Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona McVie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
Hello, Fiona. I’m Wayne Zurl. I stopped having birthdays when I turned 70 and opted for Jack Benny’s old lie about being only 39.
Fiona: Where are you from?
I’m originally from New York, but now live in Tennessee.
Fiona: A little about yourself (ie, your education, family life, etc.).
I 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 I served as a section commander supervising investigators. I graduated from New York’s, Empire State College and served on active duty in the US Army during the Vietnam War and later in the Army Reserves. I left New York to live in the scenic foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains with my wife, Barbara.
Twenty-seven (27) of my Sam Jenkins novelette mysteries have been published as eBooks and many produced as audio books. My first anthology, a collection of five of these stories is FROM NEW YORK TO THE SMOKIES. Three additional books of six novelettes each will be published in 2017.
My full-length novels are: A NEW PROSPECT, A LEPRECHAUN’S LAMENT, HEROES & LOVERS, PIGEON RIVER BLUES, A TOUCH OF MORNING CALM, A CAN OF WORMS and HONOR AMONG THIEVES.
A new novel, A BLEAK PROSPECT, is scheduled for publication late in 2018, and I’m about 25,000 words into MISSING PERSON, PRIVATE EYES, tentatively for a 2019 release.
I’ve won Eric Hoffer and Indie Book Awards, and was named a finalist for a Montaigne Medal and First Horizon Book Award.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
My seventh novel, HONOR AMONG THIEVES, came out in March of this year and is available in hard copy and all the usual eBook variations. Later this month, MURDER IN KNOXVILLE, and Other Sam Jenkins Mysteries, one of those new anthologies I just mentioned, will be published. The other two on tap are called: THE GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAIN BANK JOB, and other Sam Jenkins Mysteries and GRACELAND ON WHEELS, and More Sam Jenkins Mysteries. They too will all come in print and as eBooks.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I got into the writing-for-money business after I took a volunteer job at a Tennessee state park writing publicity for their living history events. That led me to write and have published twenty-six non-fiction magazine articles dealing with the 18th century French and Indian War (Called The Seven Years War in the UK) and the fiction of James Fenimore Cooper (LAST OF THE MOHICANS, DEERSLAYER, etc.) After ten years of that, I ran into a stone wall trying to dream up new and thrilling things to say about the F&I War in Tennessee, so I thought about breaking into fiction. I wanted to capitalize on the old writer’s maxim of “write what you know.” Creating a retired New York detective who becomes a Tennessee police chief allowed me to cover criminal investigations and the landscape of East Tennessee.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Following a long and difficult battle looking for a traditional publisher, I finally received a welcome, “Greetings, we’d like you to be one of our publishing family” letter. In January of 2011 my 81,000 word mystery, A NEW PROSPECT, was released by a small independent press. The layout and choice of font look excellent. The cover art was as good as recent books by Robert B. Parker or Nelson DeMille. But, greedy bugger that I am, I still asked the same question. Have I made it? Can I call myself a professional mystery writer? I wanted to be accepted by a large New York publishing house, receive a big cash advance, and be interviewed on the Today Show.
In May 2011, I received more good news. A NEW PROSPECT was chosen as best mystery of the year at the 2011 Next Generation Independent Publishing Professional’s Book Awards. I felt good then and thought I’d done well.
But even if some of the things I’ve described never happened, should I have felt like a professional writer before? I tried to draw parallels to other careers I’ve had and at what point during those jobs could I call myself a pro.
The moment I raised my hand and swore an oath to uphold the Constitution and defend the United States, I was a professional soldier, but I’d yet to fire a shot in battle. When I was hired by the police department and sent to the academy, I had yet to arrest anyone, but I was a professional police officer.
