Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Interview with Wayne Zurl

Interview with Wayne Zurl,
Author of A Leprechaun's Lament 
(Sam Jenkins Mystery)

Questions: R. Murry

Can you tell me a little about yourself?

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 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. 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 service, I still like the cowboy idea, but have interrupted that aspiration with an attempt at being 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 (20) of my Sam Jenkins mysteries have been produced as audio books and simultaneously published as eBooks. Ten (10) of these novelettes are now available in print under the titles of A MURDER IN KNOXVILLE and Other Smoky Mountain Mysteries and REENACTING A MURDER and Other Smoky Mountain Mysteries.

My first full-length novel, A NEW PROSPECT, won Indie and Eric Hoffer Book Awards for best mystery and best commercial fiction in 2011 and 2012, and was a finalist for a Montaigne Medal and First Horizon Book Award. My other novels are A LEPRECHAUN’S LAMENT and HEROES & LOVERS. A fourth book, PIGEON RIVER BLUES, is under contract and tentatively scheduled for release around June 1st, 2014.

Do you remember the first story you wrote?

As a schoolboy, probably something about what I did on my summer vacation. But as a newly retired adult, I volunteered at The Fort Loudoun State Park and wrote non-fiction magazine articles relative to their living history program. The first one published (where I got paid by the magazine) was about how a detachment of New York volunteers from Rogers’ Rangers fought in the Anglo-Cherokee War of 1761 after the massacre at Fort Loudoun in what today is Vonore, Tennessee.

Were you inspired by someone or something?

I wrote non-fiction for ten years, was lucky enough to get twenty-six articles published, and I thought getting paid for writing was pretty cool. When I couldn’t conjure up any new and thrilling ideas on the 18th century French and Indian War in Tennessee, and experienced that old burned-out feeling, I passed the torch to another volunteer. But I had time on my hands and liked the idea of having a creative outlet. I thought if I could sell articles to magazines, how difficult could it be to get a novel published? That was in 2006. I was sixty, but obviously, in the world of big-time publishing, I still thought like a child. I had just read Robert B. Parker’s first Jesse Stone novel, NIGHT PASSAGE. 

Stone was a former L.A. detective who became a small town police chief. I liked the premise. I liked how Parker wrote. I thought: Parker was never a cop like me, why can’t I make a retired New York detective a Tennessee police chief? I grabbed a yellow pad and pen and started writing—incorporating elements of my old cases and assorted vignettes into a fictionalized and embellished police mystery. Originally, I called it MURDER IN THE SMOKIES, but when I decided it should be different than the average murder mystery where I needed a body and the start of an investigation by page three, I changed the title to A NEW PROSPECT and tried to sell the book as a character driven police procedural.

What do you like about writing a story?

There is a lot of ego involved with me. I readily admit, I’ve got a better memory than a vivid imagination. I based all of my early stuff on cases I investigated, supervised or just knew a lot about. Police fiction that veers far from reality or even plausibility drives me crazy. I stop reading when it’s too incredible to possibly happen. I’m all for suspension of disbelief, but some writers should abandon the mystery genre and call their work cop fantasy. I enjoy taking the reality of true police work and adding those little necessities to make a good story and tell readers like it really was. I first envisioned my target audience as cops or ex-cops or hardcore fans of police fiction. I figured if any one of those readers said, “Hey, this guy got all the details right and told a good story,” I’d be happy. 

Can you tell us about your book?

A LEPRECHAUN’S LAMENT is based on the most frustrating and bizarre case I got involved with during my twenty years of doing investigations. It started out innocently enough, but soon escalated into something no one saw coming. In the book, I incorporated the modern Patriot Act to provide a reason for doing a background investigation on an employee who worked for the city of Prospect for almost thirty years. In reality, it began when a man’s budget position was changed from General Services to the Police Department. Most of the dialogue and action is as I remember it actually occurring. That disclaimer on the frontispiece about “Any similarity to real persons or events is purely coincidence,” is hogwash. 

This is what happened. I transplanted it from New York to Tennessee, added a little spice, and because Sam Jenkins is who he is, I thought a beautiful girl would keep him interested and on his toes. Paraphrasing Jack Webb’s statement from every episode of Dragnet, “Only the names have been changed to protect the guilty—and keep me out of civil court.” Here’s the dust jacket summary. It tells all the basics:

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.

What genre best fits for the book?

This one is pure police procedural with more than its share of thriller tossed in.

Are you working on something new at the moment?

I’m expecting a full-length novel, PIGEON RIVER BLUES to be published around June of this year. It’s Sam’s first foray into the world of country and western music. He certainly doesn’t perform on stage, but reluctantly accepts an assignment of acting as bodyguard for a beautiful singer who’s received threats from a group of right-wing weirdoes. More of Sam’s back-story comes out when he meets up with characters he worked with in the Army.

A new novelette, THE SWAN TATTOO, has just been recorded and will be produced as an audio book and soon published as an eBook. That one is about Chinese/Malaysian organized Crime in the southern US. Also in the works for the future is a novel called, A TOUCH OF MORNING CALM, about Korean organized crime in Knoxville and  Prospect, Tennessee.

Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?

Having my stories produced as audio books taught me a lot about the sound and cadence of what I write. I would suggest that everyone read what they consider a finished product aloud—as if you were acting the parts. If what you wrote SOUNDS good, you should be okay. If you experience awkward moments in the narrative or dialogue, revise it until SOUNDS smooth. If there are any bumps, smooth them out. If everything sings to you, you’re there. For a guy who doesn’t dance very well and can’t sing a note, I’m very concerned with rhythm.

Where can people go to read your work?

My stuff is available from all the usual sellers in print, eBook formats, and some in audio. Here’s a list of links where you can find me and the books on the Internet.
Author website:  http://www.waynezurlbooks.net 
Mind Wings Audio author page: http://mindwingsaudio.com/?s=wayne+zurl

Do you have anything to add?

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’ll again mention my obsession with the reality of police work. If you’re looking for Sam Jenkins to pull a ‘James Bond’ and shoot an arrow attached to a steel cable from his wristwatch while he’s chasing a felling felon, you won’t find it in something I write. I try to incorporate all the elements of a good story, but avoid mindless conflict, meaningless action, or any senseless fantasy element used only to dupe a reader. 

Real police work includes frustration, sorrow, regret, tension, action, fear, and lots of humor. 

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