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Interview With Jack Getze, Author of Big Numbers

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Jack Getze has written a great debut novel. But getting it published hasn’t been easy going for him.  He entered journalism because he loved to write. After working for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner and the Los Angeles Times covering financial issues he made a career change – and switched coasts to work for a regional securities firm on the New Jersey shore selling stocks and bonds. He retired in 1999 to work full-time on his novels. 

His story is one of perseverance. But I’ll just jump right into the interview and let him explain that story:

Hi, Mr. Getze. Why don’t we start by talking about the book and then we can go into some biographical stuff from there?Tell me where the idea for this book came from. I read that the basis came from a lunch 20 years ago. Can you tell the short version of that story?

I was a stockbroker at the time, earning a living to feed my family the best way I could. But I hated the job. I was drinking at lunch with a fellow disgruntled broker who told me about a colleague who'd just found a way out: When this stockbroker's richest client died of cancer, the broker began dating and eventually married the new widow. I thought, wow, that symbolizes everything about this business I dislike, namely the greed that working on 100% commission instills.

Now why did it take 20 years for that tale to become this book? How many rejection letters did you get? Would you consider this a good morality tale about perseverance?

 I found an agent with that old version of Big Numbers, but he couldn't sell it in two years of trying. I don't how many rejections he got, but I had a drawer full by the time I found him. I'd already written three other unpublished novels. After the agent gave up on Big Numbers, I put it aside and wrote another six novels that no one wanted. Since I never gave up until I'd queried every agent I could find, I'd have to guess the total number of rejections for my fiction must have reached 1,000. I'm not sure where morality comes in, but I do think some of my friends are right when they call me "Mr. Persistence." 

Understand, I don't pat myself on the back for it. Being an author is all I ever wanted to do. It's why I went to work for newspapers at the age of 19. To give up on my dream would have meant the end of me.

Now I’m assuming you added to that story to get this book. Was one of the additions the mobile home? Have you ever lived in a mobile home? I love the idea of having to wear a football helmet to bed.

I never lived in one, but yes, I added the mobile home. I had worked with another broker who got in a nasty divorce and was forced to live in his car for six months, and the beat-up camper just seemed funnier. I think the better addition was giving my character estranged children that he loved dearly and wanted back. This made him more likable, and gave the reader a better reason to root for him. He's still a cad, but before, his undoing seemed based solely on greed and lust. The kids gave him a better reason to need money and fall for that redhead.  

Do you think we should like the main character?

I think Austin Carr is likable, yes. You can't like some of the things he does, certainly, but I think that's true even of our friends. You have to take the good (the love of his children, his humor, his self-deprecating one-liners) with the bad. I know he crosses some moral lines, but I wanted to show how the stock and bond business pushes its salesmen in that direction. Moreover, and I hope this doesn't sound too pompous, I think Everyman faces these choices and sometimes fails. It's human nature to desire.  It can often lead to trouble.

In this Armchair Interview you nailed something I’ve encountered as a former journalist myself, namely emotion.

I wrote a lot of unpublished novels before Big Numbers sold. My biggest problem, I now believe, is that I always had trouble getting emotion on paper. Being a man is one handicap. Working for 15 years as a newspaper reporter is another. The facts, ma'am. Just the facts. I was taught a technique for overcoming this — writing in the first person — and the plan just turned into a novel. I've heard others say that first person ties the reader closer to your character, but I chose it to help me put more feelings and thoughts inside the story.

So first thank you. I am going to have to try that myself. Second, what, if anything, did you do to get into this character who is a bit of a greedy horny guy or did that not require anything in the way of, er, research?

Great question. But I'm not 100% sure about my answer. As I've mentioned, I had plenty of subject matter (greedy and horny) surrounding me at the brokerage firm, but sometimes I think Austin Carr is the little red devil sitting on my shoulder. If I listened to that beast all the time, I'm sure I'd be in jail, or even dead. But in small doses, he can be very entertaining.

Please tell me you don’t really walk around in a Speedo, as Austin Carr does in one scene.

No. Not since my prostate operation. 

I assume you’ve written other books in the meantime while waiting to find a publisher for this one. Is that correct? What are the status of those books

Six more books were written and rejected. I used big chunks of one in Big Money, the second Austin Carr book due in February, 2008.  

What questions do you wish interviewers would ask that they do not ask?

(1) Where did you learn to write so brilliantly?

(2) Who is your favorite writer and do you try to imitate his style? Answer: Elmore Leonard, and yes, I try. To me, good novels are about story, not beautiful words and sentences. When I read Elmore, the words almost disappear. As a reader, I'm just there, inside the story, a fly on the wall, Double Indemnity listening and watching all the exciting things going on. I don't even notice the words.

Can I express just one quibble: $58,000 doesn’t seem like a lot of money considering everything Austin does. Was it intentional to keep the amount small?

Honestly, I just forgot to update the amount to reflect the highly inflationary 20 years that passed, although I never wanted the amount to seem outrageous because I worried readers would think he never even TRIED to keep up with his court-ordered payments. 

What would you say to those readers trying to decide whether to buy your book?

Go ahead and buy it. If you don't like it, send it back to me and I'll refund your money. I've actually proposed this more than once at book signings, and so far I haven't had any returns. More seriously, I would say it's a fast, easy read, and the odds are good you will get lots of laughs. 

Would you be offended if I said the book was like Wall Street meets Double Indemnity? I might cancel that question if you think it reveals too much. I thought I knew where the book was headed but you surprised me with some good twists.

No, I'm flattered. Double Indemnity is one of my favorite books, James M. Cain one of my very favorite novelists. And I think the guy who gets lured away from morality by an attractive women is almost as common a theme as selling one's soul to the devil. Come to think of it, it might be the SAME theme. 

Incidentally, coincidentally, Double Indemnity and  The Postman Always Rings Twice – both by Cain – were both sparked by a true court case Cain heard about. So not only do Getze and Cain’s stories have similar themes but both came about because of writers who listen to others, always having an ear for good stories they can use. Keep that in mind. This is one of the reasons why I emphasize the importance of listening in this essay.

For more information about past crime noir novels check out this interview I did with an author about the history and rise of thrillers in popularity.

<em>Thanks again to Mr. Getze for the interview. I look forward to reading his next book, Big Money, scheduled for publication in Febuary 2008.</em>

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About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been doing special education work for about five years He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.