Today we’re getting to know Sam Jenkins from the Sam Jenkins Mystery Series by Wayne Zurl. Sam’s world reminds me a little of Mayberry, in a good way! Here he is to tell about himself and his fictional world:
More than forty years ago, when I separated from the Regular Army after five years of active duty, a sullen clerk at the New York unemployment office told me I possessed no marketable civilian skills and wouldn’t send me on any meaningful job interviews. I didn’t need to hear that. Rhodesia and Israel were recruiting former US soldiers for their defense forces, but my wife didn’t need to hear that.
So, I took a few civil service tests and after a year of bumming around, I became a cop. In New York, if you don’t know what else to do, you become a cop, a fireman, or garbage man. Smoke gives me headaches and I didn’t want to spend twenty years smelling someone else’s trash. Police was the obvious choice.
New York salaries were great, but at half pay the cost of living in the suburbs of the Big Apple would have eaten away my pension. So, when I retired, my wife, the dog, and I relocated to Tennessee.
I never thought I’d be a cop again and certainly never envisioned being the protagonist in a series of police mysteries set in a small touristy town in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. But somehow a former colleague from my old police job found me sitting behind the chief’s desk at Prospect PD and using his famous line of BS, offered to make me immortal—in old-fashioned police fiction.
His plan was simple. We’d use real cases as the basis for fictional stories. Paraphrasing Jack Webb of Dragnet fame, we’d change the names to protect the guilty—and keep us out of civil court.
I don’t know why Wayne needed me. We worked the same job, shared experiences. Why didn’t he just use his old cases? Well, some of the stories are embellished versions of his cases, but incidents I knew a lot about. We put our heads together and transplanted everything to Tennessee—he lives here, too. It’s easy.
Now we’re experimenting with integrating things that have happened locally along with New York experiences to form one story. Elements of the recently released GYPSIES, TRAMPS & THIEVES came from an incident which happened to my old friend “Horace Colwell,” a boat dealer in “Prospect.” The big explosion in HEAVEN’S GATE occurred just down the road from my home.
When Wayne and I negotiated our agreement, I stipulated that I wouldn’t allow any over-the-top, “fantasy” police work so prevalent in commercial fiction today. I didn’t want high speed chases every day or shootouts as frequent as coffee breaks. The fictional Sam Jenkins would never shoot an arrow-tipped steel cable from his wristwatch into an adjoining building to pursue a suspect over the rooftops. We’d leave that to the writers who took over for the late Ian Fleming and produce the new crop of James Bond scripts.
We agreed that two of the most important elements in the stories would be plausible authenticity and attention to detail. We wouldn’t make an arrest until we had the requisite reasonable cause to believe. We would never hand an assistant district attorney a shaky case and would NEVER let a politician interfere with an investigation without a fight.
Not all true crime is as exciting or interesting as fiction. We agreed to add elements of frustration, tension, and conflict to enhance a story, not because other writers say it should be done. I also put my foot down and insisted that we needed a beautiful woman tossed in occasionally to give the stories a touch of class. Who wants a pug-ugly male character when a good-looking female works better?
Someone once asked me who our target audience was. I foolishly said anyone who likes a mystery. Wayne wanted the target audience to be the most critical—cops and ex-cops. If we got them to say, ‘Hey, that’s real police work. Interesting and exciting, too.’ We’d have done our jobs. If we could satisfy that crowd, the fans of old-fashioned cop stories would jump on board.
I never read mysteries when I was on the job. But I do now and I’m one of those pains in the neck I mentioned in the last paragraph. In addition to wanting authentic police work, I want a story told using the fewest number of words. Robert B. Parker did that with exceptional skill. I told Wayne to study that approach and get it down pat. I like everything Parker wrote and want to see the same style in the stories from Prospect PD—no rambling on without reason, which is what I’d be doing if I continued with this interview.
Take a look at Wayne’s website. He’s got three novels and eighteen novelettes to pick from—in print, as eBooks, and even a bunch of audio books. If you believe what he writes, you’d think there’s a higher crime rate in Prospect, Tennessee than Brooklyn.
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—not far from Prospect PD.
Connect with Wayne in the following places:
Twitter: www.twitter.com/waynezurl or @WayneZurl
I hope you’ll join Sam and Wayne in their fictional world.
Come back Friday to meet Jason Duffy from the Rock & Roll Mystery Series by RJ McDonnell.
Thanks for reading.
Tags: A Leprechaun’s Lament, A New Prospect, Cops Who Write, Crime Fiction, Crime Fiction Writers, Great Beach Reads, Great Crime Novels, Heroes and Lovers, Mystery Novel Recommendations, mystery series, Mystery Series Authors, Realistic Mysteries, Realistic Mystery Series, Recommended Crime Fiction, Recommended Reads, Retired Police Who Write Fiction, Sam Jenkins Mysteries, Wayne Zurl