The Egatz Epitaph

Reports on management, employment, and all things Egatz.

Ron Egatz, New York Times Bestselling Author

Last autumn, a woman—whom I’ll call Debbie for this account—was looking for a features writer to build content for a magazine she was getting off the ground. A product of my age, I still love a beautiful, glossy print magazine full of great profiles and feature stories. Debbie’s magazine was to showcase local human interest stories, and this dovetailed nicely with a “living locally” lifestyle I embraced about a year and a half earlier. It felt like a great match.

I reached out to Debbie with a few lines about freelance research, editing, and writing skills I could offer her. I listed writing awards I’d won, and attached a résumé. Eventually, we met at a local café. She gave me copies of a 12-page, full-color, digitally-printed publication. I’m more known for my creative writing than my journalism, so being inventive and not without mirth, I’ll call Debbie’s new magazine Hudson Entropy.

It was apparent I could write the stories the publication needed. When I write for money, profiles are my favorite types of articles. I can transform a notoriously vicious alcoholic into a virtuous icon for her industry’s leading publication, and a failed athlete college dropout who sends unsolicited photos of his genitals to a coworker appear sympathetic in a screenplay. I told Debbie my rate for feature stories, and her budget was twenty percent of what I usually bill. You read that right: not eighty percent of what I charge. Just twenty.

Looking at her magazine, it was obvious what she had gotten herself into. The publication was more of a newsletter. The photos in her stories were not color corrected or even exposed properly. Whatever she was paying for graphic design was too much, and whoever did her prepress was ripping her off. The advertisements, which were numerous, had better attention to prepress than the editorial content of the publication. The body copy was flush-left, rag-right; hardly a professional look for a magazine. The leading between photos and captions was egregious, and even sported both inconsistent margins and inconsistent indentation. Uniform application of type styles throughout was missing, particularly in titles and subheads. If the publication was designed in QuarkXPress or InDesign, someone hadn’t bothered to grok height and justification tables. The cover sported headlines with bad drop shadows, giving the appearance it was designed in 1996.

I said nothing about any of this. It was her show, and she thought it was a good idea to get a local print publication off the ground in 2016. She didn’t have the funds nor notion to hire me as a turnaround consultant to create a real periodical. Debbie needed all the encouragement she could get, or a good talking to about timely global business trends from a reputable career counselor.

A perennial champion of the underdog, I couldn’t resist. It would be nice to see her turn Hudson Entropy into a real magazine. Writing profile stories is my favorite kind of freelance journalism, and I hadn’t been doing much of it lately. If I could muster the bandwidth and energy, I could be part of those helping nudge this long-shot effort towards success by writing a few features a month for next to nothing. I was, after all, living locally.

It literally took seconds of research to grasp the construct behind Debbie’s newsletter, and what she had gotten herself into. Debbie had partnered with a company I’ll call Vapor Content Publishing. V.C.P. is run out of a post office box in small Wisconsin city. If you go to their site looking for magazine content, you’ll quickly see where the emphasis of their business model lies. The navigation on their site is extremely telling. Work For Us, Advertise, Submit Content, and bringing up a distant fourth place, See Publications. In other words, V.C.P. is all about selling. Content comes last for this publishing venture; almost an afterthought.

Vapor Content Publishing also publicly invites anyone to contribute content. You might be a writer or a photographer looking to get a foothold as a journalist or photojournalist. You might not know the local Debbie in your area who has already partnered with Vapor Content Publishing. Why not go right to the source by hitting their corporate site? Here’s an open invitation to begin building your résumé! Send your content in, kids! The only problem is before you get to have a financial discussion with V.C.P. or find out if they’re interested in publishing your content, Vapor Content Publishing already owns it. Yep. That’s correct. By merely submitting your content for consideration, Vapor Content Publishing claims full ownership of what you send them. Think about that while you wait to hear if they’ll pay you for publishing it. This is like putting an item up for sale on eBay, and eBay informing you, regardless if it sells or not, they own it. A freelancer submits text, photos, story ideas, charts and graphs, or anything else to V.C.P. in the hopes of getting paid for it, and the content creator is then pushed out of the loop. V.C.P. lays claim to the content, and their site further states they can publish it anywhere, in digital or analog form. If you happen to send them any content belonging to a third party, V.C.P. promises to sue you for both damages and any related legal fees. Facebook tried a similar claim to ownership of all uploaded material a few years ago, but public outrage made them rescind their claim of owning all users’ content. V.C.P. has yet to learn that lesson.

No one, including Debbie, has to look very hard to learn Vapor Content Publishing is run much like a multi-level marketing company without a physical product. The publications they do create are given away to the public. What follows is how this often plays out for V.C.P. “partners.”

Someone like Debbie gets the idea she wants to be a magazine publisher. She may have a degree in journalism, and since the Internet has killed most of the paying print journalism jobs, there’s plenty of journalism majors working minimum wage service gigs, living with Mom and Dad, and trying to pay off a worthless Bachelor’s degree. Sounds like the perfect economic conditions to create your own magazine from the ground up.

V.C.P. tells folks like Debbie they can do it! They pump up potential “partners” with all the keywords we know from Amway, Herbalife, Scientology, and other well-organized cults. They promise to do everything as long as you get out there and sell. It’s bottom-up, and you’re at the base of the pyramid. You only have to think about selling. Sell those clients! Drink the Kool-Aid and sell. V.C.P. will provide all the poor print production prepress you’ll need. They’ll print, bind, and ship your fledgling magazine to you. Identify a geographic area you want to target and base your V.C.P. publication there. There’s a chance someone in your town has previously partnered with V.C.P., and is already giving their publication away. There’s also a chance someone in your town has partnered with V.C.P., tried and failed, so you can still follow your dream by restarting the same scheme for the same audience.

