Welcome. Toss a blanket down, sit for a while under the willow, relax, and enjoy what's written below.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Interview With Wayne Zurl

Today I am welcoming the very talented author Wayne Zurl to the Willow Tree. Wayne is the author of the Detective Sam Jenkins series of books. I recently finished Wayne's book "A Labor Day Murder." It was a great read and Sam Jenkins is a character you will find hard to forget. Welcome Wayne.

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.

He has had 3 novels and 14 novelettes from his Sam Jenkins Mystery series traditionally published.

What are you currently working on and when do you plan to release your next book?

I just finished my first round of self-editing for a full-length novel called PIGEON RIVER BLUES. It’s been around for a while and I kept dreaming up new titles, but I think this one will stick. Chief Sam Jenkins reluctantly finds himself thrown into the backstage world of big name country and western music when he’s asked to guard a beautiful and controversial singer named C.J. Proffitt. The story involves hate mail, death threats, a right wing group who call themselves The Coalition for American Family Values, and a potentially explosive ending.

As soon as I spruce up Sam’s new adventure, I’ll see if my editor is ready to read it.

Another book called HEROES & LOVERS is currently under contract and just about ready to go into final formatting. I saw cover proofs the other day. It’s scheduled for release later this year. Here’s my suggestion for the dust jacket summary:

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.”  But Sam doesn’t always follow his common sense philosophy.

Becoming infatuated with a married policeman and getting kidnapped never made TV reporter Rachel Williamson’s list of things to do before Christmas.  Helping her friend, Sam Jenkins, the ex-New York detective and now police chief in Prospect, Tennessee, with a fraud investigation would get her an exclusive story.  It all sounded exciting and made her station manager happy.  But 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.

With an abundance of luck and after some old-fashioned pressure on an informant produces 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.

Do you have a favorite genre for your writing or do you write whatever moves you?

I’m no literary genius and I admit having more memory than imagination so, I stick to writing police mysteries. I can fictionalize and embellish cases I investigated, supervised, or just knew a lot about and transplant them from New York to Tennessee fairly easily. I believe in “write what you know.” With twenty years of insider information on law enforcement, I can litter my books with important technicalities and interesting tidbits of cop information you just can’t get by attending writer’s conferences.

Having said all that, I think I’d like to try writing a western some day.

What is the best piece of advice you were given about writing?

I knew nothing about the fiction business when I began writing a book in 2006. I thought if you could present a good finished product, you’d find an agent and let him or her peddle your book to a publisher. That was quite a misconception. As the rejections trickled in, I learned about the importance of current trends and how some famous names couldn’t get a job writing greeting cards in the 21st century.

Two established authors told me essentially the same thing: “Never give up. There’s someone out there who will publish your book.” One said, “You don’t have to be good, you have to be marketable.” In essence, he meant don’t take the rejections personally. The other said, “Sometimes tenacity trumps talent. Plenty of bestsellers are unworthy of the name.”

Here’s one of the few responses I got from an agent: “Your main character is a sixty-year-old retired New York detective who finds a job as a Tennessee police chief. That’s not exactly trendy. Consider making him a young vampire private-eye working in Orange County.”

I kept my middle-aged cop idea and reverted to that tenacity thing, trying to sell what someone might see as talent.

Do you have a special spot where you like to write or are you a “have lap top will travel” writer?

I’m very old-fashioned and write all my stuff on a lined pad with a stolen motel pen. Generally, I sit in a wingback chair in the living room and go at it. However, I could get comfortable in other quiet spots. Once I finish, I try to read my handwriting and transpose my scribbling to a Word document.

What is your favorite book and favorite author?

I tend to like series writers and become more attracted to the characters than one particular story. I could never narrow my choice down to one book. I like several authors for various reasons. Robert B. Parker taught me lots about telling a story in the fewest possible words. I like his minimalist style and try to emulate it. James Lee Burke can write descriptions of people and places like few others. Sometimes he’s absolutely poetic. Bernard Cornwell is a master of historical fiction and writes action scenes so effectively I often need a martini after one of his battles. That other guy from Long Island, who writes mysteries, Nelson DeMille, provides his main character, Detective John Corey, with endless, high quality smartass dialogue. That’s very realistic in a cop book. And there’s the father of hard-boileddetective fiction, Raymond Chandler, who wrote some of the best metaphors ever printed.

