We Interviewed This YA Author While She Got Inked

Maria Dahvana Headley talks 'Magonia' -- while bleeding.

Tattoos and young adult fiction -- they seem to go together like teenage angst and journaling. Which is why when Maria Dahvana Headley, author of "Magonia," asked me to interview her about her new fantasy novel while she got inked, I was all like, "Makes sense." YA is all about wearing your emotions of your sleeve -- as are tattoos (quite literally).

I met Headley at my favorite shop in Brooklyn (where I actually got five of my seven tattoos) where she was perched on a velvet couch adorned in a flowered dress, a vintage belt reading "Betty," sailing ship-shaped earrings and copious amounts of ink. In between planning a party at her apartment -- which comes complete with a speakeasy in the basement -- the author showed me a drawing of the art she planned to get: a complicated knot inspired by her book.

"It's a sailor's knot from a knot manual from the 1700s, so it has all these beautiful knots in it," she said. "Inside one of the little toggles securing the knot there's a little ampersand."


Headley's debut YA novel -- she's written other works for adults -- tells the tale of Aza Ray Boyle, a super-smart teen who has been suffering from a mysterious disease her entire life that makes it really hard to breathe. She basically almost drowns in the air on a daily basis.

If you're expecting the waterworks inherent in novels that deal with illness -- like John Green's "The Fault In Our Stars" -- however, think again. Aza doesn't waste away or die -- after a particularly bad attack she finds herself transported to another world, Magonia, where ships cut through the sky propelled by sails fashioned of bats, whales spout water that makes the rain, and everyone is blue and just naturally tattoo'd. Oh, and she can finally breathe.

If you're intrigued by that description (and the pretty, pretty cover), you can check out the book right now. But first, read on for my interview with Maria -- which was conducted while needles were drilling into her skin -- for more on her ink, her work and what ink you can cop from her work.


MTV: So, you get a tattoo for every book you write?

Maria Dahvana Headley: Yeah, I do. I also get tattoos for other reasons -- so, alas, I don’t have 12 books. But I got a tattoo for 'Queen of Kings,' which is my last one -- and it's a big giant falcon on my shoulder. I also got a tattoo for 'The Year of Yes,' which was my first book -- it was a memoir about love. 'Magonia' just came out, so I was a little delayed with getting a tattoo. It's like a week late.

MTV: What was your first tattoo?

Headley: My first tattoo is a full-on Sailor Jerry situation on my hip -- it's a swallow with big spread wings. When I got it I was 20 on St. Mark's Place [in New York]; I just walked in in a frenzy. It's still there 17 years later and it's not a terrible thing to look at.

MTV: Do you have a least-favorite tattoo?

Headley: I don’t know, actually. I have a 11 and now I am about to have 12 -- I sort of like them all. ... I just feel like this skin is mine. It's aging every day and the tattoos are aging with me. So, I'm going to be an old piece of paper one day with a lot of work on it.

MTV: So you said in the upcoming sequel, your characters -- the Magonians -- they have tattoos just naturally on their skin that change with their moods. Why do you think there are so many tattoos in YA fiction these days?

Headley: I think it's just become so normal to just decorate your skin, you know? But it is also powerful to say, you know, 'This is permanent ink and I am going to have my definition of myself in that moment be infinite.'

MTV: I know a lot of people get tats based on YA books. What in your book do you think would make a good tattoo?

Headley: I thought about it myself when I was planning on getting this tattoo. I thought about getting a bat because there are these major bats in the book -- they are sails for the ships -- but I think bats have the possibility of looking really cheesy.


MTV: The book has tons of stylized text, though. Like, a word is spelled out across an entire page. Very poetic. Do you think that would make a good tattoo? A word or phrase?

Headley: Yeah, that would be good. I don’t even know why I did that in the book. Some of it was inspired by e.e. cummings -- because I grew up reading his poems and there is a little bit of e.e. cummings in the book. But, yeah, that would be cool -- that would be a beautiful tattoo.

MTV: There's so many monsters in the book -- bats, whales, squids, sharks -- and on your skin. Do you plan to add any more?

Headley: I like monsters in general -- that's what I like to write about. Somebody was joking with me that my body was becoming a manual for a role-playing game because I'm covered in little monsters. That's true. I could easily have more monsters on my skin.


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