Wayne Zurl grew up on Long Island and retired after twenty years with the Suffolk County Police Department, one of the largest municipal law enforcement agencies in New York and the nation. For thirteen of those years he served as a section commander supervising investigators. He is a graduate of SUNY, Empire State College and served on active duty in the US Army during the Vietnam War and later in the reserves. Zurl left New York to live in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee with his wife, Barbara.
Nine (9) of his Sam Jenkins mysteries have been produced as audio books and simultaneously published as eBooks. His first full-length novel, A NEW PROSPECT, was named best mystery at the 2011 Indie Book Awards. It is also available in various eBook formats.
For additional information on Wayne’s Sam Jenkins mystery series see www.waynezurlbooks.net . You can read excerpts, reviews and endorsements, interviews, coming events, and even see photos of the area where the stories take place.
If you enjoy the interview below, please come back Friday for his guest post.
1) How did you develop an interest in writing? I’ve only had two long-term jobs in my life—soldier and police officer. Writing played a big part in both. From after-action reports in the military to the reams of narrative paperwork that makes the criminal justice system go around, I spent lots of time behind a pen. Quite often my reports found their way to someone who I had never met. I couldn’t influence those upper echelon people with a big smile or a sharp uniform so, to make a favorable impression, I had to make my writing better than the average guy. Back then I received enough compliments to lead me to believe I had done the job I intended. When I retired I volunteered at a state park and wrote publicity for their living history program. That led to other non-fiction magazine articles, which in turn led to fiction. And here I am.
2) I see you are working on a MS. Can you please tell me a little about it? I recently signed a contract to traditionally publish my second full-length Sam Jenkins novel, A LEPRECHAUN’S LAMENT. We’re currently doing the edits and so far I’ve gotten good marks. They’re mostly line edits, which makes me happy. It’s another police mystery with a bit of thriller tossed in. I know every work of fiction comes with a disclaimer up front stating that any similarity to people, places, or events are purely coincidental, but the basic idea for this story came from an actual case I supervised back in the mid-1980’s. Possibly the most bizarre and frustrating investigation I ever got involved in, the storyline closely follows what really happened. Of course, I embellish it, fictionalize everything, transplant it from New York to Tennessee, and change the names to protect the guilty (and keep me out of civil court). I’ll use the query blurb that sold the story to describe it:
A stipulation of the Patriot Act gave Chief Sam Jenkins an easy job; investigate all the civilians working for the Prospect Police Department. But what looked like a routine chore to the gritty ex-New York detective, turned into a nightmare. Preliminary inquiries reveal a middle-aged employee didn’t exist prior to 1975.
Murray McGuire spent the second half of his life repairing office equipment for the small city of Prospect, Tennessee, but the police can’t find a trace of the first half.
After uncovering nothing but dead ends during the background investigation and frustrations running at flood level, Jenkins finds his subject lying face down in a Smoky Mountain creek bed—murdered assassination-style.
By calling in favors from old friends and new acquaintances, the chief enlists help from a local FBI agent, a deputy director of the CIA, British intelligence services, and the Irish Garda to learn the man’s real identity and uncover the trail of an international killer seeking revenge in the Great Smoky Mountains.
3) What other styles do you write - genre novels, poetry, articles, memoirs etc? I believe in the old writer’s maxim of write about what you know. I know police work and have had those stories published. I also know the Army and many years ago I began a novel about Vietnam. But after only a few chapters I saw that to be as authentic as I wanted, I made the dialogue so “off-color” I felt a little embarrassed. I’m certainly no prude, but I wouldn’t have wanted one of my aunts reading it. So, I scrapped the idea. I did write a western short story that received good reviews. And I know enough about the old west to pull off something longer. Perhaps for fun I’ll try a western novel in the future. I couldn’t write a poem if someone held a gun to my head. Roses are red, violets are purple. On my waffles, I use maple surple.
4) Is this a hobby or do you plan to make a career from writing? Writing is my avocation. I have a few pensions so, I can devote lots of time to it and not have to draw a salary. It keeps me from playing in the traffic.
