In Today’s author interview I spend time with Wayne Zurl writer of A New Prospect and ask him about his history, his writing style and what we can expect next.
Wayne worked for twenty years as a police officer in New York before retiring to the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee. For thirteen of those years, he served as a section commander supervising investigators.
Prior to his police career, Zurl served in the US Army during the Vietnam war and continued on in the Reserves.
Before all that, he worked in the fledgeling business of computers–when they were seven feet tall. Somewhat disenchanted with the IBM/data processing business, Zurl decided computers were nothing but a passing fad–something that would never replace humans, and he scrapped reentry into that world after returning from his stint with the Army overseas, and collected unemployment insurance until he was offered the only job somewhat compatible with his military background.
In 2006 he began writing police stories. His premier novel, A NEW PROSPECT, won Indie and Eric Hoffer Book Awards for best Mystery and Commercial Fiction respectively. Zurl has also been named as a finalist for a First Horizon Book Award and a Montaigne Medal. He currently has twenty mystery novelettes being sold or about to be published as audiobooks and/or Kindle books.
Q. So Wayne, how long have you been writing?
A. When I retired from the police department in New York and moved to Tennessee, I took a volunteer job at a state park that involved writing publicity for their living history program. That evolved into writing non-fiction magazine articles. I got lucky and sold twenty-six articles in ten years. When I couldn’t dream up any new and thrilling ideas for articles about the 18th century French & Indian War, I decided to try fiction. I thought getting paid to write was cool, so I planned on embellishing and fictionalizing my old cases. I began my creative writing adventure in 2006.
Q. What do you use to write your books?
A. When the inspiration strikes, I grab a lined pad and a few pens and go. If it’s after four pm, I may take a cocktail along for the ride. But when you consider noon in Tennessee makes it five pm in England, I’m pretty flexible with times. After my draft is written out, I’m the only one who can read my handwriting, so I type a manuscript on a Word document. My wife and past secretaries have called my penmanship anything from a combination of English written in Chinese-like characters to something from the pen of a mentally challenged five-year-old. I think they were being harsh.
Q. How do you think you’ve evolved as a writer since you’ve started?
A. ’ve always admired Robert B. Parker’s style—tell your story in the fewest words possible. Over the past twenty-seven novelettes and seven novels in the Sam Jenkins mystery series, I think I’ve been able to trim the fat off my stuff and present a finished product in Parker’s minimalist style.
Q. Do you structure your plots or just go with the flow?
A. Outlining is too much like work. I get an idea based on something I knew intimately in real life and take off. I’m not saying this is the best way to write a story, but it works for me. It allows me to vent all the ideas I’ve got built up as quickly as possible and then go back and refine things. I probably do three or four rewrites getting things correct, fleshing out characters and places, and fine-tuning the dialogue.
Q. Do you do a lot of research when writing a book?
A. I do very little. I have more of a memory than an imagination. So, everything I write is based on a real police incident—something I investigated or supervised. Generally, I’ll composite a number of vignettes with the main storyline to make things more interesting and humorous. Anyone who writes police drama without humour is deleting one of the key elements of real-life law enforcement.
Q. Have you ever tried to write other genres?
A. I once wrote a short story that embraced time travel, parallel universe, and a smidge of steam punk. It was for a contest, but I went horribly over the word limit. I loved the finished product and so did many of the Sam Jenkins fans. But I don’t know enough about those genres to fake a whole novel. I’ve been kicking around the idea of writing a western for a long time. I could do justice to the 19th century American West if I could dream up a good plot.
Q. Have you ever dedicated a book to someone?
A. So far I’ve dedicated all my books to my wife. She’s always there for me. She cuts the vegetables alone if my ideas are in overdrive and I need to get my thoughts on paper. She understands that at my age if I don’t write things down, I’ll forget them in twenty minutes.
Q. How do you deal with bad reviews?
A. Like anyone else, bad reviews bother me. I look for an objective lesson in what the reviewer said and if it was constructive, I learn from it and then try to put the bad feelings out of my mind. One thing that troubles me most is that many reviewers are allowed to write using “code” names. They can be totally anonymous. With anonymity, cowards become heroes in their own minds. They say things they wouldn’t dream of saying if their real identity was known and they were personally accountable for their written words or if they were face to face with the person they were criticizing. Very often amateur reviewers voice their totally subjective thoughts rather than analyze the professional worth of something to which an author has devoted hundreds of hours. No matter how you write a review, it should be done with a good bedside manner.
Q. How and where are you publishing this book?
A. I worked in partnership with a company who produced audio books and simultaneously published eBooks for most of my novelettes. Unfortunately, she still markets the old work but is no longer able to accept new stories from her writers. Another publisher who handled my full-length novels ran into personal problems and went out of business. So, once alone again in the big bad publishing world, it took me a few months, but I finally found a new publisher, Melange Books, LLC, willing to re-release all the old novels and offer contracts for three new books.
Q. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
A. My tips for new writers looking for a publisher or just wanting to self-publish a quality piece are three-fold. One, never give up. Keep looking for that interested publisher. Two, if that turns out to be unproductive and they want to handle the publishing themselves, make sure what goes out with their name on it is the absolute best possible product they can produce. That means no poor structure, no typos, no misspelling, no bad grammar, in short: no junk. And three: From writing novelettes destined to be read by an actor and marketed as an audiobook, I learned that the most important thing with any prose is that it MUST sound good. The length doesn’t matter.
Anything from flash-fiction to an epic has to be pleasing to your ear. When you think you’re finished, sequester yourself and read your story aloud. Do it slowly, as if you were a professional reader being recorded. Make sure everything flows smoothly. The sentences should have the correct number of syllables. The paragraphs must transcend smoothly from one to the next. If you hear a “bump,” go back, rewrite it, and smooth it out. Make sure the story “sings” to you. Then when you’re pleased with your finished product, hand it off to a proof-reader, editor, or book doctor…whomever you can afford. A fresh set of eyes is essential to getting a good finished product.
Q. What’s next Wayne?
A. Melange Books plans to release A TOUCH OF MORNING CALM in June of 2016, a Sam Jenkins novel about Korean organized crime in the southeast. In August, look for A CAN OF WORMS, another Sam Jenkins mystery about a probationary police officer being accused of a date rape which occurred before he was hired as a cop. In March or April of 2017, HONOR AMONG THIEVES jumps out of the basket telling the story of a northeast crime boss who wants to retire and relocate to Sam Jenkins’ town of Prospect, Tennessee. Things heat up in this one when Sam has a contract put on his life.