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  • HeaderWayne


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.

Books by Wayne Zurl

What Readers say...


    Masterful plots, penetrating psychology, rich background and intriguing, diverse characters –let’s face it – this series is addictive. You read one, you want more.

    Wayne Zurl is a wonderful writer, whose books should not be missed! Five stars!
    Ilil R. Arbel, author & researcher

    Every story in this collection will hold your attention and y’all will be learning jes’ how them folks in the mountains of Tennessee chat! Great writing, well edited, exhilarating stories.
    Nancy L. Silk, author & reviewer

    Wayne Zurl writes detective novels with authority. His writing style is in-depth character development, vivid scene settings, and weaving just the right twists and turns to keep his readers captivated.
    [The main character] Chief Jenkins reminds me of Robert B. Parker’s ‘Chief Jesse Stone’.
    Any of Wayne Zurl’s novels could easily be turned into blockbuster feature films or ‘made-for-television’ movies. FIVE STARS.
    Michael Phelps, author & private investigator

    The stories, written in the first person, are funny, deep, sad – every aspect of human life is covered – and I thoroughly enjoyed every one.
    Diana M. Hockley, author

    This anthology collection is perfect for readers who have not had a chance to meet the charming main character, Sam Jenkins. Sam is a sarcastic guy who has no problem saying exactly what he’s thinking: his quick wit, sense of humor, friendly banter and sweet flirty side keeps the reader laughing out loud as every story unfolds.
    Zurl has a knack for weaving intriguing police procedural tales with a witty mixture of humor, intrigue, drama and suspense. He utilizes his prior extensive knowledge and experience of police procedure to create a series that diehard mystery / detective fans will crave to read.
    So take it from a Sam Jenkins groupie and read From New York To The Smokies. I guarantee that once you read the collection, you will get hooked on all of the Sam Jenkins Mystery series. It is simply an addicting whodunit mystery series that will turn mystery fans into Sam Jenkins fans!
    Kathleen Anderson, book reviewer

    Zurl is a natural born storyteller! He recounts these crime-solving tales with such ease, you’ll actually feel like your mind is being smoothly caressed. With memorable characters and vivid detail, these are the kind of stories you’d love to hear conveyed around an evening’s campfire.
    There are a few seriously laugh-out-loud moments at our hero’s witty and clever sarcasm…a charming and delightful character.
    Kat McCarthy, author, blogger, reviewer

    …detailed stories with fascinating characters…fast-paced and enjoyable. Don’t miss these.
    Marianne Spitzer, author


    In Pigeon River blues Wayne Zurl weaves a riveting tale of radical redneck revenge and domestic terrorism into the very fabric of east Tennessee's vacation paradise. True to his style, Zurl's detective Sam Jenkins delivers another captivating account of police bravery and heroism in the face of extreme personal danger. Dollywood may never be the same! *****   

    BJ Gillum, Author

    Rockwood, TNSam Jenkins’ police work is the propelling motion of this fast pace read. Sometimes comical and witty, his style works on the written page. If you like TV police dramas, this book will be as intense, but more enjoyable because of Wayne Zurl’s spiffy character, Sam.

    Roy Murry, author and reviewer

    …Zurl does an excellent job of writing believable characters with their own special traits. Each is unique. [His] knowledge of police work and the military brings reality to Sam Jenkins’s character as he uses both to solve this mystery.
    Marianne Spitzer, author

    [Zurl] created a clever, hilarious, sometimes-over-the top character in Sam Jenkins. [He] is what makes this series one-of-a-kind. But it’s not all about Sam … The secondary characters in this novel are fantastic … complex, and though some are thoroughly unlikable, they are all unique … A fun, fast-paced, intelligent read.
    Tricia Drammeh, author

    I have always liked the small city police chief stories that used to be quite popular but seem to have been cast aside. Mr. Zurl has rescued this genre, given us new stories and a new chief [in] Sam Jenkins. This is quite a plot that Mr. Zurl has given us as protecting singer C.J. Profitt is not going to be easy. However if it were easy then we probably would not read this story. Sam Jenkins is a wonderful character that will keep you entertained as you enjoy this new adventure.
    Victor Gentile: Vic’s Media Room

    I loved the mystery and the relationships between the characters. I loved reading this story. It was written so well and kept me turning the pages.
    Arlene Mullen, reviewer

    Sam is one of those characters that has many sides to him. He’s lovable but can get the answers from a criminal when needed. He’s always full of surprises.
    All the characters are deep and you have some you can’t stand but they each have their own qualities, good and bad. The book is a fast paced read and keeps you on your toes from the front cover to the last page. The bad thing is, you’re left wanting more.
    Gayle Pace: Books, Reviews, Etc.

    Pigeon River Blues brings to light many current issues that are front and center in the news today … This novel will keep you riveted to the printed page … with an ending you won’t expect and a Police Chief who won’t give up until the gnawing feeling in the pit of his stomach is soothed by solving the case.
    Fran Lewis: Just Reviews
    … Zurl weaves another intriguing tale of mystery and suspense that keeps the reader guessing as they follow Sam [Jenkins] on his latest madcap adventure. Zurl engages the reader with a story that has a mixture of humor, intrigue, drama and suspense. His use of the local southern dialect stays true to the setting in the story; the reader feels like they are transported to the town of Prospect.
    I loved the fun banter that makes up the dialogue in this story. You can’t help but get drawn in as the characters come to life. With a quirky cast, rich descriptions of the area … and a suspenseful storyline full of intriguing twists and turns, Pigeon River Blues is an exciting continuation of the thrilling adventures found in the Sam Jenkins Mystery series!
    Pigeon River Blues and the Sam Jenkins mysteries are simply an addicting whodunit series that will turn mystery/detective fans into Sam Jenkins fans!
    Kathleen Anderson: Jersey Girl Book Reviews

    This full-size novel is one of Wayne Zurl’s best! This is an amusing, fun read as the characters are all well defined and there are no holds barred in what they think and say. This is a crime thriller which will make you chuckle and also keep you reading till late into the night. I could not put this book down and I’m amazed how well a former NY detective writes in perfect southern-speak in this captivating novel.
    Nancy Silk, author

    ‘PIGEON RIVER BLUES’ is perfect with unique characters in a setting that fits like a glove with its Southern language. [It] is as intriguing as The Game, as thrilling as Ransom, and as entertaining as ‘Good Will Hunting.’ Highly recommended to all readers who enjoy a clever mystery, with a blend of intellectual thrills, and humor.
    Geraldine Ahearn, reviewer

    … Jenkins is one of those “tough-but-fair” lawmen who also display a well defined sense of ethics and personal integrity, while at the same time possessing a keen sense of humor and a generous dose of personal charm.
    The supporting characters are also well rounded and completely defined, as opposed to the cardboard cutouts found in many series in this genre. I particularly liked the way he portrayed the Lesbian country star and her bigoted antagonists as real people rather than stereotypes or caricatures. That might have been an easy trap for an author to fall into, but Zurl avoids it deftly.
    “Pigeon River Blues” is a more complex work than it appears to be on the surface. As in the works of authors like James Lee Burke and the late Robert B. Parker, there are moral and ethical questions clearly presented without losing sight of the fact that the main purpose of this type of novel is to entertain and entertain it does, hugely.
    Bob Dunbar, author

    Five stars to Wayne Zurl and his latest Sam Jemkins novel, “Pigeon River Blues.” The multi-faceted plot is driven by prejudice and hatred…[Jenkins’] demeanor while on the job is not what one might expect from a small town, southern police chief. His tactics are interesting, to say the least. As might be expected, the “real” antagonist is a surprise.
    Larry Webb, author

    Pigeon River Blues by Wayne Zurl is a fast-paced, intrigue-filled detective mystery that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

    I enjoyed the way the author developed his storyline and the background information. This made the story easy to follow and relate to. The author’s story telling style made the tale flow and it never bogs down. I found it easy to get into the story and hard to put it down.
    Larry B. Gray, author

    … there is much, much more to Sam Jenkins than just being an excellent police chief and an attractive guy. The character is complete, three-dimensional, and entirely human. He becomes a friend, whom you like, and you feel you know him well after a book or two—but just like your real-life friends, he can, and does, surprise you every so often. You think you know how he functions at work, at home, with his friends, his employees, his wife, and the criminals, but trust me, you don’t. In this book in particular I was utterly surprised by some of the things he said and did—but they fitted perfectly well with his personality. Mr. Zurl makes no mistakes.
    I admire and respect Mr. Zurl’s complete absence of bigotry, prejudice, or preconception of anything, anyone, anywhere. There is, obviously, not an ageist bone in his body. His take on race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation (which is very important in Pigeon River Blues) is based on the jaded and sophisticated acceptance that the human race may be stupid and annoying, but stupidity and annoyance is spread across the entire world with no relation to who and what you are. As a result, the book displays the kind of gentle humor that is born of wisdom.
    As for the plot – it is both brilliant and well crafted. Twists and turns and surprises happen again and again, but they are so well orchestrated as to make them entirely believable. You sometimes want to punch Sam’s nose – and the sentiment is certainly shared by some of the characters – but everything he does is inevitable to the plot and characters. This is a beautiful book that will keep you up and force you to go on until you finish. Enjoyable, intelligent, and fun – don’t miss it!
    Ilil Arbel, author

    Zurl’s mystery novels are well-written, character-driven, and the plot keeps the reader wondering. In his latest, ‘Pigeon River Blues’, the plot is tight, the good and bad characters are excellent…the dialogue is realistic and humorous. Oh, and the new character, John [Gallagher,] has a language all his own … and it’s a hoot.
    The ending is tight; all ends are tied up, and just as you think it’s over…hang on…here comes another blast.
    Lee Carey, author

    Reviews on HEROES & LOVERS

    This is the fourth book I've read in the series. Like the others, it's a light, entertaining police-procedural featuring Sam Jenkins, former NY City detective,now Police Chief of Prospect, Tennessee in the Smoky Mountain foothills. Throughout the series the author has been consistent in his quality of writing, his portrayal of continuing characters, balancing humor and import, and creating complex plots with satisfying endings.

    Drawing on his experiences as a Detective Lieutenant in Suffolk County, New York, Mr. Zurl's stories offer a candid look at police work, including unorthodox tactics, colorful language, bizarre situations, and inelegant behavior by characters on both sides of the law. After I finished the book, I went back to reread my favorite scene where Sam Jenkins' uses physical "persuasion" on a suspect in a men's room that includes holding the miscreant by his belt out a third-story window.

    Cheryl Peyton, Author & Member AGT

    Mr. Zurl is a highly skilled writer with a confident style in creating prose that flows and maintains a perfect pitch.I just finished HEROES AND LOVERS…really an enjoyable read. Hell, if I was a cop, I would BE Sam Jenkins…Great writing Wayne. I’m looking forward to more.

    Dirk Western, Amazon customer

    Wayne Zurl is a fantastic author that grabs the reader from the first page and doesn’t let go… His characters are fully developed and realistic. His descriptions of the Great Smoky Mountains area makes one want to leave on vacation. His story-line is full of twists and turns mixed into everyday life…Then there is the main character Sam Jenkins, the kind of man who can steal a woman’s heart with a smile [and] who will not take “no” as an answer when he is trying to…find his kidnapped friend. If this is the first Sam Jenkins mystery you pick up, it won’t be your last.
    Marianne Spitzer, author

    This story takes you on twists and turns that are unexpected, making the book hard to put down. Another great job by Wayne Zurl!
    Margaret Millmore, author

    Sure, Heroes & Lovers had a good-old-fashioned mystery at the heart of the book. But, this book also delved into who Sam Jenkins is as a person. It’s the human connection that speaks to me… This book is so much more than a mystery or a detective novel. The author tackles some very serious issues…with humor and compassion. He’s created flawed, but likable characters…And all was redeemed in the end. Zurl ties up his loose ends superbly. The book was a pleasure to read from beginning to end, and that’s why I’ll be back for more Sam Jenkins books.
    Tricia Darmmeh, author

    Zurl captures the regional southeast flavor in his characters’ individual dialects, in his descriptive writing, and in his obvious affection for the locals. In this entry Sam has to solve the kidnapping of his friend, a local TV anchorwoman, and the assault of her cameraman… Mix in a crooked car repairman, an active drug trade, political interference, and a lot of colorful characters and you have the makings for an entertaining story. I especially appreciated the satisfying ending, where several loose ends from the complex plot are all brought together. I liked this book a lot. Highly recommended.
    Jerold Last, author

    The reader will mentally view a superb story unfold, aided by excellent characters who do their jobs perfectly. Zurl uses descriptions of his characters and their surroundings with skill. The dialogue is perfect and realistic.
    Lee Carey, author

    My uncle Lou used the word spiffy to infer that an individual had class, was cool, and had his act together… it describes Sam Jenkins…Sam is a hero with pizzazz.
    Author Roy L. Murry

    I love Sam’s wit and humor along with his ability to see what other’s may not. He is charming and lovable and of course the ladies all love him and I like that in spite of his charm he is faithful to his wife Katherine, who may have a smaller role in the story but definitely not a minor role in Sam’s life.
    Kathleen Kelley, reviwer

    I really enjoyed reading this book. It…kept my attention from start to finish. I wasn’t expecting it to end the way that it did. Always a good sign!
    Melissa Waldron, reviewer

    Every once in a while a really good crime / police mystery comes along that just grabs your attention and doesn’t let go until the end. And that is what Heroes & Lovers has done for me! This is the first Sam Jenkins Mystery novel that I have read, but it will not be the last. Author Wayne Zurl weaves an intriguing tale that is just a plain good ol’ fashion mystery that could only be told by a person with years of prior police experience. I really enjoyed the author’s writing style: the mixture of humor, intrigue and romantic drama engages the reader, while the story has enough twists and turns [to] keep the reader guessing what will happen next. With rich descriptions and details of the Great Smoky Mountains and rural Tennessee setting and dialect, to Sam’s sarcastic personality and the witty banter between the characters, Heroes & Lovers is an entertaining story that crime/police mystery fans will thoroughly enjoy.

