20 October 2016

Skin of Tattoos by Christina Hoag

Skin of Tattoos by Christina Hoag Tour Banner


Skin of Tattoos by Christina HoagLos Angeles homeboy Magdaleno is paroled from prison after serving time on a gun possession frameup by a rival, Rico, who takes over as gang shotcaller in Mags’s absence. Mags promises himself and his Salvadoran immigrant family a fresh start, but he can’t find either the decent job or the respect he craves from his parents and his firefighter brother, who look at him as a disappointment. Moreover, Rico, under pressure to earn money to free the Cyco Lokos’ jailed top leader and eager to exert his authority over his rival-turned-underling, isn’t about to let Mags get out of his reach. Ultimately, Mags’s desire for revenge and respect pushes him to make a decision that ensnares him in a world seeded with deceit and betrayal, where the only escape from rules that carry a heavy price for transgression is sacrifice.

Kirkus Review:

Hoag tells the story of a gang member’s attempts to flee his life of crime in this debut novel.
After 26 months in prison, 20-year-old Magdaleno “Mags” Argueta knows he can’t go back to his previous life as a member of the Cyco Lokos, one of Los Angeles’ most notorious Salvadoran street gangs. He’s hoping his time served will earn him veteran status, allowing him to walk away without repercussions. Unfortunately, his crew is now under the command of his chief rival, Rico, who’s less than sympathetic to his aspirations to go straight. What’s more, the only jobs available to a tatted-up ex-con like Mags are demeaning, such as passing out fliers on the sidewalk while dressed as a clown. At home, his family relationships remain strained: his mother sees him as a disappointment, his father as a source of shame, and his fireman brother makes him look irresponsible by comparison. His sister, Lissy, still treats him with affection, but he’s heard rumors that she’s hooked up with a member of a rival gang. Despite his pledges to stay out of trouble, Mags finds that no one believes he’s up to the task. His parole officer tells him, “The life’s not going to let you go so easy.” As hard as that is to hear, Mags knows that it might be the truth. Hoag is a talented writer, summoning Mags’ world on the page with remarkable empathy and detail: “The sidewalks were crammed like a giant flea market—people selling jeans, pots and pans, plastic bags of mango slices….Everything looked familiar and strange at the same time, old and new, I belonged and I didn’t.” Despite a story that feels a bit well-trod, none of the characters seem hastily constructed or come off as clichés. Their pressures and motivations are clearly stated and genuinely felt, and readers will quickly become invested in Mags and his confrontation with an uncertain future. A sense of melodrama flares toward the end as events start to feel less realistic and a little more heightened and Hollywood-ish. But the overall experience is surprisingly nuanced and wholly enjoyable.

A well-crafted, engaging novel about an ex-con trying to break free.

Book Details:

Genre: Literary Crime
Published by: Martin Brown Publishing
Publication Date: September 2016
Number of Pages: 267
ISBN: 9871937070663


When did you decide to become a writer?

I won a prize for “writing interesting stories” when I was six years old so I think writing was something I was born with. As a kid, I loved books – I devoured them and I knew I wanted to write one when I grew up. I discovered journalism in high school - a career that would pay me to write! Now I’m focusing on developing my fiction.

What are your ambitions for your writing career?

It may be a tall order, but I’d love to be able to write fiction fulltime without having to write other stuff to make a living. My career has been in journalism, but now I do a lot of corporate communications writing and editing to pay the bills.

Give us an insight into your main character. What does he do that is so special?

Hubris. Magdaleno is a gang member who decides he wants to leave the gang, the Cyco Lokos, but he gets wrapped up in a bunch of circumstances – the gang’s a source of good income and he can’t find a job, he loves hanging with his homies, his only friends who give him the respect he craves, but then the biggest factor comes along - he falls victim to his inner demons - pride and ego. He wants revenge when he sees his rival take Mags’s place as gang shotcaller, or leader.  Like many of us, he just can’t let it go and that proves his downfall. 

Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?

I’m definitely a morning writer. My best stuff comes when I’m fresh so I really organize my day around that. I get up early and get going. I like to stop writing early afternoon and attend to emails, marketing stuff, errands and so on. 

Where do the ideas come from?

Working as a journalist for many years has deeply influenced my fiction. As a reporter, you have an entrée into many subcultures, slices of life and people that normally you would not have access to. “Skin of Tattoos,” for example, was sparked by a story I did in El Salvador about Los Angeles gang members being deported to a country they had left as small children. International themes really call to me. I grew up around the world and I’m a passionate traveller. 

Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?

I’ve learnt, the hard way, that it’s best to write with some type of outline first, to know where you’re going, at least have some type of ending in mind. I’ve done the “winging it” thing and ended up completely lost in the story with no exit, like getting trapped in a labyrinth. I've since found that periodically mapping out the next scenes is very helpful. Of course, characters can take you on unexpected journeys, which is great, so you have to be flexible. 

Any tips on how to get through the dreaded writer’s block?

When I get stuck, I take a break. Sometimes even just walking to the kitchen is enough to jog my brain and the solution will come. Another remedy I’ve found is to move ahead to a section that I do have in my head and come back to the problem section. Luckily, I don’t get stuck too often, but it happens!

