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. He served an LDS mission in Wisconsin, then pursued his
education in Natural Sciences at SBCC, UCSB, and BYU. He completed his
schooling at the University of Utah, College of Pharmacy.
Gregg currently practices pharmacy in Logan, Utah. He and his wife
Julie have three children and live in Cache Valley, Utah. He has been
published in Skin Diver Magazine, the Oceanographic Letter, and the
New Era Magazine. His fictional novels include The Survivors, Do No
Harm, Altered State, and Blink Of An Eye, three of which were Whitney
Deirdra: When did you first know you wanted to be an author?
Gregg: I’ve enjoyed writing since elementary school. I remember my 4th grade teacher once scribbled, “Wonderful imagination” on a short story I wrote. That gave me such a thrill I began writing little stories and tales on a regular basis. It was more of a release than anything; it wasn’t until high school that I thought it would be cool to actually publish a book.
Deirdra: What is your writing and educational background?
Gregg: My educational background is mostly in the sciences. I actually received a scholarship to BYU in cinematography because I love all aspect of film-making—which I believe helped to hone my writing skills. I changed my major to biologic sciences when I decided to pursue a career in medicine instead. I took a couple of creative writing classes just to keep my hand in it, but I didn’t seriously try to publish until after college.
Deirdra: What makes you passionate about writing?
Gregg: I’ve always been fascinated by the power of words. It amazes me that a few strategically placed words can bring out feelings of anger, fright, angst, happiness, and can even make me laugh and cry. I love being able to elicit those feelings with others through my writing. I also love to teach (but I hate to lecture). I try to share interesting principles of science (and sometimes religion) in my novels in a way that doesn’t bore my readers to tears.
Deirdra: What was the pathway like for you to get your first book published?
Gregg: I found the pathway to publishing is callous-building. I have an inch-thick stack of rejection slips from my first novel (which is still unpublished). It was a Book of Mormon adventure, and at the time the market was saturated. So I studied the published novels in that genre and found a vacancy I could try. My second novel dealt with the exploits of the sailor Hagoth from the Book of Mormon. It was accepted by a publisher that was on the verge of going under. They put it out without any editing before or after typeset. The story was intact but the final product was embarrassing. I’ve counted close to two hundred typos and grammatical errors—including misspelling my name on the copyright page! After that, I decided to follow the advice of countless experts and “write what I know.” I noticed that there were no LDS authors writing medical thrillers. My favorite author is the late Michael Crichton. I love techo-thrillers of all kinds, so I tried my hand at an LDS medical thriller and was published the first time out. (I hate it when the experts are right!)
Deirdra: Were you ever discouraged along the way? If so, how did you deal with it?
Gregg: I have five published novels under my belt, a few magazine articles, and I still get discouraged. It comes with the territory. I find the biggest discouragement comes with self-doubt. I decided long ago that all authors have to have very thick skin to survive in the market, so I try to battle discouragement with an “I’ll-just-try-harder” attitude. Others out there are doing it, so why can’t I?
Deirdra: What is your writing schedule like?
Gregg: Sporadic. I wish I had a set schedule; I’d probably get more done. I have a full time job as a pharmacist and I take an active part in my children’s education and rearing. I write most of my material in my head, then I regurgitate it on the computer when I get a free moment in the evening or on weekends.
Deirdra: Where do your ideas come from? How do you know the idea is good enough to write a book about it?
Gregg: I have the very fortunate position of having ideas spring up every day at work. Since I write medical thrillers, any new drug or therapy or new study is fair game for embellishment into a novel. Still, I have hundreds of ideas that’ll probably never become novels because they just won’t fit into an entertaining tale. Some things I find fascinating would bore others to tears. So I do a lot of picking and choosing with my ideas.
Gregg: BLINK was a difficult novel to write in that it has some very emotional moments that are necessary to the story. The idea came when I noticed the over-abundance of novels that dealt with a protagonist that gets amnesia (usually from a head trauma) and then spends the rest of the novel trying to regain their identity. I wondered if anyone has ever had a head trauma that caused a remembrance of issues they had no clue they had previously repressed. I wrote BLINK during the tragedy of Ethan Stacy in Layton, UT. The entire event appalled me. Any form of child abuse makes me livid. I talked with a psychologist at my clinic and he said childhood abuse is often repressed in adults. The story developed from there—but to keep it from being a totally depressing tale I threw in elements of romance, suspense, humor, and made sure to give it a happy ending.
Deirdra: How do you manage your pharmaceutical career, family life, church responsibilities and being an author?
