Every now and then I manage to talk a small press author into showing us a little skin... tattooed skin, that is. I know there are websites and books out there that have been-there-done-that already, but I hadn't seen one with a specific focus on the authors and publishers of the small press community. Whether it's the influence for their book, influenced by their book, or completely unrelated to the book, we get to hear the story behind their indie ink....
Today's ink story comes from Meagan Lucas, who's novel Songbirds and Stray Dogs recently released with Main Street Rag Press.
“Don’t it hurt, doing that?” they ask, and I don’t know if they mean the ink on my skin or the words on my page. Doesn’t really matter I suppose, the answer is the same, “yes.”
For me, writing and being tattooed have been parallel journeys. In my early adulthood, I dabbled in both. Small pieces - easy to hide, easy to forget and nothing I was particularly attached to. My first tattoo was a Celtic knot on my lower back, scratched in the minute I turned 18, and hidden under the waist band of my pants. My first written pieces: a blog I wrote mostly to process my feelings and combat the loneliness of moving to a new country for grad school. Both the tattoo and the blog, as innocuous as they sound, ended up being sore spots. The tattoo was poorly done requiring a lot of touchups - even now almost 20 years later I can find its raised edges with my fingertips. The blog, a vent that I thought was a secret, was found by my boyfriend at the time who was surprised and upset to find out he was not my only boyfriend – a discovery that was painful for both of us and ended that friendship. As a result, I stepped away from both tattooing and writing for a number of years.
In 2011 my daughter was born, and post-partum depression gripped me, although I didn’t know it at the time. All I knew was that I was unhappy, disappointed, and afraid. I found myself writing essays about motherhood. I published on some small blogs. It felt good to express myself, and to create connections, to feel like I was using my education and communicating with adults. In 2013 my son was born, and with a toddler and an infant, I was nearly drowned in depression and anxiety. I gained a lot of weight. I was sad and angry all the time. I know that I was not fun to be around. I saw a therapist. She helped me understand that taking care of myself was not selfish, but necessary. I lost some weight. I began to write more seriously. I discovered two things: 1) that between pregnancy and weight my body no longer felt like it belonged to me, and 2) the essays I was writing were getting more and more personal and I felt like they were becoming unfair to people I loved.
In retrospect, it isn’t a surprise that I began to work on my leg tattoo project (flowers - symbolizing my rebirth and my love of plants), and my novel (Songbirds and Stray Dogs just recently published) around the same time. I’d discovered that with fiction I could write about the issues that I wanted to under the guise of telling tales – that the lies and stories pointed at bigger truths than my real life experience ever could. And, that I needed a way to take my body back and that a large leg piece would be a start, to reclaim my skin as my own. The needle did for my body what the pen did for my mind.
Yes, being beneath a needle for 50+ hours (and more to come), and probing the emotional corners of my soul for story ideas are painful. But it’s a healing sort of pain, like when a broken bone aches as it knits itself back together, or the cleansing pain of rubbing alcohol on a skinned knee. With each chapter and story, and each visit to my tattoo artist (Phil Theoret, Asheville, NC), I am stronger and better and more *me.*
Meagan Lucas is the author of the Southern Literary Fiction novel Songbirds and Stray Dogs. 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 Songbirds and Stray Dogs as a “stunning, startling novel.” 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