“Tattoos and Groupies”

Today I’m reblogging and expanding on a post I shared on the incomparable Rhys Ford’s blog a few days ago.  The subject matter is near and dear to my heart, and it’s also important to understanding the character of Alex Bishop in “Prelude.”  So for those of you who may have read the post, this won’t come as news to you, but for the others, I hope you enjoy it!

As many of you know, “Prelude” is the story of David Somers, the fictional music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and crossover jazz/rock/classical violinist Alex Bishop.  On the surface, the two men are polar opposites.  David is incredibly wealthy, having inherited his family’s Wall Street investment firm.  Alex grew up on the cold Chicago streets after running away from his foster care placement.  The common ground between the two men?  Music.  Because when David hears Alex play, he can’t get Alex’s music (or Alex) out of his mind.

The first time David and Alex meet, there’s one thing David notices in particular: Alex’s tattoos.  David, raised in a life of privilege, sees the tattoos and immediately makes assumptions about Alex’s musical ability and Alex himself.  Here’s a brief excerpt from the novel:

David rarely made any sort of public speech, let alone an announcement in the middle of a concert. He despised public speaking, but there was nothing to do for it—the substitution had been too eleventh hour to print something to add into the programs.

“Good evening,” he began with a practiced smile. “There has been a slight change in tonight’s program. Our featured soloist, Lastislav Voitavich, has taken ill.” There were murmurs from the audience, so David waited until the hall was silent before continuing, “Alexander Bishop has graciously agreed to perform the Sibelius.”

Instead of voicing their disappointment, the audience applauded with surprising enthusiasm. “Thank you.” David was unsure what to make of the response. He nodded stage right. There was renewed applause as the violinist took to the stage.

 Alex Bishop. A rock star masquerading as a classical violinist. Tattoos and groupies. David didn’t doubt Bishop was competent—his assistant was young, not stupid. Still, David loathed this “new breed” of musician who all too often graced the covers of magazines like Time and, more recently, Rolling Stone. Tattoos, indeed. The term “crossover artist” was a mere marketing tool intended to exploit an artist’s good looks and increase sales. He’d heard so-called crossover artists perform before, and he hadn’t been impressed.

Traditional Samoan Pe’a tattoos. Unlike Alex’s, they are usually done from the waist down.

But as David gets to know Alex, he becomes fascinated by those tattoos, just as he is fascinated by Alex.  When David finally is able to touch the tattoos, he realizes that they cover scars on Alex’s chest.  David’s afraid to ask about the scars, and it’s not until the end of the book that the full truth about them is revealed.  Early on, he learns only that Alex barely survived a knife attack, and that the scars are a result.

Alex’s tattoos are in the style of the Pe’a, the traditional Samoan tattoos used as a rite of passage.  Literally pounded into the skin, these tattoos usually cover the lower half of a man’s body.  In Alex’s case, they cover much of the upper half.  It’s a painful process and takes weeks to complete.  The designs are simple and mesmerizing.

The traditional way of Pe’a tattooing – with a hammer type tool

During the time I was writing “Prelude,” I spent a few days at a Dreamspinner Press table with Rhys, who shared with me her own tattoos (they are freaking amazing!).  I knew I wanted to use the Pe’a concept for Alex, but I hadn’t yet thought through the connection between mind and body that can be expressed through tattoos.  Rhys shared with me her newest tat, which covers an extensive scar on her upper thigh.  It was incredibly beautiful.  She explained that she’d had the tattoo done in part to cover the scar, one of the visible remnants of the abuse she suffered in her childhood (so many of those scars aren’t visible).  She also told me that it hurts more to tattoo over scar tissue.  I knew right then how I wanted to tell Alex’s story.

Alex’s choice to tattoo over his scars is a conscious one.   For him, the decision is a way to assert control over things he had no control over.  A way to take back something that was lost—a rite of passage and a show of strength.  And even though David’s scars aren’t visible, they are just as painful.  With Alex’s help, David is able to face the pain of his past and begin to move forward.

Thanks, Rhys, for the insight and for sharing something beautiful with me.  And no, I’m not just talking about the tattoo.

