June Gervais, author of “Jobs for Girls With Artistic Flair,”...

June Gervais, author of “Jobs for Girls With Artistic Flair,” lives in Sound Beach. Credit: Sofia Titvinidze

Sound Beach author June Gervais has always been fascinated by tattoos, and in particular, the people who create them.

Now both are getting plenty of ink in Gervais’ debut novel, “Jobs for Girls With Artistic Flair” (Pamela Dorman Books/Viking, $26), which follows a misfit South Shore teenager in her quest to become a tattoo artist in the 1980s.

The Long Island native spoke from her home about the history of tattooing on the island, illustrating her own book and the importance of perseverance.

Where did the title “Jobs for Girls With Artistic Flair” come from?

This is the title of a list the main character’s brother writes out for her. Gina is 18 years old, just graduated high school, and doesn’t think she has any marketable skills other than a knack for drawing. The story takes place in the 1980s, and her brother, Dom, gives her a list of options for jobs girls can do, like candy making, window dressing and floral design — all fine, but not right for her. The novel follows this young queer woman as she finds and makes her way in a man’s world.

Gina describes the world as an aquarium, and says she feels like an ugly glow-in-the dark fish trying to hide from everyone else. This felt so painful, yet so true to how many young people are feeling today.

I definitely felt like a misfit growing up. As someone who has struggled with social anxiety myself, I wanted to send this out like a pen-pal letter to all the people out there who wonder if they belong, or who are just graduating and worry if the future holds anything for them, or people of any age just starting new chapters in their lives. I know there are a bunch of them on Long Island and I especially hope this book finds them so they know they are not alone.

This book takes place in the fictional town of Blue Claw, but so much of the real Long Island is in these pages. How did you capture the island so perfectly?

Blue Claw is an amalgamation of different towns, though it does have a South Shore flavor. I’ve lived most of my life on Long Island — Shirley, Mastic, Yaphank, Ridge, Riverhead, Franklin Square, and now Sound Beach. … I tried to get all those things that feel like home blended into this one fictional town, from the salty air to what it feels like to walk around the docks to what a river looks like at sunset to the smell of frying rice balls on the breeze.

Along with the words, you also drew the book’s illustrations.

Yes! There are 30 in the book, all very Long Island, beach-themed stuff like a crab with a crystal ball, or hybrid animals like a seagull-phoenix. Any artsy kid or someone who wants to be a tattoo artist is going to be incessantly drawing, and it occurred to me that these were like drawings from Gina’s sketchbook.
 

There are so many fascinating tattoo facts and history in these pages. How did you conduct your research?

I shadowed and interviewed 10 different tattoo artists. I also tracked down the artist who tattooed my mother. … She was one of the first women to tattoo on Long Island, though she tattoos upstate now. I spent a lot of time with Lynn Terhaar, who was the first female tattoo shop owner in Suffolk County. She gave me so many amazing details from the time period. Things were so different in that world back in the 1980s and it was a challenge to conjure up this world that has disappeared. I really wanted to pay tribute to this work these women were doing as pioneers in this field.

When did you first become interested in the world of tattooing?

I was 6 years old the first time I went to a tattoo shop. My mom was getting a tattoo in West Hempstead at Peter Tat 2, one of the earlier shops on Long Island. On her 18th birthday she’d had a sun put on her wrist and when I was 6 she covered it up with a butterfly, while I was happily eating my chicken nuggets. I did not know that this was seen as edgy or uncommon for women at the time. All I knew was that I loved my mom and thought she was so strong and beautiful.

Do you have any tattoos?

I got a tattoo right away on my 18th birthday. I really thought about it for a long time and I could not imagine a time when I would not want a spider on my arm, but when enough guys come up and slap you and say, “You got a spider on your arm,” it is time for a change. In my mid-20s I got an olive branch over the spider and that just keeps growing. Three different artists have added to it. I am getting another tattoo to celebrate the publication of the book, but that one is a secret.

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