So, for anyone who seriously writes fiction or non-fiction intending it for publication and can honestly say their end product looks good, go out and have business cards printed saying you’re a writer. You’ll be a pro and the rest will come later.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
Any cop who works in a crowded and busy area leaves the job with a steamer trunk full of war stories. I thought if I composited one or more of the actual cases I investigated, supervised or just knew a lot about into each book, toss in a few interesting or humorous vignettes that on their own wouldn’t make a good short story and transplant everything from New York to Tennessee, I could write a good novel and build a series with a recurring ensemble cast. So far, I’ve been lucky.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Originally, I wanted to call my first novel MURDER IN THE SMOKIES; Prospect, Tennessee being a small town in the foothills of Great Smoky Mountains. But that title lacked pizzazz for the rest of the world. Then one morning at 3:45, my eyes popped open and I thought of A NEW PROSPECT. It covered two bases. The city of Prospect would get a new police chief with a totally new way of doing business. Would Prospect ever be the same? And it alludes to Sam’s new prospect on life with his second police career. Apparently others thought it was pretty good, too, because the book was a finalist for Montaigne Medal for having a most thought provoking title.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
After I retired I began reading the detective stories of Raymond Chandler, Loren Estleman and Robert B. Parker. I liked them, so I took on a style that’s something of a blend of all three—just this side of old-fashioned hard boiled or noir cop fiction. Telling the police stories is easy. Adding all the smartass metaphors and hyperboles of that genre takes a bit of thought.
Fiona: How much of your books are realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Although the basis for most of my stuff begins in fact, my books and stories are not autobiographical or true crime. To paraphrase Jack Webb from TV’s Dragnet, I change the names to protect the guilty…and keep me out of civil court. I also do other things to keep my editor and publisher happy.
Contrary to what Hollywood would like us to believe, police work is not a thrill a minute. So, I had to fictionalize and embellish these real cases to create good fiction. My protagonist had to have a few flaws. And I needed to spice things up with some contrived tension and conflict that may not have been present in real life.
One thing I never wanted to compromise was the detail and authenticity of real police work. These books describe how real cops do their jobs, and to a large extent how they act and speak. You won’t see Sam obtain a search warrant without enough “probable cause to believe” to satisfy a real judge. He won’t make an arrest based solely upon a mere suspicion—none of the fantasy police work that seems to litter the world of police procedurals today. No BS.
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
My wife and I travel a lot, but I’ve never done so to research a book. I probably should. I could then take the expenses off our income taxes. I often set out with good intentions by taking my pad and pen with me. However, I’ve never yet written anything while away from home. Our vacations are not relaxing. We do something every day—no lying in the sun or sleeping in a hammock. Kenneth Roberts is one of my favorite writers. He used to retreat to a rented villa overlooking Lake Como in Italy to write his historical fiction. That sounded appealing, but in reality, I’d be on the water fishing or driving all over the Italian countryside looking to find something new.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
Since going over to Melange Books, LLC and finding them receptive to re-release all my earlier books and publish all the new ones, I’ve worked with three of their artists, but most often Lynsee Lauritsen does the work. I think she’s terrific. I prepare an artwork questionnaire for her and she comes up with one or more proofs. And we work it from there. I get lots of compliments on the Melange covers.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
A recent review gives me a new and good answer for this question. The woman liked the book a lot, but laced into Sam Jenkins because he found a woman other than his wife attractive. I see this as an inevitable fact of life. It happens. I hope this reviewer has never looked at another man as a sex object—but I doubt that’s realistic or the Chippendale Dancers wouldn’t be so wealthy.
I guess my message is that all people are susceptible to things that come up in life, and my hero, Sam Jenkins, a professional cop, is only human—all cops are. Yes, he finds good-looking women attractive. He’s said before, “The most beautiful things in life are old wooden sailboats, vintage British sports cars and women over forty.” But he’s always faithful to his wife, Kate. Finding someone attractive is like catching a cold—involuntary. Having the willpower not to take this attraction any further is a conscious choice and part of his character, not exactly one of those flaws he needs to be a successful fictional character.
