Are You Inked Up?


An encounter...

I take the receipt from the clerk.

“Is it real?” He points to the tattoo on my finger, the one with all the flowery vines.

“Yes, it is.”

“Really?” His tone bubbles with skepticism.

The urge to reply with snark is strong, but all I say is, “Really.”

I assume his disbelief is because I'm not a Twentysomething or a Goth or a biker, either, although I do still possess a bit of the hippie I once was. But, hello? Tattoos have gone mainstream.

I blame my tat addiction, er, acquisition on my late crime-writer husband, Bill Tapply, who sported a mayfly tattoo to honor his fly-fishing passion. When he chose to get another tat, I joined in. He got Kokopelli. Mine? A Celtic spiral tattooed on my wrist, which was the inspiration for Clea’s tat in my novel, Chest of Bone. Hers is magical. Mine? I'll never tell.


Clea’s tattoo is “applied” by her dying mentor, the act of which comes with lots of blood and pain and launches my story. But I’m not the first author to pen tats into a tale. Novels use tattoos as symbols, plot threads, and more. Good guys, bad guys, and even corpses are fleshed out with ink in their skin. Can you imagine Moby Dick’s Queequeg without his tats?Or Lisbeth Salander’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo minus that dragon on her back? Speaking of dragons, the serial killer in The Red Dragon wears a William Blake design, which he believe is a spirit he calls "the Dragon.” Tattoos play a huge role in Elizabeth Hunter’s masterful Irin Chronicles’ The Scribe, where they heighten the wearer’s magic powers. Magic of the evil kind illuminates Mr. Dark’s “human” tats in Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. From the Man Booker finalist’s The Electric Michelangelo to the evil preacher’s tats in Night of the Hunter, a character’stattoos can add layers of meaning to a character and a novel, which is part of why I love them.

My Wyvern wrapped around a Key symbolizes two of my series’ characters from The Afterworld Chronicles. I’m not alone in sporting a tat from my books. To quote the marvelous Rob Hart, “Books and tattoos have a lot in common. Both are intimate — and sometimes painful — acts. They’re addictive, in that you finish one and immediately ache for the head rush of another.” Rob’s got his New Yorked inked on his skin. Elizabeth Hand, Kevin Wilson, Steph Post, and many other writers wear ink based on their books. Other tattooed authors range from Dorothy Parker to Julie Hennrikus to China Mieville. As ink-decorated John Irving told The New York Times, “Tattoos are souvenirs. They’re road maps of where your body’s been.”


Legions of readers, those wonderful folk who devour our work, ink themselves as a permanent badge of their love for authors and reading. They sport tattoos from Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter novels to those of Jane Austen and Sherrilyn Kenyon. They wear open books with “I’ve lived a thousand lives” or “Books are proof humans can do magic” or “Wanderer,” which is etched into my forearm beneath an open book.

I am that wanderer of ideas and of books. And, yeah, I want to get another tattoo.

Oh, BTW — if you plan to get a tattoo, do it right. Go to a reputable tattooist whose style you admire. Be sure you’re passionate about the tat, since without costly laser removal, it’s forever. Finally, copyedit your design. Seriously. Or this might be the result.

Do you have tattoos? Care to show and tell?

(This post first appeared on Jungle Red Writers.)

Posted on September 19, 2017 and filed under Creative.