Yep. That’s true, too. Let’s say you live in Homietown. You’ve read the V.C.P. pitch, and you believe you can make a local publication for Homietown work. Someone might have previously tried, exhausted all advertising options by overcharging local businesses, delivered nominal draw from the ads, and closed up shop. V.C.P. will happily encourage you to give it a go, regardless. If you fail because local advertisers have already advertised with your predecessor and not recouped what they paid, tough. A quick look online will tell you the folks who tried to create V.C.P. publications and didn’t make it received little to no support from the home office. In fact, they were chastised in public online forums by V.C.P. for not trying to sell with enough enthusiasm. Failed to sell enough advertising in a throwaway publication? V.C.P. tells them it’s entirely their “partner’s” fault. Their partners didn’t try hard enough. Advertisers paint similarly ugly scenarios after advertising in V.C.P. publications, including this gem: “Their content sucks. The articles are submitted by their advertisers.”

Debbie gave me an assignment, and I went to work. I was to profile local franchise owners. It was obvious this wasn’t journalism. This was writing a sales piece with a human face, for which the subject of the article was paying Debbie. It was what it was, and neither Debbie, her client, nor I were willing to call it what it was out loud.

When the story was done, I sent it to Debbie. She said it was “great,” and didn’t need to change a thing. This is a big warning flag for any writer. Writers need editors. All of them do, without exception. I carefully explained to Debbie writers must have their work proofread, edited, and fact-checked. I even gave her a brief lesson in how to call the sources in a story and verify quotes. It was pretty clear Debbie hadn’t been a journalism major. How or why she thought she could run a publication was beyond me, but she was the boss, and this was her dream.

The role of editor wasn’t the only job Debbie wasn’t cut out for. One of the assignments she gave me was a local contractor. When I finally nailed down a time for him to do a phone interview, the first thing he asked me was, “Tell me. Does this thing work?”

“Does what work?”

“This magazine. Debbie’s trying to get me to pay for the story and more advertising in it. Does it work?”

I told the contractor I was just the writer, and had nothing to do with circulation or promises of reader response. Then, I unconsciously had 20 years of Madison Avenue freelance experience announcing itself in my ear. I explained to him the kind of story I’d write, and that he’d look like a rockstar. Unprovoked, he shared with me what Debbie was charging him for my services and monthly ad space. I was astounded, but I reiterated what type of story I’d write. He was very close to walking away from the whole scheme, but eventually said yes, and we did the interview.

When I handed in my story, I explained to Debbie how I saved the account for her. She was thankful, but she now understood I knew the kind of markup she was making on my stories. That’s okay. It was business, and I had agreed to a low rate. There was no offer of a bonus for saving the account, nor a discussion of going anywhere near my real rate. I let it slide. She was young, inexperienced, and struggling to get a print magazine off the ground in 2016. Poor woman. She already had everything against her.

I wrote a handful of stories for Hudson Entropy. Each time, Debbie heaped on the praise, telling me it was exactly what she was looking for. She was optimistic about the magazine, and never spoke to me about any edits or corrections, which I thought was odd. This was, however, America, and in capitalism, you get what you pay for. I was paid 20% of my regular rate. She was the editor. If she was happy with my stories and I didn’t need to do any rewrites, I was fine not investing more time.

A friend called to tell me she read a story of mine in Hudson Entropy. “I’m sorry,” I said, which is my first feeling when a personal friend reads business writing of mine. “No. I’m the one who’s sorry,” my friend said. “I’m sorry you’re working with her. Do you know what she’s all about?” She then explained some of her dealings with Debbie. The best one was about how Debbie found out she actually needed to pay the post office monthly to deliver 6500 copies of Hudson Entropy to the dwellings of Homietown’s citizens, but didn’t know Homietown had multiple ZIP codes. This minor detail hadn’t been factored into Debbie’s business plan or operating budget. “I honestly thought she was going to cry when we explained to her she’d have to pay for each ZIP code,” my friend said. Debbie was not a journalism major. She wasn’t a business major, either. To wit, she leased an office downtown for a business you could run sitting up in bed with a phone and a laptop. I’m guessing we can also cross economics major off the list. Accounting major can be removed, too.

One day, I got a note from Debbie happily announcing she had appeared on a local access cable television show to promote Hudson Entropy. She wanted to do the right thing and explain to me that while on the air, she said, “Ron Egatz, a New York Times bestselling author, also writes for Hudson Entropy.” Uncharacteristically, Debbie did a little self-editing, and realized she made a mistake. She was kind enough to warn me about this mistake after the fact, but the damage was already done in public.

With zero publishing experience, Debbie had no grasp of a writer’s professional integrity, nor that of an editor, apparently. Since I freelance, I didn’t want anyone to believe I had anything to do with Debbie’s claim, especially one so simple to verify. I’m not a New York Times bestselling author, nor have ever presented myself as such to anyone. I took to social media to explain I had nothing to do with this statement. If there’s anything I’ve learned from sticking my toe into local politics, you’ve got to get out ahead of misinformation. I didn’t want to be accused of any journalism malfeasance, such as Jayson Blair, who fabricated content he passed off as reportage; or Bill O’Reilly, who falsely claimed he’d won a Peabody Award or two.

When I announced I had mistakenly been called a New York Times bestselling author by a publisher and was setting the record straight, online friends who worked in media, or were writers, or both, showed concern and support. I was told I had done the right thing, and the matter would quickly recede. This was, after all, only local access programming. I never saw the cable show in question, and figured it was over. Debbie had other ideas.

Although I didn’t throw her under the bus by name, she took serious offense to me defending myself on my own Facebook account and getting out in front of the story. If she hadn’t done the right thing and warned me, it would’ve eventually surfaced, and been an issue at a later date. Unfortunately, Debbie felt compelled to out herself by going public on my Facebook post, one of the places I had brought this matter to public attention in effort to clear my name and reputation. She attacked me, said I was “whining about it,” all the while not grasping anything concerning basic journalistic integrity. Run with an amateur, settle for a fraction of your rate, and this is what you get. I publicly posted my acknowledgment of the issue Debbie created, presented my defense, and was done with it. Neither her name nor the publication were disclosed by myself. I deleted her most self-incriminating comment on my post, let it go, and hit my next assignment.

