Exclusive Interview with Author Meagan Lucas
What made you want to become a writer?
David Foster Wallace has been quoted as saying: “good fiction comforts the disturbed, and disturbs the comfortable.” I’ve always been a reader – books were a safe place for me, an escape. But I came to writing at the suggestion of my therapist as a way to survive postpartum depression. There is something universal about stories that allow us to connect with each other, and empathize deeply. I found that when I started writing, I was able to express the feelings that I was burying inside, and that when they saw the light, more people than I’d imagined understood how I was feeling. I wasn’t alone, after all. I also have found comfort in being able to use my little voice to draw attention to issues that are important to me through my writing.
Do you write alone or in public?
I have children, so I am capable of getting work done with background noise, but most of my writing happens in private. I like to talk out my dialogue (I think the ear hears it better than the eye sees it), and pace, and these things are better done alone.
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author?
Constructive criticism doesn’t hurt me. When my peers or editors give me feedback on how to improve, I gobble it up. I want to be the best at this that I can, and I want to grow, and sometimes that stings.
However, I do sort of live in fear of bad reviews, because as a debut author I know that people are taking a chance on me, and I want them to be glad they tried my book - not disappointed. I value the readers time and money and appreciate their support deeply. But I’m learning to recognize that not every book is for every person – Songbirds has been criticized for being too gritty, AND not gritty enough – and that I read plenty of books that I don’t love, but that doesn’t mean they are bad, they just weren’t for me.
I think, honestly, the hardest thing for me to hear as an author is that someone would write a book “if they just had time,” as if *time* was what separated someone with a book, from someone without. No one says they’d take up heart surgery or rocket science if “they just had time.” Most of my favorite writers are also teachers, or lawyers, or whatever; and parents, or they take care of their parents or grand-kids. No one has extra time laying around. Those kind of comments feel to me like they diminish the craft of writing, and my accomplishment because they ignore the work, the drive and perseverance necessary to be successful at writing.
What has been the best compliment?
In general – I love when people tell me how real what I write feels for them. That it made them feel less alone, or that I captured something they’ve felt perfectly, or I’ve enabled them to imagine something they never thought they would be able to. My brother is a social worker who specializes in addictions, and I especially love when he tells me I got it right. For Songbirds and Stray Dogs, it’s a tie – “I’ve never felt for characters the way I felt for these,” and “I couldn’t put it down.”
What do you love most about the writing process?
Making something – people, places, stories that feel real, out of just my imagination – it’s creating, giving birth, magic. There is nothing more powerful than being able to make someone feel something, with just my thoughts.
Do you have a day job in addition to being a writer? If so, what do you do during the day?
I do. I teach English Composition at a Technical Community College. I have the privilege of working with a variety of learners and guiding them through the crafting of a persuasive essay. I’m also the Fiction Editor for Barren Magazine. Both roles feed my writing by keeping me in contact with fascinating people.
What are some common traps for aspiring writers?
Oh man, this is a great question.
- Thinking that everything they write will be publishable. Writing really is more work than one ever imagines at the beginning. You will leave thousands of pages on the floor. But you have to do the work to get better.
- Being a jerk, especially to people you think are below you in the pecking order. Using other writers for their connections/help. We remember who helped us, and who made us feel small, and the writing world is tiny – you never know who knows who, or who is going to be the next big thing. Just be kind and as helpful as you can to everyone.
- Being too sensitive. Thinking that what they do is “special” in that if people don’t like it, it’s the reader’s closed mind, and not that the piece needs work. Or, thinking that people are only critical because they are jealous, or trying to hurt you. Criticism is almost never personal, and I’ve found that if people take the time to give you feedback, they really do want to help you.
- Not reading constantly. If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the tools to write.
- Fear and laziness are your biggest enemies. Stop worrying about what other people think. Never stop working.
Does a big ego help or hurt writers?
My husband tells me that there is an innate narcissism in writers, in that we believe whatever we are creating is worth someone else’s time. We have to believe that we have something to say, and I get that. Also, as a writer, you’re going to hear “no” a lot. It helps to be confident enough in yourself and your craft that this doesn’t break you. However, you also need to be able to set that ego aside in the pursuit of being better, and you can always be better.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Children. Lol. Being interrupted. Sometimes that’s by outside sources, like kids or responsibilities. Sometimes it’s by my inability to keep my ass in the chair.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
I don’t think being a writer is about the strength of emotions. I’m not a particularly dramatic person. I’ve been called a “cold bitch” a lot. I think the most helpful personality trait that a writer could have is being naturally observant. It’s important to pay attention to how people act, react, talk and move, to see and hear nuance, to remember the right details. Tenacity helps, too.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Stop being so afraid of what everyone thinks.
