The Permanence of Tattoos and Tales

Raise your hand if you’ve ever taken a break from taking a break

*raises hand*

Yes, that was me last week, and especially over the weekend. I’m supposed to be on a lengthy social media break, but I felt the need to pop back in for a bit, despite the fact that I didn’t accomplish the one thing I wanted to while on hiatus: a completed first draft of my next novel. (Not for nothing, though. See the IG post on our basement revamp distraction—worth it!)

I did a thing.

To be honest, it took me until last Saturday to choose—yet again—my next project. Indecisiveness is my personal demon. I thought I’d finally settled on the young adult space circus sci-fi book earlier this year. In fact, I’ve done quite a bit of worldbuilding for it. I love the story, but I’m having issues envisioning life aboard the circus ship, so I’m shelving it for now. 

In choosing my new next project, I relied on my 17-year-old and her best friend—the primary demographic for the categories and genres I write in. I laid out five options. They chose. So now I’ll be hacking away at the keys on a young adult horror tentatively titled HUNGERS THE FOREST. The goal is to complete a rough first draft of at least 50,000 words before summer’s end. The plot is already outlined, because I’m 60% plotter, 30% pantser, and 13.496% agent of chaos.

But also, I’m now revisiting the first book I wrote. The book of my heart. The book that inspired my newest tattoo, which is one of the other things I did whilst unplugged from the online world. Yes, I had non-published fictional character-inspired icons permanently etched into my flesh in a semi-visible place. That’s a pretty drastic thing to do, right? Not if you know the story behind them, which is why we’re here today.

First sketch–circa 2000–of my FourBorn girls, courtesy of my then-husband.
Kept the sketch but not the man.

These characters—my FourBorn sisters—have been with me since at least 2000. I was going through a gothicky-slash-ren faire phase that inspired the notion of a bat-winged fairy-like character. I expanded that idea to include other wing types—butterfly, eagle, angel. I played around with the characters and their backgrounds and found that their divergent personalities closely mirrored those of me and my three older sisters. That cemented their relationship and voila! My FourBorn girls were born. I was excited to develop these characters into a book or even a comic series.

Then, life took over: Marriage. Deployments. Cross-country moves. Pregnancy. Divorce. Remarriage. Grad school.  My writing didn’t just take a back seat; it was packed away into a box and shoved into the deep, dark nether regions of a trunk. My precious girls were shelved without further development, but I thought of them often.

Fast forward to my last major life change: a move from Texas to Maryland and an accompanying period of unemployment. I took advantage of that professional downtime to return to my FourBorn sisters. Within six months, I drafted the first volume of what will be an epic four-book young adult fantasy series. I spent all my spare time in the following years refining the story, adding detail and depth to the worldbuilding, and developing a full compendium of the FourBorn universe. I even wrote a few companion short stories that still live in the deep, dark nether regions of my blog.

I shelved the series in 2017 after failing to find agent representation, but the experience reawakened my passion for storytelling. I went on to write another novel that I’m currently querying and several short stories that have been published. Yet, the FourBorn girls and the worlds of the Infinite Existence are so vivid and compelling, that I couldn’t abandon them forever. That’s why I’m returning to them now, and why they’ve earned their place on my shoulder.

My youngest painted their wings on my leg in 2017; a prelude to the permanent artwork on my shoulder.

There’s another deeply personal reason why these characters mean the world to me. Shortly after our move to Maryland, I went through some custody-related drama that hit more like trauma. The FourBorn story served as an escape from that. I threw myself—heart and soul—into writing this book, so that it became more than just another manuscript. It was a lifeline. On days when the tears of pain and anger were overwhelming, I dove into the world-building. I pushed my emotional turmoil into the pages of my work in progress, infusing it into the most emotional scenes.

I reopened the project a couple of weeks ago. Even with all the time spent on edits before, it needs work. I’ve learned a lot about writing since I shelved it and can see what needs to be fixed. I still may not find agent representation or achieve traditional publication, but that’s okay. I don’t think I’ll need it for this series—it’s that good. It will find its audience. I just have to revise and publish it, and then continue with the second book.

That’s the final reason I chose to get my FourBorn girls’ wings tattooed on my shoulder. This tattoo, a visual, inspirational reminder to press onward with the book of my heart, is now a permanent part of me. Just like the story itself.

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