As often happens with sources for nonfiction stories, sometimes life gets too busy, even when you’re willing to shell out for a paid feature story in a local newsletter. I had trouble connecting with one of Debbie’s clients, but eventually got the interview nailed. I wrote my story, and made her deadline. This time, I didn’t get any confirmation from Debbie via email. Not a peep about the story.

Days after it went to press, I finally got an email from Debbie. She informed me I misspelled a proper name. Fair enough. My fault. Mistakes like this are made and caught by proofreaders. In her typo-ridden email, she poised the question, “Why don’t you fact check this yourself – since I am paying you…” As a writer, it’s hard for me to get over the fact an editor-in-chief sends emails full of sentence fragments, uses a hyphen in place of an endash or emdash, and doesn’t employ punctuation too often. Looking beyond that, first, she still didn’t grasp the basic concept of editors editing. Second, she deflected all responsibility and attacked me for defending my professional reputation. Debbie closed saying didn’t want to work with me again because of the typo. That sounded good to me. Misdirected animosity doesn’t get you far in business. I was done helping this particular underdog.

Living locally, I run into a lot of friends on the streets of my small city. In the weeks after Debbie’s last email, more than a few told me she had contacted them, inviting them to write for Hudson Entropy. Each and every one of them was not a writer, nor particularly interested in writing. Around town the smell of fear was evident at the publication, and the local rumor mill ran wild. I was offered anecdotes of Debbie’s troubled personal life I didn’t want to know.

Almost two months later, I got another email from Debbie. “In hindsight, I am realizing that the process and expectations of who should be doing the proofreading was never clearly discussed, among other professional matters that I think could easily be talked through.” As a human, sometimes there’s nothing better than this type of validation. The truth is, I did discuss proofreading, editing, and fact-checking. Debbie didn’t want to hear the recommendations of someone with decades more experience than her. She chose, as editor of her publication, to simply not engage in those activities, nor hire a freelancer to do them for her. She closed her email by praising my last story, and suggested we work together again.

I’m at a place where, when faced with those incapable or unwilling to communicate, I just don’t have it in me to press on with them. This is certainly true in my personal life, but managers who can’t or won’t communicate also prove the Peter Principle is still alive in corporate America. Finances aside, no businessperson is worth working with if they refuse to process what you bring to the table, particularly if they don’t want to benefit from the greater knowledge you have in your area of expertise. Their failure to do so goes against the basic logic of hiring a consultant or freelancer who knows their craft and trade.

You get what you pay for in predatory capitalism, as my friend David Biedny terms the worsening economic climate of the last 40 years in the United States. Debbie wasn’t willing to pay professional rates, yet was unwilling to put in the sweat equity for necessary tasks needed to get the job done. She once offered me a photography assignment for twenty-five dollars, “because that’s what photographers make,” she said. In New York. Some of you know me from the profiles I wrote about photographers and cinematographers for years. In the New York metropolitan area, twenty-five bucks gets you a neighborhood high school student with an iPhone. Oh, Debbie.

V.C.P. has dreamy entrepreneurs like Debbie on the hook. She didn’t know what she was doing, but she was sold a bill of goods by a fast-talking, cult-like corporation. Like organized crime, V.C.P. sits at the top of the food chain, and demands the Debbies who have bought into this dream to kick funds up the ladder. Debbie is a middleman, doing all the management, all the sales, and paying her contractors as little as possible. It’s a corporate card pyramid built on unreal expectations. V.C.P. expects to make a huge profit for providing bad design and production, Debbie expects quality stories and photography for low wages, advertisers expect sales, and the public expects nothing but ads and hopefully a useful coupon from a free newsletter they sum up at first glance of the cover. It’s an exercise in deception and self-deception all the way around.

Good journalism, unlike stories in V.C.P. publications, should offer a takeaway lesson. What have we learned from this experience? If you’re not getting paid what you’re worth, there’s a few telling reasons for it. Business owners who underpay for professional labor is the first signal of eroding quality on other levels, and unhappiness is just around the corner. A cult is a Ponzi scheme is a pyramid scheme is a pyramid sales organization, et cetera. Lastly, a businessperson running a business they don’t know, nor will listen to advice from those who do know the business, are not worth your efforts at any price.

I’ve enjoyed my share of Schadenfreude over the years, but having Debbie eat crow in that last email didn’t even bring a smile to my face. New York Times bestselling authors don’t have time for that. They’re already hard at work on their next book. So am I.

How I Spent 2016

Hard to believe, but I’m still receiving some very nice emails from people interested in my writing and asking what happened to this blog. I haven’t been thinking about The Egatz Epitaph much in the past year, but I have been writing. Here’s some random highlights of my year.

  1. Working on this novel. The photo shows what’s completed. When I use the term completed, I mean done. Edited and proofread many times over. Now I just need the final push to the ending. My agent and longtime readers are waiting. The title is still a secret. Working title: Project Brenna.
  2. Drafting notes for an interesting memoir about two women I’ve known. Legal action has already been threatened. More on this as it happens.
  3. Making original music with people far more talented than I deserve to be playing with. Playing a guitar, particularly my own twisted take on jump blues, is the only time my brain moves into a different consciousness, and it’s the best place I know.
  4. A few assorted injuries and health scares.
  5. Doing good things for my neighbors and the community of artists I live among. This is one of those rare instances where righteous persistence won. Plus, Bijou made it into the print version of the magazine with a photo and a caption.
  6. Keeping notes on potential clients who’ve asked me to work for free. These include, but are not limited to:
    • the man who wanted me to interview 200 celebrities, write and edit their stories for a book, but wouldn’t propose a contract or discuss writing credits.
    • the woman who wanted to partner with me on my idea for a knowledge base portal, but could never explain to me what her role was before, during, and after I design, program, and populate it for the initial launch.
    • the man who wanted me to write, direct, produce, shoot B-roll, and edit a full-length documentary about him next year. I was also supposed to figure out how to pay myself and my crew. “I’m not in the job creation business,” he told me.
  7. Watching Apple’s abandonment of the professional / developer market as they continue their obsessive quest of form over function, although I don’t write about it much these days, aside from some tweets.
  8. After trying left-handed for two years, I got serious and stopped time. Yep. I might elaborate on this in writing at some point in the future.
  9. Close to finalizing an original chocolate and toffee cookie recipe I’ve been working on for three years. Certain people delighted in making fun of me for doing this. Now outside parties are asking about bringing it to market.
  10. Learning more life lessons from the little lady pictured below than anyone else has ever taught me. We’re working on some screenplay ideas. Together. I’m not kidding.

