Pigeon Blood Red – Ed Duncan Interview

Let’s Welcome
Our Author For Tonight:
Ed Duncan

He Wrote:

Rad-Reader:  How did you come up with Rico’s character?

Ed:  I'm a black lawyer (now retired) and I intended to write a novel featuring a young African-American lawyer, a highly idealized version of myself, as the main character.  However, Rico fought to become the chief focus of the novel and, while the struggle was difficult, I like to think we fought to a draw.  By that, I mean that although Rico did edge Paul out as the main character, Paul and Evelyn are at least arguably on par with him as the driving forces in the narrative.  In writing Rico's character, I wanted to create someone readers could secretly root for despite his occupation.  I wanted him to be ruthlessly efficient but to have a code of his own.  In short, if I've succeeded, readers will discover a killer with a conscience.

Rad-Reader:  Was it your intention to have his relationship with Jean go back and forth emotionally?

Ed:  I'm glad that came through because, yes, it was my intention.  I wanted Jean to be on an emotional roller coaster, constantly torn between wanting to leave Rico and wanting to stay.  The subtext is that he needs her as much as she needs him but, of course, he can't allow himself to express his feelings openly.

Rad-Reader:  Did you come up with Rico a character first and work around him?

Ed:  No, I came up with Paul first and then developed Rico as a foil for him.  In retrospect, Rico is in many ways an amalgam of three of my favorite movie heroes.  Two appeared in westerns that were based on eponymous novels.  In chronological order, they are Shane, starring Alan Ladd and Hombre starring Paul Newman.  The third is Bullitt, a crime movie starring Steve McQueen.  What the heroes have in common is that all are essentially loners and all have codes of their own.  Unlike Rico, though, all are on the right side of the law.  

Rad-Reader:  The style of this book or story reminds me of Noir.  Were you wanting that or did it just happen?

Ed:  I set out to write a crime novel with elements of Noir.  In fact, I'm a big fan of film noir.  A few of my favorites are  Out of the Past, The Postman Always Rings Twice (the John Garfield/Lana Turner version), and Double Indemnity. I think all of these have influenced my writing at least indirectly.

Rad-Reader:  Jerry’s character took a back seat to Ricco but you made him different in personality was that something you wanted or did it just happen as you were writing?

Ed:  It was a conscious decision.  I wanted another killer/enforcer to contrast with Rico in order to demonstrate how expert Rico was at his craft and how singular killer he was.

Rad-Reader:  The story begins and ends in Chicago.  In the middle, you have most of the character’s travel to another state altogether.  Why?

Ed:  The idea for the novel came to me while I was attending a legal seminar in Honolulu in the mid-1990's.  The kernel of the idea was this:  What if a lawyer on holiday in Honolulu had a chance encounter with a beautiful, mysterious woman who was running for her life from some unknown danger and the lawyer, against great odds, managed to save her?  In order to honor that inspiration, I determined that the woman would be from Chicago (where I went to law school) and that something would bring her to Honolulu where she would discover that her life was in danger because of an object I later determined would be an immensely valuable, purloined pigeon-blood red necklace.  In addition, Honolulu is, of course, an exotic setting for a novel, and I thought that having much of the action take place there would add to the novel's allure.

Rad-Reader:  How did you come up with Jean’s character?

Ed:  I knew I wanted Rico to have a significant other and I wanted there to be some contrast between her character and Rico's.  I thought it would be intriguing to make her a hooker, which would give rise to an interesting dynamic between the two.  How would he feel about her profession and how would she feel about his?  How would each deal with that issue?  How much of an issue would it be?  I knew at the same time that I ran the risk of making Jean a cliche, i.e., a "hooker with a heart of gold."  I thought it was worth the risk and I hope her character rose above the cliche.

Rad-Reader:  What made you decide to have a past connection between these three Evelyn, Robert, and Paul?

Ed:  That's a great question.  As the novel was originally conceived, Paul and Evelyn met in Honolulu as complete strangers.  However, I was convinced by someone at a writers conference I attended that they couldn't be complete strangers because it was unrealistic to think that anyone would go to the lengths Paul goes and expose himself to the danger he does to help Evelyn if she were a total stranger.  If the novel were written in 1940 I don't think my original premise would have been a stretch if handled properly, but maybe it would have today.  I'm still not sure.  In any event, I made the change, which as a side benefit, allowed me to create an interesting backstory for the three characters that otherwise wouldn't have existed.

Rad-Reader:  Paul Elliot’s character was very interesting.  What made you decide to start his story from one year earlier?

Ed:  Once I decided that Paul and Evelyn would already know each other before their chance meeting in Honolulu, I wanted there to be some possibility of sexual tension between them after they met again.  Without giving away too much of the plot, something happened in Paul's life a year earlier, which, had it happened just before his arrival in Honolulu, would have made it unlikely that his old feelings for Evelyn would have been aroused so quickly.

Rad-Reader:  You made only one reference to it, but did you read Dashiell Hammett books?

Ed:  Yes, I did.  One of my favorite novels and biggest influences is The Maltese Falcon.  I'm also a big fan of the movie version (the one starring Humphrey Bogart; there were two earlier ones).  Most of the dialogue in the movie is taken verbatim from the novel, which is one reason the movie is so great.  Years ago I bought a compilation called The Novels of Dashiell Hammett, which contains The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man, and two others. 

Rad-Reader:  Do you write using an outline or just write and see where the story leads you?

