I’m thrilled to share my interview with author Wayne Zurl. His Sam Jenkins mystery series is not to be missed. Today, he is promoting “A Bleak Prospect: A Sam Jenkins Mystery” and offering a free copy of the first book in the series, “A New Prospect”.
What was the inspiration behind your latest release?
I was a cop in New York for twenty years. After I retired, a serial killer showed up leaving bodies all along the south shore of Long Island. These cases have never been solved. I contacted my former partner, other retired detectives and supervisors and kicked around a theory I had with those people who still lived on Long Island or had close ties with more PD personnel than I. With this information in hand, I formulated a fictionalized story that, in essence, presents my solution to clear the multiple murders. I’m very pleased that I finished my manuscript, had it copyrighted and under contract with my publisher six months prior to an attorney, representing one of the victim’s families, and his investigator voiced a similar theory.
Where do you get your ideas?
As I mentioned before, I was a police officer for twenty years. In that much time all cops come away with a trove of “war stories” any mystery fan might like to hear. I began writing using cases I investigated, supervised or just knew a lot about as starting points for a piece of fiction. More recently, I’ve taken interesting cases that are still unsolved and added my own ideas and some of the more important elements of good fiction to make a novel. I’m borrowing an idea from TV’s Law & Order here: Sort of a “ripped from the headlines” piece of fiction.
Do ideas for plot or characters appear first?
A simple answer is the plot, but in many cases the characters go hand in hand, because the book is based on an actual incident. But, sometimes I cheat and toss in a few extra characters that had nothing to do with the real life incident because they add valuable elements to the story. Let’s be honest. Real police work is not always a thrill a minute. Most people would not want to read a strictly factual report on a routine or even complicated police investigation. Everything sounds better when you add some glitz, a little extra tension and maybe that bit of conflict most readers love.
Have you ever travelled when researching information for a book?
I never do much research for my stuff, because I had firsthand knowledge of much of the police angles. When I need information on up to date forensics, the ever-changing scientific aspect of police work, I speak to a friend who is a local crime scene investigator. I’ve also tapped into my former partner’s memory for details on old cases and for things he worked on after I retired. They provide me with almost priceless vignettes that really add to a story. So, I guess I’m more of a “virtual” traveller using a telephone or email.
When did you begin writing?
When I retired, I took a volunteer job at one of the Tennessee state parks where, among other things, I wrote publicity for their living history programs. One thing led to another and I ended up selling twenty-six non-fiction magazine articles. But after ten years I began feeling a bit burned out and could think of nothing new and thrilling to say about the 18th century French and Indian War in the south. Then, in 2006 I read Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone novel NIGHT PASSAGE. The premise was that Stone, a former LAPD detective, took a job as police chief in a small Massachusetts town. I loved the book and began thinking. Why couldn’t I create a retired NY detective who becomes a chief in a small Tennessee town? I could cover the old author’s maxim of ‘Write what you know.”—police investigations and the Smoky Mountain region of East Tennessee where I now live. Easy, huh? Then I learned the differences in selling magazine pieces and getting novels traditionally published. Was I surprised.
What has been your biggest challenge?
That’s easy. The writing was fun, the post-publication marketing was too much like work. And in today’s market my old-fashioned ideas on how to peddle something made me look like a used dinosaur salesman. I had to learn the whole new world of doing things the 21st century Internet way. I spent a lot of money arranging “virtual book tours” and other promotions before I found a fairly simple (it seems that way now, anyway) method of getting my books out there and building a base of faithful fans for Sam Jenkins and the girls and boys of Prospect PD.
What does literary success mean to you?
I’m never going to sell millions of books like one of the best selling writers represented by one of the big 5 publishers, so I settle for thousands.
Royalty checks are nice. I kid around by saying, “I make so much money writing books that I can now afford to take my wife to a Chinese buffet once a month.” That is, of course, just silly. I make enough to go twice a month. But the things that really spell success to me are favourable and intelligent reviews written by people who appreciate reading about AUTHENTIC police work presented in a REALISTIC manner. I refuse to write one of the “police fantasies” that are circulating out there, and love to hear from readers who like my stories and the recurring cast of characters. I truly thank them for taking their time and telling the folks at Amazon or Goodreads or wherever how much they liked one of my books.
What writing tips or marketing advice would you like to share?
