I’ve always wanted to ask an author more about his or her craft, and I finally got the opportunity with one of my latest reads! Pigeon-Blood Red is a fast-paced and suspenseful crime thriller by Ed Duncan. You can read my full review of this book (the first in a trilogy!) over on the blog! In the meantime, get to know the author a little bit better with me and find out what inspired him to go from partner at a law firm to writing about the world of action, adventure, shootouts, and crime with this delightful interview. Thanks to Book Publicity Services and Ed Duncan for the time and free copy of Pigeon-Blood Red to read and review.
Can you give readers a little bit about your background? How did you go from partner at a law firm to writing a crime thriller trilogy?
I don't recall the source, but someone once wrote that "inside every lawyer is a writer trying to get out." In my case that was certainly true. I've wanted to write at least since high school where an English teacher I respected wrote on my eleventh grade term paper that seldom, if ever, was my writing equaled among her students. I considered that high praise indeed. But writing would have to wait because instinctively I knew I could never earn a living writing fiction. Hence, I went to law school, got a job as an associate with a national law firm based in Cleveland, and worked my way up to partner.
I didn't think seriously about writing again until I was well into my career as a lawyer. I joined a book club, The International Collectors Library (now defunct), and one of the selections offered was The Works of Dashiell Hammett. Included was the author's most famous novel, The Maltese Falcon which I read with relish. The story was riveting and Hammett's use of dialogue was impeccable. (The third movie version of the novel starring Humphrey Bogart is almost as good as the novel, in part because it lifts large chunks of dialogue directly from the book.) I was hooked. Of course, I had read other novels before and I came to read still others later that impressed me as much or more, but The Maltese Falcon was the kind of novel I wanted to write. All I needed was time and inspiration
What inspired Pigeon-Blood Red?
I was attending a legal seminar in Honolulu sometime in the mid-90's when one evening the germ of an idea came to me. In my mind's eye I saw a beautiful, mysterious woman traveling alone and carrying something valuable that bad people -- dangerous people -- were trying to get their hands on, and I saw a lawyer coming to her rescue. That was all I knew about the novel I hoped to write. I had the inspiration and now all I needed was the time to write. Alas, I did not get that until I retired.
Over the months and years that followed the initial inspiration, I filled in details, many of which changed as a result of the many drafts and re-drafts. The "something" the woman was carrying became a priceless necklace. After I settled on jewelry as the "McGuffin," to use Hitchcock's phrase, I searched the library (pre-Google days) for something exotic and discovered the phrase "pigeon-blood red" which, of course, was coined by Indian gem dealers centuries ago and describes the color of the rarest and most valuable rubies in the world, the same color as the first two drops of blood that trickle from the nostrils of a freshly killed pigeon.
I determined early on that the woman in danger, Evelyn (unlike her namesake in the movie Chinatown), would not be a femme fatale and instead would be an innocent victim. The hardest part of the novel was figuring out how to get the purloined necklace into her hands without her knowing it was stolen and how to get the pivotal characters from Chicago to Honolulu, the two places where I wanted the action to take place, without the plot appearing to be contrived.
Rico is an extremely flawed character, yet we see glimpses of a more compassionate side of him. Is Rico modeled after someone you know, or other characters you have seen? How do you hope to see him grow as a character (if at all)?
The lawyer, Paul Elliott, was always meant to be the main character (after all, he is a highly idealized version of me!), and the woman, Evelyn Rogers, was meant to a a close second. Both have interesting back stories, but the more I developed Rico's character, the more he fought to become the central focus of the narrative. The more I tried to rein him in, the more he resisted. Although I didn't surrender, I like to think we fought to a draw. By that I mean, while he is indeed at the top of the heap, he does not completely overshadow Paul and Evelyn.
In retrospect, Rico is in many ways an amalgam of three of my favorite movie heroes. Two appeared in westerns that were based on novels of the same name. In chronological order they are Shane, starring Alan Ladd, and Hombre, starring Paul Newman. The third is Bullitt, starring Steve McQueen. What they all have in common is that all are essentially loners and all have ethical or moral codes of their own. Of course, the essential difference between them and Rico is that they are all on the right side of the law, although I'm confident that they would all bend or even break the law if they thought it was the right thing to do under the circumstances. This narrows the distance between them and Rico, because he too always does what he thinks is right and, of course, the law (and everything else) be damned.
As for growth of Rico's character in later novels, I will say only that readers will see him struggle to maintain emotional distance between himself and his girlfriend Jean and between himself and Paul without sacrificing the core principles that make him who he is.
What do you hope readers take away from your novels?
This one is easy. My novels are pure entertainment. I hope only that readers enjoy the time they spend with my characters because they are richly drawn and that they derive as much satisfaction in reading about them as I derive in writing about them.
What can readers look forward to in the second and third installments of this series?
The second installment, The Last Straw, is available on Amazon now and so far, I'm pleased to say, has received excellent reviews. Here is a teaser:
"When a teenage girl witnesses a carjacking gone bad, she is marked for death by a crime boss with no apparent motive. A black lawyer [Paul] and a white enforcer [Rico] who have an unlikely history together forge an uneasy alliance to protect the girl from a hit man with an agenda of his own."
The third installment is not yet written but will be called Rico Stays. In it Paul and Rico will lock horns against killers seeking revenge against Rico, and this time a wounded Rico will reluctantly accept help from Paul.
Anything else readers should know about you or the series?
One day I'd like to try to write "the great American novel." One model for that effort would be An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser. It is a novel I greatly admire. Meanwhile, if this series finds enough of an audience, I may expand it beyond the three novels presently contemplated.
I retired in 2012 and when I'm not writing I enjoy traveling. In college I majored in Spanish so I've traveled to a number of Spanish speaking countries, including Spain, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Panamá, Argentina, and Cuba to try to brush up on my language skills. Two years ago I visited South Africa and last year I traveled to China, Hong Kong, and Japan. I hope to make it to Italy this fall.
Thank you, Ed Duncan, for taking the time to share with Booked Up Blog and all of our readers. We can’t wait to see what’s in store or Rico and the crew in the second and third books!
Ed Duncan is a graduate of Oberlin College and Northwestern University Law School. He was a partner at a national law firm in Cleveland, Ohio for many years. He currently lives outside of Cleveland, OH and is at work on the second installment in the Pigeon-Blood Red trilogy. To learn more, go to http://eduncan.net/