Ed:  I use an outline only sparingly.  Before I start to write, I may jot down in broad strokes what I envision the plot to be and who the characters are and what I see happening to them.  As I write, though, quite a bit changes as I develop new plot twists and add new characters.  Sometimes as I'm lying in bed trying to get to sleep, a new idea or just a phrase or description will come to me, and I have to get up and write it down for fear that I'll lose it.  Other times as I'm actually writing, plot changes will come to mind and I'll jot those down on a separate sheet of paper. (I write out my first draft on a legal pad.)

Rad-Reader:  Did you know ahead of time which characters were not going to make it and write around them?  Or did the story progression lead you to end that character?

Ed:  I knew ahead of time that certain of the characters wouldn't survive.  However, one or two characters were "on the bubble," i.e., I wasn't sure what their fate would be at the outset of the novel, and made a decision based on the story progression.  Also, I changed the personality and motivation of one character as I wrote a scene, but I didn't decide whether that person would live or die until later in the novel.  

Rad-Reader:  Did you plan the ending in advance or did it just work out that way?  I did not see that coming at all.

Ed:  I'm glad the ending was a surprise.  It was planned from the start.  However, a secondary character became involved in the ending and that wasn't planned.

Rad-Reader:  Was Rico personality based on anyone you knew?

Ed:  No, not at all.

Rad-Reader:  I was drawn to that character and his street smarts and old school ways.  Is that what you wanted?

Ed:  That's exactly what I wanted.  I wanted to create a character who was morally ambiguous.  He doesn't have your conscience or mine but he has a set of guiding principles that he lives by, and his "conscience" is clear so long as he follows those principles, e.g., he doesn't kill children and to his mind, he's never killed anyone who "didn't have it coming."  His principles also approach something akin to a kind of old school chivalry in that he prefers not to kill women.  Yet he'll do so if he has no choice.  And he's the only one who can decide whether he has a choice or not.  Also, he doesn't like to see people bullied and he hates hypocrisy and arrogance.  Finally, he has a sense of humor.  In short, he is a likable character if you overlook what he does for a living.  

Rad-Reader:  You mentioned Cicero, IL -  Is this by choice since Capone was there and the outfit stayed?

Ed:  No, although I'm sure some readers will make the connection between that city and Capone.  I picked Cicero as the location for the race track (where Rico and Jerry grab Robert) because in fact a popular race track is located there and someone living in Chicago who likes horse racing might be expected to go there regularly.

Rad-Reader:  Are you working on another book?  If so when will it be out?

Ed:  Yes, I'm working on the second in the trilogy and I'm about halfway through the second draft.  I hope to have it out by this summer if not this spring, although that may be too optimistic.  The small publisher of Pigeon-Blood Red ceased operations in August of 2016, and I've been self-publishing it since then.  I haven't decided yet whether to try to find a traditional publisher for the sequel or whether to self-publish it.  If I self-publish, I think this spring or summer are realistic estimates.  If I publish traditionally, the next one surely will not be out before fall.
Rad-Reader:  What song that is out there right now talks about your characters or tells your story of your characters?
 "Superfly" - Curtis Mayfield

Ed:  You stumped me!  I can't think of a single one.
Rad-Reader:  If your book was made into a movie who would you want to play…

Rico:  Matt Zemlin

Jean:  Elisha Cuthbert

Evelyn:  Saycon Sengbloh

Paul:  Ben Foster

Livitek:  Jake Gyllenhaal


Rico:   Jon Hamm
Jean:  Felicity Jones

Paul:  Idris Elba/Chiwetel Ejiofor
Livitek:  Paul Giamatti
Rad-Reader:  Where can our readers buy your books?

Ed:  It's available on-line at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes.  You can also ask for it at your local bookstore and they can order it through Ingram, a major distributor.
Rad-Reader:  Where can our readers find you on the Web?

Ed:  My web address is www.eduncan.net; my Amazon Author Page is www.amazon.com/author/edduncan; my Goodreads Author Page is www.goodreads.com/author/show/15; and I'm also on Facebook at www.fb.com/ed.duncan1210, Twitter at www.twitter.com/pigeonbloodred, Instagram at www.instagram.com/ricostays, and Pinterest.

Rad-Reader:  What would you tell the 13-year-old you left behind if you could talk to him now?

Ed:  In Pigeon-Blood Red Paul asks himself which is correct:  All good things come to those who wait or He who waits is lost.  I would tell my 13-year old self to ask that question whenever I started to rush into something or whenever I hesitated before making an important decision.  Both can be right but which is right under the circumstances at hand?

Rad-Reader:  Who inspired you to become a writer?

Ed:  A few months ago I wrote a post I called "The Spark That Lit My Writer's Flame," the gist of which was that my eleventh grade English teacher, Mrs. Shropshire, was the person who first inspired me to become a writer.  She was a great teacher who had a firm command of the English language, both grammar, and literature.  She paid me a very generous compliment by remarking at the end of my term paper:  "Your writing is seldom if ever, equaled among our students."  Wow!  

Rad-Reader:  Has writing always been your full-time job or have you done it secret passion until now?

Ed:  Definitely it's been a secret passion.  I had a long career as a lawyer at a national law firm headquartered in Cleveland before retiring a couple of years early to write my first novel, Pigeon-Blood Red.  Before I retired I wrote a legal treatise called Ohio Insurance Coverage and wrote five annual updates.  I had a lot more fun writing Pigeon-Blood Red!

Would like to thank you for being with us you were so fast in getting all the things we needed for this interview to us.  I really enjoyed your book immensely.  You made my wife’s life easy by having everything she needed, therefore, making my life easy.  My kind of man.  Come back again when your next book comes out and we will post it in our Shout Out: An Author’s Place.  You are now a 1 Rad-Reader Misfit too as my wife says.

Thanks, Pat

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