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.
What inspires you to write?
This is what inspires me to write: a fresh and captivating story related by a writer in exquisite prose. When a novel has these two elements, I want to try to duplicate the effort. I don't want to top the writing; I just want to write something that reads as well. And I want to do it so that I can re-experience the feeling I get when I read wonderful writing. Now, exquisite prose is not necessarily lofty language. It is narration and dialogue that is realistic, authentic, and suitable to the subject matter at hand. For instance, Salinger's writing in the Catcher in the Rye is natural, realistic, and exquisite because it is authentic to a fault. The same is true of Dashiell Hammett's prose in The Maltese Falcon. For example, the scene where Sam 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.
Tell us about your writing process.
I am more of a seat of the pants writer than I am an outliner. That said, before I sit down to write, I have a broad outline in mind of where the story is going. I commit this to paper and then I let the story take me where it wants within the constraints of the outline, which of course can change. In Pigeon-Blood Red, for instance, there is a surprise involving one of the characters that I didn't plan and had never thought about until I wrote the scene. It wasn't until that very moment that the idea came to me.
I don't use a whiteboard or software and I don't do character sketches before or during the writing process. I write everything out in long hand and then transfer several pages at a time to my computer. Since I'm writing a trilogy, I do character sketches after I've finished the novel, especially for characters who will continue to the next volume, so that what I say about the characters in later volumes is consistent with descriptions of them in the first volume.
The idea for Pigeon-Blood Red came to me while I was attending a legal seminar in Honolulu years ago. 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 like me, of course) coming to her rescue (or trying to). Only after much contemplation and many drafts did the story as it appears in the novel today come together. It is the story of an underworld enforcer in pursuit of a pigeon-blood red ruby necklace worth millions. The hunt takes him from Chicago to Honolulu (where the idea first came to me) and back, but the chase goes sideways after the hardened hit man develops a grudging respect for a couple of innocent bystanders who accidentally become embroiled in the crime: the thief's unsuspecting wife (the beautiful, mysterious woman) and an old flame (the lawyer) who comes to her rescue as the hit man closes in. The hit man must decide whether to follow orders and kill them or spare them and endanger the life of the woman he loves.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
I don't talk to my characters but they sometimes talk to me. This novel was meant to revolve around the relationship between the lawyer and his long lost love and their efforts to outwit the hit man. That is indeed part of the novel, but its focal point is the hit man, who is a killer with a conscience, and as one reviewer remarked, he is "full of emotional complexity and facing an identity crisis." That character spoke to me as I attempted to relegate him to a supporting role and insisted that he had more to offer. In the end he won out.
Who are your favorite authors?
Some of my favorite authors are Dashiell Hammett, Ernest Hemmingway, James Jones, Somerset Maugham, Richard Wright, Ken Follett, Theodore Dreiser, Scott Turow, Dennis Lehane, Walter Mosley, Frederick Forsythe, and Lee Child. Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon is probably my all time favorite, but the author whose books make me stay up all night reading is Lee Child. Jack Reacher, his iconic character, seldom disappoints.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
Like tons of first time authors, I received countless rejection letters from agents, and at one point I thought about self publishing. Then a company called Voyage Media in Los Angeles put me in contact with a small publisher who agreed to publish my first novel. I would encourage everyone to try traditional publishing first. Self-publishing can always remain an option if necessary. I think self-publishers can be successful but it requires much devotion to the business side of writing, more than most writers, I fear, are comfortable with. Even traditional publishers provide much less support to first time writers than they did "in the old days," so new authors must be prepared to do a substantial amount of marketing whether they self-publish or publish traditionally. My advice is to consider hiring a publicist if you self publish or if your traditional publisher provides less support than you think you deserve.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
I think the publishing industry and writers have a bright future. The sky is not falling, as many observers once thought. I even see signs of new life among independent book stores. Self-publishing is a positive force, since it has provided competition for traditional publishers and it has given voice to authors who cannot break into traditional publishing, which, by the way, seems to be quite profitable.
What genres do you write?
What formats are your books in?