Interview with Wayne Zurl

Welcome to an Interview with…


 Wayne Zurl     Author of   A NEW PROSPECT




In the age of the dinosaur I was born in Brooklyn, New York. Actually, most people called it the age of baby boomers. A few years after my arrival, the family moved to Long Island where I grew up and worked for forty-six years, interrupted only by a pesky thing called the Vietnam War.

            After separating from active duty with the Army, I remained in the reserves and muddled around looking for a career in the civilian world. In 1972 was appointed to the Suffolk County (New York) Police Department where I spent twenty years—thirteen of them as a section commander supervising investigators. 

            When I retired, my wife, Barbara and I and our only child, an aging Scottish terrier, left the land of the Big Apple for the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee. Today we’re still in the same house we built in 1992.


A brief synopsis.

Sam Jenkins never thought about being a fish out of water during the twenty years he spent solving crimes in New York. But things change, and after retiring to Tennessee, he gets that feeling. Jenkins becomes a cop again and is thrown headlong into a murder investigation and a steaming kettle of fish, down-home style. 

The victim, Cecil Lovejoy, couldn’t have deserved it more. His death was the inexorable result of years misspent and appears to be no great loss, except the prime suspect is Sam’s personal friend. 

Jenkins’ abilities are attacked when Lovejoy’s influential widow urges politicians to reassign the case to state investigators. 

Feeling like “a pork chop at a bar mitzvah” in his new workplace, Sam suspects something isn’t kosher when the family tries to force him out of the picture. 

In true Jenkins style, Sam turns common police practice on its ear to insure an innocent man doesn’t fall prey to an imperfect system and the guilty party receives appropriate justice. 

A NEW PROSPECT takes the reader through a New South resolutely clinging to its past and traditional way of keeping family business strictly within the family.  

What made you decide to write this book?
    I had been writing non-fiction magazine articles for ten years and convinced a few publishers to print twenty-six of them. My topics were Colonial American History and the fiction of James Fenimore Cooper. In 2006 I wanted to try fiction. After a little work on a novel about the Vietnam War–something that I never had my heart in, I thought I’d try a police mystery.
    After having worked as a cop for twenty years and relocating to Tennessee, it seemed logical to make my protagonist an ex-New York policeman who takes a job as a police chief in a small city in the Smoky Mountains. I could fulfil the author’s maxim of writing about what I know.
Where did the title come from?
    Originally I intended to call the book MURDER IN THE SMOKIES. but after seeing what was necessary in storyline to sell a straight forward murder mystery, something that title implied, I decided to change the name to A NEW PROSPECT which would have a double meaning. The story was more about the protagonist and the people he met along the way to a successful conclusion of a complicated and nasty murder than the case itself.
    To remain sane, a good cop usually doesn’t invest too much in a connection to his victims. Sometimes I say a cop doesn’t get any more involved with a victim than does a mason with a broken cement block. But that’s over simplified.
    I wanted to steer the reader to the people and their story worthy problems rather than the murder which is just a vehicle to bring the cast together.
    Sam Jenkins works in Prospect, Tennessee. In taking the job of chief, he gets a new prospect on his almost idle life of retirement. The residents and politicians of the city get a new Prospect after Sam takes over the helm of a police department recently rocked by a scandal. I know Sam can handle his new prospect. The jury is still out on whether the politicians can deal with the change Jenkins brings to their little world.
Do you always write in this genre?
So far I’ve been successful with a full-length police novel. I’ve also sold nine novelettes featuring the same characters and venue. Seven of them are out in audio book and eBook formats and two more are under contract for the near future. I had a short story about two uniformed cops in New York published and I wrote another short story for a contest I never entered because I went way over the word limit. It was a quirky time-travel thing which led me back to the old American west of 1896. That was a lot of fun to write and everyone who read it offered positive feedback.
What was your inspiration to write and when did you start?
    As I mentioned before, I began writing fiction in 2006. It took me until August of 2010 to hook a publisher on A NEW PROSPECT and receive a contract to traditionally publish it. While I was flogging that novel, for practice I wrote a few shorter novelettes intending to submit them to mainstream mystery magazines. Unfortunately because of the length, 8,000 to 11,000 words, they were virtually unsellable–too short for a novel and too long for a short story. Then, in 2009, I found a publisher of one hour ”commuter” audio books and we’ve been doing business ever since.
    The basic inspiration came from my desire to have a middle-aged ex-cop begin a new career and excel at being a detective and police administrator again, and solve the major crimes taking place in his jurisdiction. I often laugh at the notion of so many murders occurring in the basically quiet region where I live. Prospect seems to have a higher homicide rate per capita than Washington DC.
     When I was a young man I rebelled against the notion that one needed many years of experience before being considered competent in a particular job. When I retired, I’d be damned of I’d listen to some young whippersnapper insinuate that a dinosaur had outlived his (or her) usefulness as a cop.
What was your destination to publishing? i.e. are you self published.
    After the manuscript for A NEW PROSPECT was complete, I heard that the only way an author could get traditionally published was to find a New York agent to sell your book to a mainstream publishing house. After approximately one hundred rejections from agents–most of whom never read one page of my novel, I began querying publishers who would accept submissions directly from a writer. I promised myself I’d accept the first reasonable contract offered. That idea worked.
    Had I failed to hook a publisher willing to produce a hard copy, I would have pursued an ePublisher, a POD press, or a good self-publishing firm.
    Of course, I’m prejudiced, but I believed A NEW PROSPECT was a good story and Sam Jenkins had the makings of a proper hero for a series of books. I was thrilled to hear a couple of reviewers call Sam their new favorite character and over the moon when the book was named best mystery at the 2011 Indie Book Awards.
Do you have a website to share?
    I’d love to have everyone take a look at
Any links to the book/books
My Amazon author page:
For those with Nook readers, a Barnes & Noble link:
And for all audio book options and many eBook variations:
Please feel free to share an excerpt.
From Chapter one where Sam begins pursuing his career at Prospect PD:

