Welcome to the two hundred and third of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with crime novelist Wayne Zurl. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Wayne. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Wayne: Shortly after World War Two, I was born in Brooklyn, New York. Although I never wanted to leave a community with such an efficient streetcar system, I had little to say in my parents’ decision to pick up and move to Long Island where I grew up. Like most American males of the baby-boomer generation, I spent my adolescence wanting to be a cowboy, soldier, or policeman. All that was, of course, based on movies and later television. The Vietnam War accounted for my time as a soldier. After returning to the US and separating from active duty, the New York State Employment Service told me I possessed no marketable civilian skills. So, I became a cop. That was as close to military life as I could find. Now that I’m retired from the police service, I still like the cowboy idea, but have interrupted that aspiration with an attempt at being a mystery writer. Years ago I left New York, land of the Big Apple, to live in the picturesque foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains of east Tennessee with my wife, Barbara.
Morgen: And you can certainly write about what you know. So you generally write mysteries, have you considered other genres? Perhaps a western?
Wayne: I wrote one quasi sci-fi short story about time travel for a contest I never entered because I drastically exceeded the word limit. Other than that, I exclusively write police mysteries. But I think I could pull off a western.
Morgen: Ah yay. Or should I say “yee har”. OK, maybe not. What have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Wayne: My first full-length novel, A NEW PROSPECT, debuted in print January 20, 2011. I also have ten other Sam Jenkins mystery novelettes available in audio book and eBook formats. I first saw A NEW PROSPECT in a local Hastings Entertainment bookshop in the “books of local interest” section. I had mixed emotions. Should I be shelved in the mystery section along with the big guys or in with local interest because the story takes place in the Smoky Mountains? I guess the book manager knew his business. I’ve sold quite a few books there.
Morgen: I’d have said in the mystery but I guess he knew what he was doing. Our local bookshops (a Waterstone’s) has very little in the local section, fiction certainly, so I write about this area in the hope… actually I write about it because I know it but I do have that at the back of my mind. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Wayne: The first time someone asked me, what’s my brand, I thought about cattle.
Morgen: Yes, I’d say you could write a western.
Wayne: I’m sadly lacking in modern electronic media marketing lingo. I push my stories as the Sam Jenkins Smoky Mountain mysteries. That names my protagonist and anchors him in a very beautiful and popular locale. I spend hours each day devoted to marketing.
Morgen: That’s a lot but I guess it’s becoming a way of life these days, and I have to say it’s great chatting to readers and writers online. Well, I don’t have to but it is. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Wayne: A NEW PROSPECT was named Best Mystery at the 2011 Indie Book Awards by the Independent Publishing Professionals Group. Three of my novelettes have made it to the publisher’s bestseller list.
Morgen: Well done. Do you write under a pseudonym? If so why and do you think it makes a difference?
Wayne: Pseudonym? Would anyone choose Wayne Zurl as a name if they had another option?
Morgen: It’s very memorable.
Wayne: I suppose there’s a valid marketing reason for some people to alter their names. They write in two genres, perhaps. And for sexist reasons, I know two female authors who use a unisex approach suggested by the publishers—first and middle initials only. One writes naval thrillers and the other blood and guts sci-fi. The PR people think the genres would sell better if readers didn’t initially know they were females. I don’t think that’s right, but they seem to be able to live with it and this isn’t a perfect world.
Morgen: Morgen’s useful because I can write light and dark – I have been called ‘Mr’ before despite my caricature being plastered everywhere. Mostly I get called Morgan (with an ‘a’) because it’s the more usual spelling. Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process?
Wayne: All my books are available in various eBook formats. They account for a fair amount of sales and the royalties are higher. I’ve read that more than 30% of Amazon’s book sales are Kindle books. The times, they are a-changin’.
Morgen: As Bob once said. Yes, you definitely need to write a western. Apparently eBooks have taken over hardbacks which I guess is not surprising given the cost of hardbacks and that they’re heavy to carry around (heavier than an eReader in most cases). Do you read eBooks?
Wayne: I still like a traditional book, but someday may buy an eReader.
Morgen: I have one but it gathers dust. I read paperbacks at home and have the eReader for travelling but I rarely go anywhere and if I do, I tend to take my laptop (which isn’t much heavier) but it’s there and I think I’ll make more use of it. What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Wayne: While I was in the process of flogging A NEW PROSPECT, I sold a novelette called A LABOR DAY MURDER to the publisher who handles all my audio books. I was thrilled then and still get excited when something I created is validated by someone else. Making money for my efforts is okay, too.
Morgen: It certainly is. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Wayne: When I began the publishing process, I queried over 100 agents—a dozen or so per mailing. No one was interested, and more than 90% of them rejected me without reading one page of my book. And I had enlisted professional help to construct a good query letter. Those rejections had me wondering and caused me to start using extra deodorant. After that, I wrote to any publisher willing to accept submissions directly from a writer. I received more rejections, but eventually found a contract in the mail. No one likes rejection, and I’m no exception. I could easily harbour homicidal urges.
Morgen: But I guess after so many rejections it made the acceptance even more rewarding. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Wayne: I’ve just sold two novelettes (numbers 9 and 10 in the Sam Jenkins series—THE GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAIN BANK JOB and FATE OF A FLOOZY) that are going to be produced as audio books and simultaneously published as eBooks. These projects are moving along nicely. My second full-length novel, A LEPRECHAUN’S LAMENT has just passed the second round edits with flying colours and is ready for formatting. The cover art is finished and the promotional video is being worked on as I’m writing this. The target release date is early 2012. For obvious reasons, I’d like to see St. Patrick’s Day as the debut. I just signed contracts to create two hard copy anthologies from ten novelettes. SMOKY MOUNTAIN MYSTERIES is slated for 2012 and MORE SMOKY MOUNTAIN MYSTERIES for 2013. And I’m almost finished with my final edits for another Sam Jenkins novel, HEROES & LOVERS, and will be able to send it to the publisher when he’s ready.