Don’t forget to comment on any of this weeks posts to be entered into the drawings for a Blue Notes Series t-shirt of your choice (any cover including Prelude, subject to availability of sizes); a Prelude mouse pad; or an ebook copy of your choice of any of my Dreamspinner Press back catalog books (so anything BUT Prelude). Contest ends midnight Saturday, May 11th.  –Shira

PS:  Want to read a longer excerpt from the first time David sees Alex? Click on this link and scroll down to the excerpt tab. 

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Summary:  World-renowned conductor David Somers never wanted the investment firm he inherited from his domineering grandfather. He only wanted to be a composer. But no matter how he struggles, David can’t translate the music in his head into notes on paper.

When a guest violinist at the Chicago Symphony falls ill, David meets Alex Bishop, a last-minute substitute. Alex’s fame and outrageous tattoos fail to move David. Then Alex puts bow to string, and David hears the brilliance of Alex’s soul.

David has sworn off relationships, believing he will eventually drive away those he loves, or that he’ll lose them as he lost his wife and parents. But Alex is outgoing, relaxed, and congenial—everything David is not—and soon makes dents in the armor around David’s heart. David begins to dream of Alex, wonderful dreams full of music. Becoming a composer suddenly feels attainable.

David’s fragile ego, worn away by years of his grandfather’s disdain, makes losing control difficult. When David’s structured world comes crashing down, his fledgling relationship with Alex is the first casualty. Still, David hears Alex’s music, haunting and beautiful. David wants to love Alex, but first he must find the strength to acknowledge himself.

NOTE: Each Blue Notes novel is a standalone story and books in the series can be read in any order.

Want to buy the Blue Notes Series books? You can find them all here: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/index.php?cPath=54_673

8 comments

  1. Tali Spencer - Reply

    What a lovely explanation of character development. I love when this much thought and depth goes into creating a character, unifying their history, psychology, and body. I guess this kind of attention is why I find your characters so layered and rich! 😀 Oh, and I was reading Prelude while getting my car inspected today. I was enjoying myself so much I was actually disappointed when they told me my car was done!

    • Shira - Reply

      Thanks so much, Tali! I’m really glad you’re enjoying the book (and that it made car inspection a little less dull, lol!).

      As you know from your own work, I’m sure, it’s very gratifying for a writer to have time to develop characters over multiple books, even if they aren’t the “featured” protagonists in a story. You have more opportunities to “grow” and layer characters when they appear more than once in your writing. And, btw, I’ll be blogging about series and why I like writing them on Kim Fielding’s blog very soon. Yet another reason why I like to write series. XD

  2. ginger - Reply

    Congratulations on the release of Prelude!
    I was so excited to finally read David and Alex’s story and you did not let me down.
    Looking forward to more in the series!

    • Shira - Reply

      Thanks, Ginger! I’m so glad you liked the book. I do love those two together… XD I’ve got you entered in the drawings! -Shira

  3. Jbst - Reply

    On a TV news segment, they visited a man who had tattoos to cover up the burn scars on his arms from a burning car crash. I was reminded of this story with your posting.

    • Shira - Reply

      Amy Lane’s wonderful “Talker” series used that same device. I’ve also heard of tattoos for breast reconstruction (to make nipples look real) after mastectomy.

      I hope to get my first tat this summer! Maybe I’ll post a photo when I do. XD

  4. Carolyn - Reply

    Interesting background on Alex’s tattoos, and how nice of Rhys to help you out. 🙂

    I’m not into body modification myself (I have each ear pierced but that was done when I was a baby), but I’m glad that more people feel comfortable expressing themselves as they see fit and aren’t judged (as much). I can’t understand the mindset of people looking at someone and thinking they know *anything* about them (or that they have the right to judge, but that’s a whole other rant). Still, makes for a good story when prejudices are set aside, doesn’t it? 😉

    • Shira - Reply

      Thanks, Carolyn. Rhys is an amazing woman. I have to admit I’m toying with the idea of a tattoo… I’m a little nervous about it. We’ll see! -Shira

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