Chapter One 

Few people believe me when I speak about my life altering experience at the checkout in Wal-Mart.

An elderly woman with a cart piled high with groceries scurried toward the express line before I could cut her off. Life is unfair. I only needed a roll of duct tape and a package of D cell batteries. She belonged at another register.

Once there, the old girl moved slower than a Galapagos tortoise. Even the cashier showed her impatience.

Before the woman finished writing a check, her milk began to curdle.

As I waited for her to unload a half ton payload onto the tiny counter, I noticed the headline on a copy of the Knoxville News-Sentinel lying on the newspaper rack. Prospect’s Top Cop Nabbed In Gun Sting.

As I read further, I learned Chief Albert J. “Buck” Webbster was arrested by agents of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for selling confiscated handguns in the parking lot of a Knoxville gun show.

Stupid bastard, I thought. Lose your job, your pension, and your reputation for a couple hundred dollars.

Finally, the old lady wheeled her cart of groceries toward the exit. A sergeant from McGhee-Tyson Air Base, wearing a crisp set of cammies, tapped my shoulder.

“Your turn, bud.” He pointed toward the register.

I folded the paper. “Thanks, I was just taking a nap.”

“I hear that,” he said.

I bought the paper and headed out to my truck. With the warm sun shining on the cab of my F-150, I continued reading about Webbster.

The long and detailed article outlined how the state cops played Buck like a hillbilly banjo. Twice they bought guns from him. After that, they executed an arrest warrant in his office at the Prospect Police Department. Embarrassing would be an understatement.

The old lady at Wal-Mart didn’t change my future. The newspaper did.

I used to know a lot about police work. The article started me thinking.

* * *

The mayor’s conference room in the Prospect municipal building measured about fifteen by twenty. Mayor Ronnie Shields and I sat together at one end of a long oval table in padded armchairs.

“We’re pleased someone with your experience would apply for a job with Prospect PD,” he said.

“And I appreciate you granting me an interview so quickly.”

“You understand, Sam,” he said, “do you mind if I call you Sam?” “Of course not.” The young-looking mayor wore a navy blue suit and impeccable white shirt.

“Good. Please call me Ronnie.”

I nodded and gave him a brotherly smile, wanting to pick a piece of lint off his right sleeve.

“As I was sayin’, we need ta fill the chief’s position real quick. Circumstances bein’ what they are, Buck Webbster has ta push his retirement through fast as the state kin process it.”

I nodded again, wondering how much the mayor’s suit cost. His striped tie must have topped seventy bucks. I learned from a friend at the county sheriff’s office about

Webbster getting saved by the good ol’ boy system. Thanks to friends in high places, the county DA waived prosecution with an understanding Buck would retire and leave the state. Not a bad deal when you weigh it against the idea of a convicted cop doing hard-time.

“If the council were to choose you as our new chief,” Ronnie said, “would starting next Monday pose a problem for ya?”

I discussed this new venture with my wife, Katherine, before I dropped off a resume and filled out an application a few days earlier. She thought getting back into the world after years of retirement would do me good.

“No, sir, I can start on Monday if necessary.”

The mayor nodded with a big grin. He noticed the lint on his sleeve, picked it off, and dropped it on the gray tweed carpet.

