A big welcome today to Wayne Zurl – a retired detective and well-known author from America who I have admired and respected for some years. Wayne has keenly supported a number of charity anthologies published here in the UK and I know that quite a few British writersand readers will be aware of his work. Like myself, they'll be looking forward to his next book. Okay, let's talk to our guest.
Q. Wayne, as you publish your next book (A BLEAK PROSPECT) I ask you to pause a moment and tell us a little about your police career in America before you took up writing?
A. I worked on Long Island for twenty years. Our jurisdiction picked up just fifteen miles from the New York City boundary. Long island is crowded, busy and a place where a cop would often encounter any offense listed in the penal law from the class B misdemeanour of public lewdness to the class A felony of intentional murder.
I spent three and a half years in uniform and the remainder in plainclothes. Working organized crime cases provided the most fun, but the years spent as a section commander is probably what makes me most proud of myself. I worked with and supervised a bunch of talented and dedicated investigators. I will always thank them for making my professional life easier.
Q. Do you still miss the job?
A.I retired in a frenzy. Our house sold quickly and the buyer was in a hurry to close and move in before it was convenient for us. But I didn’t want to jeopardize the sale and ended up taking a few of my unused sick days to retire before my actual anniversary date. The day after I handed over the house keys, we put the dog in the car and followed a moving van from New York to Tennessee. A week after relocating, we began the process of finding a builder (and all the logistics attached to constructing a new home) to put a house on the five acres of land we owned in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. So, I really didn’t allow myself time to miss the job. Honestly though, I felt a little empty and missed the people I worked with for two or three weeks before my new job of building coordinator took my mind off being a policeman.
When I worked as a cop, I rarely watched police shows or movies. I was too critical about the authenticity. Now, because of the nostalgia factor attached, I’m almost addicted to watching the reruns of NYPD Blue on a cable channel. They make me miss the job and remember how much fun being a cop was. NYPD BLUE started its long run a year after I retired. I still think it’s the most authentic cop show ever produced for TV. I tip my hat to retired Detective Bill Clark, the show’s technical advisor.
Q. If you could turn the clock back, would you still join the police?
A. This is the toughest question I’ve ever answered. The world has changed drastically since I was sworn in forty-six years ago. I’m able to say that I know now what I didn’t know then. I liked it back in the 1970s, ‘80s and early 90s. I started my career on the tail end of the “wild and wooly” days. I won’t say it was like working in Dodge City alongside Wyatt Earp, but things were very different then they are today. Victims were more important than defendants. The cops I worked with possessed good technical educations and received continuous in-service training. They knew how to do the job and serve the people who paid our salaries. We gave back more than we made. I’m not sure that’s possible today. That sounds like a world-class tap dance, but I really don’t know if I’d do it all again with totally new rules.
Q. What do you miss most about the police service?
A. Investigating serious crimes was like a combination of working a complicated puzzle and painting a piece of artwork. I miss the opportunity of creating an investigative masterpiece. That didn’t always happen, but occasionally everything would come together perfectly and voila! you held in your hand a finished product worthy of Hollywood. Those days are gone, but I’d still like the opportunity to do it again—the old-fashioned way. So, I let my protagonist, Sam Jenkins, a retired detective lieutenant from New York solve those really complex and convoluted crimes from his small police department in the foothills of the Smokies.
Q. What drove you to begin a writing career? I presume you had retired from the police when you started publishing your books.
A. After I retired and our new home was completed, I found I had time on my hands. I took a volunteer job at a Tennessee state park, a place featuring the reconstructed, westernmost British military outpost in the American colonies, and ended up writing publicity for their living history programs. I did that for ten years, having twenty-six non-fiction magazine articles published. I thought it was pretty slick getting paid by those magazines to write. But after ten years, I ran out of thrilling things to say about the French & Indian War (Seven Years War for you Brits) in Tennessee and passed the baton to another volunteer. After stepping down, I again needed a creative outlet, but didn’t have houseroom to store a bunch of model airplanes or oil paintings. So, my wife, Barbara, suggested trying my hand at writing fiction, using my old cases as a basis for my stories. The transition wasn’t as smooth as I envisioned, but here I am today with nine novels and twenty-seven novelettes on the shelf.
Q. Tell us about your main characters. Are they based on real people or a product of the imagination?
A. Sam Jenkins and I share a lot of similarities—from our days in the Army to our time in a large police department. But we are totally different characters. My stories are not autobiographical. I use Sam to cheat the writing process. He gets my voice. He says things much as I would, and in the technical aspects, he does what I would have done. The other regular characters (and some of the non-recurring bad guys) are based on people I knew. It’s easier to write their dialogue if I can see them in my mind and hear them. I then can duplicate their voices and delivery styles.