What does literary success look like to you?
Honestly, I’ve never really thought I’d have a book with my name on it on a shelf in a store, so that feels like success right now. But I suppose what I’m working towards is being able to support myself financially doing this – that would be really nice. I love teaching, but it takes a lot of time and energy away from my writing.
How many hours a day do you spend writing?
I don’t write every day. I used to, and I was my most productive – word-count, and publication wise – when I did. But life/bills/children get in the way. I do my best to schedule myself so that I have some blocks of time a couple of days a week. With 2 hrs I can really get something done. In 2020 I’d like to write 2,000 words a week. Good words, I should add.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
Sigh... yes. I shouldn’t. I know this. I try not to. But I am really interested in WHY someone does or doesn’t like my story, it makes me think about how I can do better next time. When one stings too much, I complain to some close friends, or my husband, and they offer to take out a hit, and I turn them down, but I feel better. I usually just try to remember books I love have terrible reviews too, and that helps.
What is the most difficult part of your creative process?
My stories always start with a character that I can’t forget, so for me, plotting against them is the hardest part. Putting them in danger, realizing that they aren’t going to get their greatest desire, hurting them, is hard. Without giving anything away, there is a character arc in Songbirds who made me cry and cry. I sobbed for like a week. But the story is better for that decision.
I also prefer stories with messy ambiguous endings, but I know that not everyone feels that way. So, I have to work hard to craft my endings in ways that leave me, and the reader, satisfied.
What are five books you love?
JUST FIVE? These are 5 that I feel like have influenced my work:
- Bastard Out of Carolina – D. Allison
- Child of God – C. McCarthy
- A Land More Kind Than Home – W. Cash
- Fair and Tender Ladies – L. Smith
- Saints at the River – R. Rash
How did you first fall in love with books?
I grew up in Northern Canada, and I’m not outdoorsy. I dislike snow/ice/being cold. So, reading was always a refuge – first physically, and then emotionally. I’m a nerdy, introspective sort of melancholy person, and I always felt like I had more in common with the characters in my books, than most of the people in my life. My fifth grade teacher, Mr. Cambridge, read novels aloud to us and it was my favorite part of the school day. I think I realized then the power of words on a page.
What book or books are you planning to read soon?
I have 200+ books in my TBR pile, so... (Don’t tell my husband!) But, I plan to read only female authors for at least the first three months of 2020, perhaps the first half. I’d also really like to read more women of color, I’m working on that. The Need, Disappearing Earth, and Inland are the first three on my list. Steph Post is completing her Judah Cannon trilogy with Holding Smoke coming out in January, so I’ll likely reread Lightwood and Walk in the Fire to prepare.
Have you ever read anything that made you think differently about fiction/nonfiction?
Coyote Songs by Gabino Iglesias blew my mind. It doesn’t have a traditional novel structure and a good portion of it is in Spanish – which I don’t read, I struggled through leaning on my French (I grew up in Canada) and Google translate, but still. I bought like 5 copies and gave it to every reader in my life. For me, it stretched what a novel could be, AND what it could do. It was fresh and moving and made me want to be better/braver.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
You know, when I first read William Gay, I thought he was too derivative of Cormac McCarthy, but he grew on me. My feelings for most authors move the other way, however. I fall in love quickly, hot and fast, but then end up lukewarm by the end of a novel. I’m going to start a war with this admission, but that’s how I feel about Larry Brown at the moment. Previously, I’d only read a few short stories and I thought he was wonderful. Southern. Gritty. Right up my alley. I just finished Tiny Love and I’m kind of grossed out by how women are portrayed in his body of work. I’m pretty sure I know what the breasts of every woman in the entire book look like, which, sigh...
Who are your favorite writers?
Oh god. I’m only going to name writers with multiple books that I love, otherwise this list is too long, but: Flannery O’Connor, Ron Rash, David Joy, Taylor Brown, Lee Smith, George Singleton, Dorothy Allison, Michael Farris Smith, Steph Post, Gabino Iglesias, Margaret Atwood, Crystal Wilkinson, Silas House…
End of interview
Meagan Lucas is the author of Songbirds and Stray Dogs (Main Street Rag, 2019). Her short work has appeared in: The Santa Fe Writer’s Project, The New Southern Fugitives, Still: The Journal, and The Blue Mountain Review among others. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and she won the 2017 Scythe Prize for Fiction. Taylor Brown says Meagan is: “a brave new voice in Southern Fiction,” and Steph Post describes Meagan as: “the very definition of a badass, female grit lit author.” Meagan teaches English Composition at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, and is the Fiction Editor at Barren Magazine. She lives with her husband and children in Hendersonville, NC. Read more, or connect with Meagan on Social Media, here: https://linktr.ee/meaganlucas