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Author Interview: Wayne Zurl & A LEPRECHAUN’S LAMENT

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.

Twelve (12) 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 and eBook in April 2012.

For more information on Wayne’s Sam Jenkins mystery series see www.waynezurlbooks.net. You can read excerpts, reviews and endorsements, interviews, coming events, and even see photos of the area where the stories take place.

Welcome to Between the Covers, Wayne. Why was writing A Leprechaun’s Lament so important to you?

As with most of the stories I write, A LEPRECHAUN’S LAMENT is fictionalized and embellished, but based on an actual incident. This one came from back in the mid-1980s when I began supervising the case and ended up overly involved. The story of “Murray McGuire” represents the most bizarre and frustrating thing I handled in twenty years.

What was the experience like writing A Leprechaun’s Lament?

The basic premise of the Murray McGuire affair began as a mundane background investigation. And that’s not very exciting, but I thought it necessary to lay some background material about that before getting into the assassination-style murder which would interest any mystery/thriller fan. I needed to hook the readers quickly with the very unusual nature of Murray’s background—he had none. I hoped people would believe a man could work within the civil service system for almost thirty years under an assumed identity. After the murder, it becomes if and why his former life played a role in his demise.

I had been posting chapters on an on-line writer’s workshop monitored by a publisher. He contacted me about this and other things I’d written. A few months after he read the finished manuscript, I received a contract.

Love the title! How do leprechauns tie into a police mystery?

Thanks. I really pulled it out of my hat. I won’t be giving away much by saying a diminutive redheaded guy named Murray McGuire came from an Irish family. The short prelude says a bit more about little Murray and somewhere within the early chapters, Sam Jenkins describes him as looking like a “slightly larger than usual Leprechaun.” Here’s the prelude:

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.

Can you tell us more about your main character, Sam Jenkins?

Sam is a retired detective lieutenant who left a large New York police department and after years of living in Tennessee, takes a job as police chief in the small city of Prospect, a touristy town in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains.

In common cop language, San is a dinosaur. He began his career on the tail end of the wild and wooly days of the early 1970s and left police service long before the ultra hi-tech methods we see on TV shows like CSI. Back in Sam’s day computers were seven feet tall; there was no cyber crime.

Jenkins relies on old-fashioned methods. And like the old days in New York, he does a great job of clearing cases. If you believe what I write, you’ll think sleepy little Prospect has a homicide rate greater than Detroit. I thought if Jessica Fletcher could pull that off in Cabot Cove, Maine, I’d do it in Prospect, Tennessee.

What are his strengths and what are his weaknesses?

On the plus side, Sam is simply an old-fashioned hero. Politicians can’t tempt him with favors for looking the other way when a favorite son runs afoul of the law and criminals can’t bribe him. With big pensions from the police department and Army Reserve, he doesn’t need money. The job is more of an avocation to satisfy his need for the action he missed during the early years of an almost idle retirement.

And he always repays the loyalty he gets from his co-workers and friends. A good relationship with his workers is a key part of his professional philosophy.

A negative? I guess he’s impatient. That trait helps me get readers to grit their teeth when he charges into as situation without waiting for adequate backup. This story is a great illustration of that shortcoming.

What about Murray McGuire? Can you tell us more about him?

Murray, Murray, Murray, the little “fly on the wall” kind of guy who became an enigma. I used the Patriot Act to bring this story up to date and require a background investigation for a civilian working with a police department. In actuality it dealt with a change in budget allocations, but that wouldn’t add any excitement to fiction set in 2006.

Murray has been a fixture in the Prospect municipal Building for twenty-eight years, initially repairing typewriters and other office equipment. When PO Bobby Crockett began looking into his background, all the common places Murray would have shown up during his early life—schools, hospitals, motor vehicle departments, banks—you name it, didn’t know him. He’s middle-aged and yet his life only begins in 1975 after being discharged from the US Army. And it gets much more complicated than that.

Are there any supporting characters we need to know about?

The same ensemble cast of regulars appears in all the Sam Jenkins mysteries—except the bad guys. And even some of them make repeat performances and cause more problems.

Some of the important supporting characters are:

Sam’s wife, Kate. She’s a perfect complement to his personality and way of life and often helps him cultivate a good idea for a problem case.

Bettye Lambert and Stanley Rose are sharp cops who get promoted to sergeant in this book and do a lot to keep the PD running while Sam is out playing detective.

