Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Talking With Wayne Zurl

I'm happy to have Wayne Zurl, author of the Sam Jenkins mystery series, here today to talk with us about his newest novel, Heroes & Lovers. This is Wayne's third full novel, although he's written many novelettes. Wayne writes mysteries with humor and great characters. Best of all, his town of Prospect, Tennessee isn't far from Goose Pimple Junction.

About Heroes & Lovers (A Sam Jenkins Mystery)

Sam Jenkins might say, “Falling in love is like catching a cold. It’s infectious and involuntary. Just don’t sneeze on any innocent people.”

Getting kidnapped and becoming infatuated with a married policeman never made TV reporter Rachel Williamson’s list of things to do before Christmas. But helping her friend, Sam Jenkins with a fraud investigation would be fun and get her an exclusive story.

Sam’s investigation put Rachel in the wrong place at the wrong time and her abduction by a mentally disturbed fan, ruined several days of her life.

When Jenkins learns Rachel has gone missing, he cancels holiday leaves, mobilizes the personnel at Prospect PD, and enlists his friends from the FBI to help find her.

During the early stages of the investigation, Sam develops several promising leads, but as they begin to fizzle, his prime suspect drops off the planet and all the resources of the FBI aren’t helping.

After a lucky break and a little old-fashioned pressure on an informant produce an important clue, the chief leads his team deep into the Smoky Mountains to rescue his friend. But after Rachel is once again safe at home, he finds their problems are far from over.


Howdy, Wayne. You've written a lot of Sam Jenkins mysteries. What is the best part of writing for you?

All my adult jobs have involved writing in one way or another. Long before I began dabbling in anything creative, I wrote reports in the Army and police department. I got a kick out of hearing a senior officer say that I’d submitted something well written. And, on occasion, someone in upper management would read my report before they ever met me. So, I made sure what I turned in would be good enough for them to remember the guy who wrote it. All this is pressing ahead to how I enjoy hearing people pump my ego with praise of what I write.

After I retired, I took a volunteer job at a state park where among other things, I wrote publicity for their living history program. Those pieces led to twenty-six non-fiction magazine articles. Occasionally, I’d meet readers who liked what I wrote—more opportunity for ego building. But I also got paid for my efforts and thought that was cool.

In 2006, I decided to try writing fiction. I figured I could base (loosely or otherwise) my stories on old cases I investigated or supervised. That looked like the fun part of the chore. I enjoyed that aspect most and still do. That’s the best part of writing.

What is the worst?

Post-publication marketing and promotions. I’d love to be operating back in the old days where a publisher’s PR department did all the work and writers only attended book signings and radio and TV interviews. Realistically, I’ll never see that scenario.

I would totally agree with you on that. How would you describe your book in a tweet? (140 characters or less.)

A simple arrest ends in tragedy. Sam Jenkins does some serious ass kickin’ to save a friend in HEROES & LOVERS, a #police #thriller.

That one weighed in at 132, sir. Lookin’ good. How did you create the plot for this book?

In the first two novels and all fifteen novelettes, Sam Jenkins has been developing an emotional involvement with TV reporter, Rachel Williamson. Both characters are married (to other people,) and so far things are professional and platonic. But I wanted something to make readers grit their teeth, and I didn’t want the tired old tension-getter, common to so many cop stories, where the hero goes into a situation without backup and finds himself in jeopardy.

I’ve seen several very successful TV shows go on for years with a premise of sexual tension between two main characters who aren’t involved in a conventional way. I liked the idea and needed a reason to get Sam and Rachel a little closer. I wanted readers (and especially females who buy more books) to question my sanity. I want them to say, “Hey, he’s married. What is he doing?”

Those interested should stay tuned and find out if Sam and Rachel have an affair. Does it last? Does Sam leave Kate? Real soap opera, huh?

To keep this a cop opera, and not steamy Harlequin romance material, I needed legitimate police work to lead them into a story-worthy problem. The initial “scheme to defraud” investigation gets Sam and Rachel working together closely. Later, circumstances throw them into a relationship neither turns away from.

As Rachel wraps up her news coverage of the fraud scam, she’s kidnapped in Sam’s jurisdiction, and everything becomes super-personal for the chief, and the reader sees a darker side of our normally genial, wise-cracking ex-detective.

I dug into my bag of war stories and used an actual incident of an assault / attempted rape of one of the secretaries from where I worked. That wasn’t my case, but for me and every other person around me, it became a top priority and many people worked their off-duty time to find the guilty party.

How do you develop your characters?

Most of the characters I invent are based on people I knew—or they’re composites of more than one person. This helps me determine how those personalities will react to a certain situation and what they’ll say and how they’ll speak. That’s extremely helpful in writing dialogue and giving these people unique voices. If I can hear how a real person spoke, I can perpetuate their fictional voices.

Reviews are a necessary evil for authors. How do you handle criticism of your work?

Like everyone else, I enjoy positive criticism. I feel the “warm fuzzies” and they improve my day. Occasionally, someone tosses a few “cold pricklies” at me and, by necessity, I dissect the negative information.

