Interview with Ed Duncan, Author of Pigeon Blood Red
Tell us a little about yourself, your work and how you got into writing.
I retired in 2012 after 37 years as a practicing lawyer at a national law firm in Cleveland. I’ve always liked to write and in 2008 I wrote a legal text entitled Ohio Insurance Coverage which I updated annually through 2012. My practice involved a good deal of writing as well. But what I really wanted to do was write crime fiction, so I retired a little early to do that and to travel.
The idea for Pigeon-Blood Red came to me while attending a legal seminar in Honolulu years ago. As I pictured the novel then, it was far from complete. The only thing I saw in my mind’s eye was a beautiful, mysterious woman in danger and on the run and a stranger (a lawyer, of course) coming to her rescue (or trying to). In the final version of the novel, Evelyn, the woman, and Paul, the lawyer, are not strangers but, instead, are long lost friends who haven’t seen each other since college. Back then he was smitten by her but she was swept off her feet by Robert, the deeply flawed man who eventually became her husband.
While Paul and Evelyn continue to be pivotal characters in the novel, despite my best efforts to prevent him from doing so, Rico, the man from whom Evelyn is fleeing, becomes the focal point of the story. He is an underworld enforcer in pursuit of Robert, who stole a pigeon-blood red ruby necklace worth millions. He follows his prey from Chicago to Honolulu and back, but the chase goes sideways after he develops a grudging respect for Paul and Evelyn, who accidentally become embroiled in the crime. The hardened hitman must decide whether to follow orders and kill them or spare them and endanger the life of the woman he loves.
If you were to create a writing soundtrack, what artists would be on it?
I’m a big fan of both rhythm and blues and jazz but I like music from all genres. As Duke Ellington once said, “If it sounds good, it is good.” That said, (showing my age) I think I would include The Temptations, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra as the artists who would be on my writing soundtrack.
How do you come up with the character names in your books?
The characters in my novel are interracial. I try to think of a few unusual names but ones that fit. The black characters are middle class professionals, so those are fairly standard, although I used my high school year book to come up with a couple of last names. “Paul” is the name of my best friend in elementary and high school, and “Elliott,” Paul’s last name, is the name of a biology teacher at my high school. I borrowed “Evelyn” from the tragic lead character in Chinatown, a movie I admire a lot. “Rico,” the name of the underworld enforcer, just popped into my head. Rico’s boss’s last name, “Lyptak,” is a variation of “Rybak,” the name of someone I worked with in the steel mill in the summers when I was in college. When I’m stuck, sometimes I look for interesting names in the phone book.
Have you ever written yourself or people you know as a character in one of your books?
The lawyer is meant to be a highly idealized version of me. He’s taller, younger, smarter, braver, better looking, and more athletic, but he has my values and ethics.
Is anything in your book based on real life experiences?
Some of the incidents in the book are based on real life experiences. For instance, the childhood fight Paul remembers actually happened in about the way it’s described. Also, the telephone call Paul receives when he’s a young lawyer actually took place, as did the trial he recalls.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
Never hesitate to take a writer up on his offer for advice.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Never give up based solely on rejections from agents. As most of them freely admit, they are often wrong. Try to get an objective reading from someone whose opinion you trust.
Who are you reading right now?
I’m always reading the latest Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child. I take one with me whenever I go on vacation. I recently went to a mystery writers convention and picked up Blue Heaven by C.J. Box and Burned by Valerie Plame. They are my next projects when I can find some time. I’m also reading a nonfiction book about the last year of World War II in the Pacific, Retribution by Max Hastings and Devil in the Grove by Gilbert King, which chronicles the harrowing exploits of Thurgood Marshall defending black men in the South, many wrongly accused.
What’s next, do you already have a new project in the works?
I’m working on the second novel in the trilogy that began with Pigeon-Blood Red. Originally it was titled Red Autumn but I’m working on trying to come up with a new title.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?
Fortunately, I haven’t suffered from writer’s block thus far. There are certainly times when the words come too slowly. I can usually cure that problem by stepping away from the work for a few days.
What tools have you found most successful in advertising/marketing yourself and your books?
I read numerous self-help articles and a few books but I found the task of following the advice given to be too daunting, not to mention time-consuming. My advice to others who have a similar experience is to hire a good publicist, as I did. It has made life so much simpler.
Did any specific author(s) motivate you to begin writing?
The author who motivated me to begin writing was Dashiell Hammett and the novel was The Maltese Falcon. The scene where Spade explains to Brigid O’Shaughnessy why he won’t “play the sap for her” and why he’s “sending her over” for murdering his partner, although he may love her and she may love him, is masterfully written, and I reread it whenever I need inspiration or just want to appreciate riveting dialogue.
You are hosting a dinner party and must invite 3 famous people. Who would you choose and why?
If I were hosting a dinner party and had to invite 3 famous people, I would invite President Obama, Colin Powell, and James McPherson. The President’s story is remarkable (a bonus is he’s an excellent writer), and to be able to talk to him about his life experiences and the decisions he’s made during his presidency would be endlessly fascinating. The same could be said of Colin Powell, his life story, and his experiences as a White House advisor and as Secretary of State. I am a Civil War buff and James McPherson is one of the nation’s most renowned experts on that conflict. I’ve read some of his work but would love to pick his brain further.