Monday, March 26, 2012

Meet Wayne Zurl, Author of the Sam Jenkins Mysteries

Today I’m welcoming Wayne Zurl, but first who is he?

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.

Thirteen (13) of his Sam Jenkins mysteries have been produced as audio books and simultaneously published as eBooks. His first full-length novel, A NEW PROSPECT, was named best mystery at the 2011 Indie Book Awards, is currently a finalist in the 2012 Eric Hoffer Book Awards and was nominated for a Montaigne Medal. A new novel, A LEPRECHAUN’S LAMENT, debuts on St. Patrick’s Day, 2012 in hardcover with eBooks coming soon.

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.

Could you tell me something about your books?
They all feature Sam Jenkins, a retired New York detective who finds a second career as police chief in the small East Tennessee city of Prospect. I market these novels and novelettes as mysteries, but they’re really more about people than crimes. Each gets their share of police procedural elements and oodles of technically correct details, but all the storyworthy (is that a word?) problems and nuances go back to people.

A burglary is just a burglary. In New York the simple definition of that felony is, “To unlawfully enter or remain in a building to commit a crime therein.” Rather cut and dry. What makes a burglary interesting is (either or both) the victim or the burglar. And it’s fun to put quirky characters on paper.

Cops are in the people business and so are my books. The subjects and suspects Sam Jenkins encounters stick in his mind—in some cases forever. In these stories he doesn’t only investigate and solve the crimes that come across his desk at Prospect PD, but like it or not, they affect him. He doesn’t lapse into bouts of brooding over a particularly brutal murder of a likable person, but he may only get three hours sleep the night after an event like that. Sam says, “A cop cares as much about a victim as a mason cares about a broken cement block.” He has to. All cops have to or they would shop for straight jackets rather than suits with two pair of pants. But watch their behavior. What do they dream? How much do they drink? You’ll learn a lot about my protagonist that way. It’s all people business between those pages.

You have published a lot of books. What inspires them? What is the secret to being able to write so much?

These two questions should be handled together because the answer is simple and interconnected. The inspiration and prolific crop of stories come from memory. I really can’t say what sparks an inspiration, but sometimes at 2 a.m. or when I’m doing 70 MPH on an Interstate, an idea pops out of the past that I think it will translate well to paper. You don’t work at a busy police department for twenty years without amassing a trove of war stories. Occasionally cops sit around and say, “Hey, that one would make a good Movie of the Week.” Or, “Man, that was real TV stuff.”
I worked a case back in the late ‘70s they talked about making into a movie. I wanted Burt Reynolds to play me. Unfortunately Hollywood never followed through.

My point is, my stories come from experience rather than imagination. Each book’s frontispiece gives the copyright date and says, “The incident and characters in this book are fictional. Any similarity to actual events or people living or dead is purely coincidental.” In my case, that’s fiction. I change the names to protect the guilty and keep me out of civil court. I fictionalize and embellish everything because publishers, editors, and readers demand certain criterion to make a story interesting or even thrilling. In reality someone may have shot at me, but that would be boring—a “so what?” moment—unless I jazzed it up before and after the event to make it worth reading.

Do you ever suffer from writer's block?

My bouts with writer’s block come when those necessary embellishments don’t appear in my mind naturally after the recollection of an actual incident does. I may remember a case where husband shoots wife. The reason: He no longer liked her, much less loved her. Another “so what?” moment. But let’s toss in his being a TV writer and her a soap opera star. I worked just outside NY City where major networks created much of the entertainment watched by the rest of the country. Crimes involving celebrities happened all the time. It’s now my job to dream up something to make this fairly boring incident fascinating. Sometimes it’s not easy. Then I ask my wife.

What are you working on at the moment?

I just finished submitting a novelette about Romani con artists that involves a murder. I called it GYPSIES, TRAMPS & THIEVES. Now I can go back and continue to edit and spruce up another full-length novel called GROUND HOG’S DAY. It’s about Sam Jenkins guarding a country & western star who comes home to Prospect and receives death threats based on her alternative lifestyle.

What are you currently reading?

I just finished VINEYARD DECEIT by Philip R. Craig and started ELEVEN ON TOP by Janet Evanovich. I’ve read other books by Craig and like them. This is my first Evanovich / Stephanie Plum novel. A friend gave me a copy, so I’m going to see how I like a chick-lit mystery.

What do you like to do in your free time?

Free time? What’s that? I do so much post-publication promotion and marketing every spare minute is at a premium. But my wife and I like to travel, and we don’t do the traditional stuff. If we take a cruise, it’s not on a big “love boat,” it’s on a small craft along Alaska’s Inside Passage or the European rivers. We don’t lie on the beach. We like to get into the middle of a buffalo herd. With travel comes scenic and nature photography.

Do you have advice for other authors?

Whether you’re traditionally or self-published, find someone who can advise you how to best use the electronic media to promote your book. You can write the next great American novel, but if no one knows you, it won’t sell. Don’t get eclipsed by people who write tripe, but know the ins and outs of Twitter. Market your book intelligently. I hope I’m learning.

To those in the process of writing or selling their first novel: NEVER GIVE UP. Query those agents. If you run out of possibilities there, write to any publisher who will accept submissions directly from an author. This route worked for me. If you want to go it alone, learn everything about ePublishing and/or self-publishing you can.

If you have a good story to tell, there are people who will want to read it. But if you self-publish, find an editor. Everyone needs an editor. Two heads are not only better than one, they’re essential.

Do you have any parting comments?

Sure. Walk softly but carry a big stick. Don’t tell the world you’re the greatest thing since 3-D and the Hula Hoop. Talk is cheap. Like any good writer—show don’t tell. Show them your stuff is special.

Thanks, Katheryn, for allowing me to meet and chat with your fans.

You’re welcome! Where can readers buy your books and find out more about you?

People can learn more about me, Sam Jenkins, and all our imaginary friends from Prospect, Tennessee at
They can buy print copies, eBooks and audio books of Sam’s adventures from:


Barnes & Noble:

And all the usual dot-com sellers.


Thank you so much Wayne for taking the time to be here today!


  1. Great interview. I love cops. Well, except when they give me tickets. Unless, of course, they're to the Policeman's Ball. But that never happens. Maybe there is no Policeman's Ball. I dunno and I digress.

    My favorite quote from the interview:

    "It’s now my job to dream up something to make this fairly boring incident fascinating. Sometimes it’s not easy. Then I ask my wife."

    1. Hi Gary,

      Thanks for stopping by. Glad you like the interview!

  2. Wonderful post, Wayne! I really enjoy learning more about you and your books.