First, I try to identify where the critic is coming from. Are they just speaking about a personal dislike? Intellectually, I know I’ll never please all of the people all of the time, and while nasty remarks hurt, I have no choice but to let them go. Readers are entitled to their opinions . . . Until I hunt them down and meet them in a dark alley and then—just kidding.

If I can determine that the critic is more professionally capable of analyzing my story technically, I’ll still feel bad over the [possibly] nasty comment, but I’ll look for important constructive criticism that may make future work better.

When I belonged to an on-line writer’s workshop, occasionally I’d run into a reviewer who lacked all bedside manner and never tried to soften the negative comments they felt compelled to make. Fortunately, most of those fellow writers were part of a minority and nothing but toads who thought they knew it all. But among those assorted ineffectual readers, I’d find a few intelligent but obnoxious authors who, in a most unfriendly way, offered gems of wisdom. Only a fool would disregard good information that could make a finished product better.

I’d always file away this good advice, but still look forward to that dark, back alley.

I’m a collector of quotes. What’s one of your favorites?

Back in the 18th century, Edward Gibbon said, “I never make the mistake of arguing with people for whose opinions I have no respect.” Good advice that can save you a lot of aggravation.

That reminds me of one of my favorite southern proverbs: Never argue with a pig. It just frustrates you and irritates the pig." Anyway…you live in beautiful Tennessee, but if you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

After an extremely warm and dry summer, I’ve rekindled my interest in Scotland. Years ago, when the exchange rate was $1.03 to the pound, we considered buying a stone cottage in the Highlands and retiring there. But Reaganomics decided American tourists should spend their travel dollars in the US and miraculously, a pound sterling ended up costing $1.75 almost overnight. In effect, my pension dollar had been cut almost in half and the idea of moving to Scotland took a back seat to the mountains of East Tennessee. I’ve been to Scotland thirteen times. I’d go back in a heartbeat. It’s a great place.

Discounting Scotland, if you could take a trip anywhere in the world, where would you go? Don’t worry about the money. Your publisher is paying.

I’m getting in the mood for another trip to Alaska. And since money is no object, I’d book the best cabin on a small cruise boat and go from Ketchikan to Juneau along the Inside Passage. From there, we’d fly to Anchorage and spend a couple of days in the Captain Cook Hotel. Then, rent a cabin in Homer for a week of fishing for halibut and salmon and a flight to the Katmai Peninsula to photograph the brown bear and watch them catch a few salmon.

You have written a gazillion things and have had three books published this year. What are you working on now?

I’m about ready to finalize the second pass of edits and revisions to a novel I call PIGEON RIVER BLUES. It’s Sam Jenkins’ first venture into the world of country and western music. Here’s the jacket summary I’ve come up with:

Winter in the Smokies can be a tranquil time of year—unless Sam Jenkins sticks his thumb into the sweet potato pie.

The ex-New York detective turned Tennessee police chief is minding his own business one quiet day in February when Mayor Ronnie Shields asks him to act as a bodyguard for a famous country and western star.

C.J. Profitt’s return to her hometown of Prospect receives lots of publicity . . . and threats from a rightwing group calling themselves The Coalition for American Family Values.

The beautiful, publicity seeking Ms. Proffit never fails to capitalize on her abrasive personality by flaunting her alternative lifestyle—a way of living the Coalition hates.

Reluctantly, Jenkins accepts the assignment of keeping C.J. safe while she performs at a charity benefit. But his job becomes more difficult when the object of his protection refuses to cooperate.

During this misadventure, Sam hires a down-on-his-luck ex-New York detective and finds himself thrown back in time with old Army acquaintances who factor into a complicated plot of attempted murder, the destruction of a Dollywood music hall, and other general insurrection on Sam’s “peaceful side of the Smokies.”

When I finish my work, I’ll see how my publisher / editor likes the idea.

I’m sure he will like it just fine. I hope you’ll come back when it’s ready to be published. Thanks for stopping by, Wayne.

Thanks, Amy, for inviting me to your blog and introducing me to your fans and followers. 

About the author:

Wayne Zurl 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 he served as a section commander supervising investigators. He is a graduate of SUNY, Empire State College and served on active duty in the US Army during the Vietnam War and later in the reserves. Zurl left New York to live in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee with his wife, Barbara.

Fifteen (15) of his 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. Zurl’s first full-length novel, A NEW PROSPECT, was named best mystery at the 2011 Indie Book Awards, chosen as 1st Runner-Up from all Commercial Fiction at the 2012 Eric Hoffer Book Awards, and was nominated for a Montaigne Medal and First Horizon Book Award. His second novel, A LEPRECHAUN’S LAMENT, is available in hardcover, paperback, and Kindle. A third full-length novel, HEROES & LOVERS, is scheduled for release on Sept 29, 2012.

For more information on Wayne’s Sam Jenkins mystery series see You can read excerpts, reviews and endorsements, interviews, coming events, and see photos of the area where the stories take place.

Look for Wayne at these places:
Facebook page
Goodreads author page
Amazon author page
Amazon: Heroes & Lovers
Barnes & Noble: Heroes & Lovers