“There’s jest one thing, Sam,” he said. “The salary ya asked for is a bit more than we anticipated starting the new chief with. Is your price negotiable?”

Ronnie Shields seemed like a nice man. I decided to spare him my hard-ass act and negotiate honestly. Honestly, not stupidly. Whenever I try to sell something, I pad my asking price.

“I know Tennessee salaries are considerably lower than those in New York,” I said. “I based my request on my last year’s pay up there. That was fourteen years ago. Considering the responsibilities involved here and how you need to restore confidence in the department, I thought the figure seemed reasonable.

“Mr. Mayor,” I continued, “you need a competent man quickly. You only recruited locally to get someone for next Monday. And I know only one other man with supervisory experience applied, a patrol sergeant. The others were all deputies or police officers. I’ve run sections with annual budgets of around a million dollars, and you don’t have to worry about me getting arrested.”

He hung his head slightly and gently rocked back and forth.

“You’ve got me there, Sam. I guess you had went and done your homework.”

“I was a detective for a long time, getting information comes naturally.”

“I unnerstand,” he said. “You’ve got a fine record.” He tapped the copies of my application and the resume he held. “Between the Army and your former po-leece department, you got a whole bushel full o’ medals. Still, startin’ with eighty thousand dollars is a lot o’ money for li’l ol’ Prospect.”

“I understand, too. But that’s still less than some of the top brass at the sheriff’s office make.”

He gave me a hard stare and waited.

“Okay, Ronnie, let me make it a little easier on your budget. I’ll knock off ten thousand for two years if you buy me a new car.” “A new car?” “Webbster’s car is four years old. I’d need one soon anyway.”

“You shore did some homework.”

I smiled and tried to look humble. It wasn’t easy.

“Alright, Sam, I think the council may approve that. Are we still talkin’ about a five year contract?”

I nodded.

“Okay, I’ll call ya.” 

* * * 

Just back from taking Bitsey, our old Scottish terrier, for a walk, I stood in the living room watching two gray squirrels scampering around beneath our bird feeder, eating the sunflower seeds dislodged from above.

My wife left for the public library where she does volunteer work. I planned to spend the morning at home. Then the phone rang and the dog barked making sure I heard it.

Ronnie Shields spoke to me. “I’ve got good news for ya, Sam —and some bad news.”

Good news and bad news? You think I’m a fine guy, but you’re not going to hire me.

“You’ve got my attention, Ronnie. Give me the news—in any order.”

“Well, sir, the council accepted your conditions and they want to hire you. Now, that’s good, ain’t it?”

“It certainly is.” I think.

“The bad part is, we’ll need you to start Friday. I forgot we have a big event comin’ up this Saturday that requires a po-leece supervisor. Buck Webbster is officially off the payroll as of Thursday night. I’m sorry, Sam, but kin ya he’p us out here?”

I like smooth. Ronnie gave me bumps. But I agreed. I can be a schlep at times.

“Sure I can,” I said. “You want me there Friday morning?”

“How’s two o’clock? I’ve got a meetin’ with the finance and payroll people in the mornin’.”

“Two o’clock it is.”

“Jest one more thing, Sam.”


“Would ya mind stoppin’ here next Wednesday night after work? The council is havin’ a meetin’. They’d like ta say hello.”

I saw bumps. Then I got potholes. I only wanted a nine-to-five job. “Okay, what time?” I began to wonder if taking on a new career at my age made any sense. I’d hate to admit being wrong. I thought about that egotistical guy who said, “I thought I’d been wrong once, but I was mistaken.”


9 responses to “Interview with Wayne Zurl

  1. jennymilch

    I love your new world strategy to getting published. It’s inspiring and practical both, and I am using your example in publishing workshops I teach. I can attest from the excerpts I read that A NEW PROSPECT is also high on Pile to read…Best of luck to you with everything.

  2. An interview well done on both parts. I was thoroughly intrigued by your publishing approach and have tucked that information away in a safe place for future reference. I admire your “realness” and your ability when it comes to the craft of writing. May you always continue to find success.

  3. Thank you, Ms. Sharp, for reading and resurrecting this old interview. And thanks to Lord David for not sweeping it under the rug after 2 1/2 years.

  4. You do such great interviews…such a boost to writers. I love a good mystery/crime novel, I’ll check it out after the A2Z. You’ve not got me fooled, you’re not a brother Grimm at all, your a real sweetie…I’ll keep it to myself.

  5. Thank you Maggie, I hope the authors agree. I’ve been lucky enough to get some great interviews out of it myself for my books.
    Shhh, don’t tell anyone my secret, I’ve got a reputation to uphold.
    xxx Mega Hugs xxx

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