Written By: Ashley Reynolds
Recently, I had the privilege of interviewing Taylor Brown. His story, “The Tattooist’s Daughter,” was chosen for the Fall 2012 Issue of The Coachella Review. The story is about a young woman who literally wears her heart on her sleeve, but still struggles to connect with her mother. Taylor Brown’s short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in CutBank, Thuglit, Plots with Guns, storySouth, Porchlight, The Bacon Review, Pindeldyboz, The Dead Mule, The Liars’ League, and The Press 53 Open Awards and Press 53 Spotlight anthologies. Taylor also received the 2009 Montana Prize in Fiction for his story “Rider.”
Where did you get the idea for the story, “The Tattooist’s Daughter?”
There were really two experiences that led me to this story.
In college, I trained for a (very short) while at this MMA/BJJ garage gym. There was this girl there who was a pretty well-known tattoo artist in Athens. She was probably 110 lb dripping wet, and she just beat my ass on a daily basis. There was something about her; she just had this mystique. She was a super-heroine. Annie is largely based on her.
Now the second part…ha ha, I hope I don’t get in trouble for admitting this, because it involved the mother of an ex-girlfriend who was from New Orleans. She came out to visit San Francisco, where we were living, and during her visit she noticed my girlfriend’s tattoo for the first time. We were at dinner. She was reaching for the salt and her mother saw it – the tattoo – and I mean she snatched up her daughter’s hand in the blink of an eye and ripped off the bracelet that was hiding it. She was…not happy, to say the least. Maybe I’d been in SF for too long, but I’d forgotten the level of conservatism that still exists about such things in certain social sets.
So anyways, I was interested in this character that could be so strong and sure of herself in the life she’d built, and yet have this vulnerability when it comes to her mother. This chink in her armor. And I was thinking of the small wars that go on between mothers and daughters.
When was the first time that you realized you were a writer?
Well, it’s a family joke that, as a kid, I would follow my mother around telling her these epic stories I’d made up – so much so that she admits having to lock herself in the bathroom sometimes just to get away for a few minutes. Of course I’d stand there in the hallway, telling her my stories through the door. I had to explain why my GI Joes were so much smaller than their environment, and why my Triceratops had a missile launcher on its back, and so on. Important things like that.
Then, in first grade, I had this teacher Mrs. Pruett. She had us write a story every single day. She would pass out these wide newsprint sheets with lines on the bottom half for writing your story, and an unlined top half for illustrations. I loved it. I wrote this story about a spider who steals a remote-control car, and it won some award at our elementary school, and I was probably hooked after that.
What do you do in your free time that contributes the most to your writing?
That’s a good question. I wish I could say I did something cool, like backcountry flying or spearfishing giant tuna or something. The reality is pretty pedestrian. I own and manage an internet marketing business, so I don’t have a lot of extra free time. I think I’m just always on the hunt for story ideas. People, magazines, books, TV. I find a nugget of something, and then I just start digging, following it.
What person inspires you the most? Why?
My parents. They have so much integrity, and they’ve always been so supportive of their kids. I’ve taken a somewhat high-risk path through life at times – moving to Buenos Aires after college, quitting a really solid job, starting my own business (I wanted more flexibility to write) – and they have never questioned or tried to dissuade me, even though I think it scared them at times. I think, when it comes to writing, we do so much of it on faith. Faith that we will get better, faith that we will get published. Faith that the next story will come. And having someone who believes you, and in what you’re trying to do, is huge.
What was the best advice that you were given?
I’ve got a bit of a secret weapon here. There is an online repository of interviews that Don Swaim conducted for his long-running CBS radio show, Book Beat. Here’s the link: http://www.wiredforbooks.org/swaim/. I’ve listened to nearly every one of these – some of them three, four, five times or more. I mean, he interviewed everybody. I used to listen to them in the background instead of music while I worked. Just soaking in the wisdom if I could.
Most recently, Kevin Watson of Press 53 gave me some great advice as far as concentrating on what I enjoy. For the last couple of years, I’d been laboring away over a couple of novel manuscripts that had gotten some traction with a big agent. Just revising, reworking, revising, reworking – to the point that I was starting to hate both manuscripts. I was wrapped up in the business side of things, burning out, and I’d lost some of the joy in writing. Kevin gave me the advice to stay patient, stay persistent, and keep writing powerful stories that I really care about – and the opportunities will come. That really kind of filled my well again at the perfect time.