So long, 2016. It was the year the planet shed a lot of talent. It was the year Americans watched the Democratic National Committee rig the primary against the best chance the middle- and working-class had since Henry Wallace and escape prosecution. It was the year our own humanity and self-preservation failed us. Good riddance, 2016.

It’s Who You Know

April 17th / [18]75
311 East 23 St
[New York] City.

Dear Doctor

Allow me to a few words in regard of my present condition. Dr Webster notified me your decision the other day, telling that it would be better for me if I could get some kind employment this summer for self-support. Undoubtedly it is a well thought suggestion to me which really makes me think that without going out [of] the city or searching such employments here, to which perhaps I have not the slightest idea about its management, I can stay where I am, keep up my studies, and make out my expenses, providing that I am recommended to have such employment that would stand in the neighborhood of my profession, namely, cupping and leeching.

I tried to get a situation in the Hospital but could not obtain it on account of not being [a] graduate, and so I took the spring course.

I feel that I have more or less troubled you often, if not always, but knowing that you would not withhold any serviceable thing that is in your power to do it, here I propose to ask your kind recommendation to Professor A. Clark and some other practitioners, that they should employ me in cupping and leeching. I believe that Prof Clark has [a] large practice and very likely I will get enough to pay whole my expenses.

I hope you will be kind enough to write a brief letter to him and send it to me so that I may personally present it to him. Remember me to all.

Yours Truly
M. Kreecorian

kletter2rI found this letter stapled to a bookcase in Bruised Apple Books of Peekskill, New York, one of the last of the old time used bookstores in the greater New York area which I still frequent. Andrew Acciaro, Manager and poet, will not part with this letter for love or money, and it’s my favorite item in the store. Written in 1875 and slipped into a novel over 100 years ago as a reminder, a bookmark, a memory—we’ll never know—until it fell into Andrew’s lap as he was sorting incoming inventory.

What research reveals about the letter, and the lives of people who need employment to survive, is that a man living in New York City named Kavork Muggerdich Kreecorian was reaching out to someone he knew. Half-plea for employment, half-testament to the struggle to better his education as a steppingstone to better employment, the crux of this missive would today be distilled into a three sentence email. I need work. I’m continuing my education/training. Will you please write me recommendations?

Time has passed, but the struggle to earn a living remains the same. Here’s some further—but more recent—time travel regarding the hunt for jobs in and around the same city.

The New York Times was the place to look for a gig when I first entered the job market. The Gray Lady’s Classified section had it all, including the areas of interest to me. Here’s what I found every Sunday morning.

  1. Entry-level jobs in publishing were advertised at annual rates literally below minimum wage. I still don’t know how they got away with that, but at the time, I did the math on a few offerings, and I factored it sans overtime hours.
  2. Graphic design jobs in decent agencies and studios paid a salary you could live on, especially if you were willing to live with your parents in the suburbs after college, which wasn’t common then.
  3. Contract consulting gigs were the holy grail, and if you were a genius in your area of expertise, it was not unheard of for a 24-year old wunderkind to grab one. Remember, this was before the Internet opened up beyond .edu domains, and it took a lot more capital than a kid coding an idea to turn a notion into a corporate reality. A 24-year old with a genius for database programming had options. It was, however, after non-mainframe computers started to be used by business mortals.

When you found a listing you wanted to apply for, you put a paper version of your resume and a cover letter into an envelope and got it in the mail as quickly as you could. Then you waited. We had a lot of time back then, because we were not slaves to a small computer we took everywhere with us and constantly checked for updates largely irrelevant to our daily lives.

Almost always, you got back a letter in the mail from your prospective employer. They hired staff to do such things back then. It was typed on an electric typewriter or printed by a laser printer, and signed by a human who was trained at a young age in cursive handwriting. The letter thanked you for your time and effort in applying. Then, it went one of two ways. Yes, they wanted to meet you in person, or no, you were not right for their needs at this time, but they promised to keep your resume on file. The author of the letter wished you the best in your continued search for employment, food, and a roof over your head.

You didn’t rely solely on the Gray Lady. Even if an employer wanted to meet you, you still continued to call every human you knew who might be able to help you find a job in a field you were vaguely interested in. We didn’t call it networking. We called it a friend helping out, and for their efforts they got your thanks and a dinner out, plus drinks. If you, your family, or your friends had no contacts who could help out, the food service industry was always hiring, and the minimum wage versus inflation at that time still allowed you to purchase a copy of The New York Times.

When you search for a job today, you’re lucky to get any response at all, positive or negative. This is why who you know on the inside is more important than ever. What was only whispered at from the mid-nineties onward is now being openly written about by reputable journalists and industry experts: who you know and who they know is becoming more important than how many degrees you have. As with many aspects of the American Dream, the struggle to afford a formal education for your children is not appearing to have the payoff previous generations believed.

Depending on which sources you cite, seventy to eighty percent of new job hires happen via what we now call networking. To further compound the importance of dealing directly with a contact you might have within a company, sources indicate up to eighty percent of available positions aren’t even advertised publicly.

