What inspired me to write Skin of Tattoos
By Christina Hoag
Skin of Tattoos is a noir crime novel set in the gritty underbelly of Los Angeles’ gangland, the darker side of the palm-studded, movie-star lifestyle that L.A. is known for the world over. Why, readers have asked me on more than one occasion, did you write about gangs?
In 2000, I was sent on a magazine assignment to El Salvador for story about gang members deported from Los Angeles to their birth country, which they identified with, but really didn’t know because they had left, fleeing the 1980s civil war, when they were infants and small children. Some of them barely spoke Spanish. Growing up in L.A., they had joined gangs to protect themselves against long-entrenched Mexican-American gangs who didn’t welcome outsiders. But because the Salvadorans weren’t U.S. citizens, they later were vulnerable to deportation when the government started cracking down on immigrants with criminal records.
The stories of the young men I interviewed, who were basically stuck between worlds, struck me as a bizarre outcome of both a civil war and an immigrant experience. I tucked it away in my mind as a great premise for a story, and a couple years later, I wrote an outline for a novel and stuck it in a drawer.
Flash forward to 2008. I became a reporter for the Associated Press in Los Angeles and ended up covering gang and urban poverty issues. Somehow, I thought, life had come full circle, and I remembered that old outline. I dusted it off and started writing, although I stopped and started many times, not confident that I could pull off writing about a world so foreign to my own. But because I was drawn to the subject and it was part of my day job, I really got into the research. As I drove around these neighborhoods as a reporter, I absorbed details of the landscape and people’s lives like the proverbial sponge.
I interviewed people involved with gangs in various aspects, plus people who were directly affected by gang activity. One of those interviews led to a nonfiction book about community peacekeeping in gang neighborhoods. “Peace in the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence” involved even more interviews with experts and former gang members.
To get more personal details about this culture, I read every memoir written by former gang members I could find. They were a fantastic firsthand source. I read books about gangs themselves, devoured news stories, watched movies and TV shows about gangs, which were great as visual and dialogue aids. I found online dictionaries of gang slang. I did this over the course of several years, steadily accumulating a trove of knowledge.
After countless rewrites and rejections, Skin of Tattoos landed a publisher and was finally published in 2016—sixteen years after I did those initial interviews in El Salvador. I just heard from a reader who happened to be a former gang member who said it totally hit home for him. He congratulated me on my research.
SKIN OF TATTOOS by Christina Hoag
Los Angeles homeboy Mags is desperate to get out of gang life, but the only exit is through sacrificing everything – and everyone – he loves. He must make the difficult choice, and soon, or have it made for him. Based on extensive interviews with street gang members, this noir crime novel explores a poor immigrant family’s struggle to survive in a gritty world where gangs appear to offer youth a way out but instead ensnare them in a tangle of deceit and betrayal.
Christina Hoag is a former journalist for the Miami Herald and Associated Press who’s been threatened by a murderer’s girlfriend, had her laptop searched by Colombian guerrillas and phone tapped in Venezuela, hidden under a car to evade Guatemalan soldiers, posed as a nun to get inside a Caracas jail, interviewed gang members, bank robbers, thieves and thugs in prisons, shantytowns and slums, not to forget billionaires and presidents, some of whom fall into the previous categories. Kirkus Reviews praised Christina as a “talented writer” with a “well crafted debut” in Skin of Tattoos (Martin Brown Publishing, 2016), a noir crime novel. Her thriller Girl on the Brink (Fire and Ice YA, 2016) was named to Suspense Magazine’s Best of 2016 YA list. She also writes nonfiction, co-authoring Peace in the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence (Turner Publishing, 2014), a groundbreaking book on violence intervention used in several universities. Christina makes her home in Los Angeles and lives on the web at www.christinahoag.com.
Skin of Tattoos is available in ebook and paperback from AMAZON.