What can we expect from you down the line?

I’m hoping to complete a sequel to “Skin of Tattoos” so I can finish Mags’ story. I’ve got some of it written, but it’s messy. But first, I’m making myself finish two novels that are both near completion. One is called “The Revolutionaries,” a literary political thriller based on the 2002 coup attempt in Venezuela, where I was living at the time. An expat couple are the protagonists and they get wrapped up in opposite sides of the political debate, which drives a wedge in their marriage. The other is called “Angel’s Lust,” a detective mystery set in Los Angeles with a Latin American twist to the mystery. If that develops into a series, each mystery plot will have an international element to it.

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Read an excerpt:

“Ay yo, homes!” A familiar voice sliced through the bustle. “Mags!”
I twirled faster than a ballet dancer, my stomach clenching. Fuck. It was him. Rico. Slashing across the street aiming the shopping bag in his hand at me. His baggy shorts slung so low the waistband of his boxers showed. Socks, white as fluorescent light, pulled neatly to his knees. Ink flowing out of the arms and neck of his plaid shirt. Exactly how he looked the last time I saw him.
The memory of that day bore down on me. We were kicking it at a street corner, and Rico was bragging about how he shot a trey-eight into the ceiling of a liquor store he was jacking, and the storeowner pissed his pants. As he was talking, he took the .38 out of his waistband in a live re-enactment, and I just had to take the piece, feeling its cold weight in my hand for just a second or two before handing it back to Rico. That second or two cost me twenty-six months of my freedom.
When Tweety yelled “five-o,” Rico took off like an Olympic sprinter. I never even saw him throw down the cuete. I had no reason to run. As Morales was giving me his routine hassle, he kicked the edge of a bush behind me. Then he crouched down. When he straightened, he was dangling the piece with a pen hooked through its trigger guard. He busted me on possession of a firearm. It got worse. They matched the cuete to the robbery, and my fucking prints were the only clear ones on it. I had no alibi. The fact was, I was doing a drop with Chivas to the big jefe that night.
Lissy signed a statement saying I was watching TV with her at home that night, but nobody believed her, seeing as she had said that before when I got busted. I couldn’t drop Rico’s name or I’d have a green light on me as a snitch. My P.D. told me to take the D.A.’s deal even though the storeowner couldn’t positively identify me in a lineup. I took the hit for possession, and they dropped the robbery, as well as the ADW charge, which they tacked on since “I” waved the piece around and shot it during the robbery. Like I would ever pull such a dumbass move.
Rico threw his arm around me. A thick gold chain shone around his neck. I had a cord with an orange arrow slung around mine.
“Ese.” My voice had as much life as a three-day-old soda.
I never knew if he dropped that thirty-eight by accident, as he said, or if he saw his chance to set me up. I kinda figured the latter. Someday, somehow, I’d get him to admit the truth to me.
“I thought that was you. But I said to myself, ‘Mags, in that fuckin pendejada? Couldn’t be.’ But I looked again and *simón,* it was. Whatup with this shit?” He flicked the red nose ball. I caught his wrist in midair and stared him down in his swamp eyes. “Easy, fool,” he said.
I dropped his wrist. “Just making a few bones.”
“I heard you was back. We been waiting for you at the garaje, but you ain’t showed up.” Rico drilled my eyes. “You avoiding your homies or what?”
The ball was itching my nose like an oversized mosquito bite. “I got parole and all that. I just wanted to get set up first.”
“I figured you needed a couple days to get readjusted, get some pussy.” He shook his head. “But damn, this shit?” He shook his head. “You ready to get crazy again?”
“Keeping it lo pro, Rico.”
Rico studied me. I suddenly glimpsed myself in his eyes—I had become a small brown man.

Author Bio:

Christina HoagChristina Hoag is a novelist in Los Angeles,. She is the author of "Girl on the Brink" (Fire and Ice YA/Melange Books, August 2016,) a YA romantic thriller about an abusive relationship, and "Skin of Tattoos "(Martin Brown Publishing, August 2016), a literary thriller about the gang world.
She also co-authored "Peace in the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence," a groundbreaking book on gang intervention (Turner Publishing, 2014).
A former staff writer for The Miami Herald and The Associated Press in Los Angeles, she was also a correspondent in Latin America, where she reported from 14 countries on issues such as the rise of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, Colombian guerrillas, Guatemalan human rights, Salvadoran gangs, Nicaraguan landmine victims, and Mexican protests, for Time, Business Week, Financial Times, Houston Chronicle, the New York Times, and other publications.
She has had numerous short stories, poems and creative nonfiction published in literary magazines and journals, Her short story "My Mother's Knives" was included in a horror story anthology, "And Now the Nightmare Begins" (Bear Manor Media, 2009) and her literary short story "Life Stories" is forthcoming in the anthology "100 Voices" (Centum Press, 2016)

Catch up with Christina on her Website ⇗, Twitter ⇗, or on Christina Hoag's Facebook ⇗.

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This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours for Christina Hoag. There will 1 winner of a $15 Amazon.com gift card & 5 US winners of one (1) eBook copy of Skin of Tattoos by Christina Hoag. The giveaway begins on October 15th and runs through November 27th, 2016.
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