edited: Saturday, December 22, 2007
By Jack Getze
Not "rated" by the Author.
Posted: Saturday, December 22, 2007
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Mystery Scene magazine, Winter Issue, 2007, #98
Over a woe-is-me, three-martini lunch twenty years ago, a pal and fellow disgruntled stockbroker told me a tale that became the basis for my debut novel, Big Numbers.
A half-eaten olive spat from my mouth, even before I heard the punchline. “Say that again?”
“Jim was a stock-jockey like the rest of us, living hand-to-mouth, until his richest client died,” my pal said. “One week after the client’s funeral, Jim started dating the rich new widow.”
I picked up my errant and twice-bitten green olive.
“And Jim married her?”
“Yup,” my friend said.
Bottoms up on my third martini. “That sounds like a novel.”
“A noir tale of greed.”
Maybe it was the times. The mid-1980s celebrated renewed and sharp economic growth, even greed in my opinion. Or maybe it was just my own greed, my desire to escape the dismally frustrating and soulfully repugnant stock and bond trade. Dialing for dollars, we used to call it. Income based solely on commissions. Believe me, avarice gets nurtured daily when you watch your salary go back to zero every month.
“Gosh, that really sounds like a novel,” I said again five minutes later. I imagined movies with famous redheads, a handsome young star as hero. Piles of cash. Boats. Stolen securities.
“You should write it,” my friend said.
Well, I did. In less than a year. I found an agent willing to shop it to publishers, too, but that first version written two decades ago failed to sell in three years of trying. The character was unlikeable, we heard over and over. Greed is not a quality Americans want for their heroes.
I started and finished four other manuscripts over the next two decades, none sold, and I’d reached the lowest spot in thirty-plus years of total disappointment writing fiction. I’d been working with a new agent for two years, on a thriller, and she’d just declared my latest draft completely awry.
“What were you thinking?” she said.
After she made me stop crying, my agent suggested I pull something old from a drawer and work on that, give the thriller a rest. Crushed, I eventually recovered, did some thinking, and called the agent back, told her about two or three old projects including the original version of Big Numbers.
“I like the one about the stockbroker,” she said.
Mr. Persistence some friends call me. Ten or eleven unpublished manuscripts. No sale in thirty-eight years. They know I’m not one to give up easily. So I put aside my thriller and trudged ahead with a rewrite of that old failed mystery, Big Numbers. In two weeks I knew I was onto something special. I couldn’t stop writing. I was making myself laugh in the wee small hours of darkness. I couldn’t wait to show the opening to my agent.
When she read the first 30 pages of the new Big Numbers, with its down-and-out protagonist trying to provide for his estranged children, my agent said, “This is funny. This is you. This is what I’ve been waiting for.”
Six months later I got the call I’d been waiting for. Hilliard & Harris wanted to publish my novel.
The novel I began to write twenty years earlier over martinis and lurid gossip.
I know what you future mystery novelists are thinking: Holy weak manuscripts, Jack! It better not take me thirty-eight years and eleven freaking novels to break into print.
Trust me, it won’t. For the first thirty of those thirty-eight years, understand I just wrote my stories. I didn’t read any books or magazines on writing fiction. I didn’t attend workshops or writing seminars. Craft? It wasn’t until I attended Writers Retreat Workshop in 1998 and began to network that I finally grasped writing fiction is a craft needing study and practice.
If you are a writer, a future mystery novelist, you already know about craft or you wouldn’t be reading Mystery Scene. So don’t worry about those rejections. Just keep going.
You’re way ahead of my schedule.