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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Author Interview: Wayne Zurl

Today I am pleased to present to you all the tenth in a series of Author Interviews. Recently I sat down with the hopeless romantic Wayne Zurl and our conversation went something like this:

Paul: I like to start my interviews by asking if you have any writing rituals? 
Wayne: Not really. I write when the spirit moves me and I have time to devote to it. For a guy who spent most of his adult life around military or para-military routine and order, I’m pretty undisciplined as a writer. I sit in a wingback chair with a lined pad and pen and go at it.

Paul: What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?
Wayne: Most of the time, I read mysteries or historical fiction. I like series writers. Here’s a few of my favorites and what I admire most about them: 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-boiled detective fiction, Raymond Chandler, who wrote some of the best metaphors ever printed.

Paul: If someone had the power to step into your creative mind what would they see? 
Wayne: Probably a lot of contradiction. In spite of what I said in question 1, I think you’d see a bit of obsessive / compulsive personality; a touch of post-traumatic stress; the potential to be lazy; the need for a home and security, but the desire to always see new places; the desire for tranquility (I’m tired of living in conflict and under pressure); the fear of being seen making a mistake, but the courage to take chances; and a lot of good natured sarcasm and dark humor. All these things seem to rear their heads in my books and stories. I hope there are no shrinks listening.

Paul: What is a typical day for you? 
Wayne: I’m retired from the real working world, but I still like to get up early — 6 o’clock or thereabouts. After breakfast, I tackle the hateful chore of Facebook and Twitter and whatever book promotions I have to deal with. Since it’s summer, I do any outside work before the heat of the day. If I have errands to run, I like to get them out of the way early. Then writing, interviews, guest post articles, or whatever. Around 5 o’clock my wife and I start to prepare dinner — we’re not frozen food people. Around 8 p.m., we watch TV — usually something from Netflix.

Paul: Do you have a favorite character in each of your series, aside from the lead? If so, which one and why? 
Wayne: My main character is Sam Jenkins, a retired New York detective who found a second career as a Tennessee police chief. I have two candidates for top second fiddle: Sam’s wife, Kate. She’s sharp, good-looking, and after spending two thirds of her life with a tough guy, can handle him quite well. When Sam’s at a loss for a good idea on how to solve a tough case, Kate miraculously pulls a suggestion out of her sack of common sense solutions. The other is Sergeant Bettye Lambert, Sam’s admin officer, desk sergeant, and occasional partner when he’s solving murders or other felonies that make sleepy little Prospect, TN look like it has a crime rate greater than Detroit. Some people have called Bettye Sam’s workplace spouse. She too is sharp and good-looking, but Bettye is not a street cop, rather, one of those officers who always get the jobs done and becomes indispensable to a guy who’s trying to run a police department and find time to go on the road and play detective. Because she’s so competent, (and attractive) Sam allows her to take liberties another cop might not get away with. You’ll often hear him say, “Jeez, Betts, you sound like my mother.”

Paul: In all the years you’ve been publishing your work, what is the biggest mistake you made that you could share so others can avoid making it? 
Wayne: When I began writing my first novel, A New Prospect, I knew nothing about 21st century publishing. I had been reading older novels and began writing in the style familiar to me. When I hired a retired editor turned “book doctor” to help spruce up the manuscript, he wrote back saying, “I like the way you write. You’ve got a good voice and this would have been a hit back in 1985, but in 2006, it won’t fly.” He taught me what publishers were looking for and made me jump through hoops to reconstruct the book. I’m glad he did; the book won four awards at national contests. So, my advice: Read new, traditionally published novels in the genre you’re interested in and structure your story in a way publishers accept.

Paul: How do you find the time to write? 
Wayne: Without other vocational obligations, all I need is mental discipline and a little spare time. In reality, when an idea hits me, I get my compulsive traits into high gear and start writing. Sometimes I neglect other necessities to get my thoughts on paper. If anyone asks why (read anyone as my wife) I say, “At my age I have to write things down or I’ll forget them.”

Paul: What is one thing you hope I do not tell the readers?
Wayne: For a guy who spent his entire life governed by tangible evidence and had only bad things to say about people with tunnel vision, he’s a hopeless romantic, constantly looking for a peaceful life.

