Thursday, May 16, 2019



In Part 1 of Rafferty Down Under the illusive authorial fugitive W. Glenn Duncan was finally tracked down and brought in for questioning about his cult favorite private eye, Rafferty. Along the way we learned W. Glenn Duncan’s son, Bill Duncan, is not only republishing the original series of Rafferty novels, but has been writing Rafferty novels of his own, which are set to appear in 2018. Now it’s Bill’s turn under the bright lights of the interrogation room…
Can you give us a brief biographical sketch of Bill Duncan?

Well, I was born at a very early age. Okay, that’s my one joke out of the way, and I promise to not to make any more. Maybe. Our family moved to Australia from the States when I was seven and I just did the usual kid things on both sides of the Pacific. Once here, we bounced around every couple of years—Mum and Dad always said they were gypsies at heart—even living on a farm for a few years.

After school I went to University and graduated with degrees in Architecture. Spent the next 20 odd years working my way through various roles in the construction industry, and believe me, some of them were odd. I never really felt like I fit in anywhere. Maybe it was the writer bubbling away underneath trying to tell me something, maybe the gypsy genes, maybe a combination of both. Got married early, though the marriage didn’t last, and have two wonderful adult kids now.

Three truths and a lie about me:
At six months old, I had travelled more miles by air than by car.
Member of Mensa.
Have never fired a gun.
Once crashed a car into the top story of a two story house.

Were you a reader growing up? If so, what books did you enjoy?

Yeah, definitely. I read very early and Mum and Dad still love telling the story about me throwing my kindergarten teacher for a loop, resulting in them being called down to the school to be admonished, “You didn’t tell us he was a reader.”

I wish I had a great story about devouring The Collected Works of Tolkien by the time I was eight, and it being my springboard into the heady realms of writerdom but the truth is my tastes weren’t that exotic. As a young boy, I was drawn to true-life adventure—explorers, early pilots crossing oceans and undiscovered lands—that kind of thing. The first fiction I remember reading was a Hardy Boys book, and it lit a fire inside me. I devoured the series and loved every one of them.

Later on my reading spanned a few genres, mostly led by Dad’s reading tastes. Memorable reads from those times were Brian Lecomber’s work, Tales of the Black Widowers by Asimov, and Heinlein’s Tunnel in the Sky. There’s definitely a thread of adventure there, but what impacted me most was the humanity of the characters. What would they do? Why are they doing it? How far will a person go when pushed?

When did you realize your dad had written this series of cool detective books?

I was in high school when Dad retired from being a commercial pilot and turned his hand to writing. I remember the early days of him pounding away at the typewriter, but mainly I was trying to work out how I felt about being the only kid I knew whose father had a commercial photocopier at home. This is the eighties, remember.

I read a couple of the short stories he had published in AHMM and Mike Shayne and the first novel (non-Rafferty and unpublished) he wrote, and I remember the day when he told me Ballantine picked up Rafferty’s Rules. I was away at University when it was released so, though I knew what he was doing, I wasn’t close to it at the time. I was always proud to be able to tell my friends about my father, the published author, but I didn’t really understand the reach or the impact of the books until much later.

Did you read them immediately or did you rediscover them again later?

I read each book as they were released and have come back to them time and time again—as I tend to do with books I enjoy. Which probably explains why my TBR pile is still too tall for me to jump over.

How did your dad feel about the Rafferty books?

I know he really enjoyed writing them—both the process and the result—but felt badly let down by the movie adaptation of Rafferty’s Rules. Having seen it, I have to agree with him. Dad has always been the kind of guy who would decide he was going to do something, and then just go get it done. I’m not sure if he realizes how big a deal it was to pick up writing as a new career and see the success his books had, but it’s been a huge inspiration to me as I look to follow a similar path.

When and why did you decide to revitalize the Rafferty books?

That decision was made in late 2016, after I’d already completed the first draft and a major rewrite of False Gods, and went hand in hand with my decision to indie publish. My original intention was to head down the traditional publishing route, and to target Dad’s old agent with my first query when the MS was ready.

In the end, what pushed me down the indie path was finding the online reactions to Rafferty, from people like you, Kevin Burton Smith, Bill Crider and Cliff Fausset. I knew from the words, and the obvious passion for the books, there was a market out there. I also realised it was unlikely a publishing house would be able to stop looking for the next ’69 Shades of the Girl with the Salamander Tattoo Gone on the Train’ blockbuster long enough to resurrect a few old PI books languishing on their backlist.

I figured, too, if there were fans from 30(!) years ago, then there were likely new fans who hadn’t caught up with Rafferty the first time around. So, Dad and I discussed the idea of revitalizing his books and he gave me the go ahead.

To test my theory about the publishing house, I floated a trial balloon past Ballantine, and Dad’s old agency, by approaching them for a rights reversion of Dad’s books, and telling them what I was planning to do. Neither of them blinked, they issued the reversion, and it saved me the hassle of writing a query letter.

When did you make the decision to write a new Rafferty adventure?

In 2014, I suffered a deep bout of depression with the end result being I had to walk away from my previous career and business. As I was starting to come out the other side of the black cloud, I spent a lot of time thinking about how I could reinvent myself in a more sustainable way. I’d always been drawn to writing and dabbled with it from time to time—starting a novel and never carrying on with it, writing non-fiction pieces for business, and similar things—and long dreamed of writing full-time, but had never followed through.