The best practical advice I can offer a new writer isn’t my original thought. I learned this reading an interview with Robert B. Parker. When asked why his books were so popular, Parker gave a simple answer, ‘Because they sound good.’ Most of my novelettes were written for audio books and had to sound good when read by an actor. So, I knew exactly what Bob Parker meant.
Here’s my recommendation on how to produce a world-class piece of work. When you think your story, novelette, novella, novel, or epic is finished, when you truly believe you’ve found and corrected all the typos and nits and it’s ready to sell, go back and read it aloud to yourself. Pretend you’re the star of your own audio book. Read it slowly and professionally as an actor would. Then, ask yourself, does it sound good? Do all the paragraphs smoothly transcend to the next? Does each sentence contain the right number of syllables? Does each word flow into the next without conflict? Does it have a pleasing rhythm? Basically, does it sing to you? For a guy who doesn’t dance very well, I have a great need for rhythm in my writing. If you notice any “bumps,” go back and rewrite it. Smooth everything out. If something bothers you now, it will annoy the hell out of you in the future and someone else will probably notice it, too.
With that accomplished, you’re finished, right? No. Now you’re ready to hand it off to a freelance editor or proof-reader—whomever you can afford if you’re self-publishing, or to the editor assigned to you by your traditional publishing house. A second pair of eyes is essential for ANY writer.
Which authors inspire you?
For books in the genre I write in, I read people like James Lee Burke, Robert B. Parker, Michael Connelly, John Sandford, Robert Crais, and that “other guy” from Long Island who writes about cops: Nelson DeMille. For historic fiction, I love just about anything from Bernard Cornwell. I try to learn elements of good writing from them. Each one seems to have a special and unique quality.
What project are you currently working on?
I’m about 35,000 words into a novel about the suspicious death of a doctor who died by a gunshot wound to the head. It was originally called an accident, but I think that was just sloppy police work. Suicide—which would negate any life insurance payoff—or murder? That last one would again open up a can of worms for Sam Jenkins.
Upcoming books, events, appearances, giveaways:
I’ve convinced my publisher to adapt a marketing scheme inspired by the successful drug dealers of the world. We give you a free taste of something, get you hooked and then you’re on your own to feed your habit. So, the first book in the series of Sam Jenkins mysteries, A NEW PROSPECT, is always free from any of the usual booksellers. Links to all my author pages are shown below, but the easiest way is to visit http://www.melange-books.com/authors/waynezurl/newprospect.html where direct links are all shown in one spot.
Book Blurb: A Bleak Prospect
A serial killer dubbed The Riverside Strangler by the Knoxville press corps has murdered eight Internet prostitutes in East Tennessee, the most recent found floating in Prospect’s Crystal Creek.
Chief Sam Jenkins joins a task force led by the county’s chief deputy, Ryan Leary, a cop known for his flamboyant police work and questionable methods.
When investigators hit a stone wall in the case, the killer strikes again—or was it a copycat? The type of victim and location follow the Strangler’s pattern, but some details are significantly different.
During the investigation, Leary is charged in a bizarre and seemingly unrelated case of police brutality and relieved of duty. Sam is faced with assuming command of the task force or turning over responsibility to the FBI.
The outcome of the case and subsequent actions taken by the Prospect City Council affect everyone at Sam’s police department and suggest that life there will never be the same.
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 has had nine Sam Jenkins novels traditionally published. Twenty-eight of his Sam Jenkins novella or novelette mysteries have been published individually as eBooks and many produced as audio books. Five anthologies are currently available, putting all of these stories in print or as collections in all the usual eBook formats.
He has won Eric Hoffer and Indie Book Awards, and was named a finalist for a Montaigne Medal and First Horizon Book Award. He is a regular member of the International Thriller Writer’s Organization.
For more information on Wayne’s Sam Jenkins mystery series see www.waynezurlbooks.net. You can read excerpts, reviews and endorsements, interviews, coming events, and see photos of the area where the stories take place.
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B&N author page: http://barnesandnoble.com/s/wayne-zurl
Melange Books, LLC author’s link: http://www.melange-books.com/authors/waynezurl/index.html
Lulu author page: (for hardcopies) https://www.lulu.com/shop/search.ep?keyWords=Wayne+Zurl&typ=
Kobo author page: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/search?query=Wayne+Zurl