    Kathleen Anderson, reviewer



    The plot is sound and interesting. The author’s characters are likeable and believable.

    The author has taken an assortment of characters from all over the country and the world and woven them into a thoroughly enjoyable mystery. I look forward to the next installment of the ‘Sam Jenkins Mystery Series’.

    Paul J. for Readers Favorite

    Wayne Zurl’s writing, with its home grown Tennessee humor mixed with New York sarcasm, will have you laughing. But when it comes to police procedure, his writing is on spot—according to me, a police TV series nut case.

    Roy Murry, author & reviewer

    We travel along on a page turning read....really wild and entertaining. The way things turn out is nothing less than amazing. I loved it. I for one will be reading more of Chief Sam Jenkins mysteries!!

    Maureen, Amazon customer

    Zurl has a wonderful way with words and [a] hardy imagination. He's so creative, his main character Sam Jenkins is really someone I would love to know, [and] especially work with. I just don't think I would want to commit a crime with him around. Sam is brilliant. His sense of humor, witty comments, and all around knowledge make reading these mysteries that much more entertaining.

    Patricia Foltz, Way2Kool Reviews

    Absolutely superb. I was groused in by page one. This was the real stuff. The best aspect of this book is the incredible authenticity of police work. The details and the glimpses into what "real" police life is like, fueled by Wayne Zurl's experience as a cop, [are] remarkably refreshing. If more detective/cop books were like this, I would seek [out] this genre more frequently. Parts of the book made me feel as if someone had grabbed and twisted my guts.

    In terms of its craft, one of the best books I've read in years. For me, a delightful read well worth the effort.

    Tracy Shew, Amazon customer.

    Reviews on From New York to the Smokies...
    ~ Captivating – entertaining
    Wayne Zurl has done a superb job of creating unique characters and plot lines in this collection of short detective stories. Spattered with caustic observations and satirical interpolay between characters Wayne paints vivid pictures in the imagination. Captivating – entertaining. 
    **** ½  (four and one half stars) 
    BJ Gillum ~ Author Tennessee
    Reviews on A Can of Worms

    Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive . . .

    I loved this story with all its twists and turns about savvy Sam Jenkins, a tough-talking police chief with a soft heart, who tackles small town corruption in Prospect, Tennessee head-on. Chief Jenkins is a good man but he’s not afraid to bend the rules. The story revolves around Dallas Finchum, the goodhearted young policeman who is accused of rape. Mr. Zurl presents a host of other endearing characters and loathsome villains who are described in such exquisite detail that you feel like you know them personally. Another strong point of Mr. Zurl’s writing is that he weaves several interesting subplots into the main story that give it real substance. For example, his marriage to Kate is on shaky ground but he is determined to be faithful in spite of the strong attraction between him and Rachel Williams, the beautiful and sexy newscaster.  And there is always the tension between outspoken Sam and his former buddies from New York City, John and Vinnie, and the locals such as mayor Ronnie Shields. Mr. Zurl's years of experience as a NYPD detective give this book its authentic feel. The dialog is spot on and the ending is a surprise. There is so much to like about the hero Sam Jenkins and the story. I’ve read a few crime stories by well-known authors over the years but I would have to list this one at the top.

    Sam Bledsoe ~ Author


    Reviews on Murder in Knoxville

    Good read! Appalachian murder tales by a transplanted NY police detective

    Wayne Zurl brings us six stories of murder and mischief that showcase small-town police chief Sam Jenkins and his crew in Zurl’s second collection of novelettes. The relationship and banter between him and his amour, Kate, bring to mind Robert B. Parker’s characters Spencer and Susan Silverman. Sam himself, is an original, a NY transplant like the author. The plots vary from murder to a stolen statue of a cow and they kept me eagerly reading all the way!

    Kaye George ~ AGT member and mystery author

    Reviews on The Great Smoky Mountain Bank Job...

    This is a very readable collection of Zurl’s stories. He has put out several volumes of Sam Jenkins tales. As usual, these are on the long side for short stories, but you’ll zip through them. Jenkins, the sheriff of tiny Prospect, located in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, solves six mysteries with the help of his Sergeant, Bettye Lambert, and others.

    I think the title story was my favorite, but I liked them all. Jenkins is a transplant to Tennessee from the New York police department, as is Zurl himself. I especially thought “The Butlers Did It” was cleverly done. All the characters come off the page and the settings are authentic and real, too. The stories will stay with you after you’ve enjoyed them. Highly recommended for mystery readers.

    Kaye George ~ Award winning and best-selling author of mystery novels and short stories.

Interview with Author

Tell us a little about yourself, whatever you’d like to share to introduce yourself

Tell us a little about yourself, whatever you’d like to share to introduce yourself

Karen, you ask good questions. I needed an extra day to provide intelligent answers. Now, let’s see if anyone else thinks I’m as clever as I do. Here’s a little something about me:

Shortly after World War Two ended, I was born in Brooklyn, New York. Although I never wanted to leave a community with such an efficient trolley system, I had little to say in my parents’ decision to pick up and move to Long Island where I grew up.

Like most American males of the baby-boomer generation, I spent my adolescence wanting to be a cowboy, soldier, or policeman. Those aspirations were based on a child’s perceptions fostered by movies and later television.

The Vietnam War and additional time in the reserves accounted for my career as a soldier. After returning to the US and separating from active duty, the New York State Employment Service told me I possessed no marketable civilian skills. So, I became a cop. That was as close to military life as I could find. I spent 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, I served as a section commander supervising investigators. Thanks to the GI Bill, I graduated from Empire State College with a couple of degrees and now that I’m retired from the police service, I still like the cowboy idea, but have interrupted that aspiration with an attempt at being a mystery writer.

Years ago, I left the land of the Big Apple to live in the picturesque foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains of east Tennessee with my wife, Barbara.

Twenty (20) of my Sam Jenkins mysteries have been produced as audio books and simultaneously published as eBooks. Ten (10) of these novelettes are now available in print under the titles of A MURDER IN KNOXVILLE and Other Smoky Mountain Mysteries and REENACTING A MURDER and Other Smoky Mountain Mysteries.

My first full-length novel, A NEW PROSPECT, won Indie and Eric Hoffer Book Awards for best mystery and best commercial fiction in 2011 and 2012, and was a finalist for a Montaigne Medal and First Horizon Book Award. My other novels are A LEPRECHAUN’S LAMENT and HEROES & LOVERS. A fourth book, PIGEON RIVER BLUES, is under contract to be published in the near future.

Going beyond that canned biography, I now live in one of the most beautiful parts of the United States, just outside the most visited national parks in the country. In addition to spending my days writing and taking care of five acres of woodland, I’ve returned to something I’ve enjoyed since I was a small boy, fishing. I still use tackle from the 1950s and never mind throwing back those really big old lunkers that wouldn’t taste good and sort of remind me of myself.

How did you get started writing?

How did you get started writing?

There are a few defense attorneys who might say I began writing police fiction when I was still a cop. But back then, we called them prosecution worksheets. No one should ever believe a lawyer. My real writing career began after I retired. For almost ten years, I wrote non-fiction magazine articles about Colonial American history and the writings of James Fenimore Cooper. In 2006, I switched to fiction. I saw my first novelette published in 2009 and a full length novel debuted in 2011.

What appeals to you about the genre that you write?

What appeals to you about the genre that you write?

I cash in on the old author’s maxim of write what you know. With police mysteries set in Tennessee I can cover both bases: subject and venue. My protagonist is a former New York detective who retired and found a job as police chief for a small city in the Smoky Mountains. Like me, he would investigate crimes the old-fashioned way. In police language, he’s a dinosaur.

I take actual cases I investigated, supervised, or knew a lot about and transplant them to Tennessee. This whole procedure saves me from doing all but a bare minimum of research.

What is your favorite part of writing?

What is your favorite part of writing?

The seventh word in that sentence. Writing is fun. All that Facebook and Twitter nonsense needed to market the books is too much like work.

If you had to give up writing and do something else, what would you do instead?

If you had to give up writing and do something else, what would you do instead?

I collect three pensions and think my royalty checks are pitifully small. So, I write to stabilize my ego on a livable level and keep me from playing stickball in the traffic not to make money. Right now, if I had to take a job to occupy my time, I’d probably want to be a charter boat captain. I’ve owned boats most of my life, know how to behave on the water, and the work would be fun.

What’s your favorite meal of the day?

What’s your favorite meal of the day?

No doubt about it—dinner. My wife is a great cook. I like to cook, and we’re not afraid of the clean up. We rarely eat prepared foods or frozen meals. It’s almost like going to a restaurant.

Which are your favorite characters to write, the female characters or the male characters? The heroes and heroines, or the villains?

Which are your favorite characters to write, the female characters or the male characters? The heroes and heroines, or the villains?

This is a tough one. I use a lot of dialogue in my books and I love the conversations between Sam Jenkins and the three women in his life—his wife, Kate, Bettye Lambert, his administrative officer and desk sergeant, and Rachel Williamson, his friend the TV reporter. Each lady handles him differently. I’d say, they’re my favorites, but since most of the characters I use are based on real people, I like the idea of duplicating the delivery and style of speech for these quirky and unique personalities. If I can “hear” and “see” someone I know, it’s easy to write their dialogue and develop their character.

One of the things I dislike about my kind of story is killing off a few of the bad guys. Sometimes they’re so evil, I hate to see them go. I’d like to get more mileage from these real rats.

Are you an avid reader? When you do read someone else’s writing, what is your favorite genre?

Are you an avid reader? When you do read someone else’s writing, what is your favorite genre?

I’m constantly reading something. For years, I read lots of historical fiction. When I was a cop, I rarely read mysteries or police fiction. Then one day someone gave me a copy of James Lee Burke’s book BLACK CHERRY BLUES and I got hooked. From him I moved on to guys like Robert B. Parker, Raymond Chandler, Joe Wambaugh, and that other fellow from Long Island who tries to write mysteries, Nelson DeMille.

Many writers dream of having the ideal location to write. If you could live anywhere in the world or live a particular lifestyle, where would you be answering these questions right now?

Many writers dream of having the ideal location to write. If you could live anywhere in the world or live a particular lifestyle, where would you be answering these questions right now?

We almost moved to Scotland when I retired, but thanks to the US dollar sinking and the exchange rate being abysmal, we changed plans. But since you’re allowing me a fantasy existence, I’ll take a renovated old stone cottage on a few acres of headland near a harbor town in the Western Highlands. I would happily sit in front of a picture window overlooking the sea and the islands sipping single-malt whisky and write about an ex-New York detective who moved to Scotland and helps the local constables solve crimes.

If you were a color, what color would you be and why?

If you were a color, what color would you be and why?

Questions like this are too abstract for me. So, what do I do? Simple, ask my wife. She thinks I should be Great Lakes blue. We’ve just started fishing up there and I’m amazed at the expanse and beauty we cover in a boat.

If that doesn’t work, how about orange? I love the autumn and the foliage here in the Smokies is almost as spectacular as it was in New York’s Adirondacks.

My Latest Blogs

18 January 2018
Short Stories


Whenever someone asks me what well-known author has influenced my writing most, I tell them the late Robert B. Parker. Parker in turn had been greatly influenced by Raymond Chandler. So, I’ll assume some of his style rubbed off on me, too. Characters like Spenser and Marlowe are good role models for any all-American boy.