At the same time, and probably because of where I was mentally, I thought a lot about legacy. In particular, what happens to the intangibles when we’re no longer here. Like Dad’s Rafferty books. It seemed a helluva shame all the work he’d done and the magic of his creation might just disappear with his passing. It didn’t seem fair and I decided to do what I could to make sure it didn’t happen.

In 2015, with those two things in mind, I knew this was my chance to see if I could do the work necessary to become a writer and I needed get my ass in gear and give it my best. Six months later I had completed first drafts of two 100,000 word novels. The second of those was False Gods.

How did your discussion with your dad go when you said you wanted to continue his Rafferty series with the new novel False Gods?

He was really supportive, but tempered his enthusiasm with cautionary tales of the author as income-producing business. As far as the opportunity for Rafferty to hit the streets once again, he gave me carte blanche to do anything I wanted with the settings and the characters—move Rafferty to Australia, bring him into the 2000s, or anything I wanted to do.

I think he saw this as a way to make the new stories easier to write. However, one of the appeals of Rafferty has always been the voice of the time and place. I’m also an unabashed child of the 80s, so Rafferty remains—and will remain—a Dallas P.I. firmly rooted in the late 20th century.

Did your dad have any notes, partial manuscripts, or other story fragments for other Rafferty books?

There are no unpublished works. Mum and Dad moved several times since the nineties, so there weren’t even notes or compendiums for the published books. I rebuilt each one by scanning the actual mass-market paperbacks and compiling them from scratch. This process allowed me to get into the timelines of all the stories, confirm Rafferty’s rules (and their somewhat random numerical basis), the weapons he owns, and a bunch of other details. It was a great way for me to really inhabit Rafferty’s world, which I hope gives depth to the new books.

Have you written other fiction before Rafferty: False Gods?

I’ve written bits and pieces over the years, but the only fiction I’d ever finished was the first of those two novels I mentioned. It’s a book called Finding Karol and the archetypal first novel: highly cathartic, strived-for literary fiction, and self-compared to Jodi Picoult and Paul Theroux. It got some traction with Australian agents, but didn’t get across the line to a deal, and is currently in hiding on my hard drive.

How did you learn the process to republish the Rafferty books?

Standing on the shoulders of giants was, and remains, the key. When I first started looking into the idea of indie publishing, I stumbled upon the writer/marketing site of Joanna Penn, which led me to the similar sites of Nick Stephenson and Mark Dawson. The three of them, and their generosity in sharing the lessons they’ve learned over years of trial-and-error, gave me the confidence I could make this work, and a lot of the blueprints to follow.

Your marketing plan is an example of doing things right. Do you have a background in marketing or learn on the fly?

Thanks for saying so. Obviously, I’ve got you fooled. It’s still very early days, but I feel like I’m on the right track. I’ve no formal background in marketing, so it really is learning on the fly. There’s a huge wealth of experience and opinions out there, with easier access than ever before. Not everything will work for everyone, so it’s important to assess with a critical eye and implement what seems to be the right thing for you and what you want to get out of your marketing. And if it doesn’t work the way you hoped, change until it does.

If you are flying by the seat of your pants in the publishing world (like many of us) what lessons have you learned from your experiences?

There’s a few...

Trust your gut—I knew that there was a new life for Rafferty and that the stories would resonate with, and entertain, both existing and new fans. The feedback I’ve already had has proven this was the right call.

Stick to your values—I’m pretty pedantic. Bill’s Rule #1: Any job worth doing is worth overdoing. Levity aside, making your work the best it can be is the writer’s side of the contract with readers. Great covers, professional editing, and thorough research is every bit as important as good storytelling.

It’s not life or death—Notwithstanding the above, it’s easy to get bound up in trying to make everything perfect. It never will be. Neither will any minor error be a catastrophic disaster that stops you dead. Do the best you can with what you have to hand at the time, move on, and try to do a little better tomorrow.

This is the best time in history to be a writer—We have access to unprecedented technology allowing us, as individuals, to run global businesses with a laptop and an internet connection. The barriers to entry have never been lower, so grab the opportunity with both hands and run like hell.

What’s the next case for Rafferty?

False Gods will be out in 2018. I’ve already drafted book #8, with the working title of Blood Angels—however, I’m a little concerned about the repetitive religious language so the title may change. I’m currently working through the manuscript edits. At this point, I’m aiming to also release it in 2018. 

Down the track, I’ll also being playing with different versions of all the books—paperbacks, audiobooks, boxsets, and who knows what else. Beyond that point, I’ve got nearly a dozen written what ifs ready to be explored, and I’m sure many more will emerge out of the ether. Whether they all grow in to full Rafferty books is yet to be seen, but I won’t know until I pitch myself into their rabbit-holes. February 2018 is my due date to pull one out of the pile and get started on a new exploration and see where it takes me.

What I do know is that I’ve had an absolute ball on the journey so far. It’s been a great thing for Dad too, to finally get to see the impact of his books on readers, something that wasn’t available to him during his run with the traditional publishing industry. So, I’m up for continuing the ride, if you are. Jump in and ride shotgun with me in this rusted, duct-taped, ’67 Mustang and let’s hit the streets.
Thanks to W. Glenn Duncan and Bill Duncan for making the effort and taking the time to answer some long held questions about the Rafferty series and to fill us in on plans for Rafferty’s future...



Rafferty's Rules (1987)
Last Seen Alive (1987)
Poor Dead Cricket (1988)
Wrong Place, Wrong Time (1989)
Cannon's Mouth (1990)
Fatal Sisters (1990)
False Gods (2018)

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