Wayne Zurl: Writing What You Know

It is my pleasure to introduce author, Wayne Zurl, who has graciously accepted my invitation to appear on my blog as a special guest.

Wayne Zurl is the author of many books, including the recently released A LEPRECHAUN’S LAMENT. His popular series features brilliant police officer, Sam Jenkins, and is available on both Amazon and on Barnes and Noble. Mr. Zurl has been featured on numerous blog posts and interviews, and it is truly an honor to have him on my blog today.
Please join me in welcoming Wayne Zurl. Any comments or questions are appreciated!


WRITING WHAT YOU KNOW and Getting Inspiration From the World Around You
By Wayne Zurl

Picture a half-dozen old cops sitting around a table. The waitress just removed the dishes, but each man still holds a drink.

The former ranking man of the group takes a sip of single-malt scotch. “We laughed when it was over,” he says, “but for a few minutes, we were all sweating.”

“I remember,” another retired detective says. “Came close to soiling my knickers there.”

A third man at the table speaks, “They shoulda made a TV movie outta that one.”

The six people looked around at their colleagues, nodded, and sampled more of their beverages.

The guy with the single-malt whisky retired and eventually tried his hand at a new occupation. Today he’s writing police mystery novels—only because of the old author’s maxim: ‘Write what you know.’

Suppose you’ve never been a cop? Can you still write mysteries? Why not?

Let’s look at the TV series LAW & ORDER. It ran for almost twenty years and at most utilized one technical advisor with police or prosecutor’s experience. How did the writers knock out so many quality episodes? They looked at the world around them, used real-life drama as a basis for their script, and filled in the blanks.

Every episode came with the disclaimer, ‘Any similarity to an actual event or real persons living or dead is purely coincidental,’ or words to that effect. But as any fan will tell you, that statement is pure hogwash. A blithering idiot could draw parallels with actual events recently in the news; the premise, at times, was blatant.

The show’s producer made a fortune with that show, and anyone can cash in on the same idea. Life is full of good stories, just change the names to protect the innocent—and keep yourself out of civil court.

I often say my stories are based on actual incidents. That’s true, but no fiction can be totally unembellished fact or it would be a report and not a novel—probably boring to read. I claim to have a better memory than imagination. That’s true, too, but some imagination is always necessary in fiction. My last release, A LEPRECHAUN’S LAMENT, was based on an actual case, but I couldn’t resist inventing a beautiful Irish girl and a few other touches just to make fiction better than fact.

Really don’t have the imagination to conjure up an epic fantasy novel, but still feel the call of writing? What’s the problem? What do you do for a living? UPS driver? Server in a posh restaurant? Bank teller? That last one comes with oodles of possibilities for good drama.

Hear about a hostage situation on the 6 o’clock news? How about a UPS driver walking into the middle of that? You’d get all the details of the package delivery business correct and with a little research, fake your way through the police procedures.

The local papers run a story about employees finding a body in the parking lot of a classy restaurant? Okay, server, embellish that event front and back with your knowledge of the food business and what you’ve seen happen in the dining room or bar.

And let’s not waste words on what kind of excitement can come from the customers and staff in a bank.

Look around you. Read the newspapers. Watch the news. Use Life as a basis for a story that becomes uniquely yours when it smacks you between the eyes like a 2×4. It’s not plagiarism unless you rewrite someone else’s work. Draw inspiration from . . . who knows what!

Almost every interviewer has asked, “Where do you get the inspiration for what you write?” The actual plots may come from my past or what I see down the road. The inspiration may come from anything. Often it hits me while driving at 70 on an Interstate. Sometimes my eyes click open at 2 a.m. and I remember something that might make an exciting story. Or I may hear an explosion while sitting on the porch. Like a cop in a street-crime unit who doesn’t get complaints to answer, you have to go out there and drum up your own cases. Writers can’t look for stories in someone else’s books. The world is like a take-out menu waiting for you to select something and go with it.


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.

Thirteen of his Sam Jenkins mysteries have been produced as audio books and simultaneously published as eBooks. Zurl’s first full-length novel, A NEW PROSPECT, was named best mystery at the 2011 Indie Book Awards, is currently a finalist in the 2012 Eric Hoffer Book Awards, and was nominated for a Montaigne Medal. His second novel, A LEPRECHAUN’S LAMENT, is available in hardcover and paperback with eBooks coming soon.

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 see photos of the area where the stories take place.

Tricia’s Note: I’d like to thank Wayne for his informative and entertaining post. He’s absolutely right: inspiration is everywhere. I hope you all have found inspiration right here in this blog.


5 thoughts on “Wayne Zurl: Writing What You Know

  1. Good tips and ideas, Wayne. But in your case,I think part of your authentic writer's voice comes through based on what you've achieved in your background. Fortunately, we all know *something*, right? Or as you say, can imagine it…


  2. Thanks for stopping by Jenny. I just left your blog. Those “somethings” can amount to some real good stuff. And we can't forget about using the places we know in what we write. Guys like Tony Hillerman cashed in with his great descriptions of New Mexico and northern Arizona.


  3. Thank you, Jenny for your visit and for your comment. Imagination is key, but you're right: Wayne has a unique voice that comes through in his writing.

    Wayne, I appreciate your time once again. It's been wonderful having you!


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