Who is on the plum tree?
Meet and Greet Wayne Zurl with Dr. Niamh Clune
When I asked Wayne Zurl to tell me something about his passion for writing, he was quick to tell me that he makes a conscious link between expressing passion with displays of emotion. Wayne reckons he is not good at that. In a career that spanned twenty years working as a New York police officer, thirteen of which, were spent serving as a section commander supervising investigators, he had to attend some very difficult crime scenes. Prior to his police career, Zurl served in the US Army during the Vietnam war. A lifetime of service to others taught him to keep a tight grip on his feelings. He does his best to check outward displays of emotion, but like anyone else of his ilk, he slips up from time to time.
He asked me to picture a group of 5,000 uniformed police officers standing in formation on a damp and cloudy November morning. They wait to honour a colleague killed in the line of duty. Someone calls the command to present arms and 5,000 hands rise in salute. A lone piper plays Amazing Grace. Twenty seconds later you hear the tell-tale, subtle sniffs coming from the men in the ranks. Someone clears his throat—then another, and soon the tiny, muffled sounds of grown men crying silently and softly becomes an epidemic. They try their best to hide their emotions. But they have big hearts, these men of service.
Wayne is definitely not without emotion and passion. He is ambitious and has a goal-oriented personality, which propels him to write when inspiration takes hold. He has always needed a creative outlet. He enjoys seeing the products of his ambition, the fruits of his labour. He describes himself as a ‘basic pain-in-the-neck when it comes to detail.’ He does not put his name to something, unless it represents the best he can do. He competes only with himself. So the things he creates, whether a piece of furniture in his younger days, or a book or story now, are not judged perfect by others, as long as Wayne has given the project 100%, he is happy.
Elements in the writing of others influence the way in which Wayne guides his own writing. Perceived negatives are as important to him as positives. James Lee Burke, for example, has an extraordinary ability to describe people and places. Wayne aspires to equal that. Other mystery writers—people with great reputations—often fall short in some areas. Wayne takes his perception of those shortcomings and tries to do better. These authors may misstate things that 90% of their readers might overlook, but Wayne is the guy who wants to please that other 10% of readers—because they know what they are looking at. And with a background such as Wayne’s, you know you can trust him to get it right, to be incredibly accurate and realistic.
Wayne wants people to say his stories are like being on a “ride-along,” watching a real cop do business. He wants civilians to see what it’s like to be ‘on the job.’ “Authenticity matters,” quoth Wayne…”If a writer gets all the easy little things correct, she or he can, with a clear conscience, ask a reader to suspend their disbelief on a bigger issue where the structure of the story will improve with a touch of literary license.”
Making the decision to write fiction, Wayne adapted the author’s maxim of, “Write what you know.” He doesn’t have to do much research to get the details right. He knows criminal investigation intimately. He writes police mysteries, and even gives his protagonist an uncanny similarity of personality profile to his own. No wonder we like him! In that regard, Wayne has made his writing easy. His protagonist speaks as Wayne would speak. This surely, is a great leg up when composing dialogue. And Wayne believes dialogue is an important key to telling a story in a minimum amount of words. He is a minimalist kind of guy! He gets the job done and does it well!
Many years ago, Wayne was influenced by something he read about the construction of fiction. Basically, there are only eleven basic plots. Writers then twist, combine, and convolute such plots to suit themselves. Wayne doesn’t overly focus on the plot because a plot can be simple, just as interesting as a complex one, and just as exciting. When he reads or writes, he is more concerned with developing characters. As an ex-cop, he realises he was in the people business. So, when he writes police stories, he wants readers to remember the characters with whom his cops interact. His characters are quirky, like so many of the people he met and still remembers. If they are bad guys, they must be truly evil. If they are heroes, Wayne puts them right up there with Audie Murphy. Each literary character should have a unique voice, a catchy, but realistic name, and a memorable personality.
In 1972, Wayne made a piece of repro-early-American country furniture—a tall cupboard. His wife still says it’s one of her favorite things (next to him, of course.!) Hearing that makes Wayne happy. After he wrote A NEW PROSPECT, a few reviewers said Sam Jenkins was their new favorite character. (He would be, he is based on Wayne Zurl, so he is charming, witty, and generous of spirit.) Read between the lines and you’ll know why hearing that tickles Wayne. Other readers say they love Sam’s wife, Kate, or Police Officer Bettye Lambert. They hate Pearl Lovejoy, or they think her son, Travis, is only good to put nitrogen back into the soil. Love, hate, disgust—a bit like Marmite! You either hate it or love it. As long as Wayne’s reviewers all say, ‘memorable,’ he is pleased. After all, who wants to be lost in history, disappear into a crowd? Wayne stands out. It’s his job to make his characters stand out, also. He brings them to life, makes the reader hear them, see them, picture a scene, touch, experience and sometimes, even smell them.
As you can see, dear reader, it wasn’t difficult to get an insight into Wayne’s passion or to get him to show emotion. Even if he thinks I tricked him into it!