The birth of an author and the motivation behind it
By BRANDON HURLEY
This week’s column delves into the realm of relative nerdiness.
As a bit of a weirdo with these kinds of things, it’s fitting for the line of work I’m in, learning the intricacies of the writing process. Not necessarily why an author wrote what he or she did, but how they achieved the end goal, and what they gained from it and how much motivation played a factor.
Seeing how someone attacked a particular subject and what got them through those long, caffeine and snack-filled nights in front of the computer screen, what powered the lengthy road trips, and what in their right mind drove them to scour through a never-ending onslaught of research.
Iowa author Aaron Putze was the perfect guy to harass and satisfy my addiction.
Most Iowans know the full story by now, but who really is the author behind the idea of “Chuck Long, Destined for Greatness?”
I’m sure you’ve seen both of them making the rounds. In fact, the duo traveled to 40 book signings in the first month and a half of the release. They’ve been in Carroll and Greene County a couple times already.
Putze, a rural West Bend native, is the one who put pen to paper, fingers to the keyboard, dug through several feet of newspaper clippings and spent months editing his own work, producing one of the more successful pieces of Iowa sportswriting in the last few decades.
Putze was fairly easy to find as communications director of the Iowa Soybean Foundation, located in Ankeny.
He couldn’t have been nicer when I suggested we meet for lunch, a chat long overdue. You see, not only am I a life-long Iowa fan with two degrees from said university to boot, I’m a writer at heart, lover of all things detailed and intrusive. To pick the brain of a the man who spent hours and hours with the legendary Chuck Long was too good to pass up. But in all honesty, I was there to learn. Drink it all in.
Interestingly enough, Putze had very little connection with Long when he pitched the book idea. He grew up as a blue collar Iowan in the 70s and 80s, working the family farm after school and on the weekends, which left little time to enjoy Iowa football. Of course, he knew of Long and the tremendous legacy he left behind. The stats and wins aren’t necessarily what hooked Putze. No, he admired the come up, the against-all-odds, rags to riches type climb.
“I didn’t really have a significant tie to Chuck, but he had such a great story that needed to be told,” Putze said. “What did Hayden (Fry) see in him? It amazed me.”
And share it he did.
Perhaps Long’s success and former Iowa coach Hayden Fry’s continuing empathy for Iowa farmers was another subconscious hook for the aspiring author. Putze has stayed close to the agricultural field his entire life.
He attended the University of Northern Iowa from 1988-93, becoming editor of the student newspaper. After graduation, Putze took a job with an agricultural newspaper in Grundy Center, which led him to his most lengthy stop as communications director for the Iowa Farm Bureau for 17 years.
Putze is a story-teller at heart. You pick up on that almost instantly. He’s considerate and displays a great deal of passion.
Compiling a book on one of the greatest University of Iowa athletes in history, the guy who set all the school passing marks, played in a record five bowl games, guided the Hawks to the No. 1 ranking in addition to placing second in the 1985 Heisman trophy race, was certainly no easy task.
Especially when Chuck’s dad, Charlie, dumped boxes and boxes of newspaper clippings in Putze’s lap. What a way to start.
I thought I had it bad trying to right a feature story on a weekly basis. This man was crippled by a year’s worth of research, nine months of writing and then to wrap it all up, nine months for editing and publishing.
But by golly, it was most certainly worth it, the author said.
“The most rewarding part is the reactions from the readers,” Putze said. “Especially from ones with significant ties to Chuck, those who proposed at a game or the last game they saw with their father. Taking people back to their fond memories.”
Being a first time author came with plenty of road blocks, matching wits with an editor, attempting to balance family, his full-time job and down time, while at the same time putting his hours and hours of research down into a book.
“You hit a wall, and more than one,” Putze said. “But you have to muscle through it. Put things into perspective. The satisfaction of holding the book in your hand makes it all worth it.”
Putze met with Long once a week for two months, stressing over facts and tweaking each word.
The connection to the farm crisis in the 80s hit hard when Putze included a segment in his book about the Hills Bank shooting. But he was rejuvenated to learn of a story of the ball from the game-winning kick when top-ranked Iowa beat number two Michigan in 1985. Wildly enough, the ball quickly disappeared in the crowd, and finally showed up 30 years later.
A book on a Hawkeye legend lends itself to several spectacular adventures, like when Putze sat down with the legendary Fry. Expecting to only have a brief moment with the aging Hall of Famer, the Texan gave him 90 minutes, ripping off anecdotes and gushing over his favorite quarterback.
“He was very, very fond of Chuck,” Putze said.
What took the experience over the top was how he delivered a book to Fry. Naturally, Fry insisted he get a copy when Putze was finished. Of course, the author had him at the top of the list. How it came together was almost as magical as the interview. As it so happened, current Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, Long, and defensive coordinator Phil Parker were in Dallas together scouting after the book was published, while Putze was in the area on business. So instead of mailing Fry a copy, the quartet decided to personally deliver it to him in Texas. The look of surprise on Fry’s face was awe-inspiring, Putze said.
“I made good on my promise,” he said.
And that he did, and Putze is already nearing the finish of another book.
A former newspaper editor turned communications director turned author. What a journey.
Here’s to Aaron and all the wiling others out there – you inspire us all.