*No Spoilers for The Last Straw*
1. Your novel discusses how some kids leave street life behind as Mr. Elliot did, and how some kids never escape it. Was this something you witnessed yourself growing up?
Mr. Duncan: Yes, I did witness this. I grew up in Gary, Indiana in the 1950s and 1960s. At that time it was a booming steel town and was home to one of the largest steel mills in the country. I lived in a lower middle-class neighborhood. However, despite an abundance of jobs in the steel mills, there were nevertheless stubborn pockets of poverty within my neighborhood and on its edges. Most of the boys who got into to trouble with the law and who, in those days were called “juvenile delinquents,” lived in the poverty-stricken areas of the city, and some of them were my friends, schoolmates, and neighbors. Too young and stupid to know better, I occasionally joined them in some of their less serious infractions. Fortunately, as we grew older, our paths diverged. While I (and others) concentrated on school, some boys I considered to be friends graduated to more serious crimes. A handful ended up in prison for varying lengths of time, up to and including life, and a few even died in street violence. Maturity and parental guidance were part of the reason I escaped their fate, but another part was luck.
2. Do you feel like you connect more with Mr. Elliott or more with Rico?
Mr. Duncan: Paul Elliott was always meant to be the hero of the novel because he is a highly idealized version of me! Like me, he comes from a working-class family, he did well in school, and he became the first black partner in a large majority law firm. However, 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 that Paul is at least arguably on par with Rico as the driving force in the novel. So the answer to your question is that, while I understand that readers will feel that Rico is the more riveting character (as do I), I actually connect more with Paul.
3. Are you part of a writing community? If so, how do they help you to become a better writer?
Mr. Duncan: No, I’m not a part of a writing community. However, I regularly attend writing conferences.
4. What is your favorite under-appreciated novel?
Mr. Duncan: I would have to say that How Green Was My Valley is my favorite in that category. I believe I’m correct that it’s underappreciated today. Although it was adapted into an academy award winning movie in the late 1930s or early 1940s, I don’t hear much about it today. It is exquisitely written and the coming of age story is achingly beautiful.
5. Do you want The Last Straw to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a series? I honestly felt like The Last Straw could be its own standalone novel, or it could be part of a series.
Mr. Duncan: I’m happy that most people think the novel works well as a standalone. However, it is the second in a trilogy. The first is Pigeon-Blood Red, which was originally published in 2015 and was later published by my current publisher Creativia in 2017. I’m currently working (too slowly!) on the third in the trilogy, Rico Stays. Incidentally, I’ve also written screenplays for all three novels (I completed the one for Rico Stays before writing the novel), and I hope one day to be lucky enough to have them produced. It’s a long shot but I have my fingers crossed!
Well, Thanks Mr. Duncan for taking the time to answer my questions as well as introducing me to your novel!