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 has just completed “The Last Straw,” the second installment in the Pigeon-Blood Red trilogy. He is currently at work on the third installment of the trilogy. To learn more, go to http://eduncan.net/.
1. When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer?
ED: I have enjoyed writing since English composition days in high school. My teachers regularly complimented me on my writing, but my eleventh grade English teacher gave me the ultimate compliment when she wrote on a term paper that my writing was seldom if ever equaled among the students at my school. That was really the spark that lit my writer’s flame, although it remained barely an ember for quite some time. Over the years I kept my teacher’s compliment tucked away in the back of my mind, but it was only after a career practicing law that I found the time and inspiration to act on it.
2. How long does it take to write your books?
ED: Since I’m retired, I only write when “the muse” arrives. That is probably a bad idea for most writers, but for me it generally works just fine. It means, however, that the amount of time it takes me to write a novel can vary substantially from book to book. I started the first one, Pigeon-Blood Red, the first in a trilogy, while I was still practicing law, which meant I had to work on it part-time. Also, I stopped and started quite a bit and I put it aside for long periods of time, all of which is to say that the finished product took years! Once I retired, however, I wrote The Last Straw, the second novel in the trilogy, in a little less than a year. I’m just getting started on the final novel in the trilogy, which will be called Rico Stays. I’m already running into a number of distractions, so I can’t predict when I’ll finish this one.
3. What is your schedule like when writing a book?
ED: Since I only write when the mood strikes me, I don’t have any schedule at all. I don’t have a publishing contract that requires me to produce a certain number of books over a given period, so my pace is entirely my own. I worked under enough deadlines when I was practicing law, and I’m happy not to have any deadlines in retirement. I will say, though, that the muse generally arrives late at night, which means I’m more productive at that time. The only rule I observe is that after I’ve written the first draft of something, no matter how long or short, I always review and rewrite that draft before writing something new.
4. Where do you get your ideas or information for your book?
ED: I was attending a legal seminar in Honolulu sometime in the mid-90’s when one evening a germ of an idea came to me. I saw a beautiful woman traveling in Hawaii and carrying something valuable that bad people — dangerous people — wanted to get their hands on, and I saw a lawyer (like me!) coming to her rescue. My imagination took over from there. I determined that the valuable thing would be a piece of jewelry, a necklace. I started researching various gems and came across one with an exotic description: a pigeon-blood red ruby, so named because its color resembles that of the first few drops of blood that trickle from the nostrils of a freshly killed pigeon. I then determined that the person pursuing the woman would be more of an anti-hero than a villain and that he would be a “killer with a conscience.” Once I imagined these basic ingredients, I added other details over the following weeks and months as ideas came to me. This became Pigeon-Blood Red. The main characters were the killer, the woman he was pursuing, the lawyer, and the killer’s girlfriend. After I decided on a trilogy, I simply had to dream up two other dramatic plot lines that would bring these characters together. Each of those plot lines would be the basis of another novel.
5. When did you write your first book?
ED: Pigeon-Blood Red was first published in 2015. However, my publisher went out of business, and the novel was republished by by current publisher in 2017.
6. What do you do when you’re not writing?
ED: I love to travel and have been fortunate enough to travel all over the world. I’ve been to Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica, Panama, Aruba, Spain, France, Morocco, Argentina, Brazil, China, Hong Kong, Japan, and South Africa. Of course, I read crime novels, literary fiction, nonfiction, and various newspapers and magazines. I also watch a lot of movies. And I spend too much time following politics.
7. What does your family think of your writing?
ED: I have three adult children and two young granddaughters. My children are very excited about my novels, and my son may follow in my footsteps, hopefully before he retires.
8. What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating your books?
ED: I had always heard writers say that at a certain point characters take over and, in essence, write their own dialogue or do things you hadn’t planned for them to do. I learned that that phenomenon is actually true. For instance, the lawyer in my novels was always meant to be the main character. However, the killer “fought me” at every turn, despite my best efforts, and wrested that position away from the lawyer.
9. How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
ED: I’ve only written two although I know what is going to happen in the third. It is a cliche to say that writers view their novels as their children and that a writer can no more select his favorite novel than he can choose his favorite child. I can say, however, that while Pigeon-Blood Red will always occupy a special place in my heart because it was my first, the story line of The Last Straw is probably more exciting. As might be expected, the latter novel is probably a tad better written as well.
10. Any tips/suggestions on getting started?
ED: Read widely, not just in your chosen genre and not just fiction. I think all good writing helps writers become better at their craft, if only by osmosis. Do multiple drafts and don’t be discouraged by the quality of your first draft. Most writers I’ve heard express an opinion on the subject say that their first drafts are almost uniformly terrible. I know mine certainly are. So revise as much as is necessary to come up with something worthy of your talent.
11. What do you think makes a good story?
ED: This may sound like a cop out but I think anything a writer finds interesting can be turned into a good story if it it well written. Often very little happens in literary fiction, but if the author has a sufficient command of the English language, such writing can be as compelling as that of any genre. In my genre, crime fiction, I like well rounded characters who are confronted by circumstances and events that keep me on the edge of my seat and make me want to keep turning the page. Even so, a good crime novel can be ruined by poor writing.
12. As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
ED: As a very young child I wanted to be a cowboy and a little later I wanted to be a spy! Enough said!