The Softer Side of Appalachia

Flat Rock author’s debut novel garners latest award 

The celebrated novelist at home.
Photo by Rachel Pressley

In the canon of Southern Appalachian fiction, Meagan Lucas makes for unlikely company. First and foremost, the Flat Rock-based novelist is a Canadian transplant who speaks without a lick of mountain drawl. But she’s also, well, a she. 

“For a long time, this world has been dominated by men,” Lucas says, rattling off a list of iconic male fictionists starting with Cormac McCarthy and ending with Jackson County-based author David Joy. “I saw a place for women — an opportunity,” she says. 

In 2019, Lucas seized that opportunity with her debut novel, Songbirds and Stray Dogs (Main Street Rag). Centered around a young, downcast woman named Jolene Brodie, Lucas’s story pairs moonshine-sipping and shotgun-slinging grittiness with softer, more feminine sensibilities. The result is a page-turner — a book so binge worthy that, three years on, it continues to receive national acclaim. 

Earlier this summer, Songbirds and Stray Dogs was selected for Route 1 Reads. Compiled by the network of 16 affiliate Centers for the Book in the Library of Congress, the 2022 road-trip-inspired reading list promotes pieces of literary fiction that illuminate the culture and geography of places along Route 1 — a 2,369-mile thoroughfare running from Ft. Kent, Maine, to Key West, Florida.  

Interested in learning more about how her novel reflects these ancient hills, Bold Life joined Lucas for some metaphorical sweet tea and porch sitting. 

Photo by Rachel Pressley

What does Songbirds and Stray Dogs say about Southern Appalachia?

People like to write about the hardness and grittiness of Appalachia, and I like to read those books. But for me, Songbirds and Stray Dogs is about showing Appalachia’s softer side. In the midst of this incredibly gorgeous geography, we have people who are tough but also kind.  

Why do you think your book was selected for Route 1 Reads?

Oh, I don’t know. When they contacted me, I was like, ‘Are you sure? Because Wiley [Cash] has a new book and David [Joy] put one out last year.’ But I think Songbirds and Stray Dogs was selected because it’s a page turner. There’s also a road trip in the book. 

Speaking of Wiley Cash and David Joy, in what ways is your writing style different from other Southern Appalachian writers? 

Most of David’s characters are men and most of the characters in Wiley’s first book are men. So, I saw this space to show the toughness of Appalachian women. These women aren’t necessarily dealing with organized crime — a prevalent theme in David’s work — but they are still interacting with violent characters and confronting problems.  

A sense of place is important in all fiction, but especially so in Southern Appalachian fiction. How does a sense of place show up in your novel?

When I started writing the book, it came from an overheard conversation. I wanted to write about people that I know — people I see at the grocery store. And to write realistic characters, I needed to lean heavily into place.  

What’s it like to be a non-native writing about Southern Appalachia?

I take the responsibility very seriously. I work hard to make sure I don’t fall into the trap of stereotypes. 

On Tuesday, Aug. 9, at 6:30pm, Meagan Lucas will join fellow Western North Carolina author Ron Rash for a virtual book conversation. The two will discuss Songbirds and Stray Dogs, their respective writing processes, and Appalachian literature. To register for the free event, visit nchumanities.org.

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