Interview with Wayne Zurl

Heroes“Most important to me is that my stories sound good. The cadence has to be there; no bumps or hang-ups. Even though I can’t dance very well, I want my writing to have rhythm.”

I’m thrilled to have author Wayne Zurl with us today.

Susan, Thanks for inviting me to your blog to meet your fans and followers and introduce them to Sam Jenkins and a few of his stories.

Then let’s plunge right in. Tell us about your hero, Sam Jenkins.

Sam isn’t your average hero from a 21st century novel. He’s not young nor is he a vampire. My middle-aged Vietnam War vet is a retired detective lieutenant from a large New York police department who takes his wife and dog and moves to the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee. After years of almost idle retirement, he gets bitten by the police bug again and finds a job as chief in a small department. He’s opinionated, judgmental, sarcastic, fairly humorous, disgustingly honest, a pretty good criminal investigator, and a better than average cook.

How much of Wayne Zurl is in Sam Jenkins?

I’ve been writing all my life. Generally, I was responsible for professional reports, but after I retired, I found some success writing non-fiction magazine articles. When I decided to try fiction, I went into it with no formal training in creative writing. So, I had to rely on the old author’s maxim of write what you know. And I know police work and my new surroundings in Tennessee. To make my life easy, I decided that if I might do something in a police situation or might say a certain something, so would Sam Jenkins. I have more of a memory than an imagination so, I give Sam actual cases I investigated, supervised, or just knew a lot about to solve. I embellish and fictionalize them and transplant everything to Tennessee. So far it’s worked out pretty well.

Indeed, it has. When did you first discover your talent for telling tall tales?

I think a few defense attorneys did that many years before I had anything published. Some of them said my reports and prosecution worksheets were pure fiction, fantasy even. But everyone knows they’re notorious liars.

I’m curious. How do you begin a book?

I’ve given up trying to figure out what inspires me to write a story. Ideas, based on actual cases, come to me at odd times. I might be doing seventy on an interstate, wake up at three o’clock in the morning, or be mowing part of our five acres on my John Deere when I get an infusion of supposed brilliance. After I get the idea, I simply run with it. Outlining is too much like work. I write while the thoughts are there. At my age, if I don’t get things on paper, I may forget and they’ll be lost forever or until my short term memory resurfaces.

Do you have daily writing goals? Like to write in morning or afternoon?

I like to start any project early in the morning. But because I have to integrate my writing with other necessities of life, that may not be possible. I’ve never set goals like a minimum word count per day. For a guy who lived most of his adult life in a military or para-military occupation, I’m really fairly undisciplined. But I seem to always get the job done. I write as long as the words come, and then go back and polish things. Most important to me is that my stories sound good. The cadence has to be there; no bumps or hang-ups. Even though I can’t dance very well, I want my writing to have rhythm.

SerpentsScoundrelsScrap MetalMurderKnoxvilleVitaminReenactingIn all your books, who is the character besides Sam who surprised you the most?

When I started out, I envisioned Stan Rose as the second most important character—Sam Jenkins’ sidekick and the one he bounced all things off, like Chingachgook to Hawkeye; Hawk to Spenser; Watson to Holmes; Ethel to Lucy. But that just didn’t happen. In the second book, A LEPRECHAUN’S LAMENT, I promoted Stanley, made him the nighttime supervisor, and strictly by his lack of proximity to Sam, Stan didn’t get that sidekick status. But who did?

In every novel and novelette, Bettye Lambert emerges as the one most helpful and most faithful professional partner to our hero. And she not only helps, he does plenty of the solving, too. Bettye is one good cop.

Who are the authors who influenced you the most?

I could make a long list of favorite authors, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll choose a few people who give me good reason to hold them in esteem.

Someone gave me a copy of James Lee Burke’s BLACK CHERRY BLUES and started me reading mysteries. I’ll always place Burke on my list of favorites and admit I’ll never be as technically as good as he, because my mind doesn’t work in the directions his does. Burke can describe people, places and events with pure poetry. He can also take you into a character’s head in psychological and philosophical ways that I admire.

Robert B. Parker actually spurred me into writing police fiction. I read the first of his Jesse Stone series, NIGHT PASSAGE, and decided to write my own stories of a former big town detective who becomes a small town chief. From parker, I’ve gotten the urge to tell my stories in the fewest possible words. He did that quite well.

I’ve read every piece of fiction and several of the non-fiction books from Joseph Wambaugh. He’s excellent with police procedurals because he’s an ex-cop. He gets the details right and doesn’t pander to expected formulas. His books aren’t for the action junkie who likes the unrealistic, over-the-top, fantasy police novels some best-selling authors peddle.  Joe writes interesting, compelling, and real police stories.

leprechaun's lamentDo you have a favorite Sam Jenkins book?

I’d have to say A LEPRECHAUN’S LAMENT. It’s based on the most frustrating and bizarre thing I investigated in twenty years. I wanted it to be my first novel, but because I kept in so much truth, I thought few people would believe the storyline. But it is true—all except the beautiful Irish girl. I invented her because Sam likes to have good-looking women in his stories.

What are you working on now?

I’ve just cracked the surface of a novelette about Chinese/Malaysian organized crime in the south. This is based on what I’ve learned from friends whom owned a Chinese restaurant for twenty-five years. A few other things have sidetracked me from, but I’ll get back to it shortly.

Last week I sent the completed manuscript for a new novel to my publisher. It’s about Sam’s foray into the world of country and western music. I hope the editor likes it.

Here’s my proposed dust jacket summary for PIGEON RIVER BLUES:

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

The retired 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 Sam’s 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, meeting old Army acquaintances who factor into a complicated plot of attempted murder, the destruction of a Dollywood music hall, and other general insurrection on the “peaceful side of the Smokies.”

Thanks so much for being here, Wayne. I look forward to reading the excerpt tomorrow from HEROES & LOVERS!

Wayne ZurlBiography

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 a finalist for a Montaigne Medal and First Horizon Book Award. His other novels are: A LEPRECHAUN’S LAMENT and HEROES & LOVERS.

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. And you can buy his books on Amazon and Smashwords.

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