Just a quick bio on our esteemed guest today. Gregg R. Luke, R.Ph. was born in Bakersfield, California but spent the majority of his childhood and young adult life in Santa Barbara, California. After serving an LDS mission in Wisconsin, he pursued his education in Natural Sciences at SBCC, UCSB and BYU. He completed his schooling at the University of Utah, College of Pharmacy. He is a voracious reader and has been writing short stories since childhood. He has been published in Skin Diver Magazine, the Oceanographic Letter, Destiny Magazine, and the New Era Magazine. His fictional novels include The Survivors, Do No Harm, Altered State, Blink of An Eye, Bloodborne and Deadly Undertakings.
I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Gregg Luke at the annual ANWA Conference in Mesa, AZ. His workshop, Writing White Knuckle Suspense was, in a word, gripping. I've been given permission to share notes on his class in our next blog post so stay tuned for that. Now let's get this party started!
Me: Gregg, are you ready for millions of questions being thrown at you?
Gregg: Bring it.
Me: Let's start at the beginning. I'm very interested in the journey a writer takes in discovering themselves as an author. Did you always know you wanted to write?
Gregg: Yes. I've written short stories and scenes ever since I can remember. I've always thought it would be cool to be an author and move people with my words, but being raised by pragmatic baby boomers, I first sought out a reliable career and only started writing novels a few years ago.
Me: How does your career influence your writing?
Gregg: I write medical thrillers mostly. My career has a profound influence on my writing. Plus, it's also what I like to read, so the influence is multifaceted.
Me: Tell me about the first book you ever had published. Were you writing it hoping it would be published or was it something you were doing for fun?
Gregg: I write what I like to read. When I can't find what I like, I write it myself. I also love to learn when I read. So all my books have little messages and cool, spiffy facts in them. My first novel was written in hopes of publication, but I did it mostly for fun. It was a Book of Mormon thriller about Hagoth and sailing. It was published by a company that was a breath away from going under. I didn't know that. My book was one of the last ones they put out, and boy did they do a lousy job on it. There was no type edit done, so the novel has over 150 typos in it as well as whole paragraphs missing. Ugh. What a way to start a career as an author!
Me: Other authors might find such humble beginnings truly inspiring considering everything you've accomplished thus far. How did you go from that publisher to the publisher you're with now?
Gregg: I have a stack of rejection slips almost an inch thick. It's the law of averages. I just kept writing, kept improving my style, and kept submitting like crazy until one of them took the bait. If I stopped trying the first time anyone said "No" to me, I'd have never gotten anywhere in life. I love the two sayings: If you don't go after what you want, you'll never have it, and If you don't ask, the answer will always be no.
Me: I love that. I think plenty of published authors could say the same thing, and I find it interesting that most authors have kept those rejection letters as if they were prized battle wounds from which they healed and eventually overcame. Now Gregg, let's talk about awards and recognitions. This is no time to be modest. What awards and nominations have you received for your books?
Gregg: Aw shucks, Gosh. Okay. The last five of my thrillers have been Whitney Award finalists; four in suspense and one in general fiction. Two of my covers have won best suspense jacket awards. (I admit that I didn't create the covers, but I did have a big influence on what they'd contain and how they were presented.) I have been featured in the Herald Journal as a local author and a pharmacist author. I was also nominated the last two years for Utah's Best of State in fiction writing.
Me: Like I said: Humble beginnings and now look at you! What is the most memorable/favorite review you've ever received?
Gregg: I've had some very favorable reviews and some memorably unfavorable ones too. That's part of putting your work out for public scrutiny. One of my favorite reviews said something to the effect of "This novel grabbed me by the throat and did not let go until I had finished at two a.m. the next morning."
Me: Nice. I loved it when you told us that one reviewer said someone needed to take away your thesaurus. After reading some of your work I would have to disagree. I feel much smarter now than I did before, and your prose are truly a work of art. Every author's writing process is so different. In your workshop at the ANWA Conference you mentioned that writing a scene for you involved picturing it like a movie director. I would love for you to go into more detail about that.
Gregg: When I finished my LDS mission, I went to BYU on a cinematography scholarship. I love movies. I love making movies. Having taken a number of classes in film making has really helped me craft visual scenes. That's why I suggest anyone wanting to be a visual writer should take a basic film making class. There are so many nuances to deciding what elements a scene needs and what to leave out. Most new writers want to put it all in there, but this rarely works well. I will picture a scene from many different angles to decide which angle will best deliver the effect I want from it. After that, I let different characters play in the scene to decide which POV (point of view) will best deliver the information and impact I want. The nice thing about crafting it all in your head first is that you don't waste paper or computer time.