In January of 2010, Parker passed away in his Boston townhouse. I was then attending an on-line writer’s workshop called thenextbigwriter.com. News of Parker’s death made the rounds of the daily forums and elicited many sad comments and kind words. A lot of people, me included, would miss him and the characters he created.


I wrote this piece shortly after his death. For this anniversary, I’d like to post it again.



So Long, Bob, and Thanks for the Memories



            On January 30th three inches of snow fell on east Tennessee. Then it rained, and our world turned to slush. Then it snowed again, only to be topped by hours of an intense, smoky Scotch mist. Nighttime temperatures caused the landscape to glaze over like a cheap doughnut.

            Being one of those eco-conscious schmucks, I didn’t buy any rock salt. So I sharpened my ice scraper and ate a big bowl of Wheaties before heading outside the next morning.

            After hours of chipping and scraping and shoveling what looked and felt like tons of shaved ice, I opened my jacket to cool off. An invisible cloud of a goat-like odor wafted upward. I hung up my tools and headed for the shower.

            After remaining under the hot water long enough to resemble a hundred-and-eighty pound cooked lobster, I dried my hair and ran to the bedroom for warm clothes.

            My head popped through a cable-knit fisherman’s sweater and I noticed a very large man sitting in the wing back chair in a corner of the room. He scratched his mustache with an index finger as he looked at me. I knew the face.

            “How the hell did you get in here?” I asked.

            “You don’t lock your doors.”

            “Yeah, but don’t you knock?”

            He showed me a fish-eating grin. “Not any more.”

            “I know you, but it’s not like we’ve really met.”

            “Uh-huh. You can call me Bob.”

            “Nice to finally meet you,” I said. “It feels like I’ve known you for years.”

            “I guess I’ve had a pretty good run.”

            “You think?”

            He smiled and ran a hand over his crew cut in what I guess he thought was a gesture of modesty.

            “I heard what happened,” I said. “I’m sorry.’

            “Thanks. Happens to everybody.”

            “You leave anything half finished?”

            “Two things, actually. One in progress and one rough outline.”

            I smiled. “Looking for someone to help tie up the loose ends?”

            “I think Joan can handle that.”

            “I thought she might.”

            Another big grin and a nod. The brown leather jacket he wore looked big enough to cover a VW beetle.

            “You dedicated every book you wrote to her,” I said. “That was cool.”

            “We’ve been together a long time. Had a few rough patches, but she’s a good girl. She deserved all those dedications.”

            I nodded. “End of an era, huh?”

            “Yeah, I’m afraid so.” He spoke with a think Boston accent.

            “I’ll miss Spenser and Jesse and the black guy.”

            “His name’s Hawk,” he said, and frowned.

            “I know. I just wanted to hear you say that.”

            The friendly smile came back. “Oh, yeah, now I get it. And don’t forget Sunny.”

            “Yeah. I like her, too.”

            “So do I.”

            I began to wonder why my guest came to visit.

            “I’m honored,” I said, “but why did you, uh…stop by?”

            “Oh, yeah. Good question. I guess I wanted to see a few people before…you know.”

            “What for?”

            “I hear you’re getting impatient. Your first book’s not selling. Time to regroup. Write a new letter and keep trying. In this business sometimes tenacity trumps talent. But you’ve got something to say. Don’t quit now.”

            “Yeah, easy for you to say.”

            He laughed. “Everybody starts in the same place. I like your characters, and you’ve got a good line of shit. Reminds me of someone else’s work.”

            “You’ve read something of mine?” I sounded surprised.

            “Can’t remember where, but yeah. I liked it.”

            “No kidding?”

            “No kidding.”


            “You bet.” He stood up and stretched. “Listen, I gotta go.”

            “Well, thanks for the pep talk, Coach. And it was great to meet you. Should have been years ago.”

            “Your welcome, and yeah, that would have been nice.” He zipped his jacket. “Good luck.”

            “Thanks again. Hey, I’ll walk out with you.”

            “That’s really not necessary. I don’t do things conventionally any more.”

            “Oh, yeah. Well, take care.”

            “Okay. You, too.”

            He walked out of the bedroom and turned right down the stairs. I gave him less than ten seconds and followed. The door at the bottom of the steps was closed and I didn’t feel any cold air from it having been opened. I heard my wife on the phone in the kitchen. Bob was gone.


For Robert B. Parker

September 17, 1932~~ January 18, 2010

“Put the most meaning in the fewest words.”


In January 2011 my first full-length novel, A NEW PROSPECT, was traditionally published. In May it was named best mystery at the 2011 Next Generation Independent Publisher’s Book Awards. In 2012, it won an Eric Hoffer Book Award for best commercial fiction. Tenacity was a good idea. Thanks again, Bob.





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20 November 2017
Short Stories

If my world hadn't changed in 1957 perhaps the outcome of the latest World Series would have bothered me. But the Dodgers abandoned Brooklyn when I was just a kid and I vowed never to watch a major league ball game for as long as I lived.

A couple years ago a friend asked a few mystery writers to each give him a short story for his blog with baseball as the theme. This what I came up with.



By Wayne Zurl



On September 24, 1957, the Brooklyn Dodgers played their last game at Ebbets Field and I was there. Well, not exactly there—I watched the game on TV. I was eleven and had sprained my ankle the day before in gym class. My mother kept me home from school to let it heal.


The Dodgers’ second baseman, Junior Gilliam, hit a high fly ball to shallow right field when I heard what I thought was a muffled backfire sound off close to our house. I looked out the window, but didn’t see a car running. Then a man about thirty or forty—as a kid, I had a hard time telling—slammed the side door at Mrs. Campbell’s house and hustled down the driveway. It wasn’t Mr. Campbell. He jumped into a two-tone brown ’48 Chevy, one just like my father’s, and drove away. I went back to finish watching the game.


The cameras panned a small crowd of people scattered around the stadium. The announcer, Vin Scully, said only 6,700 fans attended—a drop in the bucket. The game ended when Pirates’ outfielder Bob Skinner grounded to short and Don Zimmer scooped it up and fired a bullet to Gil Hodges at first. End of an era. The Dodgers won the five-hitter two-zip, but no one from Brooklyn looked happy.


My mother was preparing a meatloaf when I pushed the curtains aside and saw two marked police cars parked in front of the Campbell’s house. As I peered out the window, a black ’55 Ford pulled into the driveway and an overweight guy in a gray suit and dark fedora stepped out.


I called to my mother, “Hey, Ma, what’s going on next door?”


She didn’t know.


Another dark four-door pulled up and two more suits got out. One carried a big Graphic Reflex camera and the other, a large tool box.


My mother stepped up behind me and looked over my shoulder.


“I’m going out there,” she said.


“Me, too.”


“You shouldn’t walk.’


“Sure I should.”


I hobbled after her and reached the sidewalk in front of Campbell’s home just as a Nassau County patrolman left the house and approached his car. He looked short for a cop. His orange oval patch and powder blue tie contrasted sharply with the navy blue uniform.


“What happened?” my mother asked.


“Woman got killed.”


“She get shot?” I asked.


He looked at me for the first time and frowned. “Yeah, why?”


“I’ll bet I know who did it,” I said.


My mother stared at me like I was a Martian.


The cop smiled and shook his head. “Sure you do, kid.” He got into his car and drove away.


“What are you talking about?” Mom asked.


“I was lookin’ out the window and saw a guy run out o’ the house.”


She grabbed my hand. “Come with me.”


The Campbell’s front door stood slightly ajar. Mr. Campbell sat on the sofa hanging his head. Mom knocked on the jamb and the overweight plainclothesman opened the door. A gold shield hung from a leather fob on his jacket pocket.


“My son has something to tell you.”


He stepped outside and closed the door.


“What’s that, ma’am?”


“This guy,” I said, “came out the side door and jumped into a car.”


“What guy?”


“I don’t know. Some guy. I never saw him before.”


“What did he look like?”


I told him what I remembered.


“What time was that?”


“Not sure. Third inning?”


The detective looked confused.


I shrugged. “I was watching the Dodger game.”


“Oh.” He rolled his eyes.


“Was she shot?” I asked.


I must have seemed overly enthused. He scowled.


“Look, son, we’re pretty busy here. I hope you’re not fooling around.”


“He wouldn’t do that.” Mom always stuck up for me.


“What’s his name?”


I spoke for myself. “Sam Jenkins. We live next door.”


“How old are you, kid?”


“Eleven and a half.”


“You look pretty big for eleven.” He pointed to the Ace bandage around my foot. “What happened?”


I told him that, too.


“Okay, thanks. I’ll look into it.” The squad dick turned to leave.


“Hey, officer, wait,” I said. “You want his plate number?”














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30 October 2017
Short Stories

A few years go I entered a contest and one first prize. My big grand award: A free copy of the sponsor's Southgern Writers magazine. The rules were simple: Less than 200 words and the story must begin with, I've had wonderful holidays...

This what I submitted.


A Halloween Collar

By Wayne Zurl



“I’ve had wonderful holidays, but this wasn’t one of them.” After that sentiment, I smacked the kid on the back of his head.

A rubber ghoul mask fell from his hand to the floor and he pulled in his head like a frightened turtle.

“Up yours,” he said.

I grabbed his nose and put my face an inch from his ear. “The next time I hit you, smartass, you’ll lose a few teeth.”

His eyes strained to look at me. I removed my fingers from his beak.

“I chased you four blocks, nitwit, and ripped my pants going over that fence. I am not a happy policeman. I’ll ask again. Where did you get those fireworks?”

A slight smile crossed his face. “I forget.”

I smacked him again, this time on his ear and a little harder.

His hand went defensively to his head. “I’ll have your badge for that, man.”

“I doubt that you little stinkbug. Blowing up a mailbox is a felony. Talk or go to jail. Where did you get the M-80s?”

He cracked an arrogant smirk. “From my father, the chief inspector.”


PS: The title of this blog entry is in honor of my buddy Phlash Phelps, morning DJ on Sirius/XM Radio's 60's on 6, for mentioning my last novel, HONOR AMONG THIEVES, on his show. He had a cameo spot in the book.






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10 October 2017
Special Offers
Tips & Hints

Best selling writer Jerry B. Jenkins (no relation to my recurring main charaster, Sam Jenkins, or to my maternal side of the family) has asked me to post a link to his new guide on how to write a book in 20 steps from beginning to end on my personal website. After doing that, I thought the AGT members might be interested in obtaining a copy. Here's the link to Jerry's site.  https://www.jerryjenkins.com/how-to-write-a-book/

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06 October 2017
Short Stories

After the recent Las Vegas massacre by a supposed lone gunman armed with multiple assault weapons, sevral people asked me for my take on the possibility that this individual really acted alone and basically what I think of common sense gun control. I'd like to wait for a final conclusion of the investigtors on the ground at the scene before theorizing too much about the first question, but The overall idea of COMMON SENSE gun control has always appealed to me. I DO NOT advocate banning all guns from civilians entitled and qualified to purchase and own them; any legislation pointed in that direction is nothing more than a waste of time and a disaster waiting to happen. However, the laws as now written are disjointed nationwide and in need of COMMON SENSE refurbishment. A quick fix would not be overly difficult, but should be addressed by people who understand statute law, the public's right to basic protection from incidents like these and the point of view of the average law-abiding gun owner.

Following the shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT years ago, I wrote a novellette that I thought answered many of the questions people asked about how or why could such a thing happen. Unfortunately, the publisher I had at the time refused to handle it, stating it was too controversial. A few years later and a new publisher on the hook, she also declined to publish it for the same reason. Finally a publisher in the UK, uneffected by the taboos of mentioning US gun law inadequacies, published it as part of an anthology where the proceeds from the sales went to charity.

Now, I'd like to post PAPER TRAIL on my blog to allow anyone to read my thoughts about this ongoing problem. The procedures contained within the story are sound and  based on my twenty years as a detective and police administrator. The laws, as existed at the time of the Sandy Hook shooting and still exist, are accurately depicted and based on my experience as a holder of a federal firearms license for twenty-three years.

This not a short story. It's 11,000 words. It should take an hour to read.




By Wayne Zurl

Sergeant Stanley Rose scrambled from behind his patrol car and moved clockwise toward the school’s rear entrance. When he reached a white Toyota parked near the corner of the building, he rested an Ithaca pump shotgun over the hood, pointing it at the admin office window.

            POs Junior Huskey and Harley Flatt scurried in the opposite direction until they found cover behind a Ford Fusion and a Chevy pickup. Junior carried a scoped Winchester model 70 and Harley an AR-15. Their khaki uniform shirts contrasted with the darker vehicles; their green trousers blended with the grass.