When did you discover your passion for writing?

I fooled around writing non-fiction magazine articles for ten years with a bit of success and I enjoyed it. When conjuring up new ideas for “thrilling” pieces on Colonial American history became more and more difficult, I decided to try fiction. And it really clicked with me. I’m very happy to see my work published, but if no one bought another story, I’d still write to amuse myself, and keep me from playing in the traffic. I’ve still got plenty of war stories to tell.

Do you have a favorite beverage or snack you must have while writing?

That depends on the weather. Right now it’s 3:30, 85 degrees outside, and there’s a gin and tonic within arm’s length.

What inspires you?

I’d need a subscription to Dial-A-Shrink to determine why I get my ideas or inspiration. I might be doing 70 on an Interstate or my eyes click open at 3 a.m. and something comes to mind that would make a good story. I don’t question these infusions of inspiration, but embrace the enthusiasm and just go with them. If I really get on a roll, I’ll stop my current project and take off with the new thing until it’s at least roughed out. At my age I need to get good ideas on paper or I’ll forget them.

Do you have a favorite vacation destination and do you write while vacationing?

You sent me this questionnaire a few days before we went on vacation to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I intended to complete these eleven questions and work on a half finished novelette while sitting on the porch of our rented log cabin. However, we never relax on vacation. We fished for lake trout and walleye, rented a boat to cruise Portage Lake and the Houghton Canal System, visited oodles of restored lighthouses and historic homes, traipsed through old copper mines, and ate some excellent food. Never once did pen touch paper.

We travel a lot and generally to different places. But we’ve been to Scotland and the UK thirteen times, so I guess it’s my favorite spot.

Do you have any advice for other writers on any subject you choose?

There’s plenty of good advice out there like never stop reading well-written books, read your work aloud to see if the cadence pleases you, when writing dialogue, be sure to give each character a unique voice, and much more. I learned a lot about writing by spending a couple of years posting chapters on an on-line writer’s workshop. If you find a sincere group willing to assist each other you’re a winner. In writing, two heads (or more) aren’t just better than one, they’re essential. And I again mention the advice given to me: “Never give up.” In the face of rejection and frustration, you must continue. If you can objectively say your work is worth publishing, you will find a way. I remember a high school coach saying, “Toughness is a quality of the mind. Without it physical development is a mockery.” The samegoes for writing. If you give up easily, your career is over. Be tough. Hang in there.

Any last thoughts you would like to add?

I guess this is where I can throw modesty out the window and tell everyone about my first full-length novel, A NEW PROSPECT, being named Best Mystery at the 2011 Indie Book Awards and winning 3 medals, including 1st Runner-Up at the 2012 Eric Hoffer Book Awards. And before I forget, if you like audio books or eBooks, I’ve got fourteen novelettes in production or under contract available in those formats with a bunch having made it to the publisher’s best seller list.

Over nine million people visit the Great Smoky Mountain National Park every year. Take a chance and read one of the Sam Jenkins Smoky Mountain mysteries to see how a former New York cop integrates his style of police work into beautiful East Tennessee.


Barnes & Noble/Nook

Audio Books

My Website



Independent Author Network

Independent Author Index (lists and provides parental ratings on all books)

Good Reads

 Thanks, Marianne, for allowing me to answer your questions and meet your followers. If anyone is looking for a summer getaway and think those nine million visitors can’t be wrong, try the Smoky Mountains. You might see Sam Jenkins driving his restored ’67 Austin-Healey.   wz


  1. Hi Marianne,
    Thanks for inviting me to your blog to meet your followers and fans. And thanks to all for reading my interview.

  2. Great interview. I can't wait to read Heroes and Lovers.