Morgen: My goodness, you don’t hang around. It sounds like you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Wayne: The post-publication promotions take up a lot of my time, so I don’t get to write as much as I’d like, certainly not every day. In a word count, I can’t say what’s the biggest day I’ve ever had, but once the ideas just kept coming and I didn’t stop for nine hours. Well, after six or so, I did stop to mix a drink, but at my age if I don’t get my thoughts down on paper quickly, I might forget what I wanted to say.
Morgen: At any age Wayne, I have notepads all over the place. I’ve lost some brilliant ideas in the past; of course I can’t prove they’re brilliant because I can’t remember what they were. A question some authors dread, where do you get your inspiration from?
Wayne: Most often, inspiration comes out of the blue. I might be doing 70 on an interstate highway or wake up at 3 a.m. with an idea. Almost all my stories are based on real incidents that I worked on, supervised, or just knew a lot about. I freely admit to a better memory than imagination. But I fictionalize and embellish everything and transplant these stories from their origins in New York to Tennessee where my protagonist picks up the ball. I’d need a direct line to Dial-A-Shrink to learn what triggers certain memories.
Morgen: I think we’d all need to. It’s the joy of being a writer. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Wayne: Making outlines is too much like work. I get an idea, fetch a pen and pad, and go with it.
Morgen: Most of my interviewees do (it’s my favourite aspect). Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Wayne: I personally know each of my characters. They’re probably not the person named in the book, but rather people cast as the fictional character. Knowing how people act and speak helps me write dialogue and give everyone a unique voice. I use a highly scientific method of choosing names. I look in a phone book and make two columns. I write down all the interesting first and family names separately and then mix and match by sound and mate them to the character’s personalities. I do something sort of controversial. I write dialogue with dialect. An east Tennessee accent is unique. For me it’s not good enough to say the character speaks with a southern accent. There are too many of them, and that would be telling rather than showing the reader. One of my books is a primer in how a native of the Smokies speaks.
Morgen: What we do without phone and baby name books? Who do you first show your work to?
Wayne: My wife is my first proof-reader. She’s also a great source of pep talks and a consultant when I feel the dreaded writer’s block.
Morgen: Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Wayne: I get a rough draft on paper and then edit for content. The third job is to put it on a Word document. Then I post chapters to an on-line writer’s workshop and get opinions from other authors. After that, I incorporate all the good ideas I’ve heard and really spruce it up. Lastly, I submit to one of my publishers.
Morgen: Plenty of opinions, which is good. What point of view do you find most to your liking?
Wayne: So far everything I’ve done is 1st person past tense. Sam Jenkins is the narrator. I like the idea of an old cop telling the reader his “war stories.” I tried 3rd person once and ended up rewriting the entire novelette. I’m terrible at keeping track of POVs in 3rd person.
Morgen: What do you like to read?
Wayne: I find myself reading a lot of crime fiction now. I like it and it’s a good way to study different styles. I read people like Robert B. Parker, James Lee Burke, Nelson DeMille, Loren D, Estleman, Robert Crais, and a few others. For historical fiction, I like Bernard Cornwell. He does action scenes better than most. After one of his battles, I need a drink.
Morgen: That’s funny. One of my bosses is reading him at the moment (and Simon Scarrow) and really enjoy him (them both). Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Wayne: Edward Gibbon said: “I make it a point never to argue with people whose opinions I do not respect.”
Morgen: I like that. What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks?
Wayne: My wife and I like to travel. We’ve been to the UK thirteen times. I know the roads in Scotland better than in Tennessee.
Morgen: And better than me, I’ve only been once. Us Brits aren’t the best at travelling although I plan to (finally) get to the Edinburgh Book Festival next August.
Wayne: Party tricks? You mean like amazing people by making single-malt whisky disappear?
Morgen: And of course you need to practice in between. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Wayne: The on-line writer’s workshop I mentioned is www.thenextbigwriter.com. I think it’s an extremely helpful. In writing, two heads (or more) aren’t just better than one, they’re essential. But a warning: Have a thick skin before you get there. Some of those who critique your work may offer sound ideas, but lack the rudimentary skills of a country doctor’s bedside manner.
Morgen: I’m sure editors will be worse (harder). Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: Wow. Well, thank you so much Wayne.
Wayne: Thank you, Morgen, for allowing me to chat with your fans.
Morgen: ‘Fans’, I like that… although I did have an email from a soon-to-be-interviewee entitled ‘Hi from a fan’. She definitely knew how to win me over (it isn’t difficult). I know you’re part-way through your book’s blog tour so I hope it goes (is going) well, and thanks again.
I then invited Wayne to include an extract of his writing and he tells me this is the prelude to the soon-to-be published A LEPRECHAUN’S LAMENT:
I think about the little guy often. Murray McGuire looked like a leprechaun. He played darts like a pub champion and drank stout like a soccer star. If you worked for the city of Prospect and found problems with a piece of office equipment, Murray would work tirelessly to remedy your troubles.
But after I interviewed him for thirty minutes, I could have cheerfully strangled the little bastard.
Thanks to Murray, I’ll always look over my shoulder with a modicum of trepidation. I have dreams about a beautiful redhead I could do without. And I remember an incident best forgotten every time I see a turkey buzzard.
For days, I thought of Murray as the man who didn’t exist.
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 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. Wayne left New York to live in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee with his wife, Barbara.
Ten 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. A new novel, A LEPRECHAUN’S LAMENT, is on the coming soon list at Iconic Publishing and will be available in print for early 2012.
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