Former Los Angeles Times reporter Jack Getze is Fiction Editor for Anthony nominated Spinetingler Magazine. Through the Los Angeles Times/Washington Post News Syndicate, his news and feature stories have been published in over five-hundred newspapers and periodicals worldwide. His screwball mysteries, Big Numbers and Big Money, were first published by Hilliard Harris in 2007 and 2008, and Big Mojo was published by Down & Out Books in 2013. His short stories have appeared in A Twist of Noir and Beat to a Pulp.
In his new book, The Black Kachina, a top-secret weapon goes missing on Colonel Maggie Black’s watch putting her honor and career on the line. There were airmen who said the Air Force’s best female combat pilot would never be the same after losing her arm in Iraq, but state-of-the-art prosthetics have made Maggie better than new, and she’s not about to lose what she battled so hard to regain.
But finding her experimental missile won’t be easy—thanks to the revenge-fueled ambitions of Asdrubal Torres, whose hallucinatory encounter with the Great Spirit challenges him to refill Lake Cahuilla, the ancient inland sea that once covered much of southern California. To fulfill his mission, Torres needs wizardry and weaponry, and the Great Spirit provides both: Magic, in the form of a celebrated shaman’s basket returned to the tribal museum by San Diego reporter Jordan Scott; Might, in the form of Maggie Black’s top-secret weapon that falls from the sky.
From that moment on, it’s a race against time for Maggie and Jordan, who together must stop Torres from destroying Hoover Dam—and turning the Colorado River into a tsunami that would kill hundreds of thousands and wipe out the Southwest’s water supply. In the final showdown, it’s Maggie who must disarm the stolen missile’s trigger—one-handed or not—and save the day.
Getze stops by In Reference today to talk about researching and writing The Black Kachina:
It wasn’t always so, but today my writing and research are locked together like new lovers. Mostly because of today’s search engines, curiosity and fact-finding lead the whole creative process. In addition to the ever-present dictionary and thesaurus (now online of course), I keep a window open with Google ready while I write. Very few pages of an early draft pass without checking something on the internet.
Certainly what interests me has always found its way into my stories. And those events, objects, or people who’ve interested me the most have ended up carrying the tale. But my older Austin Carr Novels were written in the first person and centered around my miserable, imaginary, and post-journalism life as a bond salesman, mixing wild stories with true events and real people. I didn’t do much research. Maybe a couple of questions to my wife about pantyhose.
I wrote in the 1980s and 1990s by twisting the truth, squeezing out a narrative to entertain myself. As an ex-newspaper reporter, I’d learned to do fact-checking in the library and courthouse, in person, or on the telephone. Who had time for all that, writing first-person fiction? But with the ease of online research, now I get even more jollies basing my fiction on fact. Honest. I always had the curiosity, but the internet has made research so much simpler.
I made this transition during the decades-long, instructive creation of The Black Kachina, my new thriller, which after seven or eight different versions is by now almost completely a product of curiosity and research. I hardly made up anything but the overall premise.
The book came to life in 1994 when I saw a colorful image of Nataska, the Black Ogre, a Hopi kachina, or spirit. Kachinas are portrayed most often as dolls for sale to tourists, or as costumed tribesmen dancing in ceremonies. As one of the Hopi’s “black ogres,” Nataska is known as The Punisher of Wicked Children, and tales of his deeds supposedly frighten Hopi kids into good behavior. My curiosity demanded knowledge about that spirit, and back when I started, that meant buying or renting books and reading. I sucked up all I could about kachinas and the various Cahuilla tribes of Southern California. The story always has featured a half-breed who wants revenge against the white man.
I spent two decades researching, rewriting, researching, improving my craft, writing four, first person Austin Carr novels, and finally more military research. I own a small library of books about -- and by -- Native Americans, B-52 bombers, desert terrain, the flora and fauna. I wanted to walk the same ground as my characters so I traveled to California and spent a week in the deserts around the Salton Sea. I hiked through California’s Imperial sand dunes where they filmed parts of Star Wars and other movies. I visited a military airport and gunnery range. I walked alone in the desert with no sound but the wind brushing my ears. I visited several Cahuilla reservations and sacred sites. In short, I performed my early research the way I’d approached my past career of journalism. Hands on; person-to-person.
“Indian, Native American, and First American are all the white man’s words,” one Cahuilla spokesman told me. “Don’t worry about it. It says Cahuilla Indians on the sign above this trailer.”
But there was always more research to do, especially when writing teachers pointed out serious flaws; again when two agents agreed -- at different times of course -- to represent the novel if changes were made; and once more when a publishing industry editor requested a different protagonist. I had to learn a lot more about female combat pilots, and that’s when I grew especially fond of Google. I found dozens of feature stories on the only gender banned from flying combat missions until 1993; tales and background about their education, craft, diverse lives and experiences.
In summary, my novels grow inside like benign tumors, beginning with an external scratch, bite, or bruise, an irritation-by-information that develops internally -- pressing against flesh and bone until it’s enough of an aggravation to force removal. (Yeah, I don’t like the analogy either. The word tumor never sounds good, benign or not. But at least the expression conveys the kind of urgency I feel when it’s time to write that particular story.) I always have a couple of tales brewing, and when one needs to be written, the thing almost hurts, a tormenting sense of desperation to write the story.
I’m waiting for the research to kick up something as urgent and magic as that first meeting with Nataska; waiting to see which story gives me that nasty pain I can’t ignore.
You can read more about Jack Getze and The Black Kachina via Down & Out Books and also follow Jack on Twitter and on Facebook. The Black Kachina is currently available via all major digital and print bookstores.
- Author R&R with Michael Pronko
- Author R&R with Stephen Hillard
- Author R&R with Brian Klingborg