His two friends, Special Agent Ralph Oliveri of the Knoxville FBI office and Rachel Williamson, news anchor at WNXX TV, are people Sam constantly taps for favors. Feds and reporters are the kinds of people cops rarely associate with much less build the solid and enduring friendships that evolve throughout these stories.

Mayor Ronnie Shields is a fairly likable politician who often provides the monkey wrench tossed into one of Sam’s investigations.

Why did you use Prospect, Tennessee as your setting? Is there such a place?

I believe in the old author’s maxim of write what you know. I know criminal investigations and I live in and know East Tennessee. I can cover the professional and geographic technicalities by using those factors. Prospect more represents the entre peaceful western side of the Smoky Mountain region than any one real municipality. There was a community of Prospect founded in 1784 by men who received Revolutionary War land grants and brought their families west of the Alleghenies to settle the new territory. But Prospect never got its own zip code and today, it’s just a memory located not too far from my home.

I mentioned a cast of recurring characters. I should have added another one—the Smoky Mountains. The region itself deserves character status. Other writers have done this and I like the idea. Raymond Chandler used Los Angeles in his Philip Marlowe books and stories. Tony Hillerman always featured New México and northern Arizona in his books about the Navajo Tribal Police. The Smokies and its people are unique and I’ve tried to incorporate that feeling along with Sam’s typically New York personality.

Can you open to page 25 and tell us what’s happening?

Sam is visiting a local used book shop and flirting with a new employee, Bridget Dwyer, a beautiful Irish girl in the States to research her graduate studies on Irish and Scotch-Irish immigrants in 18th century America. Bridget plays an important role in the story.

What about page 65?

What a coincidence! Bridget shows up again—just as Sam and Kate are having lunch at a local pub. Tough job: Eat your lunch and introduce your wife to the girl who spent the previous morning flirting with you. See what happens.

Now that A Leprechaun’s Lament has been published, what’s your next project?

My publisher is currently finalizing details for the launch of another full-length novel called HEROES & LOVERS. It looks like I’ll kick it off at the Joseph-Beth bookshop in Lexington, Kentucky on September 29th. After that, it’s Barnes & Noble for subsequent events, but I let him work his magic with the store owners. Here’s the book jacket summary to see what the book’s about:

Sam Jenkins might say, “Falling in love is like catching a cold. It’s infectious and involuntary. Just don’t sneeze on any innocent people.” But Sam doesn’t always follow his common sense philosophy.

Becoming infatuated with a married policeman and getting kidnapped never made TV reporter Rachel Williamson’s list of things to do before Christmas. But helping her friend, Sam Jenkins, the ex-New York detective and now police chief in Prospect, Tennessee, with a fraud investigation would get her an exclusive story. It all sounded exciting and made her station manager happy.

Sam’s investigation put Rachel in the wrong place at the wrong time and her abduction by a mentally disturbed fan, ruined several days of her life.

When Jenkins learns Rachel has gone missing, he cancels holiday leaves, mobilizes the personnel at Prospect PD, and enlists his friends from the FBI to help find her.

During the early stages of the investigation, Sam develops several promising leads, but as they begin to fizzle, his prime suspect drops off the planet and all the resources of the FBI aren’t helping.

After a lucky break and a little old-fashioned pressure on an informant produce an important clue, the chief leads his team deep into the Smoky Mountains to rescue his friend. But after Rachel is once again safe at home, he finds their problems are far from over.

I’m also in the middle of revising a novel called PIGEON RIVER BLUES and hope to have that ready to send to the publisher in a month or so. Then I have a few novelettes under contract to be produced as audio books and simultaneously published as eBooks. Specifically: HURRICANE BLOW UP, THE BUTLERS DID IT, and GYPSIES TRAMPS & THIEVES.

Do you have anything you’d like to tell our readers that hasn’t been discussed?

Sure, let’s talk about the side of my Sam Jenkins enterprise I just mentioned, the novelettes—14 of them. They are typically 10,000 words each, which translates into roughly an hour audio presentation—just like an old-time radio show. These CDs and MP3 mysteries come from Mind Wings Audio who uses only professional actors to do the reading. Veteran actor/director David Colacci has played the part of Sam Jenkins in all but one book.

Recently Iconic Publishing obtained the print rights to these stories and has published two anthologies of five stories in each. A MURDER IN KNOXVILLE and Other Smoky Mountain Mysteries and REENACTING A MURDER and Other Smoky Mountain Mysteries are available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other book sellers.

Thanks for inviting me to your blog and letting me speak with your fans and followers.

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