Interview with Wayne Zurl, author of From New York To The Smokies

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. Zurl has won Eric Hoffer and Indie Book Awards, and was named a finalist for a Montaigne Medal and First Horizon Book Award.


The all new FROM NEW YORK TO THE SMOKIES, an anthology of five Sam Jenkins mysteries is available in print and eBook, published by Melange Books, LLC. 

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.   

Connect with Wayne Zurl: 


About The Anthology Collection

Title: From New York To The Smokies 
Author: Wayne Zurl 
Series: 5 Book Anthology Collection from the Sam Jenkins Mystery Series 
Publisher: Melange Books, LLC 
Publication Date: April 16, 2015 
Format: Paperback - 163 pages / eBook  / PDF 
ISBN: 978-1680460780 
Genre: Mystery / Police Procedural   

Buy The Anthology Collection:

Book Description: 

Author Wayne Zurl is back with his popular Sam Jenkins Mysteries SeriesFrom New York To The Smokies is a 5 book anthology collection from the Sam Jenkins Mysteries Series!    


Seventeen-year-old Sam Jenkins is busy fishing and falling in love with a girl named Kate. But with a father involved with the union and a divorced mother, Sam often finds himself acting like the adult of the family. During a fishing trip off Long Island, Sam overhears a conversation involving dangerous plans that can land his dad in jail. To keep his father out of prison, Sam teams up with detectives from the county’s rackets bureau and enlists the help of two friends to pull off an operation far beyond their usual high school curriculum.   


Police community Service Aide Liz Lopez should be in fine spirits—she’s in line for a promotion to police officer and a raise. But her sullen demeanor tells her boss, Lieutenant Sam Jenkins, that Liz is anything but happy. Jenkins begins an unofficial investigation to find out what’s going on. The detective learns of a bizarre home life and a dark secret Liz keeps under wraps. FAVORS is a story of how the police take care of their own—in an honest and compassionate way.   


A killer is on the loose in Prospect, Tennessee. He strikes repeatedly, each time leaving a cryptic message for the police to find. By the time a fifth body turns up, Police Chief Sam Jenkins is under pressure—either solve the murders or bring in outside help. But the chief’s ego won’t allow others to work his cases. And at the eleventh hour he tracks down a prime suspect, but death is only seconds away for the next victim.   


A misunderstanding between hunters rapidly escalates into a battle not seen in Southern Appalachia since the Hatfield and McCoy feud. As bodies pile up faster than evidence, Sam Jenkins and the officers of Prospect PD scour the remote hills and valleys of East Tennessee and North Carolina to solve a case that reads more like an old west adventure than a modern police drama.   


Prospect, Tennessee Police Chief Sam Jenkins receives two reports of UFO sightings in three days. The gritty ex-New York detective doesn’t believe in coincidence…or space aliens, but he can’t find anything to explain a glowing spaceship and little green men—until he sends Sergeant Stan Rose and Officer Junior Huskey to Campbell’s Woods. They call in a startling discovery, and the investigation begins.


Book Excerpt:


The rain never stopped. From early June through late August, it poured or drizzled almost every day. I thought if I stood still too long I might begin to mold. It reminded me of the monsoons in Southeast Asia.
Drops of rain falling from the brim of my cap were exceeded only by the young woman’s tears.
“When did you see the boy last?” I asked.
“Right after breakfast. He went into the living room to watch TV, and I started doing laundry in the basement.”
“And when you came upstairs he was gone?”
More tears rolled over her cheeks as she stood there, wringing her hands. “Yes.”
“Was your door locked?”
“Lord have mercy, no.”
“Is your son’s rain jacket here?”
She shrugged and cried a little more.
“Let’s look,” I suggested.
We walked to the mud room off the kitchen. A small hooded jacket hung on one of the five pegs over an antique wooden chair not six feet from the back door. A small pair of bright blue rubber Wellingtons sat on the floor.
“You call for him outside?”
“Of course. I ran all around.”
Without the puffy eyes and fear scarring her face, Emily Suttles would have been an attractive brunette.
“And then you called 9-1-1?”
“What was he watching?”
“I don’t know. He knows how to work the TV.”
“You turn it off?”
“One of the policemen did.”
“Let’s take a look.”
She stared at me as if I had two heads. “Why?”
“Indulge me.”
Back in the living room, Emily picked up the remote control and turned on a flat screen about the size of a stretch van. The American Movie Classics channel came on playing a scene from Halloween 4.
“Did you or the cops look through the house?” I asked.
“Yes, of course.”
“All over?”
“Every room.”
“Slowly or quick?”
“Quick. I was frantic.”
“Let’s try again. Where’s Elijah’s room?”
“Upstairs.” Emily began to look impatient. “I know he’s not there.”
We walked upstairs anyway. I looked under the bed. Nothing. The boy’s mother called his name. More nothing. I opened the closet. Huddled in the left corner, leaning against the wall, four-year-old Elijah Suttles slept peacefully, a small flashlight in his right hand. I shook his knee.
“Hey, partner, you doing okay in here?”
He opened his eyes, blinked rapidly, and looked frightened.
“Take it easy, son. I’m a policeman. Your mom couldn’t find you and asked for some help.”
“Jesus have mercy, Elijah,” his mother said, “you ‘bout scared me half ta death. You come out here right now, young man.”
“Go slow, Mrs. Suttles. He probably had a good reason to hide in here. Didn’t you, son?”
The little boy nodded, but still looked scared.
“Something happen on the TV?”
Another nod.
“Ready to come out now?”
The boy stuck out a hand, and I pulled. Once on his feet, he scrambled to his mother and locked onto her leg, mumbling an apology.
“Some of these slasher movies scare me, too,” I said. “He just ran from the killer on the screen. Wasn’t a bad idea.”
Emily Suttles hugged her son, looked at me, and said, “Thank you.”
“I’ll call the three officers and let them know your son’s safe.”