Gregg: It’s a balancing act that regrettably does not allow for long sessions of solid writing. Like I said, I write here and there. I get a few hours to write on some weekends but not as many as I’d like. What astounds me is how people like you, Deirdra, can raise a family, fulfill church responsibilities, write, work, AND have time to run a successful blog! Do you ever sleep?
Deirdra: I take naps every once in a while. =)
Deirdra: How many beta readers do you have review your manuscript before you send it to your editor?
Gregg: It varies. Usually about three.
Deirdra: What do you hope readers will get from your books?
Gregg: Because I strive to make all the science, chemistry, and drugs in my novels accurate, I hope my readers frequently stop and wonder, “Is that really true?” or gasp and say, “Holy crap!” and when they finish, I hope they say, “Man, that was a fun ride!”
Deirdra: What is your process of brainstorming a story? Do you just sit down and write, waiting to see what happens next? Or do you outline first?
Gregg: Because of the complexity of my stories I probably should use an outline, but I don’t. I usually know where I want to start and how I want to end, and there are a few plot points that have to occur somewhere along the way, but that’s all the outline there is. I spend a good deal of time on each character so that I know how each will react in a situation. Even then, sometimes a character will say or do something that bowls me over. That’s when writing is fun. It’s not so much creating as it is discovering.
Deirdra: Do you ever experience a snag in a story, a form of writer's block? If so, how do you deal with it?
Gregg: Oh yeah. Writer’s block is a constant nemesis. When it happens I just keep writing. Sometimes I’ll create a new character and see how they interact with the story. I did that with my latest WIP and the guy took over the entire plot. In the end, his role was simply too complex and I ended up cutting him (and almost 60 pages!) from the ms. But it kept me writing and it opened up a few doors I wasn’t expecting.
Deirdra: Do you need absolute quiet to write? Do you listen to music when you are writing?
Gregg: I have developed the ability to block out most background noise when I write, but I prefer it quiet if possible.
Deirdra: What kinds of inspiration do you use during your story creation periods?
Gregg: Current events often play a big role in my stories. I also get tons of material from the drug journals I read and seminars I attend to maintain my license.
Deirdra: Who has made the greatest difference for you as a writer?
Gregg: Influence comes from everyone, whether good or bad. My wife was the first to encourage me to submit my novels for consideration. She’s a writer too, and she walked me through the steps to publication. What keeps me going are the generous fans I have who tell me how much they enjoy my stories.
Deirdra: What’s your secret to making the character’s in your books come to life?
Gregg: I have the advantage of talking with hundreds of people every day at my pharmacy, so I have a generous character pool to draw from. I think the secret to character development is to know them inside and out before you type a single word. Then let them shine. I often let my characters say and do what ever they want, then go back and chop out the stuff that I know will be objectionable to my publisher and audience.
Deirdra: What authors do you admire, and why?
Gregg: Michael Crichton—he uses so much cool, real science in his stories.
Tom Clancy—he uses so much cool, real technology in his stories.
Dean Koontz—his material is edgy but his prose and pacing are pure magic.
Deirdra: What is your favorite snack to have while you are writing?
Gregg: I try not to snack when I write. I’m watching my figure.
Deirdra: Besides writing what other talents or hobbies do you have?
Gregg: I sing, I arrange music, I cook, and I used to play a mean game of volleyball and brandished a wicked epee.
Deirdra: What words of advice do you have for other writers who desire to have their manuscripts become books in print?
Gregg: Okay, here’s my secret: I imagine my story as a movie. We’ve all seen lousy movies. Why are they lousy? Conversely, why do we love to watch some movies again and again? They same logic applies to writing. Do your characters seem real? Are their conversations contrived or natural? Is the situation plausible? Does the tempo keep me enthralled? Does each scene add something to the story? Does the resolve tie up all loose ends? Once I can see the movie has potential, I begin to write it down. That’s the trick: I write the movie in my mind.
Deirdra: What are you working on now?
Gregg: I’ve just submitted a ms entitled “Bloodborne.” It’s about an evil scientist (duh) who discovers a way to transmit his designer virus using mosquitos. Very creepy stuff. Currently, I am editing my daughter’s fantasy ms about a girl that has the ability to shape shift into a dragon. It’s pretty fun so far.
Deirdra: Where can our readers go to find your books and order them?
Gregg: My novels are at Seagull Book, Deseret Book, and online with Barnes and Noble and Amazon.
Deirdra: Any final words you would like to share?
Gregg: My warmest thanks to all my readers for allowing me to share my mindless wanderings with them. And thanks to you, Deirdra, for giving me this interview for your terrific blog.
Deirdra: You are awesome Gregg! Thank you so much for letting me pick your brain!