Award-winning author
Unusual times, remarkable places

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

10 June 2009

I know what it means to miss New Orleans, Part 1:

At least Leonardo could read it

I wanted to get a tattoo to celebrate my first novel sale (Like Mayflies in a Stream, coming from Hadley Rille Books in October), but tattoos are not mainstream here in conservative Riverside County, and tattoo parlors are scarce. I wanted a parlor that was clean and did top-notch work, so I waited until I went to New Orleans for The Ninth Muse’s wedding (more on our trip next week) so I could go back to Electric Ladyland in Faubourg Marigny, considered by some the best tattoo parlor in New Orleans.

After weeks of consideration, I had decided on a phrase in cuneiform because my book takes place in ancient Sumer in the time of Gilgamesh:

I went to Electric Ladyland prepared. I had printed out a large, clear image of the words and told the lady at the counter several times which way was up to make sure I didn’t get the letters engraved sideways or upside down. (I’m nothing if not obsessive.)

The tattooist was good. He asked whether the tattoo was oriented correctly before putting the temporary image on my leg and again before starting the tattoo. Both times I said yes. He did a beautiful job on the tattoo—clean, sharp lines, with all the triangles open, a difficult task, the shop people told me.

There was just one problem.

After thirty-plus years with systemic lupus erythematosus, I’ve been lucky to develop only one complication, but it’s an inconvenient one for a writer: cognitive dysfunction. In practical terms, that means I frequently forget things, get confused, have trouble retrieving memories, have trouble moving items from short-term memory into long-term memory, and suffer from what people with lupus call “brain fog.” Oh, yeah, and I frequently forget things. Lupus cognitive dysfunction worsens considerably when a person is tired.

Despite knowing better, I went to Electric Ladyland the day after I arrived, jet-lagged and exhausted from the long trip. This is the tattoo I received and probably deserved:

I didn’t discover until after I’d had a chance to rest that the tattoo was a mirror image of what I’d wanted. I did what decades of having lupus had taught me to do.



Now it’s your turn to laugh. I’m having three contests. The prize for each of the first two contests is a keychain flashlight imprinted with the name of my book, a woven Oriental rug bookmark, and your choice of either an ARC sometime soonish or a copy of the published trade paperback version in October. The prize for the third contest is an Oriental rug bookmark.

Contest 1. You’re the winner if you come up with the funniest joke about my tattoo (as judged by my husband and me) or the funniest response for me to give when people ask what my tattoo says.

Contest 2. You’re the winner if you come closest to guessing what my tattoo says if you were to look at it in a mirror. If more than one person guesses closely, the first poster will win.

Contest 3. You’re the winner if you're the first to guess why a brown-eyed brunette has such pale skin.

Contests will close 12:01 am Pacific time on 20 June.


Travis Erwin said...

Give me a few days and maybe I can think of something good.

Shauna Roberts said...

TRAVIS, I'm looking forward to it. I'm sure it'll be funny. The contest runs through the 19th.

ninthmuse (roz m) said...

I'll excuse myself from the contest, since we were snickering about the tattoo before the wedding. It still makes me grin to think of when you decided to tell me about it!

Mishell Baker said...

"Everyone gets tattoo they deserve!"

-The X=Files, "Never Again"

Ken Schneyer said...

Entry for Contest 1:

The funny tattoo says:
"If one can read this, he owes me two cattle, a sheep, and twenty ka of corn."

Entry for Contest 2:

The real tattoo says:
"Who speaks the truth, shall be rewarded.

Entry for Contest 3:

English ancestry and/or spending most of her life indoors.

...and I want my copy autographed... ;)

Mishell Baker said...

Well, for Contest 2 I'm going to say "Like Mayflies in a Stream." Which means that for Contest 1 I have to say, "Mearts a ni seilfyam ekil."

Contest 3: Black Irish?

Laura Drake said...

You should tell people it was put on wrong, but on says (and looks like) - may a bat crap on your house. This brings luck in some remote (very remote) parts of the world! :)

Farrah Rochon said...

The funny tattoo says:
"If one can read this, he owes me two cattle, a sheep, and twenty ka of corn."

