On my heart just like a tattoo

I’ve written 3 stories now that include a scene in a tattoo parlor. But here’s a secret … when I wrote the first story, Matching Tats, I had never been in a tattoo parlor nor had I ever gotten a tattoo.

That’s changed, of course ~ I now have 6 different tattoos, three on each arm. On the left, there’s a cat on my wrist, a pink triangle under the bend of my elbow, and a rainbow flag above the bend. On the right, there are 6 pawprints on the underside of my wrist (one for each cat I’ve loved), the number “23” on my forearm (my lucky number), and the logo to JMS Books under the bend of my elbow.

But when I wrote Matching Tats, all I knew about getting a tattoo was what I read online. I guess that’s why the process is explained a bit more than it is in my other two tattoo-themed tales ~ I wanted it to feel authentic and, because it wasn’t an experience I’d had myself, I went to great lengths to fake it. I made sure the method was right so that readers who’d had tattoos would nod and say, “Yes, that’s how it’s done.”

By the time I wrote my second story set in a tattoo parlor, The Tattooed Heart, I had gotten my first two tattoos (the pink triangle and the rainbow flag). Both were done by the same artist at Lucky 13 here in Richmond, and the story grew from a random question I’d asked while he was inking the flag onto my arm. I noticed he had a few drawings around his station, and I wondered out loud if he ever got tired of tattooing what people asked him to instead of what he wanted to draw.

He replied that doing what people wanted him to do paid the bills, but whenever he had a new design he wanted to try out on someone, he’d invite his friends over to get a free tattoo in exchange for letting him put whatever he wanted onto their skin. That got me thinking about how much you’d have to like someone to give him carte blanche when it came to tattooing you, and the romance between Chris and Lee was born.

If you’ve ever visited a tattoo parlor, then you can only imagine where I got the idea for my last tattoo-themed story, Inked in Blood. The walls of Lucky 13 are covered with gruesome images ~ zombies and vampires and wicked women of the night. I don’t know if it’s the hardcore nature of tattoo artists and their clients that draws them to the paranormal, but an inordinate amount of tattoo flash seems to be dedicated to the eerie, spooky, or just downright creepy. (For those not in the know, “tattoo flash” refers to predesigned images, usually available in books for you to pick something from if you know you want to get inked but don’t know what you want).

As I was getting my fourth tattoo (the logo of JMS Books), I noticed it bled a lot ~ maybe it was because the ink was blue that I noticed the red more, I don’t know. But that small detail, combined with the supernatural images surrounding me, made me think of vampires and other creatures of the night. So I did what I had said I’d never do ~ I wrote a vampire story. Granted, the tattoo artist in Inked in Blood isn’t explicitly called out as a vampire, but there’s enough of a “is he or isn’t he?” question throughout the story that you’re left wondering long after you’re finished reading.