Guest posts

Friday, July 22, 2011

Interview with author Wayne Zurl


A full-length Sam Jenkins Novel. 

Published in trade paperback format.

Biography of Wayne Zurl:

Shortly after World War Two I was born in BrooklynNew York. Although I never wanted to leave a community with such an efficient trolley system, I had little to say in my parents’ decision to pick up and move to Long Island where I grew up.
Like most American males of the baby-boomer generation, I spent my adolescence wanting to be a cowboy, soldier, or policeman. All that was, of course, based on movies and later television. The Vietnam War accounted for my time as a soldier. After returning to the US and separating from active duty, the New York State Employment Service told me I possessed no marketable civilian skills. So, I became a cop. That was as close to military life as I could find. Now that I’m retired from the police department, I still like the cowboy idea.
I live in the picturesque foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains with my wife, Barbara.

When did you first feel the *call* to writing?

Prior to the ""call"" of writing fiction whispering in my ear, the necessity of writing was thrust upon me in a few professional ways. Initially, the Army, from time to time, demanded the assorted narrative reports that make a military organization go around.

After I separated from active duty in the waning days of the southeast Asian war, I found myself without gainful employment. So, after my $104 weekly unemployment benefits ran out, I took a job with a private investigator who shall remain nameless, but everyone in the Long Island town where he kept his office called him Tiptoe Tannenbaum. That job also required written reports to satisfy a client's need to know they got what they paid for.

Then as my check book floundered around the lower triple digits and I grew tired of peeping through keyholes, I was appointed as a police officer to the Suffolk County Police Department, one of the largest law enforcement agencies in New York and the nation. There, throughout my twenty years, writing was a necessity.

The one commonality of those jobs manifested itself in the thought that oftentimes people who would read my reports had never or would never meet me face to face.  My written word represented my initial approach to people, some of whom, could impact on my future. I figured, write well and take advantage of the halo effect.

The call to fiction came in the summer of 2006 when I read Robert B. Parker's novel NIGHT PASSAGE. Parker's protagonist, Jesse Stone, was an ex-LAPD detective who took a job as chief in a small Massachusetts town. I liked the book and the premise. I said, ""If Parker can do it, so can I. I've got more experience with police work than he does. I was a cop and he wasn't."" I decided to write about an ex-New York detective who retired to Tennessee and landed a job as chief in the fictional city of Prospect. Coincidentally, when I retired we moved to the same area.
What finally got you started on writing a book?
For ten years I had been writing non-fiction magazine articles and was lucky enough to convince a few publishers to print twenty-six of them. But, my attention span for research into Colonial American warfare and the fiction of James Fenimore Cooper deflated. That left me in need of a creative outlet. I decided on trying to write fiction for publication because manuscripts were easier to store than model airplanes or oil paintings.

What do you bring from your life that adds to your writing?
I spent most of my police career as an investigator or supervisor in an investigation section. At times my unit numbered more than twice that of the thirteen officers Sam Jenkins leads at Prospect PD. I had a good basis to look back on for material. Twenty years in a crowded area and busy police department provides oodles of interesting war stories. I embellish them, fictionalize everything and transplant them from New York to Tennessee. Occasionally, I toss in an appropriate reference to Jenkins' time in the military. These stories are not autobiographical, but the protagonist and I share many things in common.

Do you use external supports in writing? such as a writing program or an ongoing editor?
While I was writing A NEW PROSPECT, I hired an editor/book doctor to help me get a grip on what the publishing world wanted to see in a modern police mystery. He taught me a lot. I also spoke to a manuscript consultant who taught me things like reader psychology and demographics--almost sensitivity training for writers. He was a big help, too.
Somewhere along the line, I attended a few sessions of a sit-down writer's workshop. I did learn how to write a world-class, one-page query letter, but basically I looked at that as nothing more than group therapy for people half my age. I didn't learn fast enough. I quit.
Then I tied up with an on-line writer's workshop. I learned LOTS there. Through peer group critique, I gained many good ideas that I've used in many of the things I've written. We all helped each other. I acknowledged all the people who stuck with me through every chapter of A NEW PROSPECT on its third page. Smart people and good friends.
A word of caution to anyone thinking of enrolling in an on-line workshop. You need a thick skin. Some of your peers take advantage of the anonymity afforded by computer contact and do nothing to develop a bedside manner. Thankfully they fade away quickly, but they do leave their mark.

Is there a theme that runs through your writing?
I suppose the underlying theme running through each Sam Jenkins story is that he's a dinosaur. He began his police career at the tail end of the wild and woolly days and now he's into the age of computerized law enforcement. He's more like one of his old-west heroes than someone you might see on an episode of CSI Tennessee. He generally gets things done the old-fashioned way.
And he's obsessed with doing the right thing--no matter how often he bumps heads with one of the local politicians--and that's often.

