Interview with Wayne Zurl, author of Pigeon River Blues

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.

Twenty (20) of his Sam Jenkins mysteries have been published as eBooks and many produced as audio books. Ten (10) of these novelettes are available in print under the titles: A Murder In Knoxville and Other Smoky Mountain Mountain Mysteries and Reenacting A Murder and Other Smoky Mountain Mysteries. Zurl has won Eric Hoffer and Indie Book Awards, and was named a finalist for a Montaigne Medal and First Horizon Book Award. His full length novels are available in print and as eBooks: A New ProspectA Leprechaun's Lament,  Heroes & Lovers, and Pigeon River Blues.

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

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About The Book 

Winter in the Smokies can be a tranquil time of year—unless Sam Jenkins sticks his thumb into the sweet potato pie. 

The retired New York detective turned Tennessee police chief is minding his own business one quiet day in February when Mayor Ronnie Shields asks him to act as a bodyguard for a famous country and western star.

C.J. Profitt’s return to her hometown of Prospect receives lots of publicity . . . and threats from a rightwing group calling themselves The Coalition for American Family Values.

The beautiful, publicity seeking Ms. Proffit never fails to capitalize on her abrasive personality by flaunting her lifestyle—a way of living the Coalition hates.

Reluctantly, Jenkins accepts the assignment of keeping C.J. safe while she performs at a charity benefit. But Sam’s job becomes more difficult when the object of his protection refuses to cooperate. 

During this misadventure, Sam hires a down-on-his-luck ex-New York detective and finds himself thrown back in time, meeting old Army acquaintances who factor into how he foils a complicated plot of attempted murder, the destruction of a Dollywood music hall, and other general insurrection on the “peaceful side of the Smokies.”

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Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life! Now that your book has been published, we’d love to find out more about the process. Can we begin by having you take us at the beginning? Where did you come up with the idea to write your book?

PIGEON RIVER BLUES is a little different than most of my novels and novelettes—it’s not centered around one actual case that was part of my former professional life. Rather, it’s a conglomeration of incidents and real people that seemed to fit together nicely and make one interesting story. I get a chance to exploit the VIP security angle based on several things I did in the army and the occasional protection details we got saddled with when working in the police department.

Most Sam Jenkins mysteries have their share of quirky characters, but the crew of right-wing zealots in PRB goes over the top—and they’re based on real characters. Emphasis placed on characters. And John “Black Cloud” Gallagher, Sam’s new assistant is based on a real person with whom I worked for many years.

I met several celebrities over the years, but thankfully none of them were as difficult to keep safe as C.J. Proffit, the beautiful country singer with an attitude. Sam had his hands full with that girl.

Q: How hard was it to write a book like this and do you have any tips that you could pass on which would make the journey easier for other writers?

Once I got my head around what things I’d composite and embellish to create a plausible VIP security assignment—which aren’t very exciting unless someone wants to harm the body you’re guarding—it wasn’t difficult. And in true form, Sam Jenkins, world famous user, made his job easier by again sweet-talking his friends into doing him favors and getting the crucial answers he needed to close this case.

I’m a real stickler about plausibility and authenticity in any kind of fiction I read. With my stories, I ask for a little suspension of disbelief at times, but nowhere close to the degree some writers of cop fiction require. I would suggest that people take advantage of their experiences and write what they know. I can write about crime, but would be lost if I tried a medical thriller. If you’re a career soldier, why make your literary hero a sailor?

Q: Who is your publisher and how did you find them or did you self-publish?

Iconic Publishing has been responsible for my last three novels and two anthologies of five novelettes each. Actually, the publisher found me. I had been posting chapters of a novelette I called THE GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAIN BANK JOB (something that I mentioned was destined for audio and eBook) on an on-line writer’s workshop that he monitored. He wrote to me, complimented the story and asked if I’d like to see a collection of these long stories in print. I cleared the idea with Mind Wings Audio, the publisher who handled my novelette-length mysteries and who was only interested in audio and electronic rights, and off we went.

When I determined that Ionic’s editorial process was something easy to live with, I mentioned that I had a second full-length novel (A LEPRECHAUN’S LAMENT) completed and ready to go. He liked the summary I sent and asked for the entire manuscript. That and two anthologies were published simultaneously. HEROES & LOVERS came about a year later, and PIGEON RIVER BLUES thirteen months after that.

Q: Is there anything that surprised you about getting your first book published?

A NEW PROSPECT was the first Sam Jenkins novel I had published. I went the traditional route by first querying agents. I received so many rejections, I considered buying a stronger deodorant. When I gave up on agents, I wrote to any publisher who would accept submissions directly from an author and accepted the first reasonable contract offered. But after all the rejections, I wondered if A NEW PROSPECT was really good enough to make it in the cold cruel world. I was surprised when it won two awards (an Indie and an Eric Hoffer) and was named a finalist for two more.

Q: What other books (if any) are you working on and when will they be published?

Unfortunately, owner of Iconic Publishing has decided to go out of the traditional publishing business. PIGEON RIVER BLUES was their last book. Now I’m sitting with two more completed novels (and one that’s unfinished.) A TOUCH OF MORNING CALM deals with multiple homicides and focuses on Korean organized crime. I get to show off how much I know about Korea from the fourteen months I lived there. And A CAN OF WEORMS is the sequel to PIGEON RIVER BLUES and is again based on several actual cases I investigated. In it, Sam Jenkins experiences more personal loss than any one person should be asked to endure in the span of only 86,000 words.

After the initial promotion push for PIGEON RIVER BLUES, I’ll get serious about finding a publisher for those two. Anyone out there listening? Hint . . . hint.

Q: What’s your favorite place to hang out online?

I don’t like computers or the Internet very much, so hanging out online isn’t a favorite pastime. But I do make an occasional appearance on Facebook and chat with everyone from old high school comrades, to people I knew in the army and the police department, to writers and fans I’ve met along the way. Now, at least I can say, “See, I can function in modern social situations.”

Q: Finally, what message (if any) are you trying to get across with your book?

I generally don’t try to send a message or provide hidden meanings through my writing. I’m a pretty straight forward guy and just like to tell a good story. But I guess there is a message sent by the trio of right-wing zealots who frustrate Sam Jenkins and scare the stuffing out of singer C.J. Proffit. I’m neither conservative nor liberal, but have always tried in vain to find the common sense party. If nothing else, the Collinsons and their demented henchman Jeremy Goins show us that political or religious zealots on the far right or left of the human spectrum are uncommon extremists and generally more trouble than they’re worth. Logic, common sense, and moderation should offer a better solution.

Q: Thank you again for this interview!

You’re welcome.

Q: Do you have any final words?

Sure. Thanks, ladies, for inviting me to your blog for another return visit. And thanks to all your followers for taking the time to read my answers to your interesting questions.
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