This had me choking on my morning Cheerios.

I'll excuse myself from the contests, as well, but I can't wait to read more answers. :)

Shauna Roberts said...

NINTH MUSE, just doing my duty as a bridesmaid.

MISHELL, ROTFL. If that's true, maybe I should get a tattoo that says "NYT best-selling author" in hopes it comes true.

I should add to the rules that it's okay to enter more than once.

I'm enjoying everyone's answers but am surprised no one has guessed the answer to contest 3 yet. There's a big clue in the post itself.

Charles Gramlich said...

Answer 3 is related to your Lupus. Sun exposure exacerbates it and I think it usually comes on in relationship to sun exposure.

Shauna Roberts said...

We have a winner for Contest 3! The answer I was looking for was that because of my lupus, I have to stay covered up outside and wear high-SPF sunscreen. CHARLES GRAMLICH correctly guessed that my paleness was due to lupus sun sensitivity and wins a bookmark. CHARLES, you're still eligible to enter the other contests.

KEN SCHEYER, since I'm naturally pale because of some English ancestry, you too win a bookmark even though you didn't guess what I was looking for.

Rae Ann Parker said...

Shauna, maybe you could reply: "You mean you can't read it?"

I'm glad you can laugh about the tattoo. You have just added one more story to your lifetime bank of stories to share with others.

Do you have a photo of your book cover? I hope you can post one soon.

Shauna Roberts said...

RAE ANN, you've hit on one of my basic philosophies of life. "At least this will make a great story."

I should have a final or near-final cover to share very soon.

Steve Malley said...

Nothing to do with your contests, but you just threw me over the ol' Memory Waterfall in a barrel: a girl I went out with was an artist at Electric Ladyland on Carrolton. Curious, I nipped over to their website to find that not only is she gone (understandable, as it's been over a decade), but that Katrina took the old shop too!

One more place in my personal history that no longer exists...

Scott said...


I don't have a joke yet, but I think it's great you got some ink to celebrate your a tattoo addict myself, I can appreciate it!

I have a phrase in Nordic runes on my arm, and I made sure that they were done correctly...of course, with ancient languages, the chances of anyone else knowing it's wrong are slim. It's good that you wereable to laugh at it...and admit to us in Blogland what happened. :) Take care!

Shauna Roberts said...

The contest deadline has been extended until 12:01 am Tuesday, so feel free to enter again.

STEVE MALLEY, the watermark on the window of the Carrollton Electric Ladyland was at about the height of my waist or higher. Presumably all the equipment and most of the supplies were destroyed. Besides which, I at least would be reluctant to ever have a tattoo in a building that had been subject to such extensive mold growth.

SCOTT, I'm glad you were paying better attention to your tattoo and got it done right. As a tattoo addict, you should be able to come up with a good joke about my tattoo for the contest.

Anonymous said...

Contest 1.

Actually, were camels part of that period? I don't know anything about mayflies. (Can you tell I know a lot about camels?)

Contest 2.


Your next tattoo come to Venice! There's a tattoo parlor in my building, and several more within a few blocks. :) Nina K.

Shauna Roberts said...

NINA, thanks for entering!

Actually, the camel had not yet been introduced into Mesopotamia yet at the time of my book. I had to keep fighting the urge to put some in because in my mind, camels and deserts go together.

Shauna Roberts said...

P.S. to my last comment. Mayflies hatch, grow old, and die in a very brief time, sometimes as short as a few minutes. They symbolized for the Mesopotamians how fleeting life is.

frogsense said...

Contest 2: Your tattoo means: Your humble correspondent.

Contest 3: Even though you've already named a winner, we submit our simple answer: "due to sunless exposure".

Contest 1: A good response would be to say, "I fell asleep while the artist was doing the other tattoo and when I woke up he was doodling on my ankle.

Our answer are the combined efforts of Cassie, Allie & Renee

frogsense said...

Seems I lost the "s" on our answers are . . .

Shauna Roberts said...

Congratulations to prize winners Charles Gramlich, Ken Schneyer, Rae Ann Parker, and the Frogsense team!