The job opportunities that are advertised on major job sites such as, Indeed, and others, are often bogus. Worse than simply being nonexistent positions to drive traffic to their hosts or trying to build their databases of desperate job seekers, they’re often scams looking for the unemployed to pay them.

Job sites aren’t the only culprits job seekers have to navigate. As corporate America continually races to improve profits, they outsource whatever they can to the lowest bidder. This often includes human resource staff. An unnamed friend of mine recently applied for a job at his old employer, where ten years earlier, he was in charge of their corporate site, a subscription-based portal with a staggering amount of forward-facing data. With two current employees pulling for him, he received a form email saying they weren’t interested in even speaking to him about a lesser position.

As in the above example, sometimes even who you know isn’t enough to get your foot in the door. I have a twenty year freelance relationship with a client. One of the partners and I are very close. He had a difficult time getting his minions to hire me to write and direct a short corporate film. Whom else do you need to know above and beyond a senior partner to land a gig?

Who you know also works on the other end of the employment spectrum: protection after you’re hired. And rehired. One enthusiastic reader of The Egatz Epitaph was incapable of obtaining an associate’s degree, but managed to leave a job as assistant cook and move to a white collar career in the firm his mother worked at. Not only did he resign twice, but was hired back twice via friends he made on the job. Third time’s the charm, I suppose.

When searching for work in the United States today, it’s definitely who you know. This has obviously been true since the Dutch came looking for beaver pelts in the 17th century, but it’s true more than ever today. If your immediate circle isn’t producing interviews for you, start attending professional gatherings as you diversify your skill set on your own time.

There’s an old practice I’ve done repeatedly when people find me a new consulting client, and it can’t be stressed enough. Reward your friends. I’ve written checks as finder fees. I’ve watched dogs and watered houseplants. I’ve dug and installed French drains. A Seattle friend once negotiated a large deal for me in his spare time many years ago, as a favor. When the deal closed I sent him $5000. I appreciated his efforts, and I’ve got a friend for life. He wasn’t expecting a check, but the deal wouldn’t have been as successful if he hadn’t gotten involved. It was the right thing to do. If a friend goes out of his or her way to help you land a paycheck, you owe them. Pay them back in a way they’ll appreciate. As with anything, it’s negotiable, and I’ve found favors are sometimes more appreciated than cash.

Kavork Muggerdich Kreecorian originally hailed from city of Tokat, in northern central Turkey, which he left behind to pursue the American Dreams of freedom, education, and prosperity. He studied at Columbia College under Dr. Cornelius R. Agnew, an eye and ear specialist, during the 1873-1874 academic year. One year after he wrote the surviving letter asking for help seeking employment, Kreecorian graduated from the College of Medicine at New York University. Talk about the fast track.

Records conflict regarding his birthdate—either 1849 or 1851—so Dr. Kreecorian was 24 or 26 when he wrote to his unnamed doctor/mentor. That physician may or may not have been the person who placed it in a book where it sat for over a century, and whose descendants started a chain of events which brought it to the Bruised Apple bookstore in Peekskill. Kreecorian went on to become a member of the Nebraska State Medical Association and married a woman named Margaret A. Kelley. The first doctor to open a practice in Farnam, Nebraska, Dr. Kreecorian died in Chicago on 2 June 1911 and is buried in Butler, Pennsylvania.

Kavork Kreecorian achieved his dream of employment practicing cupping and leeching, became a physician, and touched the lives of others as he earned a living, far from where he asked for a mentor’s assistance to find a job. I like to think the recipient of the letter happily gave the help Kreecorian requested.

Too Long to Read

bookcases250When did a comprehensive piece of quality writing become referred to as “a wall of text?” The United States has now developed into a culture feeling the need to apologize in advance for a longer article or story even before it’s read. Online forums and blog posts are often begun with, “Sorry for the wall of text, but….” When it comes to the written word, the American message is clear: Faster, less detail, and no analysis or historical context. These are the hallmarks our society values in the written word today.

Casual readers are not alone in this continued search for brevity. People who edit for a living now send writers this message regularly. When did professional magazine editors begin returning stories to their writers, as happened to my friend David Biedny​, with “TLTR,” shorthand for “Too Long To Read,” written in the margin? To paraphrase Frank Zappa, we’re dumb all over, and this isn’t good for our future.

The start date of the progressive dumbing-down of America is debatable, but there are culprits, and those culprits were largely enabled by electricity. Technologists can point to 1860, with the invention of the first mechanical analog audio format, the phonautogram. 1877 saw the more popular phonograph cylinder introduced. Thomas Edison offered the Ediphone in 1878, but recorded music took off with the music roll in 1883, causing chaos for the sheet music industry. These devices were bleeding-edge technology, and expensive, and by the release of the gramophone in 1895, music became the message they primarily delivered, not spoken text, speeches, lectures, or news broadcasts.

One can argue short attention spans really began when the first spoken threat to reading was born, in 1920, when Enrique Telémaco Susini began regular wireless entertainment broadcasts via radio waves in Argentina. In August of that year, Americans got their reading time diverted when E.W. Scripps was awarded a commercial broadcasting license in Detroit for WWJ, and used the airwaves to sell radios, much like HBO and Netflix creating their own programming to sell their service to subscribers. It was then the century-long death march of American publishing began in earnest. Suddenly, you didn’t have to work by reading to get your entertainment in the privacy of your own home. It was as good as having your terrified child humiliated as she tried to play the piano for your guests, only better, because you could now have professionals creating music, drama, and reading the news for you. By the way, those professionals got paid. More on this phenomena later.

After the talkies appeared in cinemas around the country, and later, when television invaded homes shortly after World War Two to become the cheapest daycare imaginable for the Baby Boomers, the micro attention span of Americans exploded into fashion with the advent of MTV in the early 1980s. A generation of teenagers became bored by anything longer than a five-second video edit. As if to make up for the lack of exceptional new music being created, music video directors—empowered by the speed and economy of editing on video decks, rather than having to splice film—decided to speed up the visuals to compensate for what many new recordings were lacking. If it didn’t flash and move fast, surely it must be old, boring, and, by association, not good.

