Monday, 2 January 2017

Chatting with Wayne Zurl #crimewriter

Welcome to the blogsite, Wayne. 

Q. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
A. Shortly after World War Two I was born in Brooklyn, New York. Although I never wanted to leave a community with such an efficient trolley car 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. Those aspirations were based on perceptions fostered by movies and later television. Active duty during the Vietnam War and more than my share of years in the Army Reserve accounted for my time as a soldier. After returning to the US and separating from the full time military service, the New York State Employment Office 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, but I doubt my lower back could stand very much time in the saddle. Hence, I’ve scrapped that aspiration and am attempting to be a mystery writer.  Years ago I left the land of the Big Apple to live in the picturesque foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains of east Tennessee with my wife, Barbara. Twenty-seven (27) of my Sam Jenkins novelette mysteries have been published as eBooks, with many produced as audio books.  My full-length novels are: A NEW PROSPECT, A LEPRECHAUN’S LAMENT, HEROES & LOVERS, PIGEON RIVER BLUES, A TOUCH OF MORNING CALM and A CAN OF WORMS; plus an anthology called FROM NEW YORK TO THE SMOKIES. A new novel, HONOR AMONG THIEVES, is on tap for 2017, as are three more anthologies that will put eighteen (18) novelettes in print for the first time. I was fortunate to have won Eric Hoffer and Indie Book Awards, and was named a finalist for a Montaigne Medal and First Horizon Book Award. I’m a full member of the International Thriller Writers and an executive board member of the Author’s Guild of Tennessee.

Q. When you’re not writing, what leisure time activities do you enjoy?
 A. Growing up on Long Island with its more than 250 miles of coastline put a love of saltwater fishing in my blood. Finding saltwater in Tennessee is impossible, but driving for eight hours puts me at the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico where I can cash in on some dynamite fishing possibilities. Or I can head north on Interstate 75 into Michigan and battle king-size salmon, lake trout, brown trout or steelhead. The Great Lakes have no salt or sharks, but excellent big water fishing. When not stocking the freezer with seafood, I like visiting automobile museums, historic restorations, historic homes, national parks and practicing all the photography that goes with travel.

Q. What drove you to begin a writing career?
A. As a police officer I spent more time writing reports than participating in high speed chases or popping caps in shootouts with disparate felons. As a detective, the reports I wrote weren’t just fill-in-the-blanks forms—they involved the occasional long narrative. So, I cut my teeth with those bits of professional writing. A few defense attorneys who read my arrest reports might have claimed that I wrote great fiction—fantasy even—but everyone knows how lawyers exaggerate.  When I retired, I took a volunteer job at a Tennessee state park writing publicity for their living history program. That blossomed into having twenty-six non-fiction magazine articles published in ten years. When I ran out of thrilling things to say about the 18th century French & Indian War (Seven Years War) in Tennessee, I passed the torch to another volunteer.   That left me needing a creative outlet. What was I going to do, assemble model airplanes or crate oil paintings? I’d need a warehouse to store my finished products. So, I decided to try writing fiction. The logical choice was to write what I knew. I knew criminal investigations and could take a reader on a trip through the Smoky Mountains region of Tennessee. Voila! I created a small fictional city with a former New York cop as the new police chief in town.

Q. Do you write from imagination, personal experience, or a mixture?
A. Everyone reads the disclaimer on the informational page of a novel. It states something like this: ‘Names, characters and incidents depicted in this book are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual events or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.’  In my case, that’s hogwash. Most of what I write is based on real cases I investigated, supervised or just knew a lot about. However, these books and stories are not autobiographical sketches; generally, I composite and fictionalize two or more incidents to create a better story. Here’s a truism: Police work is not always a thrill a minute. Any cop who’s worked in a busy area can come up with a passel of good war stories. However, embellishment is needed to create good fiction—the stuff a publisher and their readers will buy. Sticking with the gritty reality is necessary, but changing the names of the guilty parties keeps me out of civil court.

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 spoke to my editor about this and we agreed that my most recent novel, A CAN OF WORMS, is our favorite. (Notice the Yank does not spell that with a U.) The book is a melding of two similar actual cases that had two distinctly different outcomes. The most story-worthy case, which I used as only part of the basic plot, ended up being a true heart-breaker. The investigator who worked it with me and I felt terrible when we learned what the reader will see as the punch line. I also tossed in a few memorable vignettes to add pizzazz to the story. 
            Here’s the dust jacket summary: Against his better judgment, Police Chief Sam Jenkins hires Dallas Finchum, nephew of two corrupt politicians.
           Now, Finchum is accused of a rape that occurred when he attended college in Chattanooga three years earlier. The young man claims his innocence, but while investigating the allegations, Jenkins uncovers corruption in the local sheriff’s office, evidence that detectives mishandled the rape investigation, and the district attorney lost the entire case file. False accusations, scandal, and extortion threaten to ruin Jenkins’ reputation and marriage unless he drops the investigation.

Q. Do you have a current “work in progress” and can you tell us anything about it?
A. I’m more than seventy-six thousand words into a new novel I call A BLEAK PROSPECT. It’s one of those “when the walls come tumbling down” kind of stories that leaves everyone forever changed. The book begins with Sam Jenkins and one of his crime scene investigators pulling a dead prostitute out of a Smoky Mountain creek. He quickly learns that his victim is the newest bit of handiwork from a serial killer the media has named ‘The Riverside Strangler.’ I’m looking at this as a 2018 release, assuming my publisher is as enthused about it as I am.

Q. What methods have you used to engage your readership? Social media, press announcements or book signings? What works for you that you might recommend for others?
 A. I try to spread myself over the entire spectrum. I post on Twitter four or five times a week, on the Facebook writer/reader groups at least once a month, send out press releases for anything new and just recently I joined a new site called Author Reach ( where we look to build long term, lasting relationships with readers and meet new potential fans through collaborative efforts among authors. So Far it’s working quite well.
            I also like doing traditional book signings attempting to flog hard copies. These can run hot and cold. I’ve spent three grueling hours only to sell a single book and I’ve spent a couple of enjoyable hours meeting readers and selling dozens of books. Regardless of the outcome, I get a kick out of watching the people. Some are curious and walk right over to talk and see what you’ve got to peddle. Others scurry away avoiding eye contact at all cost. They make me know how a timeshare salesman must feel.

Q. What is the best piece of advice you could give someone starting out on a writing career?
 A. 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 written 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 world-class 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. Early in 2001 we arranged and booked a three week tour of Turkey and Greece for the coming October. Everyone knows what happened on September 1, 2001. After the terrorist attack on New York’s Twin Towers, the Middle East turned into a hotbed. Our tour operators, a young Turk and his father, suggested that discretion was the better part of valor and cancelled all their trips into the next year. To date, we’ve never planned anything similar. But now, seeing the ancient ruins, visiting the Mediterranean islands and eating all that wonderful food is something we need to do before falling off the perch.

Do you have a website or other electronic media page you would like to invite us to visit?
Sure, a bunch. Take your pick:

Barnes &Noble author page:
Author’s Guild of Tennessee member’s page:
Melange Books, LLC author’s page:
Author Reach profile page:

Do you have links on Twitter or any other social media sites?
Yes, here you go. See you around the Internet.

Many thanks for joining us, Wayne and good luck with your books.
Readers, check out a selection of book covers below or click into Wayne's author page for more information.