He’s also, at times, impatient. This trait has, more than once, gotten him into a precarious situation when waiting for backup would have been more prudent. And he has a mouth that goes into gear too quickly when he deals with frustrating politicians who can make his life miserable. Two other human characteristics.
These traits are not unique to Sam. Ask any cop. Is it easy to get into trouble while you’re keeping the public safe? Society asks its cops to stand a head above the rest of the population. Since they pay a cop’s salary, they have the right to do that, but being human is part of a cop’s job many people never think about.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favorite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
Having been part of a few emerging writers’ groups over the last eleven years, I’ve read books by people in the same boat as me. Some of them were excellent writers who I hope find their audience and sell a bunch of books and get the great reviews they deserve. If I were pressed to pick one favorite writer from the stable of new and established hands, I’d say James Lee Burke and specifically his Detective Dave Robicheaux police mysteries. When it comes to descriptions of people, places and events, he gets downright poetic. And his ability to take a reader into the psyche of his characters is uncanny.
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.
Before getting anything published, I joined an on-line writer’s workshop called The Next Big Writer Dot Com. We posted the chapters we had written and received edits and critiques from other writers of various experience. As with any organization, cliques formed and friendships blossomed. I wrote an acknowledgement in my first book to all the people from that group who helped me take A NEW PROSPECT from an idea to something good enough to be published. Sadly, some of those people are no longer with us or no longer writing.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
I look at writing as an avocation. I’ve got a few pensions to put food on the table, so whatever comes to me in the form of royalty checks is just extra gravy. I joke about my royalties. Thanks to a couple of publishers with good marketing schemes and my meager efforts to flog my books, I’ve sold quite a few, but when people think of all published authors as wealthy, I tell them that my royalties are so large I can afford to take my wife to a Chinese buffet once a month.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
HONOR AMONG THIEVES is my most recent and according to my editor, she thinks it’s one of my best. I’ll take her word for it. I liked the book for several reasons and am happy with it as is. It gives readers a good look at organized crime figures and how the bond among cops lingers past their retirement dates.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
I used to be able to sit for hours on end and just write because the thoughts were coming on fast and furious. This book took me much longer than the usual three or four months to get a first draft. But as with any art form, there’s something wrong if you, as a writer, don’t get better with practice. So, I learned that my lack of youthful enthusiasm (Ha! I started writing fiction at sixty) does not prevent me from getting a good finished product.
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
It’s tough to find middle-aged leading men. I like Tom Selleck, but he’s too tall and already has a job (TV’s Blue Bloods.) Some people tell me they see Mark Harmon (from TV’s NCIS) playing Sam Jenkins. He looks like he’s about six foot tall, so I’m good with that, but he’d have to tone down the Jethro Gibbs act a bit and lose the Marine Corps haircut. Actually, I’d love to get suggestions from readers on suitable sixty-something, tall, dark (okay, with plenty of gray hair) and handsome candidates. Maybe I should have a contest. Free books for the best answer.
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
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 twenty-seven Sam Jenkins mystery novelettes were written for audio books and had to sound good when read by an actor. So, I knew exactly what Bob Parker meant. I apply this same principle with my full-length novels
Here’s my recommendation on how to produce a quality 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? Or did you find yourself tongue-tied on occasion? 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 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 (or third) pair of eyes is essential for ANY writer.
