I want to welcome Wayne Zurl. First, I’d love you to introduce yourself.
Hi, folks. My name is Wayne Zurl. I 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, I served as a section commander supervising investigators. I graduated from SUNY, Empire State College and served on active duty in the US Army during the Vietnam War and later in the reserves. I left New York to live in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee with my wife, Barbara.
Twenty-seven (27) of my Sam Jenkins novelette mysteries have been published as eBooks and many produced as audio books.
My full-length novels are: A New Prospect, A Leprechaun’s Lament, Heroes & Lovers, Pigeon River Blues, and most recently, A Touch of Morning Calm.
A new novel, A Can of Worms, is scheduled for release late in 2016. Another, Honor Among Thieves, is on tap for 2017.
I’ve won Eric Hoffer and Indie Book Awards, and was named a finalist for a Montaigne Medal and First Horizon Book Award.
For more information on my 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.
Tell us about your latest release.
A Touch of Morning Calm hit the sales shelves on July 12, 2016. The quick description is: Sam Jenkins vs Korean organized crime, but that’s too simplistic. With four murders in sleepy little Prospect, Tennessee, complexities jump over the moon. Here’s what appears on the book jacket:
Chief Sam Jenkins runs headlong into Tennessee’s faction of Korean organized crime when a mobster tries to shake down two former call girls attempting to establish a legitimate business. Soon, bodies begin piling up—all with a Korean connection—in Sam’s town of Prospect and nearby Knoxville.
Sorting truth from fiction calls for more than Sam and his officers can handle, so he turns to the women in his life for assistance. His wife, Kate, Sergeant Bettye Lambert and TV news anchor, Rachel Williamson contribute significantly in clearing the convoluted homicides.
Now I have a few questions for you – I have found readers do like to know fun things about us writers.
1.) Who is your favorite villain – it can be from a book (even one of yours), movie or TV show. And why?
Jolie Blon’s Bounce is one of James Lee Burke’s best books. James Lee Burke is one of my favorite writers, and the antagonist of the book, the despicable Legion Guidry, might qualify as the nastiest villain in literature. Burke writes descriptions like few authors can. He tells us that Legion is in his mid-seventies, but looks twenty years younger and is as lean and fit as an athletic forty-year-old. Guidry, a former plantation overseer, causes Burke’s hero, Cajun Detective Dave Robicheaux, major problems and even gives the veteran cop a good beating. But Legion isn’t just physically daunting. He’s also a master of psychological warfare—not only causing physical damage, but more than capable of inflicting mental anguish to his victims. Three quarters of the way through the book, you wonder if Satan isn’t walking the turf of south Louisiana.
2.) Who is your favorite character out of your books? Why?
I can’t name Sam Jenkins, the main character in all my books and stories because too many people say Sam is a lot like me. He and I share many similarities, one of them being an inflated ego, but even I couldn’t go that far. So, I unequivocally say that Sergeant Bettye Lambert is my favorite. She’s a composite of a few people I knew or worked with. Bettye was never destined to be as important as she has become, but she seems to hold a lot of influence over me and throughout all the stories, she’s taken on a very strong second fiddle role. She’s actually more than that. Bettye is not only Sam’s administrative officer and occasional partner on the road, but she’s almost his “handler.” She’s more politically correct than Sam. He’s often impatient. She provides a soothing quality—She’s half workplace spouse and half psychotherapist. Any boss would be happy to have a few Bettyes on his team.
3.) What do genre do you write? What made you pick that one?
I’ve had seven novels and twenty-seven novelettes published—all in the mystery / police procedural genre. I worked as a cop in New York for twenty years. Any officer from a crowded, busy area leaves the job with a great many “war stories” under his hat. When I decided to write fiction, I thought of the old author’s maxim: Write what you know. I took a retired New York detective and made him a police chief in rural east Tennessee, where I now live. I’ve covered my bases. I know criminal investigations and the Smoky Mountain region.
4.) What are you working on now?
I’m about thirty-five thousand words into a novel I call A Bleak Prospect. It centers on the search for a serial killer the press calls The Riverside Strangler. When the investigation is complete, many lives will be drastically changed—for good guys and bad guys.
5.) What got you to start writing?
