Mechanic Shop Femme on Tour

by | May 1, 2024 | 0 comments

I spoke with Milchtein on the phone in April while she waited to board a flight to Burlington, VT, the fourth stop on her 16-city book tour. However, unlike most book tours that stop at stores selling books or even libraries, this one would exclusively meet at locations not known for literature. Instead, she would be visiting mechanic shops across the country owned by people who identify as women, queer, or people of color.

She insists, “I am not a car enthusiast…. At the core of this is not a love for cars, it’s a love for people. It’s a love for helping people and supporting my communities through a process that’s very difficult and fraught with discrimination and challenges in a way that most people just really don’t know how to handle…. It’s really designed for regular folks, for women and for queer folks, for people that are just trying to get to work, to school, and not waste all their money in the process.”

Although many are familiar with Milchtein due to her massive TikTok following or blog, “Mechanic Shop Femme,” she has spent over a decade building her brand.

Career Beginnings 

Her journey to becoming a published automotive author did not begin with anything like a childhood passion for journaling or cars, but rather grew out of desperation in times of financial hardship.

Growing up, Milchtein lived in a Hasidic Jewish home and, “was raised without television and movies, books, music, or any kind of secular education. I went into foster care when I was almost 17…. I never learned how to write or to spell or anything like that in the traditional manner that Americans take for granted,” she explained.

At 18 she aged out of the foster care system and was trying to figure out how to make it on her own. Desperately, she started a GoFundMe when someone messaged her, “Listen, money can only go so far. What do you really need?” Soon after, the individual helped Milchtein get an interview at a Sears. When asked by an employee which department she wanted to work in, Milchtein says, “Whichever one makes the most money!” After being offered either the appliances or automotive departments, she chose automotive, despite not having a driver’s license at the time.

Mechanic Shop Femme 

After obtaining her driver’s license and spending about two years answering people’s questions about cars for work, a career coach suggested she start a blog. Although Milchtein doubted it would ever amount to anything, “Mechanic Shop Femme” will turn eight this June.

“There’s nowhere good to turn to get advice, and when you do there’s a lot of misinformation and disinformation. Most of the time, it’s just contradictions because different cars require different things,” explained Milchtein. “You’ll look up how often to do an oil change and discover that there are 16 different suggestions. If you’re the person that’s super careful, you’re going to go with the most often. If you’re somebody who’s like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to spend my money,’ you’re going to go with the least often—and both are probably going to be wrong.”

Next, she began teaching classes about cars and was getting quoted in different publications; one of those was the now defunct Rewire by PBS, whose editor asked Milchtein if she would consider a writing assignment—launching her career past as a journalist as well.

Over the last four years, Milchtein has produced an online video series featuring women and queer-owned mechanic shops around the country. So, once her book deal was underway and she knew it would be released in April (which is National Car Care Month), she was inspired to collaborate with some of these repair shops instead of bookstores. Book tour attendees must pay a $5.00 admission ticket fee, all of which will be turned into the Jill Trotta Scholarship to help women and queer folks that are entering the automotive industry have access to tools, clothing, and tuition assistance. The scholarship’s namesake is a queer, ASE-Certified Master Mechanic who wrote the forward to Milchtein’s book.

“She’s my mentor and friend. She’s made a lot of difference to a lot of people in the automotive industry. This scholarship is in honor of her to continue the work that she’s been doing and the opportunities that she’s created for so many of us in the industry,” explained Milchtein about Trotta. “It’s part of what I do: Community, giving back, and supporting each other is really very important to me.”

Mechanic Shop Femme’s Guide to Car Ownership has public appeal. It sold out its first print run via preorder the day before it was published.

“Ultimately, the guide is there to help people be better car owners and arm folks with the knowledge that they need to be the very best that they can be…. My goal is to help regular people with their cars. Nothing in my book is for car experts, although I find that most people will learn something from it, including car experts and car enthusiasts.”

Question & Answer

Who is the audience for your book? 

This book was written for queer folks and for women, and it’s a book that will help everybody. My friend Mercury Stardust says, “A focus is not an exclusion.” It’s going to help anybody who owns a car, but it is written specifically for queer folks and for women. It takes into account our experiences and struggles within the industry to acknowledge what people have been through—and what they’re likely going to face—while offering them the tools to be better, more educated car owners and to save money in the long run.

How is the book structured? 

The book is a guide to car ownership. It goes through the lifecycle of owning a vehicle, starting with buying the car, and ending with selling it. So, the first two chapters are dedicated to buying a car, then there’s a chapter on car insurance and extended warranties. Then there’s how to find a mechanic, and then we go into your owner’s manual and preventative maintenance, brakes, tires, electric cars, car emergencies, and a lot more stuff. Then I have a chapter on electric vehicles and hybrids, how to let go of your vehicle when it’s time to let go, how to make that decision, and then selling your car at the end.

It is all written in first person, like I’m sitting there and talking to you. I include a lot of data to back up what I’m saying because people learn differently—some learn from just straight-up facts, and some learn from data. I included my own stories in the industry and stories that I’ve experienced with my customers. I also included many, many stories from people who shared their experiences with their vehicles, which are intended to illustrate and drive home the different points I make. So, it’s a pretty easy read. It’s not a textbook, and it’s written for regular people.

What was it like to write a book? 

It was an interesting experience; the world of publishing is shrouded in mystery. You get a lot of information from a lot of different people—it all seems to contradict itself. That’s probably because different authors have different experiences. Depending on who you work with and how you work with them and what kind of advocates you have on your side, your experience writing and publishing a book is very different.

So, for me, I finished writing the book just under a year ago. Then there was all the editing and many, many, many, months of marketing the book—that was probably the largest chunk of time. I got my book deal two years ago, from Hachette Book Group’s Little, Brown Spark. My experience was far different from what I was expecting. For example, my editor really allowed me to take the direction I wanted it to go in and to take the lead to make sure that this is something that came out that matched my vision—which I was surprised about, because I’ve heard a lot about editors pushing back in different ways to change it.

I guess that’s a testament to how hard I’ve worked and how far I’ve come in building my brand and my ethos that I was granted that trust. She basically said, “Write the book. Let me know if you have questions, and get it back to me by this date. Then we’ll take it from there with the editing process.” I hadn’t expected that. I thought they would want one chapter at a time or one section or a couple chapters. So, I was surprised.

Are you taking any time off after the book tour? 

I’m a workaholic and a Capricorn. So, I’m taking some time, but I am going to Europe for my sister’s wedding. Then I have a weeklong press trip in Portugal, which should be pretty relaxing, hopefully. Then I have to go to the Indianapolis 500 for a story in a print food magazine. Then hopefully after that, I’ll get a little bit of a break in July. 

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