            Bobby Crockett and I remained at the side of the school behind my unmarked Crown Victoria, no more than sixty feet from the building, carefully watching a young man hold the muzzle end of an AK-47 at the head of John Woolford, the assistant principal of the Lamar E. Shields Elementary School in Prospect, Tennessee, a small city generally said to be on the “peaceful side of the Smokies.” In addition to carrying an assault rifle, the grips of two high-capacity semiautomatics protruded from the gunman’s waistband. That much firepower turned a skinny kid into a formidable opponent.

            I’m not a professional hostage negotiator, but I needed to establish contact and do something to keep the situation from swirling down the toilet. Using my cell phone, I called a landline in the school’s office.

            Woolford picked up. “Yes?”

            “John, Sam Jenkins, Prospect PD. Can I speak to the man with the guns?”

            On the other end I heard, “The police chief wants to speak with you.”

            The young man, who looked to be in his late teens or early twenties, was very thin and dressed all in black. After hearing the message, he pushed Woolford roughly into a chair and grabbed the phone.

            “What?” he said.

            I identified myself and began a dialogue. “Tell me what you want. What can I do to work this out?”

            His nostrils flared as he sucked air in through his nose; he took no time to reply. “I already done what I came here for. I got nothin’ more to say.”

            As he dropped the phone onto the desk, I yelled, “Wait!”

            Without further ado, he calmly squeezed the trigger of the assault rifle. The muzzle flashed and recoiled slightly, the cracking report loud enough for us to hear outside the building as one 7.62 x 39 millimeter round travelled through John Woolford’s head. The young man showed no emotion, no more feeling for another living thing than if he had cut the head off a fish.  

For a moment afterwards, he looked out the window. His head turned thirty degrees to the right, then to the left, perhaps searching for the eyes of the last person with whom he spoke. Who knows what a homicidal individual thinks? I’ve met plenty and can never figure them out.

            The silent radio broke squelch and Junior said,“I’ve got a shot.”

            “Standby,” I said. “Let’s see what he does.”     

            The young gunman shrugged, turned the rifle, placing the muzzle between his lips, and put a bullet through the top of his head.          

He collapsed out of my view and I keyed the transmit button on my small handheld radio again.  “It looks like he ate the gun. Move in, but be careful.”

I let out a long breath and shook my head.  Could I chalk up yet another example of colossal waste to the collection I’d amassed over the years? What else would we find once we entered the school? The apparent is not always the sole factor in a can of worms like the one before us. But a few precautions were necessary before running headlong into the building.

            The elementary school, named for our mayor’s grandfather, occupied a small, one-story brick building with only six ways in or out.

            Stan Rose, a tall black man, built like a professional wrestler, ran to the pair of double doors at the rear of the building.

            My radio squawked. “Door’s locked,” Stan said. “Looks like he wrapped a chain between the bars.”

            “Junior,” I said, “try another door. Harley, check the front.”

            The two officers acknowledged my transmission.

            I turned to Bobby. “We’ll take those two on this side.”

            Junior reported in first. “This one’s chained, too.”

            “Same here in front,” Harley said.

            When I reached my pair of doors, I found them secured with a bicycle chain and padlock. But from one of the classrooms, a woman stepped into the hall; she must have heard me rattling the door. Four young children followed her; two girls held hands. The boys just stood there, one with tears on his cheek, both wide-eyed.

            “Stan,” I said, “get bolt cutters from your car and meet me at the side doors. And bring a windshield hammer. Junior, Bobby, Harley, keep circling the building. Check all doors and windows. Look for an accomplice or anyone who seems like they don’t belong.”

            Moments later, Stanley jogged up to meet me, carrying an orange hammer especially designed to break safety glass and a bolt cutting tool more than two feet long.

            “Stand back, the glass fragments may scatter,” I yelled at the woman, but probably didn’t need to. Everything had become quiet, but I was still cranked up.

            I waited a moment. She turned, gathered the children together and stepped back almost twenty feet. Heads peeked from doorways. More children and adults stepped into the hall from other classrooms in the wing, many were crying, most stared dully, obviously in shock.

            I swung the hammer, striking the upper half of the glass door in the center with the pointed end of the head. A small spider of cracks appeared, but I was far from accomplishing my goal. I tried again and saw a bit more progress. Additional cracks appeared, as did a small indentation.

            “That might have done it,” Stanley said. “Gimme a little room.”

            He swung the bolt cutters like a bat, putting all his 235 pounds behind the effort. The glass broke inward. Then he smashed the business end of the tool against the glass like a soldier driving the butt of his rifle into a Goliath-like opponent. After the third try, the glass disappeared from the metal door frame. A quick snip of the chain that secured the bars locking the doors together gave us entry. I tried to imagine what we’d find, what damage and horror the gunman left behind.

            Stan used his radio to call the three other officers and coordinate with the sheriff’s units and state troopers the county dispatcher sent to assist.

            “Who needs first aid?” I asked the closest teacher.

            Tears rolled down her check. “It’s too late.”

            She shivered slightly and shook her head, probably never having experienced anything close to what happened moments before and the results she was forced to see. I felt sorry for her and wondered how many shrinks would work overtime to help these survivors sort out their mental anguish.

            “Show me,” I said.

I followed her while Stan and Harley Flatt, guns in hand, jogged down the hall to look for the shooter.

            My other two cops herded the teachers and children into the blacktop parking area, twenty yards from the building. Car doors slammed and two uniformed deputies walked toward the crowd in the parking lot.    

            The teacher and I entered a first grade classroom. The smell of spilled blood hit me likethe stink of low tide on the mud flats in the Great South Bay where I grew up. Immediately, I scanned the room. The body of a woman in her forties lay on the floor below the blackboard; blood stained her pale yellow blouse and a pool of maroon covered the floor aroundher. Off to one side lie more bodies—a younger woman and six children—all shot. The amount of blood appeared excessive, like the dark red contents of several gallon paint cans had been spilled on the floor and splattered on the walls. The putrid odor of the bodily releases that occur at a time of death could have gagged a maggot. No one gets paid enough to deal with something like that.

In the furthest corner, behind an overturned desk, a small boy and girl huddled together. I pushed my way through the scattered, tiny desks.

            “Are you hurt?”

            The boy shook his head and the girl whimpered, “No.”

            “I’m a policeman,” I said softly. “No one will harm you.”

            They nodded, but looked at me with a thousand yard stare people their age shouldn’t possess. Their smooth young faces displayed a mental pain one could only imagine. The girl’s breathing sounded uneven and labored. The boy held her tightly—his way of protecting a friend.

            “Everything’s okay now,” I said, knowing that was a convenient lie. “Let me help you up and you can go with this teacher.”

            The kids rose unsteadily to their feet. The woman bent to put her arm around the pair and ushered them into the hallway.

            The older-looking dead woman, dark-haired, tall, and probably once attractive, who I assumed was the teacher, lay beneath the blackboard with two bullet wounds in her chest. A two inchstick of white chalk lay only a foot from her right hand. At the rear of the room, the second woman, petite, baby-faced, but perhaps in her late-twenties and probably a teacher’s aide, had taken one round to the head. A portion of her skull was blown away, exposing blood-stained brain tissue. A halo of congealing blood surrounded the remainder of her head in a very unholy manner. The six children all suffered multiple gunshot wounds to various parts of their upper bodies. Everyone, of course, was dead. I assumed that Stanley would find the dead shooter in possession of a select-fire AK-47. It appeared that, for a reason perhaps known only to the gunman, he sprayed that corner of the classroom with a long burst of automatic fire. A semiautomatic weapon couldn’t do as much fast and concentrated damage.

            I walked into the hallway and found the teacher still holding the boy and girl and asked her to keep the children away from anyone else until I spoke with them.

            Outside the building, I found Junior, Bobby, the two deputies, and a state trooper standing in a loose circle around the group of people they had moved from within the school. Teachers, children, two men wearing green janitor’s uniforms, and three women who I knew worked in the admin office, milled uneasily in the parking lot like cattle waiting outside the slaughterhouse. I asked the trooper and deputies to set up an outer perimeter and keep anyone, especially the press, away from the school building.

“Bobby,” I said, “call the sheriff’s duty officer and ask for as much help as they can spare. Junior, call Bettye and have her round up as many of the off-duty guys as she can find and send them here.”  It was no time to worry about my overtime budget.

            I trotted down the hallway to the administration office where I found Stanley holding the shooter’s wallet. On the desk closest to the body, he had arranged two 9mm pistols, a Sig-Sauer P-225, and a Glock 17, along with two extra loaded magazines for each handgun, giving the shooter almost one hundred rounds of potent hollow points to use if he exhausted his complement of rifle ammunition. Next to them lay a civilian import, Russian-made Kalashnikov AK-47. The gunman had taped together three thirty-round magazines so, with only minimum effort, he could almost continuously fire ninety rounds of the high velocity ammo. And if that wasn’t enough to do the damage he intended, three additional loaded rifle magazines were stored in a pouch still slung over his shoulder, something for the evidence technicians to remove after they took photographs.

            “Who is he?” I asked.

            “License says Lindell Merritt. He would have been twenty-one next month. Prospect address,” Stan said.

            “In addition to this man,” I pointed to the body of the assistant principal, “I’ve got two dead women and six children in one of the classrooms.”


            “You bet.”

            Spattered blood and other bodily materials covered the wall behind the chair where John Woolford sat when he died. The .30 caliber bullet entered his frontal lobe traveling at approximately 2,400 feet per second and exited the rear of his skull, taking blood, bone, and brain tissue along for the ride. A wider splatter pattern covered the ceiling above the gunman. His self-inflicted wound included a sizable loss of his skull. A sticky patch of gray and red matter clung to the fiber ceiling tile over his body.

            “Call for crime scene units and the medical examiner?”  I asked.

            “Already have,” Harley said.

            I returned to the place where we had entered the building. Standing just outside the door where Stanley broke the glass, I found the teacher and two children.       

            “What’s your name, miss?”

            She appeared to be in her mid-thirties, blonde with some dark roots showing, and attractive in a clean-cut and pretty, girl-next-door way.

            “I’m Lucene Helmer. I teach second grade here.”

            “Did you see what happened?”

            “No, sir. I was two doors away.” Lucene acted calmer than only a few moments earlier. Perhaps tending to the two children occupied her mind and distracted her from the aftermath of the massacre she observed in the classroom. She’d be lucky if she could ever erase those images from her mind. But that’s not reality. It’s a good thing denial isn’t only a river in Egypt.

            I nodded and knelt on one knee to speak with the children. Even that close to the floor, I looked down at my two witnesses. The boy was blond and the girl had long dark hair.

            “Hi,” I said. “Remember me? I’m one of the policemen.” The kids nodded. “I know you guys are upset. I am too. But did you see what happened?” I knew they did, and hoped they could talk about it.

            The frail little girl began to cry silently. The boy nodded again.

            I spoke to the girl first. “What’s your name, sweetie?”


            “Dora what?”

            “Dora Plemmons.”

            “Thank you, Dora.” I looked the boy in the eye. “And how about you, son?”

            He pushed his shoulders back and lifted his chin. “Randy Glen Dillard, sir.”

            I rested a hand on his shoulder. “Good man, Randy.” The boy was obviously shaken, but stood tall, took a deep breath, and did his best to act like a soldier.

            “You guys think you can tell me what you saw?”

            Dora sniffed and wiped a tear from her cheek before nodding. Randy looked like he was fighting back tears, but said, “Yes, sir.”

            “Dora, I’m guessing you could use a drink of water. Please go to the fountain with Ms. Helmer and I’ll meet you ladies as soon as Randy and I finish talking.”

            I smiled at Lucene Helmer. “Would you mind?” 

            She forced a smile, nodded, and walked with Dora down the hall.

            “Okay, partner,” I said to Randy, “I’m sorry to lean on you, but you’re the best help I’ve got right now. Go slow and tell me what you saw.”

            Controlling your emotions after a traumatic incident isn’t easy, but if you don’t have to talk about it, a person’s survival mode kicks in and allows them to appear calm and collected. Asking the boy to recount the shooting brought everything back to reality for him, and with no small amount of difficulty, Randy Glen mustered up the strength to tell me that Lindell Merritt entered the classroom and withdrew the AK-47 from a large canvas bag. He confronted his mother, teacher Wynona Merritt, and after a brief conversation and argument, he leveled the gun and shot her twice.

The sound of gunfire and sight of Mrs. Merritt being killed scattered the students across the rear of the classroom. Off to the shooter’s left, a group of kids huddled near Sarah Ledbetter, a twenty-six year-old teacher’s aide, with one girl crying uncontrollably. Lindell Merritt pointed the rifle at them and yelled for the girl to shut up. His angry words, smoking assault rifle, and thebody of their dead teacher lying only yards away—never a calming combination—only exacerbated the situation and the girl cried louder and a few other children joined in.