Q. What do you feel are the greatest challenges facing any writer at the present time?
A. Easy question. For many, writing is fun. Some authors, when inspired, can knock out stories or books at alarming rates. Then we choose the vehicle that gets our work into print—traditional or self-publishing. Regardless of the method, we all get down to the next phase—promoting and marketing our literature.
That is too much like work. But it’s a reality. You can write the best piece of fiction since the ODDESSY, but if no one knows you or your book, you’re up $h!# Creek. A writer must learn how to market their books. And it’s not like it was fifty years ago. Traditional book signings are only a small part of the modern process. We need to be up to the minute or languish with mediocre sales.
Q. Do you have an office or ‘space’ where you write from and is it at home, or elsewhere?
A. I’d love to have a “writer’s cottage” in which to spend my working time, but I’m afraid the closest I come is a wingback chair in the living room with a legal pad and cheap ballpoint pen. And if it’s after 4 p.m. in some part of the world, a glass of single-malt whisky sitting next to me on a lamp table.
Then, when I enter phase two, and because only two women from my former life have ever been able to decipher my handwriting (and they are nowhere near Tennessee) I adjourn to our computer room to transpose my scribbling onto a Word Document. I’m lucky to be one of the ex-detectives in the world who can still type thirty words a minute with more than two fingers.
Q. Do you write to a target – word count – every day, or do you have another writing discipline that you could share with us?
A. I’m afraid for a guy who lived all of his adult working life in a military or paramilitary organizations, I’m horribly undisciplined when it comes to writing. I have no goals, no routines and no structure. When the words come, I write them and don’t stop. When I lack inspiration, I would just as soon cut the lawn or tend the vegetable garden.
Nonetheless, I know when my publisher needs a manuscript for a book to be published at a time most advantageous. So, I work to finish by that deadline.
Q. Which of the books that you have written so far is your favourite and what can you tell us about it without giving the game away?
A. I’ve been asked this often and my answer changes as time goes on. As with any craft, those who engage in it should get better with practice and experience. I really like my last published novel, HONOR AMONG THIEVES. It deals with the organized crime we old-timers knew best—The Mafia. People from Sam’s former life come back to visit, and in some cases haunt him. Here’s the cover blurb the publisher has chosen to pique reader’s interest:
What does a good cop do when his name and phone number are found in the pocket of a dead mobster from his past?
Does he cooperate with the Internal Affairs investigator who wants to charge him with murder, but appears to have an ulterior motive?
Does he launch his own investigation into this murder from another jurisdiction to clear his name and find the real killer?
Does learning that two former enemies have put a contract on his life complicate matters?
But I also really like the last anthology of six novelettes that Melange Books, LLC published—GRACELAND ON WHEELS and More Sam Jenkins Mysteries. I love those ten to eleven thousand word stories. Creating them is almost like writing scripts for a weekly TV series. Many of them have been produces as one hour audio books. The stories in GRACELAND run the gamut—from Gypsy con men to gun show hustlers to professional billiard players to my hero catching a dead Elvis impersonator while fishing for trout. Since it’s the subject of choice in most police procedurals, I toss in a murder for each story.
Q. What can you tell us about your forthcoming publication?
A. A BLEAK PROSPECT is loosely based on a series of murders on long Island all attributed to one killer who has never been arrested. I’ve theorized about a possible solution and also tapped my former partner, now a retired detective, for a few ideas that provided me with scenes or vignettes that help me showcase some authentic police work. And because this is the eighth novel in the series, I figured it was time to shake up the world of Prospect PD and create a “life-will-never-be-the-same” moment. Here’s the summary for that one:
A serial killer dubbed The Riverside Strangler by the Knoxville press corps has murdered eight Internet prostitutes in East Tennessee, the most recent found floating in Prospect’s Crystal Creek.
Chief Sam Jenkins joins a task force led by the county’s chief deputy, Ryan Leary, a cop known for his flamboyant police work and questionable methods.
When investigators hit a stone wall in the case, the killer strikes again—or was it a copycat? The type of victim and location follow the Strangler’s pattern, but some details are significantly different.
During the investigation, Leary is charged in a bizarre and seemingly unrelated case of police brutality and relieved of duty. Sam is faced with assuming command of the task force or turning over responsibility to the FBI.
The outcome of the case and subsequent actions taken by the Prospect City Council affect everyone at Sam’s police department and suggest that life there will never be the same.
My publisher just sent me the sales links for the book with the actual launch date set for April 24th. The book is available as a eBook or in print.
Q. When you have finished writing the book – what do you do next? By that I mean, do you edit the book yourself? Do you design your own book cover? Do you prepare a project plan to market your book?
