A Q&A with Aric Davis Question:
In A Good and Useful Hurt
, Mike and those he tattoos can communicate with the dead by mixing ashes of those who have passed in ink and tattooing with it. You have worked as a professional body piercer for 16 years in various tattoo shops, so how much of this book is inspired from real life? Can you tell us where the idea of communicating with the dead this way came from?
Aric Davis: I have seen ashes tattooed in skin, I have pierced people with jewelry worn by a fallen partner, and I have seen countless memorial tattoos. Without sharing too much--this one isn't my story--we once had a seemingly endless stream of customers visiting us to be tattooed with an image of a kitchen appliance. A young man that they all knew had passed, and apparently he'd spoken at length about being tattooed with that very appliance. Those tattoos likely seem very silly to those who don't know their meaning. All that said, the idea came specifically from two customers who had lost a son in the war. Neither of them had ever considered being tattooed, and they came in for all of the right reasons, namely, to start recovering. They not only were clients, they became friends, and what was an inescapable tragedy for their family became a blessing to all of us, because the tattoos seemed to work. No ghost stories there, something even better. They chose to live.
Q: A Good and Useful Hurt starts out as a love story set in a tattoo shop, then evolves into a supernatural manhunt complete with ghosts and a serial killer. Was it always your intention to have the beginning of the book be such a stark juxtaposition to the end?
AD: Believe it or not, it was. The first hints to this are revealed in the first line of the book, and to be quite honest, all of the quirky build up with the customers is meant to ready the readers for some really out there stuff. The story as a concept was first written as sort of a tattoo ghost story to pass around the tattoo shop on a very slow Halloween back in 2008. It was called "Ink." The guys at work loved it, but to me it was too fast-paced. The idea was stuck in my head like a rotten tooth--it wouldn't stop screaming at me. Writing from a short was something I'd never done, I don't outline and rarely know exactly where I'm going with something, so to have a finish set in place was a new thing, and kind of nice.
Q: You chose to dedicate the book to the young women who were murdered near your home in Grand Rapids last year. What message do you have for those who have been the victims of terrible crimes?
AD: The message stated in the book by the character Doc, and later mentioned in the afterword, is that we as a society place far too much emphasis on those who commit horrible acts, rather than those who were destroyed by them. I would much prefer children be taught the names of ten people killed in the 9/11 attacks, than only learn the name of the man who is assumed to have planned them.
Q: Your catalogue includes a play, a YA mystery novel, regular appearances on "The Five Hundred" (a short story site); you’ve been published on the wsj.com; and now you've written a horror novel. With such a diverse collection, how would you describe your style? Who would you recommend read A Good and Useful Hurt?
AD: I think I write what makes sense--to me--at the time that I write it. For whatever reason that has worked out to be this unintentionally eclectic style of writing. I just love the hell out of it. I can't pick where my muse takes me, regrettably, but I do love the ride. I think a reader for A Good and Useful Hurt should be ready for a fairly rough voyage, and should also remember that as dark as things get, there is always some light left.
"Mike, who runs a tattoo shop in Michigan, doesn’t see anything wrong in granting a customer’s unusual request to give him a tattoo incorporating the ashes of his deceased son. Soon other customers are asking for the same thing, which is fine, except that his new and unique kind of body art appears to connect Mike to a serial killer, causing the lives of the people Mike cares about to be put in jeopardy. Teaming up with the shop’s new hire, a beautiful and aggressively offbeat body piercer, Mike plunges into darkness from which he might not return. This could have been a serviceable mystery yarn with a fresh setting (the world of the tattoo artist), but Davis’ highly engaging characters and accomplished prose style, combined with the story’s seriously dark tones, make it compelling reading. Highly recommendable."— David Pitt