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.

Going Mental

 

scott-hutchison

I’ve been putting off this month’s mailing list, mostly because May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I felt like I should address it, didn’t want to, and then learned that Scott Hutchison had committed suicide.

If you’re familiar with Birthday Suits, you probably realized I’ve been dealing with mental health issues for some time, specifically depression and anxiety, since I was 18. I’ve been on medication since then, and when an ex asked me why I wouldn’t consider going off my medications I said, because I like being alive.

Comedian Chris Gethard has pointed out that no one ever tells a cancer patient they should try stopping chemo, but mental health patients deal with this all the time. Depression may not seem as immediately life threatening, but it absolutely can be. People are sometimes shocked when they learn I was hospitalized for suicidal ideation several years ago. Maybe because I seem “normal.” Everyone I met in the hospital was “normal,” as normal as all of you. Considering that one out of five people experiences mental illness, and suicide is the third leading cause of death for individuals aged 10 to 24, mental illness is alarmingly normal, although never recognized as such. That’s why I wanted to write about Scott Hutchison.

On Thursday May 10th, Hutchison was found dead on the banks of the Firth of Forth after an apparent suicide. He was 36 years old, and the singer and guitarist for Frightened Rabbit. This news would’ve saddened me even if Frightened Rabbit weren’t one of my favorite bands, but what’s heartbreaking is that Scott Hutchison has written so many beautiful and eloquent songs about his own depression that have provided me enormous comfort. He was able to think through his mental health to create gorgeous music, but ultimately couldn’t think or create away his depression. No one can. He sent these tweets shortly before he went missing on Tuesday:

scott-hutchison-tweets

The details of Scott Hutchison’s diagnosis or the extent to which he wasmentally ill are beside the point. What matters is he would’ve benefitted from talking to someone, and for whatever reason felt unable to do so. Considering how many people are affected by mental illness, it’s devastating Hutchison couldn’t or wouldn’t get the help he needed. Talking about mental illness is never easy, but that’s why it’s so important. If you need help, there are numerous resources available. Never forget how much you matter, especially on the days when you think you don’t matter at all. If you think someone you know is in need of help, reach out to them. A simple text of “hey, how’s it going?” can often do wonders. If you can’t get a hold of that person, keep trying. Don’t let them go.

BUT NOT EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE. The few people who’ve finished reading the latest draft of The Mechanic have been very complimentary, even though the moment my mother finished it she called to make sure I was okay. (I should probably start thinking of it as a horror novel.) I’ve also made tentative steps on a new project, something I’ve been thinking about for a while but is easily the weirdest thing I’ve ever done. Fingers crossed.

I also have a new job! I know all of you were dying to cross that off your list of concerns. As of May 7th I am employed as a technical writer for a software company. I guess all of this is to say that I was intensely depressed for much of 2017, but I’m now in a good place. Getting help for mental illness doesn’t mean I no longer have bad days. It means I know what to do when the really bad days bite me in the ass.

Until next month,
Evan

Year of the Dog

In honor of the season, here are my New Year’s Resolutions listed in order of importance:

  1. Finish writing/editing The Mechanic
  2. Only refer to LL Cool J by his full name, Ladies Love Cool James
  3. Find a new job
  4. Go on a date with Saorise Ronan
  5. Go to more movies

What else is new besides my calendar? For starters, all 8 season of Psych are now streaming on Amazon Prime. If you’re not familiar with the antics of Shawn and Gus, a fake psychic and his pharmaceutical-selling best friend, they are my favorite re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes and Watson. Instead of being addicted to heroin, Shawn’s a compulsive liar with father issues, Gus is his handsomely neurotic partner, and they both love snacks. Below is a clip of the two of them doing their thing as a pair of superfly dudes from the 70s:

This makes more sense in context. Sort of.
I did start writing that screenplay I mentioned a while back. I wrote a handful of scenes, realized the narrative stakes were extremely low, and as of last week starting writing new stuff for The Mechanic. I haven’t given up on the screenplay, and while I’m not promising to eventually finish it, I will definitely go back to it at some point.

It has also come to my attention some of you thought I was being metaphorical about sticking The Mechanic‘s first draft in my freezer when I was being quite literal. I never joke about the contents of my freezer, as that is where most of my food comes from. The manuscript will stay there until I run out of ideas for stuff that should’ve been included in the first draft, or when I summon the requisite chutzpah to look on my works and despair, whichever comes first.

We’re in the thick of the awards season, and both The Shape of Water and Lady Bird are incredible films (as is the new Star Wars!). There are plenty of other contenders I haven’t seen, but if you’re into anthropomorphized fish dudes who fall in love, definitely check out William of the Bull’s latest work; anyone with a beating heart will love Lady Bird, which I sincerely hope wins best picture even though the Oscars are a farce.
Until next month,

Evan