I started writing non-fiction that coincided with a volunteer job I took at a Tennessee state park shortly after we retired from New York. My basic responsibility was to write publicity for the park’s living history program. That blossomed into twenty-six magazine articles about colonial American history and then a spot with a magazine where I had a semi-regular column on the fiction of James Fenimore Cooper. After ten years of that, I just couldn’t dream up anything new and exciting to say about the 18th century French and Indian War. So, I handed the torch to someone else. But, I needed a creative outlet and stacking manuscripts in a closet made more sense than finding a place to store oil paintings or model airplanes. I decided to try my hand at fiction.
6.) Where do you get your ideas from?
I tell everyone that I have a better memory than an imagination. Remember what I said about tucking away twenty years of cop stories? Most of what I write is based on one or more cases I investigated, supervised, or just knew a lot about. I embellish them, because contrary to what Hollywood might lead us to believe, police work isn’t always a thrill a minute. I fictionalize them with a little of the added conflict and tension readers like so much, and to paraphrase Jack Webb’s weekly disclaimer on “Dragnet,” I change the names to protect the guilty—and to keep me out of civil court.
7.) What would people who read your work be surprised to find out about you?
Many years ago, while working as a uniformed cop, minding my own business, looking for criminals, I ended up delivering three babies, one at a time, on separate occasions…and five cats, all at once.
8.) Do you have any special talents?
Besides writing the best cop fiction since Joe Wambaugh and being terribly modest, I believe I was born with the ability to be a very good shooter. In the Army, I qualified with more weapons than most people have ever seen, and I won two Olympic gold medals for police combat shooting.
9.) What was the one piece of advice you received when you were an aspiring author that has stuck with you? Why?
I met veteran, award winning author Richard Peck when he dedicated the young adult wing of our county library. I had just about finished my first novel, A New Prospect, and was attempting to peddle it to agents. Not having the best of luck getting representation, I was feeling the pangs of rejection. A mutual friend, a retired New York librarian, told Peck about my book, which she had read. After a friendly pep talk, Richard told me, “In publishing, you don’t have to be good, you have to be marketable.” That advice made me feel better and has kept me from taking the business too seriously.
10.) If you could talk to any famous figure (present, past or fictional) who would it be and what would you talk about?
George MacDonald Fraser wrote a series of historical fiction subtitled The Flashman Papers. Each book told of the adventures of Harry Flashman, from his days as a young British Army officer in the First Afghan War of 1839 through the early 20th Century when, as a retired brigadier, Sir Harry was still getting into mischief all over the world. Fraser describes Flashman as a bully, poltroon, braggart and insatiable lecher. All those good qualities aside, Old Flashy had an uncanny ability of running across all the famous personalities in the world, from George Armstrong Custer to the Emperor Franz Joseph…and possibly having an affair with their wives. He had been captured by enemies often enough to qualify for frequent hostage points, but like a feral cat, Flashman always landed on his feet and came out of the stickiest situations smelling like a French bimbo. I think he could entertain me for years. He’d talk, I’d listen.
11.) What song would you say describes your life?
Just using the title and not taking the lyrics literally, I’d say The Beach Boys’ old song, “I Get Around.” I’ve travelled to a lot of exotic places and have no intention of stopping. I mentioned my career as a cop, but I also spent more than my share of time as a full-time and reserve soldier. I’ve seen and done a few interesting things and met lots of interesting people.
12.) If you could come back as any animal – what would it be?
Since this would be in a new and different life where I’d be starting things from scratch, I’d like to be a Scottish terrier. We had one for seventeen years. She was my best friend—someone I considered one of the most loyal and toughest individuals I’d ever met—a great role model. And in public places, she attracted more good-looking women than a hundred credit cards towed behind a brand new Corvette.
Long before there was much ado about the division of North and South Korea at the 38th parallel, that land was known to the rest of the world as Koryeo.
In those ancient days, a dynasty existed in Koryeo called Chosun. To those people, the loose English translation of Koryeo meant The Land of Morning Calm.
If you’ve ever been to the Korean countryside, you know the phrase is appropriate. The same can be said for the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee.
But not all the time.
For the last two years, I’ve spent nearly one third of my life with Sergeant Bettye Lambert, my administrative officer and occasional partner. We get along famously—most of the time.
At my age, you’d expect I’d know how to deal with women, but experience shows I’m not as smart as I think. If I inherited the ability to handle the opposite sex efficiently, I would have taken a different job—like a hairdresser. But apparently in that area I’m hopeless. So I remain a cop.
The main telephone rang on Bettye’s desk. If the caller wanted me, she would buzz my phone and forward the call. Nothing happened. Moments later, she stood in my office doorway, looking a little miffed.
