10 Authors with Tattoos Inspired by Their Own Books

All writers put ink on the page, but some put ink on their skin

Rob Hart, author of New Yorked

After I sold my first novel, I knew I wanted a tattoo to mark the occasion. And I knew I wanted something from the book. Not too literal, but still identifiable. I spent a lot of time thinking about it. Like with the best tattoo ideas, this one just hit me out of the clear blue.

The protagonist in New Yorked, Ash McKenna, is an amateur private investigator and native New Yorker who carries a weaponized umbrella. “NYed” is how I took to abbreviating the book in notes to my agent and publisher. I like the Sailor Jerry style—that if you don’t know it’s a book, it looks like it could have been pulled off the wall of a tattoo parlor.

Throughout the process of putting pencil to paper and then needle to skin, I got to thinking about authors who’ve gotten tattoos to mark a publishing milestone, like signing a contract or publishing a book. I know a few, but I went looking for some more.

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.

And they’re both a story you tell, but there’s a story they tell about you, too.

Delilah S. Dawson, author of Wake of Vultures (writing as Lila Bowen)

This is the first time I’ve ever gotten the tattoo *before* the book sold. Wake of Vultures is like Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Lonesome Dove, a book about flipping tables and following your heart even when it’s hard, and the ink was part of the serendipity that took it from idea to book. And, yes, the book cover was in part inspired by the tattoo — vulture feathers.

Joe Clifford, author of Lamentation

The sleeve commemorated a major change in my life, which involved getting two books published, Lamentation and December Boys. It also marked my children being born, my new life, and my recovery from heroin addiction. In short, I get tattoos to mark major life moments, and when I turned fucking forty, my life took off. All these things happened at once. The tattoo, a bio-mechanical design, is based on the conceptual artwork pioneered by HR Giger. For me, it represents a metamorphosis, part man, part machine, an evolution into something better. It also, conveniently, covered up an ex-wife’s name, who I met while a junkie.

Steph Post, author of A Tree Born Crooked

The title of A Tree Born Crooked comes from a lyric in the Tom Waits’ song “How’s It Gonna End,” but the meaning, for me and in the novel, is a positive one. We can’t change the hand we’ve been dealt in life, but the important thing is to embrace who we are and keep moving, keep living, keep breathing, keep kicking ass. Every day. Even if you’re a tree born crooked. You may never grow straight, but at least you’ll keep growing. And at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.

Chris Holm, author of Dead Harvest

I got this tattoo shortly after I signed my first book deal, for Dead Harvest and its follow-up, The Wrong Goodbye. The tattoo is as much an admonition as a celebration, intended to inoculate against the temptation to play it safe. And as someone who’s of the opinion one should never blame the tools for the failings of the craftsman, it amuses me that I’ve got an adverb permanently inked into my skin; they get a bad rap, but they’re utile when properly deployed.

Brian Panowich, author of Bull Mountain

In 2014 I sold my first novel to the biggest publishing house in the world. I was literally ripped out of obscurity by a man who believed in a rural fireman from Georgia who liked to think he could write, and given a gift I never dreamed possible. It was a gift I’ll never forget, so I gave that blessing my entire back. My buddy Robert Twilley designed and inscribed BULL MOUNTAIN from shoulder to shoulder over the course of four three-hour sessions. That piece isn’t up front and center like my old man, or impossible to cover up like the name of the great love of my life, but it fills me with a pride words can express like that pint of screaming blue and black ink swirling under my skin.

Todd Robinson, author of Rough Trade

I’ve been a guy who’s gone from cautionary tale to a source of inspiration for struggling writers. For two books, I’ve gone through five agents and five publishers. My characters are bouncers, the same as I once was. The sentiment belongs to them as much as I need to see it every now and again.

Wally Rudolph, author of Four Corners

The “God’s Work” arm banger is a reference to my first novel, Four Corners, where the black-hearted, single father, coke-head, Ben Shenk, accidentally cuts his hand open with a table saw while daydreaming about racing to cut off his own father’s head in ancient Greece. The book is about family.

“Ben had been taking blood thinners and a crapshoot from the medicine cabinet back home. I call that God’s work. It’ll never heal.”

Melissa F. Olson, author of Boundary Crossed

I’d wanted a new tattoo for a long time, but was waiting until I found something really meaningful. In my novel Boundary Crossed, the main character Lex ends up getting griffin tattoos on her forearms because the griffin symbolizes a protector or guardian. That novel received a lot more attention than any of my other books, which ended up truly changing my life financially and professionally. It seemed fitting that I should commemorate the book with a griffin of my own.

Joshua Mohr, author of Some Things that Meant the World to Me

I got this Rhonda tattoo on my wrist for the protagonist of my first novel. I thought it would be this cool conversation piece, but when someone asked, “Who’s Rhonda?” and I said, “He’s this guy I made up,” people seemed to back away from me.

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