I switched on the ignition in my unmarked Crown Victoria and keyed the microphone. “Prospect-one to headquarters and all units. The missing child has been found. Resume patrol. Five-twelve, close out the call at 1015 hours.”
PO Johnny Rutledge acknowledged. “10-4, Prospect-one.”
“Five-oh-nine, I copy that,” Billy Puckett said.
After a long moment of silence, Sergeant Bettye Lambert, our desk officer, broke in. “Unit 513, five-one-three, do you copy?”
No answer.
“Anyone know 513’s 10-35?” I asked.
“Joey was goin’ house ta house, east end o’ the street,” Puckett said.
“I’m probably the closest,” I said. “I’ll check.”
Just as I shifted into reverse, PO Joey Gillespie spoke on the radio.
“513 ta Prospect-one. Boss, ya gonna need ta see this. 1175 Benny Stillwell Road, obvious 10-5.”
10-5 is our brevity code for a homicide.
* * * *
Two men lay face down on the kitchen floor. One with a shaved head made it easy to see the small caliber bullet hole at the base of his skull—a .25 perhaps or more likely a .22. Blood trickled from the wound down past his right ear, over a thick neck, and onto the Mexican tile floor. The other victim’s blood oozed to his left. Funny, the little details you notice at the scene of a murder.
“You call crime scene and the ME?” I asked.
“Yessir, had Miss Bettye do it right after I called ya.”
I nodded and looked around the kitchen of a relatively new and expensive home. “Big house.”
Joey Gillespie nodded.
“At least 4,000 square feet,” I guessed. “And quality. These guys had bucks.”
He nodded again and looked a little queasy.
“The air hasn’t come on recently. In this humidity blood tends to stink quicker. Smell bother you?”
“Yessir, I ain’t used ta this.”
“Nobody gets used to it, kid. You just learn to ignore it.”
“I guess.”
“You search the rest of the house?”
“Jest looked on the first floor ta see if there was anybody here.”
“Nosir. On a slab.”
“Let’s go upstairs.”
I drew my old Smith & Wesson from the holster on my right hip, and Joey pulled out his .40 caliber Glock.
“Look around, and pay attention. Don’t watch me. There’s probably no one here, but we’ll do this by the numbers.”
“Yessir. I’m right behind ya.”
We made a quick sweep of the first floor, opening all the closets before ascending the stairs. The landing above left us in a hallway with what looked like four bedrooms, two baths and two closet doors. We found nothing in the guest johns or closets. A lack of personal property in three of the bedrooms led me to believe they were set also aside for guests. We looked further in the master suite and discovered two closets holding clothing for two different people.
“I guess the two guys slept t’gether,” Joey said.
“Strange, huh?”
“Not strange, just a minority.”
Two car doors slammed out front.
“Let’s see who’s here,” I suggested.
Jackie Shuman and David Sparks, crime scene investigators from the Blount County Sheriff’s Office, had arrived and stood in the foyer holding cameras and forensic kits. Moments later, Deputy Medical Examiner Morris Rappaport and his assistant Earl Ogle pulled up in the morgue wagon.

“How’d ya find these two?” Jackie asked of no one in particular.
“I’s checkin’ the neighborhood for a missin’ child,” Joey said. “Got no answer here, but there was two cars in the driveway and the garage was closed. Figgered someone’s home, so I walked ‘round back and seen them layin’ here on the floor.”
“Nice wheels out there,” David said.
“Audi S7 and an F-Type Jag,” I said. “Pushing a hundred grand apiece.”
“And they’re relatively new, right?” Morris asked.
“The Jag’s new, and the Audi’s not far behind.”
“With these two sporty drivers, why do you suppose there’s an oil spot on the concrete driveway?”
“Good question, Mo,” I said. “Something for our ace evidence technicians to explore.”
“We’ll git’er done,” Jackie said.
“And take pictures of this table top. Someone ruined a nice antique.”
Jackie looked closer at the numbers someone crudely scratched into the mellow wood finish.
“Thirteen thirteen,” he said. “Wonder what that means?”
“Two unlucky numbers,” Morris said.
“Two unlucky guys,” I said. “Has to mean something. Finding out will keep me from playing in the traffic.”

Discuss this book in our PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads by clicking HERE

Author Interview

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? 