A. After I have what I consider a finished product, I do another self-edit before sending a proposal letter to my publisher. Once she passes judgement on my prospectus, I send her the complete manuscript. From there I get a contract and the manuscript is sent to my editor for a place on her list of things to do. Somehow everything (edits, cover art, eBook and hard copy formatting, preparation for the sales sites, etc.) all gets done by the busy beavers at Melange Books and the new book is released within that projected sixty day window for publication.
As soon as I receive the pre-order discount sales links, I send out a mass email to my subscribers and hit the social media sites to announce the new book.
Q. What is the best piece of advice you could give to someone starting out on a writing career?
A. This question is often asked by interviewers and I like to give something to those who are just starting out because the publishing world can be a pretty lonely place for someone making that initial foray into it. The best practical advice I can offer a new writer isn’t my original thought. I learned this reading an interview with Robert B. Parker. When asked why his books were so popular, Parker gave a simple answer, ‘Because they sound good.’ Most of my novelettes were destined for audio books and had to sound good when read by an actor. So, I knew exactly what Bob Parker meant.
Here’s my recommendation on how to produce a classy piece of work. When you think your story, novelette, novella, novel, or epic is finished, when you truly believe you’ve found and corrected all the typos and nits and it’s ready to sell, go back and read it aloud to yourself. Pretend you’re the star of your own audio book. Read it slowly and professionally as an actor would. Then, ask yourself, does it sound good? Do all the paragraphs smoothly transcend to the next? Does each sentence contain the right number of syllables? Does each word flow into the next without conflict? Does it have a pleasing rhythm? Basically, does it sing to you? For a guy who doesn’t dance very well, I have a great need for rhythm in my writing. If you notice any “bumps,” go back and rewrite it. Smooth everything out. If something bothers you now, it will annoy the hell out of you in the future and someone else will probably notice it, too.
With that accomplished, you’re finished, right? No. Now you’re ready to hand it off to a freelance editor or proof-reader—whomever you can afford if you’re self-publishing, or to the editor assigned to you by your traditional publishing house. A second pair of eyes is essential for ANY writer.
Q. If you were gifted an air ticket to ‘anywhere’, which destination would you choose above all others and why?
A. My wife and I love to travel and we go to many different places. But if you force me to narrow my destination to only one, I’d have to say, I’d go back to your neck of the woods in a heartbeat. We haven’t been to the UK in a few years because air travel nowadays is difficult (for several reasons) but I’d love to land in Manchester, spend a week in the Lake District and then head up to Scotland for another week or two. That’s my idea of a good vacation—even if I have to drive on the “wrong” side of the road.
Q. If you could invite three people from history to a dinner party. Who would you invite and why?
A. Another tough question. There are so many interesting people in history whom shall I choose? I guess the late Robert B. Parker influenced my writing more than anyone else, so adding him to the dinner party would be essential. Then I suppose it would be interesting to see what an actor who’s played a detective for a long time thinks about the literary genre and what his outsider’s view of the real job is like. How about John Thaw who played Chief Inspector Morse for so many years? And then a person who’s still alive—just to give me some real company and because of his own philosophy on the creative process, I’d like to hear what Woody Allen has to say about writing books or producing films that were designed more to satisfy himself than with an eye on pleasing the masses who inhabit the modern trendy marketplace.
Q. What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing, marketing, or being involved with your book business?
A. As mentioned two questions earlier, we love to travel, and many of the venues we pick offer excellent fishing. So, we usually sign up with a local charter boat captain or fishing guide and head out to stock up the freezer with wild caught fish. I particularly like what we call “big water” fishing—inshore or near-shore saltwater spots or to any of the Great Lakes looking for king-sized lake trout, brown trout or salmon and steelhead.
Q. Can you provide any links to your purchase site, website, blog site, or any social media sites that might be of interest to readers?
A. I’ve got a bunch, but first I like to offer your subscribers a chance to meet Sam Jenkins and the girls and boys of Prospect, Tennessee for free. My publisher has graciously agreed to provide the first book in the series, A NEW PROSPECT at no cost. All you have to do is visit https://waynezurl.authorreach.com/lead/af2d19f7 provide an email address and pick the version of eBook you prefer. From there, I hope you spend time at Prospect PD more often.
Here are other places where you can find me:
My website: http://www.waynezurlbooks.net
Author’s Guild of Tennessee member’s page: http://authorsguildoftn.org/authors/wayne-zurl
Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/author/waynezurl
B&N author page: http://barnesandnoble.com/s/wayne-zurl
Smashwords author page: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/WayneZurl
Melange Books, LLC author’s link: http://www.melange-books.com/authors/waynezurl/index.html
Here's a few more of Wayne's covers. Don't forget to click on his amazon link for the full collection