After a second attempt to quiet the students failed, the frustrated Merritt held down the trigger and sprayed the corner of the room with the remaining twenty-eight bullets in the magazine. When he finished killing Ms. Ledbetter and two boys and four girls, he ejected and reversed the magazine assembly, jammed a loaded clip into the port of the AK, and pulled and released the bolt to seat a new round. Then he quietly left the room without looking back and headed toward the administrative office where we assume he met Mr. Woolford.

Thirteen of the surviving students ran from the room after Merritt left, looking for the safety of a teacher and another classroom. Randy stayed with Dora, thinking the shooter wouldn’t return to the scene of the killing; probably a wise choice on the kid’s part.

I patted the small boy’s shoulder. “Thanks, Randy, you’re a good man. Now let’s go find Ms. Helmer so I can speak with Dora.”

I left Randy with the teacher and listened to virtually the same story from Dora Plemmons, who added that she and Randy remained in the room, too frightened to venture out, until Ms. Helmer and I walked into the classroom.

Finished speaking with my young witnesses, I decided to check on the remainder of the school population and stepped outside. The grounds appeared to be in a state of controlled chaos. Parents were driving up in all kinds of motor vehicles to look for their children. Television news crews and newspaper reporters and cameramen walked the perimeter looking for information and pictures. Helicopters from the TV stations hovered overhead and I saw the mayor’s black Lincoln Navigator parked near Junior’s police car. Three additional state troopers had arrived and the sheriff sent two crime scene units, three detectives, and four more deputies to assist. Then everyone’s favorite, the morgue wagon, pulled in. Unfortunately, the medical examiner would need additional vehicles to transport all the bodies to the UT Forensics Lab for autopsies.

A sharp pain encompassed my entire head. I was hungry and wanted a drink, but had miles to go before I sorted out Prospect, Tennessee’s worst nightmare.




At early afternoon the next day, less than twenty-four hours after ten people died in an elementary school designed to shape lives, not lose them, I sat in my office with Stan Rose, Junior Huskey, Bobby John Crockett, Harlan Flatt, and my admin sergeant and den mother to the eleven other Prospect cops, Bettye Lambert. We needed to kick around the happenings of yesterday and see what more needed to be done. It was the kind of thing some of the nitwits I worked for in New York called a debriefing. I guess they used that phrase to sound more governmental.

I don’t know what happens in the germ-laden cubicles of a room filled with telemarketers or in a post office when workers are subjected to a horrific incident, but I know good cops. They don’t demonstrate their emotions, they internalize them. They may take an extra drink the night after or snap at the kid for leaving his bicycle in the driveway, but they don’t do things like thatat work. The five officers around me appeared stolid, stoic, professional—anything but unglued from the events of the day before and the horror imprinted on their memory chips.

Bobby said, “Couple teachers said Mrs. Merritt claimed ta be havin’ problems with her son. Biggest thing bein’ he wasn’t takin’ his meds faithfully.”

“What were the meds for?” I asked.

“They thought he was bi-polar or somethin’.”

“What kind of background did you get on the shooter?” I asked Bettye.

“He was charged as a juvenile with killing a neighbor’s puppy when he was nine.”

She pressed her lips together and shook her head; Bettye’s telltale sign of annoyance and frustration.

“Family court said he had to visit a psychologist and after six sessions, the records were sealed. At seventeen, he got picked up by Blount County with an ounce of marijuana. His lawyer requested youthful offender status, pled him out to misdemeanor possession seventh, and asked the court to hold the verdict in abeyance. Lindell stayed out of trouble for six months and the record was expunged. That’s all for a criminal history. Couple of traffic tickets and he was suspended from high school once for fightin’.” She paused and took a sip of coffee.

“That’s it?” I asked.

“I checked a little further and found out his mother talked him into a voluntary committal at Peninsula Psychiatric almost three years ago. He spent twenty-one days and walked out with a couple of prescriptions.”

“How’d you get that information? Peninsula isn’t famous for giving out confidential records without a release or court order.”

“I know someone and told her we’d not be using it officially. Don’t ask who.”

I shrugged. “Far be it from me to ask another cop to divulge her informant. How about the mother?”

“Clean record all around. Divorced ten years,” Junior said. “Broke up mostly because of the kid. Father wanted him to get more mental he’p, mother said he was doin’ okay with his meds. He’s workin’ on oil rigs down in Loosiana. Off shore right now, but he said he’d come back soon as possible. Her parents moved to Florida and both his are deceased. Said he’d call her family.”

“And now the big problem,” I said. “What do you know about the guns?”

“TBI says the Glock was a legitimate purchase from that big dealer on Broadway in Maryville,” Stan said. “Mrs. Merritt bought it for home protection. The Sig was sold to a lawyer from Knoxville more than twenty years ago by a gun shop no longer in business. Former owner told TBI after five or six years he lost interest and sold it at a gun show at the convention center. That buyer’s ID is unknown and where it’s been since then is anyone’s guess. The AK was imported prior to the first assault weapon ban and sold to a dealer in Harriman. He’s outta business, too, so since assault rifles are not subject to a pre-purchase records search, ATF will have to hand check those old store records for the first buyer.”

“You take the guns to TBI for processing?”

“I did,” Harley said. “First thing this mornin’. Bill Werner, the firearms examiner, says he’ll give them priority and see what he can tell us.”

“Three guns and two of them have virtually no paper trail,” I said. “Makes you wonder where they’ve been.”

“Sure does,” Stanley said. “That AK started life as a legal semi-automatic, but somebody altered it with one of those drop-in sears and made it full-auto.”

“Those semi-autos are all legal,” Harley said, “but there’s at least a dozen mail-order places who advertise in the Shotgun News sellin’ conversion kits, silencers, ten-inch illegal barrels, and any other part you’d ever need. For a few bucks and with a set of instructions, anyone can rock an’ roll.”

Harley knows his firearms.

Bettye tossed her pad onto my desktop. “That is a damn shame. Those parts should be just as illegal as a machine gun. And how do you suppose that young man got those two undocumented guns?”

“You’re right about the parts,” I said. “If you need a federal permit to own an automatic weapon, the conversion kits should be regulated and illegal to ship to buyers in states that totally ban machinegun ownership.”

Bettye shook her head, made that annoyed face again, and walked over to the counter where Mr. Coffee sat.

Only a slight display of emotion, which women aren’t afraid to show, but something we macho guys wouldn’t dare.

When she got to the counter, Bettye turned around. “I shouldn’t keep drinkin’ this coffee, but I’m so mad I don’t know what else to do.”

“There’s always a bottle of scotch in here.” I tapped the bottom desk drawer with my toe.

The guys laughed. Bettye didn’t. She was one of the prettiest blondes I’d ever met. Her hazel eyes were usually bright and happy. Today, they looked dark and somber. She wasn’t in the mood for a joke.

“That’s all I need.” She returned to her seat and gave me a look mothers reserve for bad children.

I gave her my repentant little boy smile and shrugged. “Back to your question about Lindell Merritt buying undocumented weapons. They’re as common as slingshots in states that don’t require a permit for a handgun. And assault rifles have never been controlled. Buy one from a dealer and when you get tired of it, sell it to whoever has the cash, no paperwork needed.”

“And Tennessee only requires a permit to carry a handgun concealed,” she said.

“Sure. If a civilian buys a handgun from a dealer, the dealer has to get approval from the TBI, which only does a record check for convictions and committals to a state mental facility.”

“So our boy with a sealed juvie record, expunged criminal conviction, and time in a private mental hospital would have been approved,” Stanley said.

“Afraid so,” I said.

“More guns are sold outta the trunks o’ cars in the parkin’ lot at a gun show than bought off the tables inside,” Harley said.   

“Yeah,” Bobby added, “most people don’t want their guns on paper. And it’s all legal.”

“They think Big Brother will come and take ’em away,” Junior said.

“That’s also ridiculous,” Bettye said.

“That’s the casual sale rule,” I said. “Don’t want a pistol any longer? Sell it to someone who does. If you’re not a gun dealer, it’s simpler than selling a car.”

Stanley said, “My neighbor had a big .357 he used to take hunting that he didn’t want anymore. Asked me if he needed to tell anyone when he sold it. I told him no, but he’d be crazy not to get ID and keep a record of the one who bought it. I mean what happens if this buyer offs his mother-in-law with the gun signed out to you and you don’t remember who you sold it to?”

“Did he take your advice?” Bettye asked.

“Hell no. Said the buyer would have backed out if he had to give his ID.”

“Everything we’re talking about is part of that Brady Bill,” I said, “a federal law that’s about as potent as a ninety-year-old man with prostate problems.”

Junior laughed.

“That law’s a joke,” Bobby said.




At 9:30 the next morning, Bettye buzzed my phone.

“Bill Werner from TBI firearms for you.”

I thanked her and she transferred the call.

“Sam, I’ve got a two out of three jackpot for you.”

“Why do you state cops always complicate my life?”

“Better than making no impact at all.”

“What’s my jackpot?”

“The Glock is clean, but you probably knew that. Only the owner obviously didn’t safeguard it properly.”

“Assuming she didn’t buy it for her former mental patient son, that’s an understatement. What’s next?”

“It gets more interesting. The Sig, originally bought by a Knoxville lawyer, test fired as a gun used to wound a Roane County deputy six years ago.”

“Lovely. I wonder if my guy was their shooter.”

“I checked. Their description isn’t even close. But they’d like to hear what you find out after you track these things down.”

“I’ll give them what I get. How about the AK?”

“Another problem. It comes up as stolen during a house burglary in Anderson County. But there’s a glitch here. Somehow the transfer of data from Anderson County to NCIC failed. There’s a state record of the stolen gun, but the info never made it to the national computer, or it got deleted and drifted off into the ether.”

“I hate computers.”

“You’re just old and cranky.” He chuckled. “But I did call around to a few local places that deal in and repair those kinds of guns. That AK showed up in a Knoxville gun shop for repair three years ago.”

“And this gun shop has a name for that owner?”

“Yes, and it’s not your shooter.”




I began my investigation tracking the life of those firearms with the closest and probably most cooperative subject, a retired Marine Corps gunnery sergeant who owned a firearms store in nearby Maryville. Sarge Greene’s Armory occupied a former IGA food market in a non-affluent section of town.

I walked through the front door to find enough firepower to equip half an infantry battalion. Wall racks filled with sporting rifles, shotguns, surplus military rifles, modern assault rifles; more used long guns than you could fit in the bed of an average pickup truck surrounded me. No less than ninety linear feet of double-shelved, glass-fronted display cases loaded with every form of handgun, swept across more than half the perimeter of the showroom, separating the sales personnel from the customer. The sound of muffled gunshots filtered up from the well-advertised twenty-five yard range set up in the basement. I spoke with the owner, Leonard Greene, a man in his early fifties, who stood a hefty six-one and had an all-around military look about him—the kind of guy Aldo Ray made a fortune portraying in the movies.

He flipped through a thick ledger until he found the page we needed.

“Sold that one before we went computerized,” he said. “Here ya go, Wynona Merritt. Bought a Glock 17 on June 10th, three years ago. I remember her now. Nice lookin’ woman. Said she wanted home protection.”

“You sell lots of pistols, Gunny. Why do you remember her?”

“B’sides bein’ good-lookin’, she seemed ta know jest what she wanted. Specified a Glock 9mm. Said her son suggested gettin’ an all double action weapon. I had a new 17 in stock.”

I had to be careful with my next question. I didn’t want him to think I suspected him of agreeing to a “straw-man” purchase, a sale he’d be obligated to deny. “You think she was buying it for her kid? Like a birthday present or . . .  coming of age gift?”

“Had no reason to believe that. I remember sellin’ her a cleanin’ kit and some ammo. I’ll pull the sales receipt and we’ll see exactly what.”

He rummaged around in a file cabinet for a few minutes and came back to the counter with several pages stapled together.

“Look here, sir, she also bought two boxes of reloads ta practice with and a box of factory hollow points. Also paid for a half hour of instruction and an hour of range time.”

“Know if she took any safety classes?”

“Not from us. Didn’t say she had or wanted a concealed carry permit. Buzz, over there,” he pointed to a short and stocky young man with a crew cut matching his own helping another customer, “he’s one of my instructors. NRA certified. He showed her the ropes. Would’ve talked basic safety, shown her how to load the weapon, clean it, and talked her through shootin’ a few rounds.”

“And that’s it?”

“Don’t ever remember seein’ her again.”

“No more range time? Ammo sales? Ever bring her son here to shoot?”

“I’d have ta check on that, but I don’t think so. Hang on another minute, sir. I’ll ask Buzz if he knows anymore.”

After a few moments, he came back with Buzz in tow.

“I’m trying to learn anything I can about this woman,” I said. “She was the victim of a homicide. Do you remember something about her after she bought the Glock and you gave her instructions?”