From New York to the Smokies is an anthology of five novelettes spanning more than forty years in the life of career cop, Sam Jenkins. The first segment, The Boat to Prison, takes readers back to the summer of 1963 when seventeen-year-old Jenkins gets involved with saving his shop steward father from getting jammed up with a group of mobsters planning to kill an up-and-coming union man who threatens to squash the career of the current union president, a thug with solid organized crime ties. I look at it as a YA book with bad language. Favors, is set in New York in 1985 where we see Jenkins as a detective lieutenant concerned with one of his worker’s secret personal life. The Angel of the Lord, Massacre at Big Bear Creek, and Ode to Willie Joe are all set in the fictional Smoky Mountain town of Prospect, Tennessee where readers usually encounter Chief Sam Jenkins during his second career in law enforcement.

Generally, I utilize actual cases I investigated, supervised, or just knew a lot about from my time in New York to formulate, fictionalize and embellish a story that I can transplant to Tennessee, where I now live. The first two in this anthology have foundation in fact, but aside from anecdotes, vignettes, and other personal remembrances, the three set in Tennessee are strictly figments of my imagination. And that’s a first for me. I usually rely more on my memory than my imagination for Sam’s adventures.

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? 

Prior to From New York to the Smokies, I had four novels and more than twenty novelettes published in the Sam Jenkins mystery series. The two publishers I had been dealing with both went out of business. So, I sat in my living room drinking and mumbling, “Why me?” Finding a publisher isn’t exactly easy. Finding a publisher willing to step up in the middle of a series is downright difficult.

I had expected to continue contributing novelettes to a publisher whose primary mission was to produce one-hour audio books, and simultaneously publish them as eBooks. I had submitted three new stories to her and was waiting to receive contracts when she informed me she was no longer going to accept any new work from her regular contributing authors or new writers. I also had been writing the two “throw-back” stories and was ready to spruce them up for submission. Now, I had five novelettes which I knew from experience were too long for short story publishers and too short to be a stand-alone as anything but an eBook. So, I asked myself, who wants them? I scoured the Internet and finally found a traditional publisher who accepted my submissions and after liking what the acquisitions editor saw, suggested that the five stories be put into an anthology and published in print and electronically.

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 audio book, 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 proofreader, editor, or book doctor…whomever you can afford. A fresh set of eyes is essential to getting a good finished product.

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

After much Internet searching for a traditional publisher interested in police procedural mysteries, who would accept submissions directly from a writer, and who would consider works shorter than the usual 80,000 word novel, I found Melange Books, LLC

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

The entire fiction publishing business surprised me. For ten years, I’d been writing non-fiction magazine articles. When I ran out of steam and ideas for new and thrilling pieces about the 18th Century in east Tennessee, I decided to try writing about what I knew best: Police investigations. I figured it would be easy. Man, was I kidding myself. My hopes were almost dashed when a veteran writer with and Edgar Award under his belt told me, “You don’t have to be good, you have to be marketable.” I like my new publisher. The editor assigned to me is a sweetheart, and things seem to be going well, but I’m still disappointed in what the “Big Six” of the industry as a whole is looking for.

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

Melange Books is going to re-release my previous full-length novels (A New Prospect, A Leprechaun’s Lament, Heroes & Lovers, and Pigeon River Blues) early next year and they have contracted with me for two new novels, A Touch of Morning Calm, about Sam’s encounter with Korean organized crime, and A Can of Worms, where a young Prospect policeman is accused of a rape which supposedly occurred during his college days, later in 2016. So, Sam Jenkins and the girls and boys of Prospect PD will certainly ride again. Aside from those which are already under contract, I’m about 35,000 words into a book I’m calling Honor Among Thieves.

What’s your favorite place to hang out online?

Basically, I hate computers and the Internet. I like being a dinosaur. I know I have to do my share of on-line marketing and promotions, but I don’t have to like it. If you press me and ask what I find least objectionable, I’d say Facebook, where I have a regular old page. I can speak with new friends, old colleagues, and even a few guys and girls I knew as far back as high school.

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

Sam Jenkins began his second career at age sixty, after being retired for several years and not really wanting to be a cop again. But as he says, “It’s like riding a bicycle.” He never forgot and he never lost his edge. I’d like Sam’s story to speak for all the middle-aged professionals who could easily step up to the plate and smack one out of the park. I also like to stress that everyone, cops, civilians, anyone should be their own person. No one should feel compelled to succumb to peer or political pressure in their personal or professional life. Perhaps they should practice more restraint than Sam when he tells a political hack to kiss his ass, but I think everyone can work out a good plan of action if they get the fundamentals down pat.

Thank you again for this interview! Do you have any final words? 

And thank you for inviting me back for another return visit to The Writer’s Life. I’ll leave you and your readers with my basic sales pitch. If you want good old-fashioned cop fiction with lots of attention to detail and authenticity told in the minimalist style with no contrived formulas, no BS, and always a touch of sarcastic humor, perhaps you should give Sam Jenkins a try.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for inviting me for a return visit to THE WRITER'S LIFE.


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