Thursday, December 24, 2009

Blessed are the Gatekeepers (not)

We live in a world of gatekeepers. There, I said it.

Obvious, you say? Perhaps. And perhaps it's necessary that in a large, complex, capitalistic society there must be this layer of human functionality that is positioned to make decisions about the fates of other humans to protect the interests and resources of whatever institution employs the gatekeepers in question. But in America, where citizens are guaranteed the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, isn't it ironic that gatekeepers so often unconstitutionally deny those rights?

For example, there is a gatekeeper that says I cannot refinance my mortgage or get a home equity loan, and therefore I am at risk for losing my home and automobile because I have no access to capital with which to settle debts and make payments.

There is also a gatekeeper that decides whether a medical service or procedure will be covered, which is the difference between health and being hounded by a collection agency.

In my particular case as an aspiring author, there are gatekeepers a-plenty. One gatekeeper decides whether or not an agent will go only so far as agreeing to represent my book to publishers, with no guarantee even that the agent will be successful. Gatekeepers keep watch over the slush pile of manuscripts that no doubt form unsteady piles of paper on their desks, then decide after a simple letter of query or a few paragraphs or pages of a story whether or not it's worth their time to give any further consideration.

And should an agent agree to take on the responsibility for pitching the work to a publisher (with visions of 15% cuts dancing in their heads), they themselves come up against gatekeepers charged with preserving a publisher's supply of paper and promotional budget. Though writing is an art and should be judged purely by aesthetic standards, typically it is sheer numbers and equations that decide who shall be published and who shall wither on the creative vine.

Currently, I owe about a thousand dollars to my oil company; suffice to say, I cannot pay it. After the holiday I will call the oil company and speak to a gatekeeper who will have to decide whether or not my family freezes this winter. As I said, I am aware that gatekeepers often perform a necessary function given our form of government and economy, but at some point gatekeepers unintentionally (or not) promote the degradation of human dignity to an extent that ought not to be permitted in what ideally is a free American society.

I suppose I am in a particularly difficult situation, in that my oft-rebuffed creative aspirations and severe state of financial crisis make me especially vulnerable to and reliant on the whims of gatekeepers. And perhaps it is because I am alone on Christmas Eve thanks to a failing marriage that my bitterness and anger rise so acutely to the fore, but to what extent must my very fate be in the hands of people who are paid to care not about my needs and priorities but rather about the numbers and profits of their employers? Must every gatekeeper have the understanding that letting someone pass through the gate is the exception to the rule? Couldn't a gatekeeper be charged with ensuring that the gates stay open for many to enter?

Rarely have I used this blog for a rant, but rarely have I been so rebuffed by so many "customer service representatives" and rarely has my overall living situation been so dire. I'm doing as much as I can (working my day job, getting whatever freelance work I can get, and continuing to refine my manuscript and send it out) but ultimately it is in the hands of disintered gatekeepers as to whether I succeed or fail. I pray to God that a conscience rather than a formula guides their decisions.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


I have written 11 hot sauce reviews to date, which are being posted on (look for reviews by "jason"). Even though I'm only getting paid five bucks per review, I've tasted some good products and there's really no cost of doing business so it's not a bad gig overall.

The publisher who contacted me, New Century Publishing out of Indiana, turned out to be a vanity/subsidy press, which requires you to pay to be published. I had a very nice conversation with the president, who was effusive in his praise for my work, and he sent me a publishing agreement. According to the terms, I had to pay $1,750 to cover 50% of the publishing costs (including editing and printing), and I also was required to purchase 40 books. All told, it could have cost me three grand or more, and while I would do it as a last resort, the fact is that the industry doesn't consider this legitimate so my book would never end up in a bookstore or be reviewed by professionals.

I can't tell you how good it felt to finally hear someone give me positive feedback on my book, but ultimately it was all a sham. It hurts to know that (and I spoke with various writers, including one who was published by New Century, and with a woman who runs the website Writer Beware, so I do know the truth about New Century), but at the same time it has given me new resolve to keep at it and to work harder to realize my dream of becoming a published author.

In the meantime, I've also been writing articles and columns for The Jewish Advocate, a weekly based in Boston, so while nothing is bringing in the windfall of fame and fortune as of yet, I'm keeping busy getting my name out there and hopefully that will help wheels to turn and doors to open.

By the way, I'm on Facebook so if you happened to land on this blog and like what you see, I invite you to friend me. I've learned that a writer needs a platform and without an audience or a community, no platform can stand.