Persistence + passion = tenacity

Little Silver author launches mystery novel series


Staff Writer

Dissatisfaction with the stock and bond trade led Little Silver resident and former stockbroker Jack Getze to write a mystery novel.Dissatisfaction with the stock and bond trade led Little Silver resident and former stockbroker Jack Getze to write a mystery novel. For Jack Getze, getting his mystery novel “Big Numbers” published is a big deal. In fact, it is a huge deal.

It is the culmination of 37 years and 11 unpublished manuscripts as well as years of writing in the mornings and working at a job that, at its best, was tolerable, and at its worst, was a poor fit.

“Big Numbers” is the first in a planned series of mystery novels with the same protagonist, Austin Carr. Getze has already completed and sold the second book and has completed a first draft of the third.

“I’d be happy to keep this series going for the rest of my life,” he said last week.

Published by Hilliard and Harris, a small publishing house in Maryland, it is an often humorous tale of greed and need with a deeply flawed protagonist who has to choose between doing the right thing and doing what is expedient – something that Getze, a former stockbroker, said he had to do over and over in his mid-life career in the stocks and bond industry.

His first career was as a journalist on the financial and business beat, and now, knock wood, he is a published author.

Writing about what you know is the mantra of writing workshops. Getze learned the importance of that truism long before he joined his first writing workshop. In fact, he learned it with his first novel.

“I started my first novel when I was 22 years old. It was inspired by Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” he said. “I loved that book, but my book was not going anywhere and I knew it.”

But, he also knew that he wanted to eventually be able to call himself an author. That first attempt fed his passion for writing, and since then, he has been writing just about every morning – for the past 38 years.

Getze said he has heard there are about 100 mysteries published every month. They are the second most widely read genre, the first being romance fiction.

“So why not mine?” he thought over the years.

A New Jersey transplant, Getze grew up in San Gabriel, Calif., and now lives in Little Silver.

He said he realized that he loved writing when he was a senior in high school and was placed in a journalism class because he was failing German and algebra.

“I really enjoyed writing for the school newspaper. In fact, most of the bylines in that paper were mine,” he said.

Getze explained that he didn’t go to college after high school, but got a job as a copy boy on the now-defunct Los Angeles Herald Examiner, a Hearst newspaper. In those day, a reporter didn’t need a degree to get a job.

“They gave me a chance to write. When I was only 19 years old, I got my first byline. I was actually a cub reporter. That’s what it said on my paycheck.”

Unfortunately, in 1968 there was a strike at his paper and he lost his job. Eventually, he landed a job at the Los Angeles Times as a business and finance writer. He did that for almost nine years. Then, in 1977, he decided to quit and write a novel, but divorce got in the way and he found himself struggling financially.

“I had to go back to work at a public relations firm. That’s where I met Barbara. She was from Little Silver; in fact, her family started Little Silver Electric. When she was pregnant with our first child, she said she wanted to raise them in Little Silver.

It meant starting over in New Jersey, he said, and starting over meant getting a job.

Because of all the years he spent as a financial writer, it seemed logical to go into the stocks and bonds field, he said. “I needed to support a family, so I became a bond salesman/stock broker. I was making cold calls all day. Eventually I made a decent living, but I wasn’t really that good at it.

“I know stocks and bonds, but I wasn’t a great salesman, so they teamed me up with someone who could sell but had a limited knowledge of stocks and bonds. We did pretty well together, especially the first years, but my heart wasn’t in it. My heart was in writing.”

Getze’s novel takes place in the fictional world of Branchtown, which is loosely based on Red Bank. “I wanted to fictionalize the place because I make fun of the cops in the book and I have great respect for the Red Bank police. It’s really a bigger place than Red Bank, more like if Red Bank and the surrounding towns were all one.”

Carr is a down-on-his-luck stockbroker with a conscience of sorts. Getze writes about how dangerous an unscrupulous broker can be because they may be playing fast and loose with someone’s life savings.

“I’ve always treated my clients with honesty, to the point of aggravating every sales manager I’ve ever had,” his main character explains.

Carr is in dire financial straits because of a stock market crash that has forced him to move into a camper and renege on his alimony and child-support payments. As a result, he has lost the privilege of seeing his children.

His decision to hook up with the wife of a rich client in order to earn the money to pay his wife sets the scene for the first and last chapters of the book, where he is about to be dragged into the sea by a giant fish.

Getze said his ideas come from stories that he hears.

“I heard a story about a broker who had just married the widow of his richest client. I thought it was symbolic of everything I don’t like about the business,” he said. “It coincided with my need to get out of that business and get back to writing. It was kind of cathartic to put that into a novel.”

Getze added that he also knew a man who was going through a divorce and living in his car because of the last stock market crash. In addition, he had heard another story about a local fisherman getting yanked off a boat by the pull of a tuna.

“He was strapped into a chair on an old boat with rusty bolts,” said Getze.

When he heard that story, his writer’s mind kicked in.

“I thought, what a great way to murder someone.”

Getze said he is a good listener.

“I love hearing stories. But, for years I was like the writer up in his garret, alone. I didn’t belong to writing groups nor did I read books on writing.”

The event that propelled him out of his isolated garret was simple enough. In 1998, his wife pointed out a story in USA Today about vacations that can change your life. One was a 10-day writers retreat workshop. He went, and it did change his life. He met other writers, and through networking he found an agent.

“It opened my eyes. I wish I had found them earlier. We have taken many vacations together where we write all day and critique each other’s work at night. We have become an e-mail critique group.”

His book is dedicated to his wife, but he acknowledges his workshop pals as well as his father and the friends who told him stories.

Getze’s tenacity paid off – maybe not big time yet, but who knows? The fact is that he is writing all the time now, not just when he finds time, and improving every day. He said he has learned to take criticism, cull through it and put the gems to work.

“I listen and take notes. I don’t react,” he said. “Later I look at my notes. Sometimes, there are some good suggestions there.”

He explained his process.

“My first draft looks like an outline that I have to expand. I started ‘Big Numbers’ in 1986 and rewrote it 18 months ago. I was told that the main character, Austin, wasn’t likable enough, so I added the story about him missing his children and trying to get them back. It made him more likable. He wasn’t living in a camper in the original story, either.”

Getze was signing his books at River Road Books in Fair Haven on Saturday, but most of his marketing is geared toward mystery fans conventions that are held around the country.

“About 500 to 800 fans will attend these conventions. I’ll sign books and be on panels,” he explained.

The author said sales is not the motivating factor, not like it was in the stocks and bonds business.

“I love what I’m doing,” he said. “I’ve never been happier.”