SKIN OF TATTOOS by Christina Hoag

Since I’ve been a journalist (a newspaper reporter, which almost sounds quaint these days!), I get a lot of ideas from news events and people I’ve covered. That’s how “Skin of Tattoos” was born. I was sent to El Salvador back in 2000 to do a magazine story on gang members deported from Los Angeles to San Salvador, which most of them really didn’t know because their families had emigrated when they were infants or small children. It was a classic “fish out of water” story. They neither belonged in El Salvador or in the United States. Some barely spoke Spanish. It’s really a strange take on the immigrant experience. 

By the way, this was before the scourge of gangs became a pandemic in the northern countries of Central America. When I was there, the gangs had formed, spurred by these deported Angelenos, but they were nowhere near as strong as they are today.

The story of these young men I interviewed resonated with me. I could relate to them because I had moved around the world as a child, so I also feel I don’t really belong anywhere; I straddle numerous cultures. Although my novel is not about deported gang members; it’s the tale of rival homeboys in L.A., the book was inspired by those interviews in El Salvador, although I didn’t sit down and write an outline until maybe six years later and started writing it in 2008. It’s been a long haul!

But I confess I have a general interest in gangs as a subculture within our larger society. I first encountered gangs again as a journalist in New Jersey, where I was working as a reporter for The Times in Trenton. The editor assigned me to write a story about a notorious motorcycle gang delivering Christmas toys to a local hospital. I went to interview them in a small suburban house. It was all very normal-looking apart from the bunch of Harley choppers out front and its rather gloriously hirsute occupants, who insisted they belonged to a “club” not a gang. However, a couple years later, I saw one of them at a New Jersey prison where I’d gone to interview an inmate for another story. So much for the “club,” I thought.

I also covered gangs and related issues when I was a reporter for the Associated Press in Los Angeles and later co-wrote a nonfiction book on gang intervention called “Peace in the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence” (Turner Publishing, 2014) with a South Los Angeles gang interventionist. It’s now being used as a textbook in various courses at UCLA, USC and the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, a fact which I’m very proud of.

Christina Hoag is the author of Skin of Tattoos, a literary thriller set in L.A.’s gang underworld (Martin Brown Publishers, August 2016) and Girl on the Brink, a romantic thriller for young adults (Fire and Ice YA/Melange Books, August 2016). She is a former reporter for the Associated Press and Miami Herald and worked as a correspondent in Latin America writing for major media outlets including Time, Business Week, Financial Times, the Houston Chronicle and The New York Times. She is the co-author of Peace in the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence, a groundbreaking book on gang intervention (Turner Publishing, 2014). She lives in Los Angeles. For more information, see

Los Angeles homeboy Magdaleno is paroled from prison after serving time on a gun possession frame-up by a rival, Rico, who takes over as gang shot-caller 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 of everything – and everyone - he loves.

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