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Authors of “Pen and Ink” Speak at Texas Book Festival

By Ashley Lopez

Among the many sessions listed on the Texas Book Festival schedule, the title “Tattoo Tales” definitely stood out. But what do tattoos have to do with books? Buzzfeed books editor Isaac Fitzgerald and artist Wendy McNaughton delivered a compelling discussion on the storytelling that stems from tattoos. “When you stop and ask somebody, ‘Hey, what made you decide to permanently mark your body with that image?’ there is always a story,” McNaughton says.

The cover of the book "Pen and Ink: Tattoos and the Stories Behind Them."

The cover of the book “Pen and Ink: Tattoos and the Stories Behind Them.”

Fitzgerald and McNaughton recently published the book “Pen and Ink,” a compilation of peoples’ stories about the meaning of their tattoos. While Fitzgerald handled the storytelling portion of the book, McNaughton drew her rendition of every subject’s tattoos and hand wrote their stories.

“Pen and Ink” is truly a manifestation of both old and new-school publishing methods. The series began as a Tumblr page and has now turned into a book that audiences can pick up and read. “Tumblr definitely runs a gamut and has a lot of book focus,” McNaughton says.

With the help of Rachel Fershleiser, a friend of the authors and team member of Tumblr’s literary and nonprofit outreach department,, Fitzgerald and McNaughton were able to bring their book to life. “Rachel came up with the name ‘Pen and Ink’ because we were going to call the book something way too gross and tough, so hooray for collaboration,” Fitzgerald says.

The authors both agree the best part of the whole project was talking to people about their personal markings. Unable to control laughter and excitement throughout their entire panel, Fitzgerald and McNaughton beam with amiability. The quick and witty dialogue created between the two authors and their audience proves that being able to speak with others comes naturally to them. “At first, we turned to our friends… Suckers,” Fitzgerald says. “Wendy and I are lucky enough to have friends who are story tellers. So they really provided the first couple of thoughtful pieces. But then we also wanted this book to represent basically all of humanity, so we went out to bars, cafés and did man-on-the-street type stuff.”

Fitzgerald and McNaughton were able to speak with Lena Dunham and learn the story behind her tattoo. The authors mention that the only information they share about their subjects is their name and the occupation they identify with.

Fitzgerald and McNaughton were able to speak with Lena Dunham and learn the story behind her tattoo. The only information authors share about their subjects is their name and the occupation they identify with.

Notably, the authors labeled their book as “between literary and coffee table.” Fitzgerald and McNaughton say they want people to have the option of reading their book either a few stories at a time or front to back in one sitting. In a world of fast-paced information digestion, this option for audiences to pick up the book at any time was important to both of the authors.

After collecting such powerful stories, Fitzgerald and McNaughton share they are currently working on the second part of Pen and Ink, another book called “Knives and Ink.” “It’s about chefs and their tattoos,” McNaughton says. “We both have a lot of friends who are in the food industry and there is a huge tattoo culture within the culinary culture.”

As the authors summed up their panel at Texas Book Fest, they said they owe all their adventures to connections. They hope to use the series of Pen and Ink books as vehicle to illuminate communities that haven’t had a spotlight. “If I was friends with all the Texas Longhorns, we would do a Longhorns tattoo book,” Fitzgerald says.

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