Today’s guest on What Cathy Read Next is Ed Duncan, author of the action-packed thriller, Pigeon-Blood Red. I’m delighted that Ed has agreed to answer some questions about the book and his approach to writing.
About the Book
Publisher’s description: For underworld enforcer Richard “Rico” Sanders, it seemed like an ordinary job. Retrieve his gangster boss’s priceless pigeon-blood red ruby necklace and teach the double-dealing cheat who stole it a lesson. A job like a hundred before it. But the chase quickly goes sideways and takes Rico from the mean streets of Chicago to sunny Honolulu, where the hardened hit man finds himself in uncharted territory when a couple of innocent bystanders are accidentally embroiled in the crime. As Rico pursues his new targets, the hunter and his prey develop an unlikely respect for one another and Rico is faced with a momentous decision: follow his orders to kill the couple whose courage and character have won his admiration, or refuse and endanger the life of the woman he loves?
Praise for Pigeon-Blood Red:
“In a novel with as much action as love, it is sure to be a story that will fulfil the desires of readers of all ages, genders, and areas of interest.” (4 Stars, Red City Review)
“Pigeon-Blood Red, at 238 pages, is not particularly long as books go but Duncan packs a lot of story into those pages. Readers in search of a tight, well written, good guy versus bad guy, crime/action/adventure will find Pigeon-Blood Red by Ed E. Duncan, an engrossing story that will keep them involved to the end. And like me, they will find themselves eagerly awaiting the next instalment.” (Mike Siedschlag)
“This charming, classically-told crime thriller is a must for noir fans…refreshingly old-school pulp, inhabited by a familiar cast of gamblers, con men and hustlers found in Dennis Lehane and Elmore Leonard novels” (5 Stars, Best Thrillers)
|Publication:||23rd Aug 2016||Genre:||Thriller|
Find Pigeon-Blood Red on Goodreads
Q&A with Ed Duncan, author of Pigeon-Blood Red
Without giving too much away, can you tell me a bit about Pigeon-Blood Red?
Pigeon-Blood Red is an interracial crime novel that tells the story of a complex underworld enforcer – a killer with a conscience – who is in pursuit of a small-time businessman who opportunistically stole a “pigeon-blood red” ruby necklace worth millions. He trails the thief from Chicago to Honolulu, but the chase goes sideways after the hardened hit man develops a grudging respect for one of two innocent bystanders who become embroiled in the crime: an African American lawyer who is an old flame of the thief’s unsuspecting wife and comes to her rescue as the enforcer closes in. The hit man ultimately faces a difficult decision: follow orders and kill the unlucky bystanders or spare them and endanger the life of the woman he loves.
The book has an arresting title — how did you come up with it?
“Pigeon-blood red” is a term coined by Indian gem dealers centuries ago and describes the colour of the first few drops of blood that trickle from the nostrils of a freshly-killed pigeon. It is the most desirable colour a ruby can have and hence such rubies are the most valuable. The phrase has two attributes that recommend it. It describes a distinctive characteristic of the “McGuffin” in the novel, i.e., the thing that both jump-starts the action and propels it forward. But for its theft and the hunt to retrieve it, there would be no novel. Second, the phrase is extremely evocative, suggesting mystery and intrigue. It replaced my original, more pedestrian title, which was Murder in Paradise.
Your protagonist, Richard “Rico” Sanders, is an underworld enforcer. What are the challenges of having a main character who could be considered an “anti-hero?”
I needed to make Rico acceptable to readers. I think readers will identify with an “anti-hero” so long as he possesses enough positive traits that they at least partially offset his negative ones. This means he can never do anything that is so repulsive or vile that his positive traits become so overwhelmed by the negative ones that he becomes irredeemable. This is true of the Vito and Michael Corleone characters in the Godfather novel and in parts one and two of the movie. (I didn’t care for part three and leave it out of this analogy.) By the end of part two of the movie, Michael’s character has in fact become irredeemable, but by then the audience has followed, and become absorbed in, his journey to that point. In my novel Rico is a killer with a conscience. He doesn’t kill children and kills women only reluctantly when they give him a sufficient reason. Indeed, he thinks (but sometimes doubts) that everyone he’s killed “had it coming.”
In a book as action-packed as Pigeon-Blood Red, how do you create the right balance between action and character development?
