EAST LAKE OKOBOJI, Iowa | In the back of Jeff Zwagerman's mind, he always wanted to write the Great American Novel.
However, life gets in the way when you have a wife, a family and a successful career in education.
This is why Zwagerman didn't even contemplate writing his first mystery until long after he retired as the Sibley-Ocheyedan Community School District superintendent.
"I began my career as an English, speech and theater teacher," he said from his home in East Lake Okoboji, Iowa. "So I knew how to write a script. But writing a novel? I had to work up some courage to tackle that one."
Obviously, Zwagerman was pleased by the learning experience. He's written four thrillers featuring a lead character named Zander.
2015's "Always A Kicker" -- partly set in Northwest Iowa -- introduced readers to the deeply-flawed Zander. "A Full Bubble Off Plumb" followed later in the year.
In 2017's "South of Sideways," the action is set in Frisco, Colorado, before heading south to Key West, Florida.
Zwagerman's latest Zander thriller, entitled "Tin Roof Rusted," is set mainly in the Florida Everglades. It was released this month and is available at www.blackrosewriting.com as well as online retailers like Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.
In your mind, who is Zander?
"Zander is a broken and damaged character who saw something as a 15-year-old that still haunts him to this day. Because of that, he develops a wanderlust as he seeks some sort of redemption for himself. When we meet Zander in the first book, he was in his 20s. In 'Tin Roof Rusted,' he's nearing 40."
Perhaps due to his wanderlust, Zander travels back and forth to several locales over the course of the series. Was that deliberate?
"It was. I live in Northwest Iowa and Zander was from here. I knew the area. In addition, I've spent time in Colorado as well as Florida. Setting your story in a setting you knew gives it immediate authority. I prefer that to setting a story in some fictional town."
If you're setting your stories in real surroundings, are you drawing anything from real life? By that I mean, is there a bit of Zander inside of you?
"In that there's a bit of truth in every fiction, I'd have to say yes."
You said you're proud of the female characters in the Zander series. Why is that?
"It wasn't something that I consciously set out to do but my female characters are often the antagonists while my males are much more passive. Zander, due to his back story, has to be passive. That's where my women really have to shine."
That's pretty unusual for a mystery thriller. It's usually the guys who move the story along. Who were your literary influences?
"I'm a big fan of the (British author Lee Child's long-running) Jack Reacher series of mysteries. Reading the Reacher books as a fan has really informed me as a writer. I know what makes me turn the page as a reader. Hopefully, that translates in my novels."
Who are you reading right now?
"The books of crime fiction novelist Randy Wayne White (the Doc Ford series of thrillers). They're a lot of fun."
"I'm already working on my fifth Zander novel, though I may be coming to the end to his story. As a writer, you always want to stretch a bit. I'm interested in seeing how the Zander series will end."