“No, sir,” Buzz said. “I remember this woman. She had a hunnert rounds o’ practice ammo, but only shot about thirty. She didn’t stay on the range for the full hour she paid for, either.”




From Maryville, I drove to the law office of RolandFarley in Knoxville’s old town. Originally from a little jerkwater burgh in Missouri’s Ozark region, Farley was a dapper fifty-six, working out of a two-hundred-year-old, three-story mansion overlooking the Tennessee River.

“The Sig-Sauer distributor says they sold this gun to Dutch Valley Firearms. That business has changed hands and names three times over the years, but the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has your name on file. Am I correct in assuming you’re the original buyer?”

“Yeah, like I told the TBI agent on the phone, I got it new in the box. The shop was on Cedar Bluff, just north of the Interstate.”

“Did you want it for personal protection?”

            He laughed. “No. I didn’t know how to use a gun. If I tried to protect myself, I’m afraid the bad guy would have taken the gun from me, stuck it up my ass, and pulled the trigger.”

            I smiled at his honesty. “I wish more gun buyers would consider that possibility.”

            “I bought it because my neighbor was a shooter. Nice guy. We used to socialize with him and his wife. He said if I owned a gun we could go to the Oak Ridge shooting complex. He suggested the Sig because the Navy SEALS were using them.”

            “And you didn’t stay interested in the shooting hobby?”

            “I was never very good at it, and my neighbor moved to Florida. So, I sold the gun.”

            “To whom?”

            “I don’t know.”

`           That surprised me. I thought a lawyer would be sharper, more conscious of liabilities. “I beg your pardon?”

            He shook his head. “I never got his name. I took it to a gun show at the convention center. Two cops checked to see it wasn’t loaded and then used an electrician’s plastic tie to hold the slide open and sent me into the hall. You ever been to a gun show?”


            “Then you know how crowded it can be, and how many people walking around are trying to sell guns. I stopped at a few tables with signs saying that they’d buy, but those dealers wouldn’t even pay half of what it was worth. The gun was like new, with the box, papers and an extra magazine.”

            “And what happened next?” 

            “Some guy stopped me in the aisle and asked if the gun was for sale. He looked it over and finally offered me four hundred bucks.”

            “And you took it, no questions asked?”

            “I looked up the rules before I got there and also spoke to one of the cops who confirmed there was no paperwork necessary for a sale between two private individuals.”

            “Would have been a good idea to know who bought the gun. Your name’s attached to it and now who knows where it’s been?”

            “I guess you’re right, but I just wanted to sell it and get out.”

            “Did you know your gun was used to shoot a cop?”

            I had no doubt attorney Roland Farley practiced keeping a poker face at the appropriate moments, but my remark jolted his cool demeanor.

            “Good Lord, no. Was he killed?”

            “He lived, but you see how getting a buyer’s name would be helpful?”

            “Of course. I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

            “That happened a long time ago, but the case was initiated and the statute of limitations won’t apply. I’ll be forwarding my information to Roane County. You’ll probably hear from one of their detectives shortly.”

            “I’ll cooperate fully.”

            He didn’t have a chance to regain his composure when I hit him with another guilt trip.

            “The problem didn’t stop there.”

            I explained the school shooting and showed him a photo of Lindell Merritt. “This person would have been very young when you sold the gun, but have you ever seen him?”

            “On the news yesterday. I can’t believe he had my gun with him.”

            “I’ve learned that strange occurrences can be more the rule than the exception. Remember what the gun buyer looked like?”

            He provided a good physicaldescription.

            “Thanks for your time, counselor.”

            “I’m sorry I ever sold that damn thing.”




            So far, I had visited a gun shop owner who did all the right things and his legally sold merchandise ended up in the hands of a fruitcake. A damn shame, but not something to spend time fretting about. Then I met an outwardly successful and intelligent attorney who, like a moron, cared more about getting four hundred bucks for a gun in which he lost interest than keeping it out of the hands of an illicit buyer. Something like that only refreshed my belief in the old adage, ‘You meet all kinds.’

My third stop took me to a store called Knoxville Arms Depot and Grundy’s Custom Shop on Kingston Pike in central Knoxville. The store wasn’t as large as Leonard Greene’s, but it was loaded with military surplus rifles and pistols, modern paramilitary assault rifles and shotguns, and rows of cases holding hundreds of new and used handguns. Military recruiting posters and enlarged photos of American GIs hung on all the walls. It looked like a hangout for the wannabe mercenary and armchair soldier of fortune.

           The manager was in his late-thirties, had a shaved head and close-cropped Vandyke beard and mustache, and wore a big Desert Eagle semi-auto holstered on his right hip.

            He took me into the backroom workshop to chat with the gunsmith, an older, paunchy-looking man with curly gray hair, who stared at me over a pair of narrow reading glasses.

            I explained the reason for my visit and asked for any information he could provide on my murder weapon or the man who dropped it off for repair.

            “You know, of course,” he said, “we’re not responsible for anything a gun owner does with a weapon we fix or modify. They sign a document relieving us of any liability.”

             Tell that to the families of the dead teachers and students.

            “I assume you only do legitimate repairs and legal modifications?”

            “Of course.”

            “This AK had been altered to select fire. I hope you don’t make those conversions.”

            “We do not.” He sounded indignant. “Never have, never will. I’d lose my license.”

            I wanted to believe him, but wondered what he’d do for a friend.

            “What work did you do on that gun?”

            “Hang on a minute, I’ll get the books.”

            I hung in there and he dug out his ledger.

            “Says here he complained about jamming and stove piping. That means . . .”

            “I know what it means.”

            He nodded. “I checked and cleaned the bolt and extractor and polished the throat and port    area, making sure there were no burrs or rough spots. Some of these imports coming out of the old Warsaw Pact countries in the early nineties weren’t as well made as the real military versions.”

            I wondered how many real ones came through his door.

            “Just cranked out to keep us Americans armed and dangerous?” It wasn’t exactly a question.

             “Afraid so,” he said.

            Before I left, he handed me a business card. From it I read,

O.L. Grundy

Master Gunsmith




            Grundy provided me with the name and address of then fifty-year-old Eltone Seebold, a resident of North Knoxville.

            I found the small, one-story post-war home unoccupied, but a neighbor said I could locate Eunice Seebold working at a nearby beauty shop. When I found her, I started a conversation.

            “My husband died two years ago in a wreck on Rutledge Pike,” she said. “Damn motorcycle. I hated when he’d go off on it.”

            Eunice was a middle-aged blonde wearing enough makeup to fill the dents on a battered old car.

             “Sorry for your loss,” I said.

            “Thanks, but he’d been drinkin’. Damn motorcycle and a damn fool.”

            I shrugged. “Happens, doesn’t it? What did you do with his gun?”

            “Ya mean guns. Eltone had a bunch. His brother Alvis took ’em all and sold ’em for me.”

            “Where can I find Alvis?”



            I drove to a diesel engine repair shop on Asheville Highway in East Knoxville and found Alvis Seebold bent over the fender of a Dodge pickup, working on a Cummins engine. When I tapped him on the shoulder, he flinched and almost knocked himself out on the hood of the truck.

Alvis shook off the effects of his self-inflicted bruiseand wiped his hands on a clean rag while I identified myself.

            “I need to talk to you about your brother’s AK-47.”

            Alvis’s expression made him look like I just demanded to know who shot JFK. “Man, I ain’t got that one no more.”

            “I know. It turned up in a shooting.”

            He shook his head quickly. “Don’t know nuthin’ about that.”

            “The gun is listed as stolen. You know where Eltone got it?”

            Alvis frowned. “My brother weren’t no thief. Had him a good job. Didn’t need ta steal nuthin’.”

            I wasn’t looking for a brotherly endorsement, I needed a name.

            “Where did he get the gun?” I repeated.

            “Believe it was from some guy at work.”

            “I need to be sure.” I sighed and added, “Any idea who?”

            “Got a good deal on it from one of them Mexicans who worked on his roofin’ crew.”

             That narrowed it down to just under half a million people.

            “When was that?”

            “Not sure. It’s been a while. Eltone’s been dead more’n two years now. ”

             “He owned a roofing business?”

            “Was a foreman for Dowdle Brothers Roofin’.”

            “I need to track down that AK. Can you help?”

            “I kin try.”

            I hoped to get results from his renewed enthusiasm.

            “How many guns did Eltone have?” I asked.

            “Oh, lemme see.”

            He kept wiping his hands. I didn’t think they’d ever get any cleaner.                                                                

           “The AK ya know about, a Chi-neez SKS, same caliber, a Marlin lever action deer rifle, a Remin’ton bolt action thirty-ought-six, couple o’ 12 gauge shotguns, and I guess two revolvers and two automatics.”

            “That’s a lot of firepower.”

            “We used ta go huntin’ and shootin’ a lot.”

“You sell all the guns?”

“Kept me the Remin’ton and a side-by-side 12 gauge. Paid Eunice what they’s worth, though, didn’t keep nuthin’ without payin’ fer ‘em.”

Hell of a guy.

“I understand. What happened to the rest?”

“Sold ’em.”

“To a dealer?”

“Naw, dealers won’t pay nuthin’. I took ’em to a gun show at the Expo Center. Cain’t remember ‘xactly when. Some time jest after Eltone died, I s’ppose. With two promoters in town, they’s havin’ almost a show a month back then. I trolled around inside awhile, sold a couple, then set out in the parkin’ lot with the tailgate down and sold the rest fer cash money.”

Alvis was a prime example of a jerk and the cause of frustration an investigator deals with all too often. I already knew the answer, and I had nothing to lose but my sanity, so I asked a stupid question. “Get names from the buyers?”

“Sure, Andrew Jackson, U-lysses Grant, Abe Lincoln. Like I said, the sales was fer cash money. But I do know one man who bought a couple pieces.”

“Would one of those pieces be the AK-47?”

“Matter o’ fact, it would.”

As I get older my patience doesn’t get any greater, but I really try. “Lucky me. Who’s that?”

“I ain’t gonna git him in no trouble, am I?”

I felt no obligation to tell Alvis the truth. “No, of course not. He didn’t do the shooting. I’m just trying to trace the guns that have no paper trail.”

“Man’s name is Cecil Brogdan.”

“Why do you remember him?”

“I done bought guns from him before. Sold him some, too. Cecil’s always good fer cash.”

“But he’s not a dealer?”

“Not exactly.”

“You mean he’s unlicensed, but dabbles in gun sales?”

“Ol’ Cecil’s been a gun trader long as I kin r’member. Handles good stuff. Prices are always right. Ain’t afraid ta pay fer a gun neither.”

All things considered, it was easy to pry information from Alvis. “You mean he doesn’t try to rip anyone off? Doesn’t need big profits?”

“Right. He’s happy ta make a few bucks and turn the stuff over quick-like. Ol’ Cecil’s an honest man.”

Actually, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives might question Cecil’s honesty, since profiting from the sale of guns without a federal and state license is a crime. But I didn’t bother to mention that to Alvis.

“Sounds like a good guy. Where can I find Cecil?”

“Don’t know where he lives at. Knoxville somewhere, I suspect. Try any gun show. He hits ’em all.”

“He pay for tables and set up?”

“Naw, Cecil don’t want his name on nuthin’. He jest walks around with a few pieces lookin’ fer buyers.”

“Thanks for your help, Mr. Seebold.” Spending all that quality time with Alvis had given me a tension headache. “You’re a fine American.”

He smiled like a happy baboon. A gold tooth twinkled from his upper left quadrant.




I called the most knowledgeable gunslinger I knew, Police Officer Harlan Flatt.

“Who do you know who could lead me to a casual gun dealer named Cecil Brogdan?”

“Hell, boss, I know Cecil. He’s been around fer years.”

“You know where he lives or works?”

“No. I don’t socialize with him. Jest been seein’ him buyin’ and sellin’ guns for a long time. He makes about every gun show ‘tween Lexington and Chattanooga. Maybe more.”

“Who would know where to find him?”

Harley thought for a long moment. “Best guy ta ask—leastwise a guy who’ll give ya a straight answer —is Dickey Hollowell. He’s a retired Knox County deputy and used ta be president of the Smoky Mountain Gun Collectin’ Society.”


Dickey and Isat in his living room in a post-World War Two home in the North Knoxville community of Fountain City.

“You have a big collection?” I asked Hollowell, a medium-sized man with a gray buzz cut and bi-focal glasses.

“Yeah. Been collectin’ old Colts for more ’an forty years. I love these antiques—Single Action Armies, Bisleys, Lightnin’s, cap and ball Armies and Navies—you name it. If it’s an old west Colt, I’ll buy it.”

“Ever buy guns from Cecil Brogdan?”

“Not many. He’s usually selling modern stuff. He likes his Smith & Wessons. Not too knowledgeable about antiques. But occasionally he’ll run across an old gun and he calls me first.”

