When Steve Wasserman, 69, began writing his first book, “Barriers: A Novel” 10 years ago, the Pikesville-based author was not planning to publish it. He was writing instead for the simple enjoyment writing would bring him. But now, after many years of hard work, Wasserman is the published author of a distinctly Baltimore story.
Wasserman lives in Pikesville with his wife Cindy. The two have five adult children, Marc, 40, Kallie, 38, twins Stacey and Brad, 35, and Jesse, 33. Both Steve and Cindy Wasserman are native Baltimoreans.
Wasserman, a member of Beth El Congregation of Baltimore, grew up mostly in northwest Baltimore. When he was in 11th grade, his family moved to the Pikesville area, where he has lived for most of his adult life. His parents were members of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. He attended Hebrew school at BHC, as well as at Beth Jacob Congregation and at Baltimore Hebrew College.
Wasserman studied journalism at Syracuse University and spent a few years in the advertising industry.
For 40 years, Wasserman has been the owner of a consumer packaging business. His sons Brad and Jesse currently run its operations, which gives him more time to spend on his writing.
Wasserman began writing “Barriers” in 2011, largely as a hobby. His background in journalism had planted a “seed” in him to eventually do some writing, he said.
Wasserman described his book as a coming-of-age story, set primarily in Baltimore from the 1950s to the 1980s. It follows its protagonist, Michael Sanders, as he faces different obstacles, some emerging from institutions and some self-inflicted, in pursuit of his career. Much of the story takes place with the backdrop of much larger events such as the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, and with more than a few Baltimore-based historical events and landmarks sprinkled into the tale.
Some of the initial inspiration for “Barriers” came from a piece written over half a century ago by New York Times columnist Russell Baker. The piece was an open letter to Yale University to accept Baker’s son as a student despite his less than remarkable GPA and SAT scores. In it, Baker argued that his son had “a totally blank mind, you can mold it any way you want,” Wasserman said.
“And that thought had always intrigued me,” Wasserman said, “just the idea of people who maybe, really early on in life, make decisions as to what they’re going to do, versus people who are the opposite, that maybe wait till later in life.”
When he first started working on his novel, Wasserman would write a bit, read it over and then rewrite it as needed, he said, but he found this method a bit of a slog. In time, he decided to simply write the whole story down first and worry about smoothing out its imperfections afterward, which he found gave the process a much better flow.
Wasserman completed “Barriers” about four or five years ago, though it was not published until April 2021. He had not originally intended to publish the book, but the current political atmosphere changed his mind. He noted that several parts of the novel touch on issues of discrimination, such as the desegregation of Gwynn Oak Park. In light of modern day issues such as the Black Lives Matter movement and Trumpism, he felt these sections would be meaningful for a contemporary audience, he said. He began reediting and rewriting the book around this time last year and then chose to self publish it.
One thing Wasserman hopes “Barriers” will do is get readers “to look at their own personal prejudices and biases,” he said.
“In a lot of cases, it’s subtle,” he continued. “We act with prejudice and bias, sometimes without even realizing it, and I tried to show some instances of that in the novel.”
“The other thing is just the thought that, sometimes, you get to choose what you do in life, everything falls into place, and sometimes things happen to you, that you have no control over, that determines what happens with your life.”
“Barriers” is currently available on Amazon, at independent bookstores and at the Baltimore County Library. Wasserman said that 100% of the profits made in the first four months will be donated in September to social justice programs.