By the late 1980s, the rest of the United States became addicted to the bombardment of 60-second segments on the 24-hour cycle of cable corporate news networks thanks to CNN, the first of its kind. Throw into this media-conditioning of the culture runaway diagnoses of attention-deficit disorders and the resulting push for prescriptions for children and adults of all ages, a proliferation of cable television channels, the liberation from broadcast television monopoly by the advent of VHS technology, the exploding video game industry, and an overworked middle class, and who the hell has time to read the written word, let alone a lot of written words?

It seems there’s just a handful of magazines capable of in-depth profiles and investigative pieces of real journalism. That may be an exaggeration, but it certainly feels that way. The lifespan of those publications is limited, of course, because most younger American readers can’t read anything longer than a menu, and older readers who expect well-written, detailed articles of substance are dying off. With diminished readership numbers come diminished advertising dollars. With diminished advertising dollars come diminished salaries and freelance rates. With diminished salaries and freelance rates come less writers willing to work for peanuts, as our grandparents used to say, or nothing at all.

I’ve lost track of the number of times weekly alternative newspapers, magazines, newspapers, and sites have asked me to write for nothing in the last 25 years. With my poems, I get it. In a country where a new volume of poetry selling 3000 copies is considered a bestseller, poets are expected to be given nothing and be thankful for it. As an editorial writer or journalist, it’s a different matter. No thanks, Ms. Editor. I’ve got some awards and plenty of publications under my belt. I don’t need “the honor” of my work appearing on your site (hello Huffington Post!) without renumeration. The co-op where I live—a collective of artists—doesn’t accept that “honor” in lieu of my monthly maintenance fee. As Mike Monteiro quoted the film Goodfellas, “Fuck you. Pay me.” More accurately, American writers who are often both crazy and passionate enough to write articles before they’re sold should be saying, “Fuck you. I did the work which will generate readers and advertising dollars. Pay me.”

For the last 100 years, each generation of Americans seem less capable of or interested in reading anything of length. I despair for those of you who’ve chosen to have children. Our education system has failed our nation from pre-school to college. I say that as a former undergraduate-level professor and the son of two teachers who retired as educational administrators (public school principal and college president). I taught college freshmen who couldn’t write two cohesive sentences in a row, and several who couldn’t read a passage aloud in my classes. Our local governments and the national government have failed our nation with biased, failed educational goals for decades. With an educational system that doesn’t teach high school graduates how to balance a checkbook or apply for a loan, not to mention think critically, how can we expect a new generation of readers to get excited over a New Yorker-length profile?

Of course, it starts before then. As each generation is awash in more electronic media, the importance of reading books—still the best long format delivery system—recedes further and further into the past. I was fortunate, with my parents somehow instilling a love of books and reading in me at an early age. Perhaps it was a good way to keep me occupied. Perhaps it was because I’m an only child: no siblings to fight or play with. Either way, I knew the written world was a magical escape hatch, but also quickly discovered it was an autodidact tool to teach me all the cool things never touched upon in public school. It became my oxygen supply, and by junior high school, I rarely watched television by choice.

With the Internet literally and figuratively in the pockets of most children, research doesn’t require reading books for the information a school report requires. Search engines help us zero-in on data to support points, which speed-up research infinitely, but something is lost when attention spans are conditioned to become shorter and shorter by not reading an entire article or book to fully comprehend context, historical background, or supporting points. We’re in the days of the fast food of information: just enough to keep going, and quickly, but not a well-rounded diet of varied and deep data only decent-length writing can provide.

American education systems and parents are not the only guilty parties. Our news organizations are culpable, too. Print, radio, and television have failed us because their corporate overlords dictate which stories get regurgitated ad nauseam and which stories never make it to the light of day. President Bill Clinton failed us by signing the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which, riding hard on the Reagan-era Republican wave of deregulation, allowed conglomerates to cross-consume all media from billboards to multiple newspapers, radio stations, and television stations in one geographic area, let alone nationwide, reducing some cities—like Seattle, for example—to one-newspaper towns. Can you imagine? One editorial voice disseminating information to an entire major American city? It happened. What were we thinking? Where was the outrage? Where’s the outrage today? I’ll tell you. It’s been subverted by overtime and Netflix binge watching.

Rank-and-file teachers have historically been grossly underpaid and undervalued in the United States. I remember. I saw it my entire life with my parents, and experienced it firsthand myself. It was only in the last two decades, or so, that teachers’ salaries have been raised beyond the level that kept much of the best talent away from the pedagogical profession. Of course, since the 1990s, America’s colleges and universities have eliminated not only most tenure-track positions, but the majority of new full-time teaching positions in a measure to cut full-time benefits and pension programs due to unchecked rising healthcare costs and the need for more college sports stadiums instead of teachers and educational resources. With an army of uninvested adjunct instructors comes a further reduction in the quality of education, and so the downward cycle continues.

Because of the circles I run in, I count many good teachers as friends. For years I dated a woman who taught special education in East Harlem for the New York City Department of Education. She regularly spent her own money on school supplies for her students, put in obscene hours, and struggled to educate the most marginalized future citizens in our society: impoverished, developmentally disabled minority children. Talk about effort, patience, and sacrifice. In my twenties, I taught alongside great professors, many better than I. Before that, I studied with graduate school professors I draw inspiration from to this day. Although things are better for American educators than when I was a child, teachers today in this country are still underpaid, overworked, and undervalued. These are the people we’re hoping can create the citizens who will care for us if we can make it to retirement—another longshot that seems less likely each day for many Americans. I hope those new citizens have the skills and interest in reading articles longer than a menu, but the outlook for that isn’t good.