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
Yes, thanks very much for asking. Here’s my rant: If, as a reader, you’re tired of the current crop of police novels that rival the over-the-top opening of a new James Bond film, of meaningless car chases, incidents where cops shoot the gun out of a criminal’s hand or where you end up thinking you’ve just delved into the realm of police sci-fi and would like to see how it’s really done, give the Sam Jenkins mysteries a try. And you can do it for free. A NEW PROSPECT, the first in the series, won Eric Hoffer and Indie Book Awards, and is available at no cost to you. Simply visit http://waynezur.authorreach.com and ask for one of the three eBook formats listed. Easy, huh? I planned it that way. I want you to meet Sam and the girls and boys of Prospect PD. If you like them, please leave a review at amazon.com. I’d appreciate it and Amazon will love you to death.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I just finished PRONTO by Elmore Leonard last night. This is the book where he introduces US Deputy Marshall Raylan Givens, lead character from the TV series Justified.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Not exactly. Probably some Golden Book or other children’s thing. My mother was always giving me books to read. But as a young school boy I read biographies of all the Early American heroes—David Crockett, Daniel Boone, et al, and books from the children’s Landmark series. One of my favorites though, was an adult book by Kenneth Roberts, NORTHWEST PASSAGE, the story of Major Robert Rogers of Rogers’ Rangers. That one sort of influenced my later life a bit.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Laugh: A really good, almost slapstick movie—something from Mel Brooks or Woody Allan or Leslie Nielsen.
Cry: As I’ve gotten older I tend to get a little choked up and misty when I hear about someone who did something truly heroic. When my dog died I cried a lot.
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
I’d like to have dinner with Woody Allen. I love his sense of humor and although he’s older than me, we share growing up in post WW2 New York.
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
As I mentioned earlier, we travel a lot. With travel comes photography. I’m always striving for the perfect snapshot. I learned to take pictures at crime scenes in the early 1970s. Travel and landscape photography is a lot more fun than taking shots of dead bodies.
Having grown up on Long Island, surrounded by saltwater, I’ve been fishing since before I went to school. I still fish and like it best on the big water—the Great Lakes or the east and gulf coasts. My wife likes it, too. My only problem: She usually catches the first and biggest fish.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
American TV is abysmal. We watch only three network shows a week, hate the commercials and hope for something good to show up on public TV (PBS). We rely heavily on Netflix—old movies and TV shows, British cop shows and comedies, other foreign series and movies and a few more recent films.
Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?
Foods. Wow! A favorite subject. If I allowed myself to go beyond my boyish 180 pounds (13 stone) I would eat my way to happiness. But at my age it’s difficult to lose an ounce, so I do meals in moderation. I love Indian, Korean, Chinese, Mexican, Middle Eastern and other ethnic foods. If I had to settle on only one, hands down, it would be Mediterranean—Italian and Greek. Love to eat it and cook it.
Colors: Autumn is my favorite time of year. I like the mixed reds, yellows, oranges and browns of the season—like an old weathered tartan.
Music: Mostly things from the 1960s, but also the late ‘50s and early ‘70s—easy listening music, folk music, soft rock. Even the “elevator” music we used to hear on the FM stations back in the day—no shocking acid or hard rock. Thank goodness for Sirius-XM satellite radio.
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
Probably spend a ridiculous amount of money on a new boat and go fishing more often. I’ve got one in mind. And if you consider today’s cost of fish, the boat could pay for itself. Am I rationalizing here?
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
“He was a good soldier and an honest cop.”
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
Readers can find me at http://waynezurlbooks.net where they can read excerpts from all my books, see reviews and endorsements, interviews, coming events and look at photos of the area where the stories take place.
Here are some other places around the Internet where they can also find me:
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
Author’s Guild of Tennessee member’s page: http://authorsguildoftn.org/authors/wayne-zurl
Melange Books, LLC author’s link: http://www.melange-books.com/authors/waynezurl/index.html
Author Reach page: http://waynezurl.authorreach.com
Sales links all books
#1 A NEW PROSPECT
#2 A LEPRECHAUN’S LAMENT
#3 HEROES & LOVERS
#4 PIGEON RIVER BLUES
#5 A TOUCH OF MORNING CALM
#6 A CAN OF WORMS
#7 HONOR AMONG THIEVES
FROM NY TO THE SMOKIES (anthology #1)
Thanks very much for inviting me to your blog to meet all your fans and followers. I hope you all enjoy the rest of the summer.