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Melanie Benjamin Headshot

Does This Tattoo Make Me Look Like a Bestseller?

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A couple of years ago, in that rosy flush of a little success and a whole lot of dreams (and fueled, I must admit, by a few too many margaritas), I did something stupid.

I had just sold my book to a big time publisher. I had been published before, to little acclaim, and had spent a lot of years writing and wondering if I'd ever be published again. Turned out, I would be, and this was nothing short of a miracle on the Lourdes scale to me. So a little celebration was in order.

On a neon-lit street in South Beach, standing -- all right, swaying -- in a tattoo parlor, I promised my husband, myself, a taxi driver and several bemused bystanders that I would get a tattoo -- an Alice in Wonderland themed tattoo -- if (not when) my novel, Alice I Have Been, hit the New York Times Bestseller list.

Flash forward a couple of years. Last week, my novel, Alice I Have Been, hit the New York Times Extended Bestseller list. And in the midst of celebrating - responsibly, this time - my husband took me aside and said, "Now you have to get that tattoo, you know."

Well.

The question remains: do I? Do I really have to get that tattoo? Don't the literary gods know I was just kidding, just bargaining in the way that we artistic types do? You know - you whisper, "If I can finish 5000 words this week, I'll go to church on Sunday." Or -- "If this book is ever published, I swear I'll never envy J.K. Rowling again."

The artistic life is a lonely one. It's just us and the page, or easel, or lump of clay. No one's really waiting, with bated breath, for us to accomplish anything. There are more than enough artists and authors already out there.

So we have to motivate ourselves. We have to learn to celebrate the little things. We have to learn to.

Promise total strangers that we'll get tattoos if our books hit the New York Times Bestseller list.

I still don't know if I'm going to do it. I've asked many friends. Most say, "Heck yeah, you have to do it!" A few have suggested easing into it by getting a henna tattoo first. A couple of Puritans have said that a promise made under the influence is not a promise that needs to be kept.

But I don't know. Part of me wants to do it. The goody-two-shoes, Little Miss Perfect part of me who always studied hard, turned her homework in on time and met her curfews. The part of me that was disciplined enough to keep writing when there was no real reason to, who still meets all her deadlines, who is cooperative to a fault. (On a recent book tour, I agonized over whether or not to order a glass of wine after a hard day. I didn't want my publisher to have to pay for it; wine, after all, is expensive, even just a glass. In the end I put it on my own credit card, and felt the collective spirits of Hemingway, Wolfe and Fitzgerald look over my shoulder while I was signing the bill, and sigh.)

That part of me yearns to let loose, to live a little -- to do something wild and crazy, as a reward for a lifetime of good behavior.

But another part of me is afraid to do it - the part that says, "Well, OK. But what will you do if the next book hits the list? Pierce your nose? Shave your head?" The part that is squeamish around needles. The part that still fears I'll never be published again, and doesn't want a permanent reminder of a brief, insane moment of pure happiness and delight and, dare I say - the satisfaction of success.

Because if I never hit the bestseller list again, if my subsequent books are failures, I don't want to be reminded that once, I thought I knew what I was going to be doing for the rest of my life.

So I still don't know. Do I go through life branded with a reminder of a dream too big to sustain? Or do I go through life with a neat, tidy (for the part that fears needles demands a teeny tattoo) reminder that life is full of possibilities and unexpected delights, and that it's good to savor each one? Even if -- especially if -- you don't know when the next will come along?

I'm still thinking it over. Interested parties continue to weigh in.

But one thing I do know. I will never make a drunken promise concerning any future literary efforts.

I swear it on the collective spirits of Hemingway, Wolfe and Fitzgerald.