Donezel Washington

The Mechanic is finished! Sasha is now Ana. The word count dropped from 84,000 to 80,0000. My mom is reading the latest draft and said “it’s tighter,” which is maybe all I’ve ever wanted to hear about my writing. I don’t plan on making any changes unless an agent or editor tells me to. I have started querying, but that’s a long, slow, demoralizing process. Updates to come.

To give you a sense of where my brain has been since I finished the book, I have a blister on my right index finger and I’m not at all sure how I got it. I also bought three mixing bowls at Target last weekend and two of them have completely vanished. I also went to Costco and thought, “ooh quinoa salad, that sounds good!” I was watching TV the other night and had an idea for my next novel. Right now it’s about cults, dementia, time travel, and bank heists. Should be dope.

Many thanks to all of you who read various sections and drafts of The Mechanic. I’d especially like to thank my friend Miriam, who had to listen to me try to explain what this book was about before I’d written much of anything. Her thoughtful questions were crucial in helping me think through so many parts of the story. In no particular order, I also need to thank Sara, Jean, Marissa, Kerry, Julianna, Andy, mom, and dad. The feedback from all of you was so so helpful. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I’m gonna go turn into a werewolf now.

P.S. I stole the Donezel Washington joke from Brooklyn 9-9 which is a great show that was and then wasn’t canceled and you should definitely watch it.

So you want to talk about race

Well, probably you don’t, but that’s why we should talk about it. I know I’ve mentioned it at some point, but for as long as The Mechanic has existed, the titular character was an African-American woman named Sasha. I recently decided to revise the book for Sasha to be a white woman with a new name.

I wanted Sasha to be an African American because it’s important that my fiction be representative of reality. Not all of us are cis-gender heterosexual white people, and neither is good literature. To me, Sasha has been black from the moment I first thought of her. Regrettably, it was only recently I stopped to ask myself why I’d imagined her this way.

Once I’d finished the first draft of The Mechanic I knew I would need people of color to read it and to pay attention to their feedback. I also knew that if I was lucky enough to ever be interviewed about this book, the conversation would include my decision to write a novel whose central character is black when I so clearly am not.

Before asking any person of color to read The Mechanic, I read So you want to talk about race by Ijeoma Oluo, which is great even if you’re not struggling to write characters of color. Oluo’s book gave me ideas for improving The Mechanic, and I felt confident about moving forward. Not long after that, I asked a person of color to read The Mechanic. I knew this person from school, was confident they would provide frank feedback, and I genuinely thought it was a story they’d enjoy. In my request, I included a synopsis and an offer to pay them a dollar per page for their time. They respectfully said no, expressing concern over “reading about rape and assault – especially violence against black bodies.” 

My initial reaction was, “Don’t you want to see how I’ve handled this as an artist!?” which is the wrong response and thankfully remained unsaid. It wasn’t until my friend declined to read The Mechanic that I was honest with myself about why I’d written Sasha as an African American; she’s an inherently angry character, and I didn’t think readers would believe that level of anger in a white character. This is racist and plays on the stereotype of an angry black woman, for which there is no excuse.

Using race to render characters more believable is dangerously lazy. Once I realized this I knew I had to remove Sasha in favor of a white character. This will ultimately serve the story far better, forcing me to write effective characters regardless of race. The book will certainly be different, but it will also be much better.

I am still passionate about writing compelling characters of all races, and it was difficult to realize I’m not yet a strong enough writer to do so. Good intentions don’t mean shit if it leads to bad, offensive writing.

Sorry to get so heavy after last month’s whimsy, but my only other idea for this newsletter was to send an inflammatory email full of “would” statements, and then send a follow-up correcting all of them to “wouldn’t” statements. I’m not sure that’s any less depressing, to be honest.

To end on a cheerful note, here’s a song I really enjoy by Wild Pink, whose new record came out today.

Reading is a Beach

Beach Reading Season has arrived! Like a group of white people that’s never heard of Hawaii, my family and I will be spending the last week of June in sunny Florida, embracing our inner beach bums. Will I engage in the summer pastime known as beach reading? You bet your ass I will.

Perhaps you’re wondering, What is beach reading? There are many schools of thought on the subject, but I maintain there are four criteria to be met for something to qualify as a Beach Read. *Ahem*

  1. It must be short.
  2. It must be funny.
  3. If it does not meet criteria #2, it must make the reader look smart and/or trendy. Or at the very least, give the impression the reader subscribes to The New Yorker.
    It’s small enough to fit in the back pocket of your cut-off jeans.
  4. What follows is my fool-proof guide to your best Beach Reading Life.

@cottoncandaddy

@Cottoncandaddy is a Twitter account, something much better and shorter than a book. Written by Gracie Hoos, a witty twenty-something in Canada, this Twitter feed will have you obnoxiously laughing on the beach as you sip a Mai Tai, the other would-be beach readers all dying to know what you’re reading. In short, @cottoncandaddy is funny, attractive, and has a very cute dog!

What’s more beach read-y than a podcast? Nothing, especially when that podcast is This Sounds Serious, an eight-part, fictional-crime podcast that satirizes Serial et al., while being equally engaging and much funnier. In 2007, Orlando weatherman Chuck Brondstadt was found dead in his apartment after being killed with his own waterbed. Who did it? Was it his eccentric identical twin brother? A rival weatherman? Maybe a former member of an Atlantis cult?? The final episode drops June 19th, so get your binge on! If anyone asks what you’re listening to, say, It’s a compelling audio drama à la S-Town. Haven’t you heard of it?

Perhaps you left your Kindle at home, or maybe you’re on the lam to avoid paying your exorbitant library fines. Don’t worry, fearless Beach Reader, Netflix is here to save the day. Nailed It! is a competition cooking show, in which amateur bakers attempt to recreate pastry masterpieces. The fun part is none of them are particularly skilled, and they have very limited time. Whoever is closest to nailing it wins $10,000! This is better than a book because you can imagine fun stories about the contestants, like, How did this person ever get the idea they could bake? Are all of their friends gaslighting them while spitting half-chewed cupcakes into their napkins? Next thing you know, you’re writing a breezy thriller about a cooking-show contestant who has to solve a delectable murder before their time is up. Who needs Beach Reads when you can Beach Write, am I right?

Until next month,
Evan