The Internet has bred more writers (as bloggers and email writers, primarily) than ever before, but the simple truth is neither the quality nor readership is there. Few bloggers have professional editors, for instance. The reason for that is when writing for free, what author has money to pay an editor? Again, pay me. You want a quality? You get what you pay for, but if no one has the time or attention span to read, who ultimately cares?

I’m a freak, an anomaly; part of the dying breed of readers. I long ago chose reading over television, but within that substrate I choose to read long and well-written articles over, say, a news story on Yahoo, the news site which popularized the one-sentence paragraph. Regarding journalism, the phrase “too long to read” doesn’t exist for me. That’s not true for enough American readers, and that’s a painful harbinger for my nation and her future.

Speaking of the future, I not only enjoy reading long articles, but I write them, too, and am always looking for interesting assignments. If you’ve made it this far, you know that, but most professional editors won’t, so I won’t get paid any time soon for what I do best. At almost 2000 words—for many of those editors—this is too long to read.

Writing, England, and the Blues

Remarkably, emails still come my way asking my opinion on different issues surrounding e-publishing, the publishing industry as a whole, and writing. I guess this site still means something to readers, and for that, I’m fortunate. As I’ve previously posted, I’ve stopped using The Egatz Epitaph as a commentary on the business of writing and publishing, but that’s what it’s still known for. Looking to the future, I think I know what I want to do with the old Epitaph next, but first, here’s a bit about what I’ve been up to this past year while not posting here regularly.

Last November, I was invited by Dean Parkin and Naomi Jaffa to appear at the 26th Aldeburgh Poetry Festival. This invitation came to me when I had one leg hanging over the edge of the cliff, and it revitalized my love of literature, writers, and the people who support the art of the written word. My former graduate school professor and mentor Tom Lux was also appearing, and it was great to catch up with him. As always, Tom provided practical advice, some metaphysical guidance, and thoughts on where my art was currently at.

Dean Parkin introduced me to his hero, British poetry legend Brian Patten, the ass-kicking Tom Pickard, and the luminous Adélia Prado, among many others. To be welcomed as a peer by other poets who had decades of publishing experience beyond mine was heartening. Many writers need this from time to time. After you’ve progressed beyond the workshops and/or the open mic scene, it’s time to decide if the calling has really called you. Things concerning most of your countrymen quickly fall away. You get down to work in a small room. If you stick with it long enough, you emerge with an original voice, and, if you’re lucky and/or deserving, you meet others like yourself who remind you you’re not in the struggle alone. Welcome to the club.

I also became friends with the brilliant photographer Peter Everard Smith and his lovely wife Joao, who kindly put me up at their 15th century home in Shimpling. Peter’s work had fascinated me since I had seen his images on John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers’ albums Crusade and Bare Wires, the first records featuring my favorite blues-rock guitarist, Mick Taylor. I was a teen when I bought those records, as was Taylor, incredibly, when he played on them. As most fanatics did back in the day of the twelve-inch album covers— before we got to see musicians moving on MTV—we scoured those 144-square inches, front and back, for every molecule of information they contained. Decades later, I’m an electric blues player myself, in England, and meeting the man who took those photos I had completely memorized in my teens. On top of that, Peter photographed me at the festival events I appeared at. Talk about an honor. A few days later I was eating Joao’s incredible food, was photographed in Peter’s studio, all while staying in their gorgeous home. The universe is beyond kind on occasion. Peter and I are planning a book together; more on that in the future.

I also read in Norwich, a city bursting with literary arts, where the incredible poetry dynamic duo of Helen Ivory and Martin Figura put me up at their Butchery, which has hosted countless poets in the past. Helen had me read at their long-running Café Writers series in a 600 year-old venue, where some new poems of mine about England went over with nary a pint thrown in anger. I still find myself thinking of returning to Norwich to finish my Ph.D. If only the Butchery took long term guests.

Outside Helen Ivory's and Martin Figura's Butchery, Norwich, UK, November 2014. Photo ©Martin Figura

Outside Helen Ivory’s and Martin Figura’s Butchery, Norwich, UK, November 2014. Photo ©Martin Figura; used with permission.

Dean and I spent time in his childhood haunts around Lowestoft, and we ended the trip in London, hanging with his musician friends. A brilliant ending to a great trip. The entire fortnight reaffirmed my love of the U.K., her people, and how connected I am to the art of good writing. I was fortunate. Dean, Naomi, and all the new friends I made through them rescued a lost part of me when I needed it back in the worst way.

Back in New York, I continued my love affair with Bijou, my puggle, and my obsession to take 1940s and 1950s jump blues guitar to my own demented next level. As Bijou and I settled in for another dark New York winter, I kept thinking of the prescient questions my U.K. readers had, and how deeply informed they were about my work, even though Beneath Stars Long Extinct wasn’t published in England. It was exhilarating, and made me realize that kind of cultural discourse in my own country was scarce, at best.

Of course, as a writer—and particularly a writer of contemporary American poetry—I write to craft something I consider beautiful, and not for renumeration or adulation. I build these small engines of emotion out of language, each one telling a very short story; each one helping me make sense of a world I find largely cruel, senseless, and beautiful. When they do something similar for others, it’s gravy; the ultimate long tail effect.

November gifted me some great friends across the pond, reunited me with others, and audience reaction reminded me of what I do best. There are learned readers in the U.K. who appreciate what I do, and that’s the greatest gift any writer can ask for. I’m fortunate and grateful.

Bijou digs jump blues.

Bijou digs jump blues.

It was an intense winter of woodshedding the jump blues, walking the ice with Bijou, and pondering the next phase of my life. I know what the new direction of The Egatz Epitaph will be, and it involves a nonfiction topic that will yield a new book in a genre my poetry readers won’t be expecting. As always, thanks for your emails, interest, and patience. Stay tuned. Cheers.

An Open Letter to Major Labels

I published the following on my Facebook page, and it got some great comments and a bit of attention. Unbeknownst to me, I published it just before the MTV Awards, which shows you how closely I’m in touch with that world. Here it is for all to read, along with a few edits.


