture may be toxic in our lives or it can help us illuminate our own stories or it may inspire us. So I take pop culture and our relationship to it seriously in all three novels. I use pop culture in different ways—as a series of signposts, metaphors, symbolism, and in order to move the plot forward. In Low-Fat Love, there’s a story about toxic commercial culture. In Blue, characters use pop culture to make sense of their own lives in positive ways. In Film, the pop culture the characters both experience and create, moves them along their journeys and arguably, saves them. Each novel has nods to the others, including specific pop culture references, images, and themes. For example, A-ha’s “Take on Me” comes up in Low-Fat Love, denoting a character’s self-esteem struggles, and then resurfaces in Film, as another character fully comes into her own. There’s an arc that’s illustrated via the pop culture references. There are numerous examples of references reappearing and taking on entirely new meanings, as the three novels illustrate a journey to self-actualization, which is why I’m so grateful to put them out in this collection.

How can educators use this book in the classroom?

The novels in this collection can be used to stimulate reflection and discussion on topics including relationships and relational communication, popular culture, sociology of gender, and general sociological themes. I envision this collection, like the individual novels, being used in courses in sociology, social work, communication, psychology, women’s studies, and perhaps other fields. I frequently Skype or Zoom into classes in which professors have adopted one of my novels as required reading to do Q&As. What I’ve learned from these experiences is that students really enjoy reading these kinds of novels as a change of pace from their other reading, they are able to tease out all kinds of scholarly themes related to their course work, and they engage deeply with the books so hopefully the learning lasts. Some students email me years later, still remembering details from one of the novels. The impressions last. The collection includes further engagement for classroom or book club use so hopefully professors can easily integrate it into their courses. For that matter, I think older high school students could get a lot out of these books.

What can general readers get out of this book?

These novels can easily be read at home, on an airplane, or at the beach. They’re meant to be light reads, with food for thought. There’s an emotional arc, from darkness to light, with Low-Fat Love being the most melancholy and Film the most joyful. These books are for everyone: readers of all ages and backgrounds. 

What’s up next for you?

I have new editions of a couple of my nonfiction works coming out soon. Beyond that, I’ve been more inspired than ever before. Creatively it’s been the best time of my life. With this collection I’m leaving the style and genre I’ve done in the past behind and moving on to new genres and new ways to write. I just finished writing four novels, my first serial. It’s an epic love story that’s about how we can heal from trauma by allowing love in our lives—from friends, lovers, and art. It’s a love letter to love itself, in all its forms. Each novel can be read on its own, but following the characters across all four allows you to see their full journey. Differing from my other novels, aside from the female protagonist, the other main characters are all male. It’s the most personal thing I’ve ever written. The style is completely different than my earlier novels as was my process for writing it, which was nonlinear, immersive, cathartic, and joyful. These novels all unfold in real-time, no interiority or flashbacks, so we experience the characters as they experience each other. I think the writing is both the most humorous and at times gut-wrenching of anything I’ve done before. I fell so in love with the characters that I just had to keep writing. Each novel deals with love and something else: love and healing, love and doubt, etc. And while four are complete, I can’t rule out more. The first of these love stories will probably be released in late summer. I can’t wait. 

Candy Floss Collection on Amazon:

Candy Floss Collection at Brill (use promo code 71176 for 25% off & free shipping in North America): 


More information:

Patricia Leavy, Ph.D., is an independent sociologist and best-selling author. She has published 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, Guilford Press, and Brill/Sense, the co-founder and co-editor-in-chief of Art/Research International: A Transdisciplinary Journal, and a blogger for numerous outlets. She is most widely known for her work advancing arts-based research and pioneering the social fictions concept and book series. Patricia has received numerous book awards as well as 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 the State University of New York-New Paltz established the “Patricia Leavy Award for Art and Social Justice.”