Me: That is so interesting. Have you always written a scene like this or did you develop this method over time?
Gregg: I pretty much have always done this, but the process has undergone some intense polishing and improvement. I didn't get it right the first time. Even now, after I finish a scene I will go back later and trim the excess to tighten the prose.
Me: I'm currently reading your book Deadly Undertakings. First of all, what a fantastic title. After getting more than halfway through the book I keep looking at the title and thinking "Nailed it!" Second, I love the originality of a serial killer targeting people who are 100 yrs. old or older. What prompted that idea? Oh, and how do you come up with your titles?
Gregg: Thanks. I loved the double meaning in the title too. Some publishers will alter titles because they already have a book with the same or a similar title, or they feel the one the author chose doesn't jump off the shelf. The first three books I published with Covenant had their titles changed. Once I got a feel for what worked, my titles have remained. As for the theme of targeting centenarians, you'll understand once you get about 3/4 through the story. But that's when it gets really intense, so you'd better block out some time because you'll have to finish it.
Me: I actually haven't been able to put it down since I started it. The only reason it's sitting on my couch now is because I had to come up for air and have this fun interview with you. LOL. Is there anything you find particularly challenging when crafting your stories?
Gregg: Yes. Plausibility. I hate stories that use medical information or scientific facts incorrectly. I understand the need for artistic license, but to say a particular drug causes such and such when in reality it doesn't irks me. So I try to make sure all the medicine and science in my stories is real and plausible. In the end, it actually adds to the creepiness of the novel because it could really happen. But sometimes the science doesn't do exactly what I need it to do, so I tweak and shift until it does.
Me: Did you have to do a lot of research with your latest release, Bloodborne? Tell me a little bit about the storyline.
Gregg: I do a ton of research for all my novels. That's one of the things I enjoy most about writing what I write. The hard part comes in deciding what to leave out. I'm a nerd, so to me it's ALL fascinating. For Bloodborne, I had to study information on blood, infections, parasites, viruses, vectors, transmittable diseases, etc. I learned a lot about the H1N1 virus. I even traveled to the Yucatan during the H1N1 outbreak and studied how they were dealing with it. Believe it or not, the most difficult part of Bloodborne was finding an ideal location for the experiments to take place. I struck gold when I learned about Ni'ihau, a privately owned island in the Hawaiian archipelago.
Me: Can we expect another new release anytime soon?
Gregg: Yes, I have a novella coming out this June. It’s an anthology with three of Covenant’s best suspense writers, Traci Abramson, Stephanie Black, and yours truly. My story is a bit different from my other novels in that it’s written in first person from a YA point of view. It’s about a young teen who feels compelled to solve a one-hundred year old mystery surrounding a haunted house in his isolated Nevada town. It’s called The Death House. It’s got some creepy thrills, a lot of humor, and some neat science and local legends. I also have three others novels in the works. Never a dull moment in my head.
Me: I will definitely be looking for the novella. Sounds very interesting. Do you have any book recommendations for aspiring authors who want to master the art of writing great suspense?
Gregg: There are some great texts out there (Orson Card's Character and Viewpoint is very good) but I mostly like to study the form and prose of authors I enjoy. I love the deep science of Michael Crichton, the medical complexity of Robin Cook, and the suspense and prose of Dean Koontz. When I read a scene I really like, for whatever reason, I study how it was crafted, what words were used, sentence structure, how complex the POV was, etc, etc. Everyone must develop their own style, so to learn "how to" from one book doesn't make sense to me. I think anyone who wants to master suspense writing should read tons of suspense stories and glean from them traits they like.
Me: Any other words of wisdom to impart before we wrap this interview up?
Gregg: You should strive to be a writer only if you love to write. I honestly believe that even if I hadn't been published I would still write my stories because I have so much fun doing so. Yes, it is a lot of work! But the reward is well worth it to me. If you want to publish solely for the notoriety and money, you will have a miserable career.
Me: You're a busy man with a million things to do and a million stories forming in that fantastic brain of yours, so taking the time to let me interview you was very kind of you. Thank you so very much for giving us some insight into the wonderful writing world of Gregg Luke.
Gregg: Thank you for picking me for an interview. I had a great time! Good night, and good luck with your novels!
“Some authors are great writers, some are great storytellers. Gregg Luke is one of those rare authors who is both.” –Kathryn Jenkins, Managing Editor, Covenant Communications