What writers have influenced you?
I only began reading a lot of cop fiction after I retired. Prior to that, I read whatever Joe Wambaugh published because he has been a cop and he wrote it as it really happens. Not everything was a major organized crime case or involved an international drug cartel.
Then I discovered James Lee Burke. I believe he's one of the masters of descriptive prose. His ability to make a reader SEE a place or a person is extraordinary--poetic even.
I also mentioned Robert B. Parker. From him I learned to minimize everything. Tell my story in the fewest possible words. Arrive late and leave early. I like that style.
And then there's that other guy from Long Island who writes mysteries, Nelson DeMille. I may question the liberties he takes in some of his stories, but I shouldn't argue with success. I'm thinking specifically of his blockbuster, PLUM ISLAND. In the story, a NY City detective out on disability leave and a single Suffolk County homicide investigator do all the work on a high profile double murder at a restricted government research facility off the east end of Long Island. Coincidentally, my wife worked for the deputy director of Plum Island and I spent twenty years with the agency responsible for investigating those murders. In reality at least one team of detectives would have worked out of a mobile command center, been supervised by a team sergeant, and visited constantly by the section commander. But through out all his books, Nelson has his protagonist's (Detective John Corey) language and personality down pat. DeMille comes up with an endless supply of quality smart-ass dialogue--that's reality.

How has your writing evolved over time?
When I began writing fiction I thought too much in a linear fashion. I did what cops do. I wrote almost like a police report. I gave too much detail and spent too much time on minutia--things important if I might end up in court, but more than the average reader needed or wanted to know. I've worked on trimming down my stories, suggesting things a reader can figure out on their own, and adapting more of a slam-bam method of presentation. I try to keep from waxing poetic over a sunset in the Smokies.

How do you promote your books?
Writing is fun. All the post-publication marketing and promotion is too much like work. I thought once my novel was published I could do book signings and schmooze the shop patrons, talk to book discussion groups (usually all women), smile and act personable for half an hour before autographing the books and collecting the cash. I never envisioned getting involved with the social and electronic media things like Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and all the other dot-com jazz I once never knew nor cared about.
But all that is a fact of life for a writer. And I learned what to do. I plug ahead daily and hope it makes a difference in royalties. My publisher supports me greatly, but recently I hired a publicist to take me on a two month virtual book tour. So far it's been interesting--and lots of work--many hours of work--if it's done right. And there is no sense cutting corners if you want to sell books. I write up interviews, arrange for books to be sent to the reviewers, write guest blogs, and I even participated in a computer chat party for an hour one night. I've been in gun fights with a slower pace than that one.
When the tour is over, I'll see how much impact it had on sales.

How do you promote your web site?
While querying publishers, I learned many will not consider accepting a submission from a writer without evidence of a professionally constructed website and a marketing plan. My local computer whiz made sure my website comes up quickly on the search engines when someone looks for me by name or title, references The Smoky Mountains, Tennessee police stories, and all the other tags that fit nicely around the Sam Jenkins stories.
Years ago a real estate broker told me, ""You have to get your name out there."" He constantly borrowed pens from people and kept theirs and substituted his personalized advertisement pens. He owned the most successful agency on the north fork of Long Island. I'm certainly not going to go around stealing pens, but each time I sign off an email, I include There is no place for modesty in our world of shameless self=promotion. I put business cards all over and always ""drop"" my link where I can.
 "What was that website, Wayne?"
"Glad you asked, Brenda. It's, the one where you can learn all about how A NEW PROSPECT was named best mystery at the 2011 Indie Book Awards.
Synopsis of A NEW PROSPECT:
 Sam Jenkins never thought about being a fish out of water during the twenty years he spent solving crimes in New York. But things change, and after retiring to Tennessee, he gets that feeling. Jenkins becomes a cop again and is thrown headlong into a murder investigation and a steaming kettle of fish, down-home style.

The victim, Cecil Lovejoy, couldn’t have deserved it more. His death was the inexorable result of years misspent and appears to be no great loss, except the prime suspect is Sam’s personal friend.

Jenkins’ abilities are attacked when Lovejoy’s influential widow urges politicians to reassign the case to state investigators.

Feeling like “a pork chop at a bar mitzvah” in his new workplace, Sam suspects something isn’t kosher when the family tries to force him out of the picture.

In true Jenkins style, Sam turns common police practice on its ear to insure an innocent man doesn’t fall prey to an imperfect system and the guilty party receives appropriate justice.

A NEW PROSPECT takes the reader through a New South resolutely clinging to its past and traditional way of keeping family business strictly within the family.  

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