Paul: Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Wayne: Outlines and plotting is too much like work. I often get an inspiration out of the blue for a good story. Generally, they’re based on an old case I worked, supervised, or just knew a lot about. Sometimes, they come from something more contemporary. When an idea hits, I just run with it.

Paul: Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Wayne: I see that my technical ability has improved over the last six years, but I’m a pain in the neck and no matter how many times I read my work, I find something I want to change. I’m glad I now have a professional editor to tell me what I’ve written is okay and to knock off the tweaking.

Paul: Do you have to do much research for your stories? 
Wayne: I do very little research. As I mentioned, most of my stories are based on actual incidents and police procedures I know from experience. My protagonist is a dinosaur like me and he does things the old-fashioned way. If I need up-to-the-minute information on what’s forensically correct in 2012, I call a friend who’s a crime scene investigator here in Tennessee.

Paul: What is your most recent book? Tell us a little about it and also what inspired you to write this book? 
Wayne: A Leprechaun’s Lament is based on, hands down, the most bizarre case I ever got involved with. I would have made it my debut novel, but wondered if people would believe it really could happen. I’m supposed to say, “Any similarity between this story and actual fact is purely coincidental.” But that’s bunk. Just get liberal with your suspension of disbelief. This book is based on fact — except the beautiful Irish girl. I invented her… because I like beautiful girls. Here’s the summary from the dust jacket:
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.

Paul: Do you also write any poetry, non-fiction or short stories?
Wayne: I couldn’t write a good poem if someone held a gun to my head. For ten years I wrote non-fiction magazine articles, but turned to fiction when I began having a hard time coming up with interesting new ideas on the French & Indian War. In addition to three full-length novels already with a publisher, I’ve sold fourteen Sam Jenkins novelettes (approximately 10,000 words each) that have been or will shortly be produced as audio books and simultaneously published as eBooks. I enjoy writing the shorter books.

Paul: Do you have any pieces of work that will never see the light of day? 
Wayne: Years ago, I started writing a novel about the Vietnam War. After a half-dozen chapters, I saw that the language was so off-color, I’d be embarrassed to have my aunt read it. I decided that to sanitize it would take away the authenticity I wanted, so, I scrapped the idea.

Paul: Do you enter competitions? Are there any you could recommend? 
Wayne: I’m not a competitive guy, but I did enter a couple contests at my publisher’s suggestion. And I’m glad I did. In 2011, A New Prospect was named Best Mystery at the Indie Book Awards. In 2012, it was selected as 1st Runner-up from all commercial fiction at the Eric Hoffer Book Awards. It also was nominated and became a finalist for A New Horizon Award and a Montaigne Medal in 2012.

Paul: How much marketing do you do for your published works or for your ‘brand’? 
Wayne: By necessity, I do something daily to keep my name fresh in people’s minds. Much of what I do — more than 50%, is to promote other authors. I hope those I help, will reciprocate. Unfortunately, I hate marketing, but I realize it’s a necessity. Writing is fun. Self-promotion is too much like work.

Paul: What’s your favorite / least favorite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Wayne: My favorite thing is seeing a finished product I’m happy with. Getting a hard copy in my hot little hands is just icing on the cake. See that, two clichés in only one sentence? Now that I no longer have to write traditional query letters, internet marketing is my least favorite. I’m surprised so many authors don’t like traditional “meet the public” book signings at brick and mortar bookshops. I have fun with those.

Paul: What do you do when you’re not writing? Do you have any hobbies or party tricks?
Wayne: Party tricks? Sure, people gather around and watch me make single-malt scotch disappear. Aside from that, my wife and I like to travel — we go everywhere. With travel, comes photography. I learned how to do it fairly well taking pictures of crime scenes and dead bodies. Compared to that, landscape and nature photography is a snap. Recently we’ve started fishing again. I hadn’t done that in more than thirty years.

Thanks, John for inviting me to spend some time on your blog. And thanks to everyone who’s stopped by and read my scribbling. Best to you all.

About Wayne Zurl: 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.

Wayne's Author Site: Wayne Zurl
Wayne on Twitter: @waynezurl
Wayne on Facebook: Wayne Zurl
Wayne's latest book: A Leprechaun's Lament (Amazon)

1 comment:

  1. Hello Paul,
    Thanks for inviting me to your blog and giving me a chance to meet your fans and folowers. All the best, WZ