Can you walk me through your writing process?
I’m something of a loose outliner. It’s a technique that I’ve started using about a year ago, and I haven’t let it go. I start with an idea, which can come from anywhere. Then, I outline the plot elements similar to a road map, and ask plenty of ‘what if’ questions along the way. I leave the characters to drive themselves along the path and I discover who they are and who they become as they go. That’s my first draft. I’ll write my first draft in longhand in a spiral notebook, and then I leave it sit and write the next project. After a few weeks, I’ll come back to it and read it as though it’s new to me, marking down corrections and parts that no longer work in the margins in red pen. From there, I’ll type it on my laptop, and edit that manuscript, polish it up, and prepare it for readers. I’ll let family members and friends read it and listen to their feedback. After that, when the final edits are finished, I send it out.
Can you discuss your experience with writing fiction?
I’ve written fiction on and off since I was a kid, though I wrote those stories for myself and close friends because I really enjoyed the process of creation. It’s something I always knew I really loved to do, but I was twenty when I really decided I wanted to share my craft with the world. Since then, I’ve been working hard to continue to improve my craft. I’ve mostly written short stories, but I’ve just finished the first draft of my first go at a novel. The Memorial Tattoo is my first published work.
Who are some writers that have influenced your work?
Well, I’m a firm believer that every book has something to teach, and I take some form of influence from every novel I read. However, Stephen King is the man who inspired me to pick up the pen, especially after I learned he’d written Dreamcatcher entirely in longhand. C.S. Lewis, John Flanagan, and Christopher Paolini among others really inspired me to read at a young age, fueled my imagination, and made my childhood all around awesome. From there, Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, V.E. Schwab, Ray Bradbury, Shirley Jackson, and Paul Trembley have taken the reins and are just a small handful of my most important influences.
The use of a tattoo as a vessel for a loved one’s soul is a distinctive approach. How did you develop this concept, and were there specific cultural or literary influences that inspired it?
Tattoos have become one of people’s favorite ways to memorialize someone that they have lost. There are thousands of people, I’d say, who have gotten a tattoo for someone that they love who has passed on. This story is one about grief, of the fear of death, and the great lengths that people will go to remember those who have gone on before them and hold on to them as long as they can. Humans have always had a fascination with cheating death.
From there, I started to develop a question. What would happen if those tattoos actually had the power to bring back the person they memorialize? Would that person live inside of the vessel’s body that they are now also a part of? I started to plot it out, and that led to the question of whether the person would even want to be brought back, especially if they’re brought back into a setting in which they have no control. I don’t believe that everyone would.
Can you share any personal experiences or emotions that contributed to the creation of this narrative about preserving and carrying the souls of departed loved ones within the protagonist?
Everyone has experienced grief in some way before, myself included. Sometimes, it’s very hard to let go, and that’s kind of the emotion I wanted to convey in this story. Sometimes, it’s hard to let go, but holding on can be equally disastrous.
Incorporating the late father’s ashes into the tattoo adds a visceral and intimate layer to the story. How did you approach writing about the mixing of ink with human ashes, and what emotions did you aim to convey through this imagery?
It’s actually something that people can go and have done. There’s a company called Engrave Ink that you can send a deceased relative’s ashes to and have them mixed into the ink, or there are artists like in the story who are specialists and are able to do it right in the studio. It has grown in popularity over the last decade or so, and was where the idea for this story originated. The ashes play perfectly into the idea that if a person gets them tattooed as part of a memorial on their body, then the deceased will live on with them as long as they live. I took that to its literal meaning.
As for emotional impact, the imagery is supposed to invoke a sense of mourning as Henley goes through his grief and shows the extent that he’s willing to go through to ensure his father is remembered. As the reader follows how he expresses his grief, I wanted for them to think of the ways they’ve expressed their own grief for someone who has passed. Whenever his father comes back and reveals his horror at what has happened to him, then the reader can choose whether they feel Henley’s actions are selfish in choosing to force his family to stay with him long after they’ve passed on as living memories in his head, or if the reader would do the same thing if they had that kind of power and didn’t want to let go of their relatives. I left that open ended for readers to speculate.
What role do other relatives, whose souls are also trapped within tattoos, play in the broader symbolism and thematic exploration of the narrative?
The other family members symbolize those people that don’t want to let go, and would enjoy the thought of being able to come back. The whole theme is that it can be hard to let go of life and loved ones, and they are a prime example of those kinds of people who can’t. They’re content to live as a memory. They want more time with the people who they love, and aren’t ready to let go of life yet. People tend to view death in very different ways, and many people are afraid of it and don’t want to face it. Those are the relatives in the story who wish to escape death for a while longer as they live inside of Henley’s mind.