Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Twenty Questions With Jack Getze

Jack Getze is an author I can comfortably say deserves a break. I’ve read his novels, Big Numbers and Big Money, and have to think there’s a market for his Austin Carr series if a publisher can be found with the creativity to approach an appropriately appreciative audience. Jack has a chance to do for stockbrokers what Carl Hiaasen has done for land developers.

Jack’s a former Los Angeles Times reporter, currently Fiction Editor for Anthony-nominated Spinetingler Magazine, one of the internet's oldest websites for noir, crime, and horror short stories. His Austin Carr mysteries Big Numbers and Big Money were re-issued by Down and Out Books in 2013, with Big Mojo and Big Shoes set for 2014. His short stories have appeared in A Twist of Noir, Beat to a Pulp, The Big Adios, and the airline magazine Passages.

clip_image001One Bite at a Time: Tell us about the Austin Carr series (Big Numbers, Big Money and the upcoming Big Mojo).

Jack Getze: Austin Carr is the cat with nine lives. Or he’s a zombie who doesn’t know he’s dead. Austin first hit the pages of my morning fiction in the mid-1980s – thirty years ago. The first version of Big Numbers earned an agent in 1987 but was rejected by every New York publishing company. Unlikeable. Twenty years later, with a new single-dad angle, Austin came back to life with a new agent. Unfortunately, New York still had the same opinion, and the agent stuck Austin with a small regional publisher. Austin lasted two books in that relationship, but when his agent went shopping the third book and the series to New York again, guess what they said? It was three rounds of NO for poor old Austin Carr, smart-ass stockbroker. He was likeable enough this time, but anything that smelled of Wall Street was taboo. “I’d be fired if I bought a series with a stockbroker lead,” an editor confided to me in 2012. Yikes. Then last year I found another agent, but after reading Austin and liking him, even she didn’t think she could sell a stockbroker protagonist. I was about to self-publish when my friend Les Edgerton put me in touch with Eric Campbell at Down and Out Books. Eric said he loved Big Numbers and wanted to re-issue the first two, then publish #3, Big Mojo. Naturally, I was pleased. Austin thinks Eric walks on water.

OBAAT: Where did you get this idea for this series, and what made it worth developing for you? (Notice I didn’t ask “Where do you get your ideas?” I was careful to ask where you got this idea.)

JG: Basically it’s my life – exaggerated to the point of crazy distortion and lie. I couldn’t believe the life of a bond salesmen – my second career – and I couldn’t help but write about it. All anyone talked about all day was numbers – prices, yields, ratios, commissions. I remember some salesman chalking up a big sale on the blackboard and saying out loud to the room he was doing “big numbers” this month. It was 1985. I leaned over to my desk partner and said, “I’m going to write a novel some day called big numbers. It’s all this fucking business is about.”

OBAAT: How long have you worked on the Austin Carr series?

JG: Austin Carr was born in 1985, but he was never a series until I sold Big Numbers and they wanted a second, so let's say 2006 is the start of the series.

clip_image003OBAAT: In what time and place are the stories set? How important is the setting to the book as a whole?

JG: Present day, New Jersey, an older town near -- but not on -- the shore. I call the place Branchtown, but the setting is more or less an amalgamation of the towns and boroughs around Red Bank, NJ. The Atlantic Ocean is close by and often shows up. So does Jersey's Pine Barrens. I think the setting is important to Austin Carr, my protagonist. He moved there from southern California and finds the people and places much different. He likes to comment on how tough Jersey is, though I think it's more his perception than truth.

OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?

JG: Crime and mystery exclusively, although I go through binges of picking up bestsellers to see what's hot. Last one was Gone Girl which I loved, and realized immediately it was also a crime novel. Ha. I absolutely loved that book. I think I have a crush on Gillian Flynn and have never met her. Elmore Leonard is my favorite author. I've read everything he's ever written, and Hombre -- the western -- is high on my list of favorites. Loved that character John Russell the half-breed. I read everything new by Robert Crais as well.

OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences?

JG: Leonard, without a doubt. His 10 Rules are debatable points for most writers, but I live by them. I think he is the master of the craft, the guy who explains better than anyone how to write great stories, great fiction. If it sounds like writing, rewrite it. Fly on the wall I've also heard it described. Authors should stay out of their fiction.

OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants? Do you even wear pants when you write?

JG: Ha. I love it when you try to be funny. I start writing a first draft and an outline at the same time, kind of a running list of one-liners that might be major turning points or at least good scenes coming up. I don't know what the story really is until I finish that first draft and the crude list of scenes. At that point -- before the second draft -- I try to polish up that list of scenes, add things that need to be included, stuff I forgot. Then the hard work comes ... that second draft.

OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?

JG: Write stories that are fun for you to do -- stories that make you want to think about them, research them and write them. If you enjoy the process of writing, there's a good chance the reader will have fun, too.

OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.

JG: I watch some television. There are great crime dramas on cable these days. Watching True Detectives this past winter was as much fun as a good novel. Summer finds me at the beach, swimming and sunning. I was good golfer once, club champ at forty, and I still like to play with my two sons a few times each year.

OBAAT: Which do you take to bed at night, the money earned or the good review?

JG: Haven't had that many or much of either one, so I'd say my case is unproven, but I prefer the happy review -- the one where I made somebody laugh.

OBAAT: Would you stop writing if someone paid you enough money so you’d never have to work again, on the condition you could also never write again?

JG: No. I don't have to work anymore. I write all day because I love it, because I dream of creating a character that lives on after I'm dead.

OBAAT: If you were just starting out, which would you prefer: 1. Form your own indie publishing house and put your work out in paper and e-book yourself? 2. Go with a small or medium traditional house that offers very little or no advance, a royalty that is only a fraction of what you'd get on your own, and also makes no promise of any type of publicity push, keeping in mind that you also will lose the publishing rights for a period, sometimes indefinitely? 3. Go with a Big Six or legacy publisher that offers a larger advance, legitimate review possibilities, entrance to industry literary awards, and exposure on the shelves of brick and mortar stores. Pick one and say why.

JG: Just starting out, you have to go with the Big Six. Get the reviews, the libraries, the award nominations. Then after they screw you, you've got a name to self-publish.

OBAAT: Beer, mixed drinks, or hard liquor?

JG: Oh God, I was afraid of this. I've always been a bourbon man, Wild Turkey, Jack Daniels. But I'm too old now and my digestive system can't hack much. I mostly drink beer and cheap white wine.

OBAAT: Baseball or football?

JG: Baseball. Looking forward right now to the new season of fantasy. Finished second last year, thanks to that turkey Jared Weaver blowing up at the end. I played baseball every day of my life from the age of seven to thirteen. If I hadn’t of switched to golf at fifteen, I would have pitched professionally. I had a curve ball you wouldn’t believe. The funny part is, I actually believe that – like most baseball fan-boys I know. Ha.

OBAAT: What question have you always wanted an interviewer to ask, but they never do?

JG: How the hell did you learn to write so well?

OBAAT: What’s the answer?

JG: I don’t. I write so that you don’t notice, I hope. I believe what Elmore Leonard said: “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” That's not as easy as it sounds.

OBAAT: What are you working on now?

JG: Big Mojo, number three in my Austin Carr Mystery Series. I introduced a character last time named Angelina "Mama Bones" Bonacelli, and in number three, she takes a big role, setting up a major shift in Austin's life. But I'm having a lot of fun polishing this up. I "finished" it three years ago, I thought. But I've learned more of my craft the last few years and when I read it one more time this January, I realized Big Mojo was NOT finished.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Nice guy, isn't he?

Dana King said...

Yes, very. I've known Jack online for quite a while, finally got to meet him in person in Albany last year. He's as much fun to be around as his books are to read, carries a good feeling around with him.