“Think he’d help me track down an AK-47 that once passed through his hands?”

“Gun from the school shootin’?”

“That’s the one.”

“Cecil in trouble?”

“Probably not over this, unless he altered the gun to shoot full auto.”

“I can’t speak for Cecil, but figger he’s not the type who does that. He can tinker with guns, but he’s not a smith.”

“Doesn’t seem necessary to have much knowledge to install a drop-in sear and get full auto capability out of one of these imports. They provide full instructions. Not much more than installing a light bulb.”

“Still, getting’ caught with a machine gun could be federal hard time. I doubt Cecil would risk it when he can make a quick profit and move on.”

“Profiting from gun sales without a license is a federal crime.”

“Yeah, but everybody does it.”

Dickey Hollowell told me I might find Cecil Brogdan working at a commercial plumbing supply store in the industrial area of the old city. It was getting late, so I decided to continue my fool’s errand the next morning.




At 9 a.m., I sat in my shiny gray unmarked Ford outside Volunteer Wholesale Plumbing and Supply at the corner of McCalla and Bertrand. But before going inside to roust Cecil Brogdan, I called my friend Ned ‘The Fed’ Greznik at the BATF&E office on Locust Street.

“You interested in an unlicensed guy who’s been dealing in guns for decades?”

“Maybe. Who are we talking about?”

“Guy named Cecil Brogdan.”

He laughed. “We’ve known about Cecil since before I got here. Why are you looking at him?”

“At one point he owned the AK-47 used to kill ten people at my school shooting.”

“That sucks.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Trouble is,” he said, “more than fifty percent of the part-time gun dealers in the U.S. are operating without a federal license. Everybody and his brother want to make a few bucks buying and selling guns. They troll gun shows, set up at weekly flea markets in every backcountry town in the south, and say they’re just disposing of their collection.”

“So what about Cecil? I’m sitting outside his job right now.”

“We’ve tried to buy guns from him dozens of times. Every time a new agent comes into the office, we try again. We know what he’s doing, but he knows us or he can smell a cop across a crowded gun show and always says and does the right thing.”

“There’s got to be somebody who can score a gun from this guy.”

“I’m sure there is, but I need multiple sales from an unlicensed individual to establish an ongoing criminal enterprise and make a case. It would take too much time and money only to get a smalltime dealer.”

“You gotta be kiddin’.”

“It’s the same as most of the drug dealers out there. The narcs know who’s selling, but knowing and making a case are two different things.”

“So, after I talk to him, you have no interest?”

“Unfortunately not.”

“The AK was altered to full auto.”

“If you can prove Cecil altered it and sold it that way, yeah. If you don’t want him in state court, we’ll take him for that.”

“I’d have an easier time solving the Lindberg kidnapping.”

“Sorry. But from what we know of Cecil Brogdan, he probably didn’t mess with an automatic weapon.”

“That’s what I hear, too.”

“Look, Sam, don’t spin your wheels too much. For a couple months after your shooting, the public and the politicians will act outraged and call for tighter gun control. Three months from now, after the pro gun lobbies start chanting about the Second Amendment and the politicians envision votes going down the drain, their plans for more regulation fade away.”

“Hard to believe most states don’t care about keeping a paper trail on handguns and assault weapons.”

“I agree,” Greznik said, “but prior to the Brady Bill, you could walk into a gun dealer or pawn shop in most states and legitimately buy a handgun with nothing more than a driver’s license proving you were a resident.”

“I know. In New York, I used to arrest people all the time with a trunk full of guns that came from the Carolinas. Local skells who had friends or relatives down south would take a drive and stock up on handguns. Even if they bought retail from pawn brokers or real gun dealers where the friend or relative acted as their straw man, they’d pick up Saturday night specials they could sell on any street corner for ridiculous prices and make a fortune. New York kids seemed to need a gun so they’d have more juice than the other kids on the block.”

“Unless every state requires a permit to buy handguns, and I’d even toss assault rifles into that restriction, and outlaw these casual sales, we’re pissing in the wind. You don’t have to ban guns, you just have to make sure they’re only sold to people qualified to own them—honest citizens, not criminals and head cases.”


After Greznik thoroughly ruined my morning, I walked into the plumbing supply store. Dressed in my Harris Tweed sport jacket, I doubted that anyone thought I’d come to buy pipe fittings. But no one gave me a hard time and Cecil Brogdan wasn’t difficult to find.

“You ever hear your car backfire and stall and you just know it’s not going to start again, Cecil?” I asked, somewhat cryptically.

“I don’t understand what ya mean.”

Cecil was pushing sixty, thin and clean cut with short gray hair.

“I’ve got you in possession of the AK-47 that killed ten people at the elementary school in Prospect.”

His eyes bugged out and he stammered before making his next statement.

“I didn’t kill nobody.”

Lack of common sense always amazes me. “If you sold that gun to Lindell Merritt, you idiot, I’m going to give your name to every spouse or parent of a victim. Ever hear of a wrongful death suit?’

He nodded slowly.

“I hope you don’t own much because after their lawyers get finished with you, you’ll be living in a cardboard box.”

“Whoa, officer. That’s got nuthin’ ta do with me.”

Cecil sounded troubled . . . and sincere. Sometimes a little nudge works wonders.

“How so?”

“Cause I didn’t sell that gun to no head case who shot up your grammar school.”

“And how can you be so sure?”

“Cause I saw that kid’s pitcher on the news. He weren’t my buyer. It ain’t that long ago and that’s the only AK I ever owned and turned over. I sold it to some Cherokee guy.”

“What Cherokee guy? What’s his name?”

Cecil began blinking like a camera on motor drive. His Adam’s apple jiggled up and down and he tried his best to moisten the cotton in his mouth with saliva. Classic signs of someone getting exasperated. I should have prepared myself to do CPR on the man.

“How in hell should I know?” he squawked. “I was walkin’ through a gun show at the Jacob Building with a fer sale sign stuck in the muzzle o’ that gun and this Indian stopped me and bought it.”

“How do you know he was a Cherokee?” I knew I’d love his answer.

“Cherokee, Chickasaw, how’s I supposed ta know what kinda Indian he was? Looked like he posed for the back o’ the buffalo nickel. Coulda been an Apache, for all I know.”

“How old was this Indian?”

Way over the age limit. I don’t sell no guns ta no kids.”

I wasn’t getting anywhere with Cecil, so I tried a new line of questioning.

“Okay, listen. Let’s forget about the AK for now. The shooter also had a Sig-Sauer 9mm that the original buyer sold at a Knoxville gun show. It’s been a while, but the seller gave me a good description of the guy who bought it. If I tell you what he looked like, would you tell me if you know him from the local gun shows?”

“Why would I do that?”

“Because then I won’t call my friend at ATF and tell him I have you handling a gun used in multiple murders.”

True or not, that grabbed his attention, so I softened up a little.

“And I’ve got three dead teachers and six dead children not much older than babies lying in the morgue,” I said. “Somebody has to stick up for them.”

Cecil didn’t answer right away.

“Most people in this area claim to be good Christians. How about you, Cecil?” I asked, trying to pry the right thing from him.

He remained silent for another long moment.

“Okay,” he said, reluctantly, “what’s he look like?”

“This description is a little old, but maybe six foot, medium build, salt and pepper hair pulled back into a ponytail, Fu Manchu mustache. Wore a gold earning made like the base end of a bullet. Had a primer and said .38 Special on it.”

“Needed a shave most o’ the time?”

“He did that day.”

Cecil sighed, looking like he’d rather do anything other than give up a brother gun dealer.

“Zell Wakeman.”

Perhaps Zell Wakeman was a light at the end of my tunnel, an actual player who really did something I could substantiate and tie him to my shooter. “How do I find Zell?”

“Don’t know where he’s at now. Ain’t seen him around for more ’an a year. Heard he got him a job down in Atlanta or Birmin’ham. Chattanooga, maybe. I’m not sure where.”

Another cold trail.  And I was moving from the realm of an investigation pertinent to my case to just being plain nosey. If I found Zell Wakeman and he was stupid enough to admit he sold a handgun to an underage buyer, if in fact he did, I could charge him with an offense. But maybe Wakeman never met Lindell Merritt and he sold the Sig to someone else. Without seeing a documented history on the ownership of that gun, I could envision it being in the possession ofmany other people. Nonetheless, Merritt had been twenty years old when he died and even if I could tie Wakeman to him, Wakeman’s lawyer would stall their court appearance for months to let the emotions of the moment pass. By that time, I doubted anyone would care. A sad state of affairs, but painfully true.

The Sig was used to shoot a police officer, so I wanted to help Roane County further their efforts by passing along the information. But that was their case, not mine. And all this was eclipsed by the hour and my mayor not wanting me to work overtime.




At 4:45, I walked back into Prospect PD, tired of interviewing witlings and seeing no satisfying conclusion to a frustrating few days. At least my little neat and orderly police department provided a respite from the lunacy of the outside world. I dropped into the chair next to Bettye Lambert’s desk like a paratrooper hitting a drop zone with ninety pounds of combat gear attached to him. I let out a sigh.

“Darlin’, you look frazzled,” she said.

“You ain’t just whistlin’Dixie, Blondie.”

“What’s the matter, hit a brick wall?”

“Ever hear about the man shoveling sand against the tide?”

“You’ve mentioned that before, but didn’t call it sand.”

I chuckled. Bettye has a good memory.

“Three adults, six kids, and one deranged bastard who woke up one morning, didn’t take his meds, and decided to kill his mother, all died and I doubt anyone can do anything about it.”

“Couldn’t find anything?”

“I found a lot, but I also learned that we’re going to need more than ten lost lives to make any common sense changes.”

“What do you mean?”

“Everybody is selling guns—handguns, assault weapons, sporting guns, you name it. If they can make a buck, they sell it. But neither the cops nor the feds can or want to expend much energy to control who gets an off-the-books firearm that’s almost untraceable.”

“Sounds like a long story. Want me to make coffee?”

“I want something stronger than coffee.”

“From the bottom drawer?”

“Where else?”

“It’s almost five o’clock. I’ll switch the radio and phone over to county 9-1-1.”

“I’ll meet you in my office.”

A few minutes later, Bettye walked into my room, took off her gun belt, and laid it on the center of my desk. Her khaki shirt and green uniform pants fit like they were tailor-made, but I knew she bought off the rack.

I dropped my feet from the desktop, spun my chair to the right, and took a bottle of Glenfiddich and two clean glasses from the bottom drawer and set them on the blotter.

“Ice?” I asked.

“Please, and a little water.”

I stepped over to the mini-fridge and fixed two drinks. I walked back, sat in the guest chair facing her, and took a pull on the three fingers of scotch I’d poured formyself.

“Tell me,” she said.

“I’ve spent two days chasing down these guns and just got more and more frustrated.”

Her expression softened. “I’m sorry.”

“Any felon, mentally screwed-up weirdo, terrorist, or person looking to kill his mother-in-law with a virtually untraceable handgun can buy one easier than finding a bottle of good whisky in one of the dry counties in this state.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“It’ll take more than you and me to make sense out of this.”

I shook my head and drainedanother half of the scotch sitting in my glass. Bettye took a tiny sip of hers.

“Have you got any more leads to follow?”

“Sure, two doozies. The Sig was last seen in possession of a guy named Zell Wakeman who may have relocated to Atlanta or Birmingham or Chattanooga, or Upper Volta for all I know. The last recorded owner of the stolen AK-47 may have gotten it from an unidentified Mexican who, years ago, worked on a roofing crew out of North Knoxville. And the brother of the dead guy who bought it from the Mexican, sold it to a guy who sold it to an unknown Native American who could have been a Cherokee or Navajo or Eskimo for all anyone knows.”

Bettye took a turn shaking her head. “Lord have mercy. Is it even worth tryin’ anythin’ more?”

“The Sig was used to shoot a cop, so I’ll tell Roane County what I learned and, since this Wakeman may have gone out of state, they can ask the FBI for help. I am not going to jump through any more hoops to find a mysterious Mexican and an Indian who may have followed the letter of the law in obtaining and disposing of the assault rifle.”

I finished my drink and poured a second. “Want any more while I’ve got this open?”

She shook her head and showed me her mostly fullglass. Her shoulder-length hair swayed from side to side. “I’ve got a long way to go with this. And do you think you should go easy with that? You still have to drive home.”

“Yeah, you’re right. I’ll sip this one.”

She blinked a few times and smiled slightly. After a long moment of looking into my eyes over the rim of her glass, she asked, “You doing okay with this?”

“I’ve run across some frustrating stuff in my life, but this tops it all.”

“I didn’t mean your investigation. I meant after the massacre at the school.”

I smiled at her thoughtfulness. “Thanks for asking. I’m no worse than anyone else. Maybe better. If I let this kind of stuff bother me, I’d be a candidate for a straight jacket.”

