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 Kelcey Parker Ervick, whose new book, The Bitter Life of Bozena Nemcova, was released Tuesday with Rose Metal Press.
I just got my first tattoo this year. I almost passed out. Twice. The kind tattoo artist took pity, fed me Snickers and Sprite, and traded my upright chair for a gurney so I could lie down.
The tattoo is a sketch by Kafka: a figure seated at a desk, head down. Dreaming? Despairing?
For me, it epitomizes the life of the writer: Leave me alone, I’m trying to write, I’m failing, I’m thinking, I’m hiding, I’m hoping, I’m dreaming.
“All I am is literature,” said Kafka, “and I am not able or willing to be anything else.”
My new book, The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová, is about a nineteenth-century Czech writer Kafka adored. He compared his beloved Milena’s writing to her writing: “I know in Czech only one music of language, that of Božena Němcová. Here,” he says to Milena of her own writing, “is another music.”
I’ve been traveling to Prague regularly since 2003, where I first encountered a different Kafka than the one I was reading in grad school. In Prague, Kafka’s magical, metaphorical stories grow concrete and terrifyingly real. In seminar we discussed The Castle and its elusive Klamm as an extended metaphor. But, as I say in my book, in Europe castles are everywhere and real. Prague’s castle looms over the city. Kafka lived on its grounds. In fact, The Castle was inspired by Němcová’s 1854 book, Babička, set in a small village with a castle. The tattoo is a reminder of all these things too.
My people are not a tattooed people. My daughter does not approve. My parents, knowing my fear of needles, are baffled. But this summer I was in a bowling league called “Tattoos and Bowling Shoes,” and everyone in the league received a gift certificate either for a tattoo or for the pro shop, so I am already thinking about my next tattoo. Perhaps it will be of “How Doth the Little Crocodile,” the painting and sculpture by Leonora Carrington. But that’s another story.
Kelcey Parker Ervick is the author of The Bitter Life of Bozena Nemcova, a hybrid work of biography, memoir, and art. Her previous books of fiction are Liliane’s Balcony (Rose Metal Press), set at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, and the story collection, For Sale By Owner (Kore Press). She directs the creative writing program at Indiana University South Bend and leads a study abroad program to Berlin and Prague.