5) What authors do you admire? There are several established writers who I admire for different reasons. James Lee Burke can write descriptions of places and people like few others. He’s a real master—poetic in many cases. Robert B. Parker has taught me to minimize my writing—believe in an economy of words. He can tell a good story in the fewest words possible. Nelson DeMille, the guy I like to call “the other writer from Long Island” can turn out a seemingly endless supply of quality “smart-ass” dialogue for his main character, Detective John Corey. Raymond Chandler came up with a great supply of outrageous metaphors in his hard-boiled Philip Marlowe stories and novels. Loren D. Estleman picks up the tradition in his Amos Walker detective novels. And Bernard Cornwell writes historical fiction like no other. His battle and action scenes are so intense and fast-paced, I need a drink when I finish one. Or is that just a rationalization?
6) What music, places, people inspire you? I could spend a week answering this question. A) There is no better way to bring back memories than through music. I listen to the 60’s station on satellite radio and get transported to all kinds of places. B) If I had to pick a place that sends me into an emotional frenzy, it’s Scotland. My maternal side of the family was Scottish. I’ve been there thirteen times, driven thousands of miles, and never tire of the spectacular scenery, the people, and the music. Look out over a lonely moor or a shimmering loch, hear a piper somewhere in the background, and feel your heart ripped out. C) What else? There are three things that make me say, “Wow, that’s beautiful, ”vintage British sports cars, old wooden sailboats, and good-looking women over forty.”
7) What do you do when you have writer's block? Generally, when I get an idea from some past experience and begin writing, somewhere along the line truth doesn’t provide the tension and conflict necessary in fiction and I bog down and have to stop and think about what’s necessary to get it into a story-worthy package. The necessary infusion isn’t always easy to find. My wife and I kick around possibilities and I try to weave some fantasy into the real-life happening. Occasionally it takes more time than I’d like.
8) How long did it take you to write your current MS? My first full-length book, A NEW PROSPECT represents my learning process. It was published after a four year trip over a rocky road. My initial effort led me to rewrites almost doubling its length. That led to turning it inside out to bury the back-story I found necessary for a first-of-a-series book where I introduced the cast of regulars. When I began writing to publishers willing to accept submissions directly from a writer, I had read the book a thousand times and hated the sight of it. The current manuscript of A LEPRECHAUN’S LAMENT went much quicker. I roughed it out, made first draft revisions and began workshopping it on-line. After that, I took the suggestions I received and all the typos and nits other people found and made it ready for submission. I was very lucky with this book. A publisher found me and now we’re getting along famously. I’d estimate the total work time at three to four months.
9) Are you part of a critique group or writer's guild? The on-line workshop I just mentioned is thenextbigwriter.com. I find it very helpful. I look at writing as I looked at supervision in the Army or PD. I don’t need all the answers, but I must know where to find them. I deal with a group of faithful and talented friends. We help each other solve problems. If you want a good manuscript, two heads (or more) aren’t just better than one, they’re essential.
10) Have you ever attended a writer's conference? I never attended a conference, but did attend several workshops similar to those held at every conference I’ve read about. The classes didn’t work for me. I didn’t learn enough fast enough and I felt like I was in group therapy with people half my age.
11) When working on your current MS did you complete an outline first or did you just start writing? I don’t outline first—that’s too much like work. When I get an idea, I get my pad and pen and go to it. If the storyline requires specific time detail to maintain continuity, I make a calendar or list of the action to help me remember what day I’m dealing with.
12) What is your writing process like? Certain hours that you find more productive, a routine, a set amount of time or a number of pages you make yourself write everyday etc? When it comes to schedules, I’m as disciplined as a herd of elephants. I’m most productive and mentally prepared to work diligently in early morning. If I’m in the middle of a non-writing project and an inspiration hits me, I usually drop what I’m doing and get my thoughts on paper before I forget what and how I want to say things. That’s not always convenient and it can drive my wife crazy.
13) Do you have an editor or agent? I don’t have an agent and at this point I won’t pursue one. If someone contacts me with an offer, I’ll listen, but after an unsuccessful period of querying agents, they’re not on my hit parade. My current publisher has asked for the right of first refusal for anything I write for the next ten years. That arrangement looks good to me right now.
14) Would you care to share your opening paragraph (hook) with us? Sure. Here’s part of the prologue from A NEW PROSPECT:
Financially, Pearl Lovejoy stood on top of the hill. Intellectually and spiritually, she foundered on a reef surrounding her unhappy existence. Had she owned a time machine, she would cheerfully turn back the clock more than forty years, erasing the greatest mistake of her life. Realistically, she couldn’t turn back. She could alter her future, but so far chose not to rock her sinking boat.
If you enjoyed meeting Wayne, please come back Friday for his guest post “Perfect is Boring”.