“You’re a piece of work, Sam Jenkins.”

My mother also called me by both names when I annoyed her. I like when Bettye does it.

I grinned like the village idiot. “Did you tell all the guys involved that I want them to visit our girl at dial-a-shrink?”

“I did. Want me to make an appointment with Peggy for you, too?”

“When I get finished.”


“Don’t nag.”

“I’ll use my gun.”

“I give up.”

“You’d never surrender. You’re just being nice.”

I shrugged, took another gulp of scotch, and realized it hadn’t left any effect on me. I rattled the cubes in the glass. The second drink was almost gone; must have evaporated in the low humidity.

“I can’t imagine what it was like to see those six dead children,” she said. “I feel so sorry for anyone there.”

“Yeah, dead kids are different. The first homicide I ever handled were twins strangled with a pair of pantyhose. They were only five weeks old.”

“Oh, Lord have mercy. I’m so sorry.”

“The woman’s husband was a soldier getting ready to go overseas. She’d been suffering with post-partum depression and one day . . . just decided she needed to kill her babies.”

We sat in silence for a few moments. Bettye wiped a single tear from her cheek and took another sip of scotch. I didn’t refill my glass.

“The mayor called down while you were out” she said. “The city council held an emergency meeting and decided they want to allocate funds to hire two full-time and one part-time armed security guard to cover the middle and elementary schools.”

I rolled my eyes.

“I don’t know how I feel about that,” she said.

“Neither do I. It’s something to do, but I’m not sure it’s the right thing. They don’t pay the teachers an honest wage, how much do they intend to pay these security experts?”

“Ten dollars an hour.”

I went to the side of my desk and started banging numbers into a calculator.

“Four hundred dollars a week and they’re off all summer.” I reached a bottom line. “That’s an annual salary below the poverty level.”

“Who can afford to take a job like that?” she asked. “Certainly not someone qualified to take on an armed man.”

I returned to the guest chair, crossed my legs, and folded my arms over my chest. I’m sure she could read my body language. “I know who’ll apply, old Jesse Fart who owns a gun and collects a pension or anyone who wants to supplement their Social Security income. They’d be lucky to get a retired cop.”

“Would a single guard help in a case like ours?”

“The people who commit these atrocities may be mentally unstable, but they’re not stupid. And they seem to know their guns and tactics. If I wanted to kill specific people in a building with an armed guard, I’d take out the guard first. And no one can tell me they couldn’t. After that, the gunman is right back to where we were when a teacher called 9-1-1. Either we kill him after he does the damage or he takes his own life.”

“The mayor said he’d like you to train the guards.”

I sat up straight and laughed. “Oh, sure, give me a week and I turn them into a combat-ready fighting machine. Ronnie needs psychiatric help.”

She chuckled.

“I’ll call Ralph Oliveri at the FBI and see if he can send me their statistics on how many bank guards are killed during the armed robberies they were hired to prevent.”

“I never thought of that,” she said.

“Here’s an even more sobering question. Ever think how it would feel if one of your kids were murdered?”

Bettye’s eyes opened much wider. “Not until this happened.”

“Neither did the parents of those six children. And what will those mothers and fathers think when, after the fever cools down, those who can change things for the better are no longer enthused about formulating a workable, common sense plan to keep something like this from happening again? ”

“Two people like us will ask the same questions.”

Smart woman.






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10 September 2017


Sit-Rep on the 2017 Maynardville “Thunder Road Author Rally”


There is good news and bad news.


The good: This is a free indoor event in the library and attached senior center, and the attached civic center if the number of participating writers warrants it. You bring your own table. If you absolutely need a table, they will provide one. Chairs are provided. This was the 5thyear for this gathering of writers.


They did a lot of advertising locally and on Facebook.


This year 38 of the 45 writers signed-up actually appeared to set up shop. There was plenty for a shopper to look at.


The library does not ask for a percentage of your sales. They do ask for a donated book(s) to put in their collection, which is the largest number of independent authors within the Tennessee Library System. These books are available to all participating libraries through inter-library loans. The donation is optional.


They even have one or two volunteers to help carry your gear into the sales room.


They administer a giveaway program for any author who would like to display a book(s) as one of their door-prizes.


Every patron/customer is given an author check list to be initialed by each table holder for the customers to qualify for a door prize. This insures everyone visits every table—at least to have their form signed.


After the end of the sale, (1 PM) the library staff sets up a complimentary buffet lunch. It’s partially pot-luck and they ask that if you are eating, you bring something, but that is optional. They will not deny anyone a meal.


The bad: There was fairly limited attendance. Of the AGT members there, I seem to have been the big seller of the day with a whopping 3 books. Russ, BJ, Sharon and Sue each sold one book. I didn’t get Jim Hartsell’s sales information before leaving. Let’s hope Jim checks in with better results, so I can relinquish my dubious honor.


The incidental: This is a very social event. Many of the non-AGT writers all know each other from other book sales all around the state and the area and spend much time socializing. Book sales seem to be immaterial to most/many of the participants.

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19 August 2017
Tips & Hints

How I Used Author Reach to Increase My List of eMail Subscribers


Many of us met Josh Wiley when he spoke at an AGT monthly meeting about his company Author Reach and how they could help a writer manage and build their email lists to reach more potential book buyers. I’ve been using them since their “Beta” days and continue to use them while marketing my books via mass emails.


But the story goes back further than that AGT meeting in Farragut. I received a tip from another writer who had extraordinary success with this method of book marketing. Here’s that story:


I met Micheal Maxwell at an on-line writer’s workshop more than ten years ago. He wrote mysteries. I wrote mysteries. We critiqued each other’s work, watched each other progress in the publishing world, and kept in contact. Now, with many published novels and stories under our belts, we’re again working together to meet new readers and market our books in a new and less traditional way.


Micheal called me to talk about Author Reach. He briefed me on the concept of building a list of subscribers so we would not only sell a book or two to mystery fans the conventional way, but build lasting relationships with readers who liked the characters in our series.


Micheal started the ball rolling by sending a mass email via Author Reach announcing the release of his new book. He got great results. We spoke again and he emphasized how I NEEDED to get logged in with Author Reach.


So, I put myself in gear and did so. Then we arranged for a cross promotion. We added all my email followers to his more extensive list and sent out an email blast or as it’s called at Author Reach, an eBlast.  In a week, I gained 766 new subscribers and had as many downloads for my book, A NEW PROSPECT. I was more than pleased with the results. As writers, we’re not in competition; we’re acting as partners by sharing potential fans. The subscribers decide whether they wish to take advantage of what we’re offering—no high pressure, no hassles. Several months and several promotions later, I now have over 1,400 new subscribers, all buying books.


I’m told this concept of subscriber list sharing will soon become a standard feature on Author Reach, called “Author Connect,” where authors not acquainted, but who write in like genres can meet and promote their books together.


Something potential Author Reach members need to know: When it comes to computers, I’m barely a step above clueless. “Don’t worry,” Micheal said. “The guys at Author Reach will help you with all the technical work.” “Yeah,” said I. “I’ve heard that before.”


How did Wayne make out, you ask? Take a look at the profile page I created…with help from Corey Alderin, co-owner of Author Reach and their technical support man. https://waynezurl.authorreach.com/


I have what’s called a “lead generation page” currently offering my first book, A NEW PROSPECT, for free. You want a free award-winning book? All you have to do is give me your email address (so I can send it) and agree to put your address on my list of subscribers. Easy. The reader wins. And the writer wins. Also shown are my biography and all the books in the Sam Jenkins police mystery series with links to summaries and purchase places. Not bad for a computer dummy. You can’t argue with success.


Only have one book? Don’t want to give away your “Great American Novel” for free? No problem. You must have another story in you, or even better a novelette. That’s something with a 7,500 to 17,500 word count and a perfect thing to give away to people with little time to read those 500 page epics. Write and publish the novelette. Get yourself a snazzy cover that will inspire people to want to read your story. Then create a lead generation page and offer that free eBook in exchange for their email address and agreement to become one of your subscribers. Not sure how to do all that. Visit http://www.authorreach.com/page/features for a video demonstration or ask Josh or Corey how you can best market your books. They’ll give you personalized service.




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19 August 2017
Special Offers

Hello AGT members and website visitors,

My new anthology is in the final stages of publication. I just received the semi-final PDF version that will be used to produce the hardcopies and all eBook versions. Now, the publisher asked me to look for "Advanced Copy" readers who are willing to read the book and within 30 days after it goes up for sale, post a reveiw at Amazon and/or Goodreads. 

If anyone is interested, please send me an email address where you'd like this PDF file sent. Please note: This copy contains several typos or errors that have been found and will be corrected before the true final vversoins are released to the public.

Okay, here's the information on the new book:

THE GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAIN BANK JOB and other Sam Jenkins Mysteries


Six novelettes originally produced as one hour audio books are now available for the 1st time in print.

Murder in a Wish-Book House

V is for Vitamin?

Fate of a Floozy

The Great Smoky Mountain Bank Job

Hurricane Blow Up

The Butlers Did It

Back cover summary:

When your high school classmate shows up on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List, can your police career get any more interesting? As a favor to a beautiful treasury agent, Prospect, Tennessee’s police chief Sam Jenkins handles a cold case robbery-homicide and clears the forty-three year old mystery of THE GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAIN BANK JOB.

                In MURDER IN A WISH-BOOK HOUSE, Sam investigates the most grisly murder of his career. Then, in V IS FOR…VITAMIN?, he works with an eighty-four year old partner to solve a suspicious death in a nursing home where all the suspects are well beyond their prime.

                Hollywood meets the Smokies in FATE OF A FLOOZY when an academy award winner is murdered during her love affair with a much younger man. HURRICANE BLOW UP and THE BUTLERS DID IT pits Jenkins against some very lethal characters when he tackles eastern European hoods who intend on causing mayhem in Prospect, and bank robbers who flee to the far corners of southern Appalachia to escape capture.


Thank you all,



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07 August 2017
Tips & Hints


What’s In a Name?

By Wayne Zurl


A simple and common question, but the correct answer can make your story or novel jump from forgettable to memorable.


I named my protagonist, Sam Jenkins, after my maternal grandfather. But beyond the familial connection, I thought it sounded right for an ex-New York detective who retired and found himself a job as police chief in a small Tennessee town. Jenkins is a good working-class Scottish or Welsh family name and Sam conjures up thoughts of the famous gumshoe, Sam Spade.


Sound is important in writing. Everything verbal needs rhythm. I always read my stories aloud. If they don’t flow and sound good, I change the text or dialogue—something like a songwriter. You need a smooth transition from sentence to sentence, not bumps. The sound of a name is just as important. Call your heroine Betty Boop not Sally Valli.


Image is also important. What or who do you envision when you hear a name? Who would call the leader of an outlaw motorcycle club Casper Milquetoast?


Everything I write takes place in rural Appalachia. The Smoky Mountain region has its own crop of unique family and given names. So, I couldn’t get away with naming a lifelong resident of Prospect Anton Jablonowski. Billy Don Loveday works better.


Everyone’s stories take place somewhere and that somewhere has its own colloquial names. When I lived in New York, I knew people like Vito Cavettelli, Rosa Gemmelli, Stanley Kapusta, et al. They won’t work in Tennessee or even during my character’s occasional forays into southern Kentucky.


Here’s how I find memorable names for my characters:

My wife and I travel a lot. After we settle into a motel room, mix a cocktail, and turn on a rerun of NCIS, one of us grabs a telephone book and looks for typically regional names. We make two columns—one for first names and one for surnames. When I need something for an important character, I mix and match by sound and what fits the personality.


Other options:
Steal names from billboards or occasionally, highway exit signs. In Georgia, I used two towns to make one character—Varnell Watkins. Political campaign posters are great sources, too. When I needed a handle for a totally repulsive-looking and despicable antagonist featured in the novel A CAN OF WORMS, two candidates unwittingly donated their names. Someone running for office in a neighboring county had the family name Bone. A real keeper. Another candidate was called Telford Something. Voila, Telford Bone surfaced and became a character I hope no one forgets.


Remember the basics. Guys like Luke Skywalker don’t live in Brattleboro, Vermont. Hopalong Cassidy is probably from Wyoming or thereabouts. Chip Cooper might be found cruising Sunset Strip, while Jamal Willie Walker is bopping down Stuyvesant Avenue in Brooklyn.  Larry Finklestein works as a podiatrist in Roslyn on Long Island.



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12 July 2017
Author Events
Festival & Fairs

Rockwood Grand Vista Bay will host a book fair for local authors on November 4, 2017. At present this is a one time event, but may blossom into a regular venue for local writers depending on attendance. Contact AGT member Russ Fine for more details. 

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