I could always tell when things weren’t going her way. She cocked her left hip to the side and rested a hand there. I thought she looked attractive. With her right hand, she leaned on the doorjamb and scowled at me.
At least she isn’t holding a gun.
“It’s your friend—that cheap blonde,” she said.
Bettye shook her head, and her blonde ponytail swung back and forth. “You know who.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t. Who are you talking about?”
“Well, you seemed to get along with her just fine. It was me she didn’t like.”
“Huh?” I remained in the dark.
“You damn well know who I’m talkin’ about, Sam Jenkins. That blonde we met on the Cecil Lovejoy case—that one from Chicago.”
“Ah-ha.” A light in my brain switched on.
“Yes, ah-ha. Now pick up your damn phone.”
Bettye gets away with saying things like that because we both know how important she is to my little police department. And hearing a note of jealousy in her voice boosts my ego.
“You’re beautiful when you’re angry,” I said. “Just why are you angry?”
“Lord have mercy, you’re pathetic.”
I tried a smile. “That may be true, but you’re still hopelessly in love with me.”
“Not after today, darlin’. I said answer the phone. That one’s waitin’ for ya.” She turned and walked away.
Sergeant Lambert made reference to a woman named Veronica Keeble. Two years ago, after a local man, one Cecil Lovejoy, was murdered in Prospect, Bettye and I interviewed Mrs. Keeble. Sort of a suspect at the time, Veronica was thirty-five-years-old, blonde and absolutely gorgeous. Did I mention she was an ex-hooker?
I answered my phone, curious to learn what ‘that one’ had to say.
“Hello, this is Chief Jenkins.”
“Well, hello there. It’s been a long time.” She sounded friendly.
“Yes, it sure has. How are you?”
“I’m fine, thanks. Were you the police chief when we first met, or have you been promoted from detective?”
I remembered the time I interviewed her. On a warm July day, we walked down the street where she lived, and I listened to the intimate details of her earlier life.
“Yeah, I was the chief back then. We only have thirteen cops here, so I get to play detective at times. I’d have to sweep the floors, too, if the mayor caught me not looking busy.”
She laughed briefly, something a little husky and a whole lot sexy. “I see. You must have a tough boss.”
I thought about Bettye. “Sometimes I wonder who the boss is around here. What can I do for you, Mrs. Keeble?”
“The last time we spoke, I thought we agreed on Sam and Roni.” Her voice sounded soft and inviting.
Another memory—before we parted company, she asked my first name, shook my hand and left me gazing into the most incredibly blue eyes on the planet.
“We did. Okay, Roni, how can I help you?” I wondered what I might be getting into.
“Did you ever find out who killed that awful man?”
“That’s a long story—sort of.”
She called me to learn the outcome of a two-year-old case?
“You’ll have to tell me some time.”
“Sure, but first tell me why you called. I want to know if I should be flattered because you remember me or act totally professional.”
“Wow, how do I answer that?”
“Try the direct approach. Remember, I’m a civil servant. You pay my salary. I, madam, am at your disposal.”
She used that soft and inviting sound again. “That opens up all kinds of possibilities.”
The woman really had a way with words. I thought I’d play along. I wasn’t busy.
“But,” she said, “I guess I should tell you why I called before I forget.”
“Yes, ma’am. It’s your dime.”
“Well, I have a friend who just opened a business in Prospect. I think she may need police assistance.”
“Really? Why didn’t she call?”
“I told her you and I had already met. I know it’s been a while, but I still remember how nice you were. You listened to my story, and you weren’t judgmental like someone else might have been. I thought you were okay for a cop. I told her I’d call and see if you would help her.”
“Okay for a cop, but not so hot for a plumber or delivery man?”
“Oh, stop, you’re just looking for compliments.”
“Maybe. I could be suffering from self-esteem problems.” I allowed a few seconds for her to enjoy my self-deprecating humor. “If she’s in some kind of trouble and it’s a police matter, of course I’ll help. But I’m sure you understand I have to hear her story first.”
“I knew you’d do it.”
Roni Keeble didn’t say, ‘Yipee,’ but I could envision her smiling. I still have a good memory. Did I mention the girl was gorgeous?
“Will you have lunch with us? I’ll introduce you, and Sunny will explain everything.”
“Having lunch with a complainant and her friend isn’t the usual way a policeman starts an investigation.”
“Lunch would be nice though, wouldn’t it?”
This is how a cop gets into trouble.
Author website: http://www.waynezurlbooks.net
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