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 Julian Jones. His debut novel, Bohunk's Big To Do, is self published and evokes elements of Southern Gothic fiction within a story that is firmly rooted in, and influenced by, a Midwestern setting.
All I had ever wanted of a tattoo was decoration. Nevermind the bold statement about my beliefs or preferences. Hold the official declaration of personal policy. No thank you to the label. I preferred to remain open to change. A mere adornment of flesh would suffice.
An anchor and a heart; maybe a banner that said…something. That’s what I wanted: cliché, colorfully imagined, and expertly drawn; something Pierre et Gilles might dust with glitter and canonize in an aquatic theme.
Or, you know, something pretty to draw the eye to my remarkable guns.
That was in the mid-1990s. I strived for months to get my arms primed for ornamentation. Just when I was ready to think seriously about going under the needle, Winona Ryder showed up on a magazine cover emblazoned with an ink pen heart and anchor tattoo. Imagine how cute. Hers was strictly a surface embellishment, immediately watered down and wiped away, but I wouldn’t risk the comparison for ten more years.
I first wrote Bohunk’s Big To-Do as a 65-page novella in the mid-2000s. Just before that, I had reconnected with a no-good party boy I never stood a chance of matching. Watching city lights one night from a hillside path in Eagle Rock he liked to call Rubber Ridge, I renewed my enthusiasm for a birthday tattoo: the anchor, the heart, the banner that still said nothing. In keeping with the spirit of ornamental cliché, I offered ‘Mom’ half-heartedly. “Except make it upside down,” he said. “Wow!” He suggested it and laughed his dullard laugh.
Wow. A reminder of life’s surprises: maybe good, maybe bad, but always unexpected. Precisely the reason I hadn’t wanted to take a stand with my tattoo. The party boy had one good idea. I loved it and got the tattoo. Life has lived up to Wow ever since.
From my upside down perspective, though, the banner always says ‘Mom’ to me. It is a tribute to my own mother certainly: her surprising choices; her right to make them; how well she rose to the challenge of mothering my special needs; my distinct relationship with her, as the connections of all parents are unique to each child.
And, though not understood so at the time, the word on my arm was the brand of another woman named Mom: the first muse to gain my confidence for the arduous task of novel-writing. Back then, I began listening to Bohunk’s mom, believing the story of Bohunk’s Big To-Do was hers to tell. In the end, she served more as matchmaker than muse; introduced me to her son and stepped quickly to one side. When the ink on my arm had dried, I began to hear the fuller story of Bohunk’s Big To-Do in Bo’s own voice.
In due time, I RSVP’d no to the party boy’s invitation and found my way down from Rubber Ridge.
The banner of my tattoo says ‘Wow’ because one seedy night on a hill above Los Angeles I rejoiced in the fact that life is always a surprise. But for me, from my easiest view of it, my anchor and heart tattoo says ‘Mom’ – not so typically after all.
To see the Wow the party boy wanted I have to look in a mirror.