Fifteen years ago, when first-time novelist Pamela Duncan was working at the Intimate Bookshop, a friend gave her a copy of Lee Smith´s Oral History. “It changed my life,” says Duncan. “Here was a book about my people, people I didn´t think anyone would ever write books about, much less want to read about.” When she found out that the real-live author of that novel actually came into her bookstore, she was once more taken aback. “I thought that all writers were either dead or living in New York City,” she says.

Inspired by the prospect that she, too, could tell the stories of her family, Duncan began writing what eventually became Moon Women, a humorous and compelling Southern novel that will be published by Bantam Dell next spring. Duncan is a native of Asheville who moved to Shelby when she was 7 and lost her father when she turned 10, and she credits these two traumatic events for her impulse to become a writer. But beyond that impulse came a lot of hard work. She began writing in 1990, taking a series of workshops, including one, in 1996, with her mentor, Lee Smith. “This is a really good novel, Pam,” Smith said when Duncan sat down opposite her for their first conference.

With such encouragement, Duncan persevered and recently sold Moon Women for enough money to quit her day-job and start work on a second novel. She and her strong female characters have many of the attributes of Little Women´s Jo March, Duncan´s favorite heroine in literature, whom she describes as “warm, witty, hard-working, loyal and loving … [she] wins in the end all the things I want for myself.” Louisa May Alcott, who a friend once said “resolved to take Fate by the throat and shake a living out of her,” would have been pleased to know she had inspired such a worthy successor.