Meagan Lucas came to writing just four years ago through her postpartum depression and the ready outlet of personal blogging. But when people actually began reading her writing, Lucas experienced a different kind of trauma.
“When you write personal essays or creative nonfiction, it’s very naked,” Lucas said. “People end up knowing things about you personally that it was starting to make me uncomfortable. I wanted to try something different that would explore some of those same ideas, but protected people that I love.”
Lucas turned to fiction, which did nothing to stem public attention. Over the past few years, a couple small journals published and awarded her short fiction. A few months ago, she became a published novelist with the title “Songbirds and Stray Dogs.”
“It’s a lovesong to the South,” she said.
Lucas is reading from her work the morning of Dec. 7 at the Center for Art and Inspiration in Hendersonville. As with much of her fiction, Lucas drew on her own profile to cast her central character, named Jolene.
“Jolene and I are motivated very similarly,” Lucas said. “We have a heroine—she’s plain-looking, not particularly attractive, she’s heavy, she has crooked teeth, and nothing has come easy for her, so she leads this life of service, because that’s where she sees her self-value.”
Lucas is a native Canadian. Her husband got a job that brought the couple to Hendersonville 10 years ago, and Lucas joined the English department at A-B Tech. But it wasn’t until after the birth of her now 6-year-old son that Lucas got serious about writing. She began blogging and found a community of writers through that platform. When she migrated to fiction, those writers became her critique circle.
“Childhood sexual abuse is something I wanted to write about, to process it,” she said. “I’ve also had struggles with the church. My family is still in the church but I am not. It’s easier for me to come at those things in a fiction way, sort of biggest lies to get a bigger truth than to point fingers at people from my past.”
Lucas wrote a short story about a high school friend who had died as an adult from a drug overdose and another about a woman who died in police custody. After moving to Hendersonville, she deliberately absorbed the voices and inflections of longtime locals so she could imbue her writing with a regional authenticity.
“You hear someone say ‘hain’t’ or ‘Lord o’ mercy,’ and you’re like ‘Oh, I need to write that down,” Lucas said. “I live here. I listen to people talk and, for the most part, dialog just came out from being a good listener.”
Still, her evolution as a writer came with growing pains. She spent two years working on a novel she later shelved after some candid feedback from her writing group.
“The first number of meetings, I went home crying. It’s your baby, it’s your work. It feels really personal and then people don’t like it. It’s terrible, it’s like somebody calling your baby ugly,” Lucas said. “I can’t even tell you thankful I am that those people were honest with me about my work. It’s helped me improve greatly and it’s created this sort of thick skin. Working writers have to be willing to be rejected and willing to have people tell you they don’t like it.”
Lucas said suffering from imposter syndrome kept her from seeking an agent for “Songbirds and Stray Dogs.” Instead, she paid a small fee for a Charlotte publisher called Main Street Rag to read her manuscript, and they offered to publish it.
“This sort of Southern Appalachian female perspective is one I don’t see enough of on a bookshelf,” she said. “If you take Wiley (Cash) and David Joy and Ron Rash even Mr. (Charles) Frazier and all those writers I love, you don’t see a lot of women.”