Dear Major Labels of the Music Industry:

There’s a reason I don’t spend much money on buying new music, and it’s not because record stores are just a memory, or because of piracy, or because I got old.

LPYour recent offerings suck. That’s right. They suck. My ears make my wallet vote. If my choices are between another Katy Perry-type freeze dried, overproduced studio creation developed by an extensive team and a band with nine guys who all look, sound, and dress like 19th century Mennonite farmers, I’m out. Like Hollywood, you, the major recording labels, continually play it safe, offering nothing different, nothing compelling, nothing with a gram of emotional honesty.

Your promotions suck. When musicians, established and not, have to sell their songs to television networks so they’ll get a 20 second snippet played with a bad medical drama voiceover on top of it in the hopes the exposure will generate sales, your marketing department has failed. Fire them all, and start over with someone who has better ideas.

Your loyalty sucks. Most popular bands of another era were mentored. Their first two or three albums and tours were spent to train, develop their songwriting, and foster future potential blockbuster sales. Today, if a new major label band doesn’t score big with a single off their first album, they are marginalized by the label and not promoted until they shrivel up and die. Shame on you.

Radio sucks. Thanks to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and the subsequent corporate consolidation, conglomerates like Clear Channel now call the shots regarding what the public gets exposed to. DJs used to play what they stumbled across that moved them, not what some corporate whore from the car rental department told them to play. Since this has gone on long enough and a new payola scandal gets trotted out in front of Congress every 17 years, why don’t you put some money into a more effective Internet-based broadcast system which showcases new, worthy, talent which doesn’t sound like all the other AutoTuned crap you majors have been peddling for decades?

I could go on, but this is capitalism, and as Marx pointed out, the rules are merciless and simple. You offer us little more than shit for a long enough period and eventually we look elsewhere. Get your acts together, and maybe I’ll come back to you. Until then, I’ll keep buying more toys to make my own music. I’m not Jeff Beck or Mick Taylor or Andy Summers, but even listening to my own music, let alone making it, makes me much happier than paying for what you’ve been peddling for a long, long time.

Ron Egatz

Making It Look Delicious

Another short film I did during my absence from The Egatz Epitaph. I wrote and directed this short with my friends at MAC Group. It features the incredible food photography of William Brinson. If you want to learn how to shoot food for your blog or any other occasion, Brinson is your guy. If you want to hire a pro to do it for you, he’s definitely your guy.

Linda and Bob Carey’s Story

Here’s something I did during my hiatus from The Egatz Epitaph.

A few years ago I stumbled across the work of photographer Bob Carey a few years ago. This was just as he began to ride a huge tsunami of publicity for his Tutu Project photos. We became friends, and he agreed to be the subject of a short film I wrote and directed. The good folks at PocketWizard loved his work and his use of their products, and underwrote the entire effort.

I know of no other photographer who has received the kind of press Bob has. He’s been everywhere in the mainstream media, from CNN to The Today Show to The Huffington Post. He and his wife Linda have a story most Americans can relate to. Bob explains all in this short. I hope it moves you as much as their journey moved me.

Not a solo effort by any stretch of the imagination, this short film was made with the help and labor of my friends at LPA Design, MAC Group, and several freelance production persons. I was and still am thankful for their time and support.

All revenue generated by The Tutu Project goes directly to fund The Carey Foundation. Please help the most honest charity organization I know of.

Egatz at Brookdale

Here’s an interview I did at Brookdale College on the Beneath Stars Long Extinct tour. Suzanne Parker is a talented teacher, and asked some great questions. I got to read to the student body that evening, and that itself was also televised.

Topics covered: my common poetic themes, the publishing of the book, the poem “Heartworm and the Space Behind,” my penchant for writing poems the FCC would have issues with, independent publishing, lucid poetry, and the usual things I rant about. Enjoy.

Rebroadcasting in the Clear

It’s been quite some time since my last post on the old Epitaph. Hard to believe I was coding this blog in the 1990’s, before the term “weblog,” when I’d write each post nightly in TeachText/SimpleText under System 7.5 on an old PowerMac 8100A/V.

I pulled all that content a long time ago. The new version of The Egatz Epitaph was all about the publishing industry. As I predicted years ago, it seems Len Riggio and company continue to drive Barnes & Noble into the ground. The place to get your books, both electronic and traditional, is Amazon.

I came to the decision there are already plenty of journalists getting paid to watch the publishing industry. Many of them even have staff jobs with health care coverage. Although readers of The Egatz Epitaph would write in to say they enjoyed my opinionated rants, for me, watching the implosion of the publishing industry in a country that has coined the acronym TLTR for “Too Long to Read,” well, it was just too depressing.

What’s up for the future? I’m not entirely sure. I have some other short film projects in the works which are strictly non-commercial. They actually involve my writing. As with all film work, much of this depends on time and money. I’ve been playing the blues and writing original songs more than I have in years, largely thanks to Jenn, who encourages me to fill the loft with my own music. Oddly, she doesn’t mind hearing me work out new instrumental parts. That she picked up an awesome Mesa Boogie for me is proof. She’s taken a few guitar lessons from me, but she’s more about blowing some blues harp these days.

Since my last entry, Jenn and I have been engaging in other good things together besides making music. We’ve shot some video for Reel Chow, and we’re working on the development of two different cooking shows. Can’t really report anything else about them right now.

To say I’ve been dismayed by the wholesale violations of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment in light of the Snowden revelations is an understatement. This, along with the private sector’s unending drive to replace the corporate American workforce with cheaper overseas labor, show me there’s plenty of reasons to keep writing The Egatz Epitaph. Maybe that’s what I’ll focus on, or maybe it’ll just be more stories about my crazy life and adventures with Jenn.

I know WordPress much better than years ago, so information architecture changes in this blog might be forthcoming. Stay tuned, and thanks for all the emails that never stopped coming during my long hibernation.