I must admit that it was pure instinct. My goal was to write a fast-paced, enjoyable novel. In the process I tried not to sacrifice character development on the altar of action. I tried to do that by providing enough back-story about the main characters to allow the reader to empathize with them and to make their actions and reactions believable. I can only hope I struck the right balance.
Pigeon-Blood Red is the first in a planned trilogy. Do you have the structure of the remaining two books already worked out?
I’m just finishing the second in the trilogy. The title is The Last Straw and I hope it will be published this summer or fall. The third began life as a screenplay so I have to adapt it to novel form. It’s tentatively entitled Rico Stays. I hope to publish it a year after publication of The Last Straw.
Pigeon-Blood Red is your first novel. Can you tell us a bit about your writing journey?
I was inspired to write Pigeon-Blood Red while at a legal seminar in Honolulu years ago. The idea just came to me out of the blue. Of course it was not fully formed. I only knew I wanted to have a beautiful woman in jeopardy and a lawyer who comes to her rescue after matching wits with a cunning foe. Over the ensuing months and years, the plot of Pigeon-Blood Red came together in its current form. I submitted queries to multiple agents with no success.
In the meantime I went to writers seminars and finished the first draft of The Last Straw, which was originally called Red Autumn. Eventually I became disillusioned and decided to try writing screenplays. I purchased a few “how to” books and converted my novels to scripts which I entered in multiple screenplay contests. Red Autumn actually fared better than Pigeon-Blood Red and was a finalist in one contest while Pigeon-Blood Red made the quarter finals in various contests. Rather than writing a third novel in the trilogy, I wrote a third screenplay, Rico Stays, which also made the quarter finals of a few contests.
Finally, through the efforts of a company that has been trying to interest producers in my scripts, I made contact with a small independent publisher that liked Pigeon-Blood Red and agreed to publish it. Unfortunately, that publisher ceased operations six months after the novel was published and I self-published it thereafter. With the assistance of a good publicist, I’ve managed to garner close to 40 reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.
What has been your favourite part of the writing process so far? And your least favourite?
My favourite part has been writing and crafting evocative phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and pages. I find that deeply satisfying and the possibility that readers will share my enthusiasm is a bonus. My least favourite part has been having to market my book. I’m most comfortable behind a desk writing. Marketing is the antithesis of that. Fortunately, having a good publicist helps but even then there is no guarantee of breaking through in a very crowded field of excellent writers.
Which other writers do you admire and why?
Some of my favourite writers are Dashiell Hammett, Ernest Hemingway, James Jones, Somerset Maugham, Richard Wright, Ken Follett, Theodore Dreiser, Scott Turow, Dennis Lehane, Walter Mosley, Frederick Forsythe and Lee Child. Since I write crime fiction, the authors I most admire in that genre are Dashiell Hammett and Lee Child. Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon first got me hooked on crime fiction. His dialogue is riveting and pitch perfect. Lee Child’s novels are gripping and “unputdownable,” and Rico, the anti-hero in my novels, owes much to Jack Reacher, as they share a number of character traits. They are both loners who have a sardonic wit, who have their own sense of right and wrong, and who do not suffer fools gladly.
If Pigeon-Blood Red was made into a film, who would be your choice of lead actors and director?
I see Jon Hamm as Rico, Idris Elba or Chiwetel Ejiofor as Paul, Paula Patton, Gabrielle Union, Zoe Saldana or Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Evelyn, Terence Howard as Robert, Meagan Good or Regina Hall as Rachel, and Paul Giamatti or Christopher Walken as Litvak. Directors whose names come to mind include Ric Roman Waugh (Felon, Snitch) and George Tillman, Jr. (Men of Honor, Faster, Notorious, The Immutable Defeat of Mister and Pete).
[Gosh, Ed, you have nearly the full cast worked out!]
Do you see yourself sticking to the crime/thriller genre or exploring other genres in the future?
I do see myself sticking to the crime genre. At some point, however, I’d like to try my hand at a literary novel in the vein of An American Tragedy or Of Human Bondage.
Thanks for such fascinating answers, Ed. I’m sure readers of Pigeon-Blood Red will be thrilled to know Rico’s adventures will continue.
About the Author
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 instalment in the Pigeon-Blood Red trilogy.
Connect with Ed