Mysterious Doings: Poison and the Pen With Gregg Luke

*Gregg Luke is a Pharmacist by day and a writer of medical thrillers by night, weekends, and lunch breaks. His books have pioneered a new genre in the LDS suspense market, specifically intended for those readers who want a good mystery, intense plot, and accurate science. His most recent book is titled Blink of an Eye and is a finalist in the 2010 Whitney Awards. Winners of the 2010 Whitney Awards will be announced May 7th at the Whitney Award Gala.

From Gregg:

My first loves were good movies, good books, drawing, and nature. In many ways they still are. While my creative talents were exceptional when I was young, my intellectual abilities were abysmal. I dreamed of being an author or a cartoonist and graduated high school in Santa Barbara, California, with average marks and zero interest in going to college.

My mission to Wisconsin was a turning point in my life. Two of my brothers and one sister served foreign missions and then I went  . . .  Stateside. I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t get to learn a language. Fortunately, my third companion suggested I make the scriptures my second language. Bingo. I took to studying and memorizing like never before. It was in the mission field where I learned how to study, and I soon discovered how little I knew about anything.

After my mission I went to a semester at BYU and then found a job back in California that, three years later, I realized was the fast-track to nowhere. Since I loved science and nature, I went back to college and studied biology, which led to chemistry, which led to medicine. My mission taught me  how to study and I did rather well in college, but I still dreamed of being an author and kept my hand in writing while I was learning gobs of scientific stuff. After seven years of college, I graduated from the University of Utah College of Pharmacy.

The first story I submitted to publishers was a Book of Mormon Adventure—something I soon learned publishers had plenty of and therefore didn’t want any more. Like many newbies, I scoffed at the rejections and thought to myself, I’ll show them! So I went to work on a second Book of Mormon adventure. This one was again rejected by the big LDS publishing houses but was picked up by a small publisher out of Bountiful. Ha! Vindication!

When my novel came out, I was walking on air, with buttons bursting off my shirt like machine gun fire. Then I opened a copy . . . my name was misspelled on the copyright page! I have since counted close to 200 typos and grammatical goofs in that book. Though I still love that story, I hate the book. My big dream of becoming a published author was not nearly what I had hoped it would be.

My wife then encouraged me to find a niche that no one else was using in the LDS market. Because I loved the novels of Michael Crichton and Robin Cook, and due to my extensive training in medicine, I decided to try my hand at a science-based, medical thriller.

It was a good move, but another learning experience. The Survivors was accepted by Covenant Communications and put in the hands of a very competent editor who used little strips of red tape to mark each page where corrections needed to be made. When I got the manuscript back it looked like an overgrown culture from a Petri dish  in microbiology lab. I about gave up on the project, but then I got to wondering what the story would be like if I did do everything she suggested. So I undertook her challenge, followed her suggestions, and guess what? She was right! (Dang it!)

That was a huge lesson learned. No author’s work is sacred enough to avoid the editors hatchet, including my own. Only, the way to look at it is not as a hatchet used to chop and mutilate, but more as a surgeon’s scalpel used to correct and beautify.

My second book, Do No Harm (Covenant, 2008) is about a widowed pharmacist (Paul) who runs away to a small town to find solace, and instead lands in the middle of a mystery that has a strangle hold on the community. Writing Do No Harm was a challenge in that there were a lot of words and scenarios I found I couldn’t use when dealing with a staunchly LDS publisher. Now, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. A fellow writer once told me that he felt my artistic muse was being muzzled. I had to disagree because I look at writing for an LDS audience not as “restrictive” but as “challenging.” Can I create noteworthy intensity, character development, and entertainment without profanity, immorality, and the other garbage that is often the easier way? What an amazing accomplishment if I can!

Altered State (Covenant, 2009) was a result of my studies on addiction and how it affects mind control. I tried to present the chemistry and physiology in a way that laypeople could understand, but many reviewers still said it made them dizzy. I took that as my next challenge: to write the science stuff more clearly.

My fourth novel, Blink of an Eye (Covenant, 2010), came from the realization of how many times authors used the premise of a head injury causing amnesia. I got to wondering if there was ever an instance where a person suddenly remembered stuff he didn’t know he’d experienced. I interviewed a couple of psychologists who informed me that was the basis behind repressed memories. There is some chemistry in the story but mostly it employs modern psychology practices and discussions on false memories, repressed memories, and the roles they may play in our lives as adults.

My upcoming novel is a complex story that deals with viruses and how they might be used as biological weapons.

I strive to keep all of the science, chemistry, and drugs in my novels accurate. (Nothing bothers me more than when an authors says a certain drug did such-and-such, when in reality it wouldn’t.) But what I hope my readers get from my novels more than anything else is a fun ride. If they can learn something without realizing they’re being taught, even better. Above all I hope they finish one of my novels and wonder, “Wow, can that really happen?”

As I reflect on my own life story and how it brought me here, I am very mindful of the mysterious ways in which the Lord works. As a new high school graduate I certainly didn’t see this in my future; but what an adventure it has been! And I’m not done yet. I constantly endeavor to hone my skills as an author. I believe that my medical background makes me a better writer, and my writing enhances my relationship with my fellow man. I have the support of my wonderful wife and children as I continue to juggle all the opportunities the Lord brings my way.

About Josi Kilpack

Born in raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, I'm the third of nine children and the mother of four kids of my own. I've written 13 novels, most of them directed to the LDS market, and also write articles, short stories, and do freelance editing. I've been involved with LDStorymakers, a guild for LDS writers, since it's inception ten years ago and am currently the president of The Whitney Awards, a genre award program for LDS writers. I live in Willard Utah with my husband, kids, dog, and chickens.
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3 Responses to Mysterious Doings: Poison and the Pen With Gregg Luke

  1. Jonathan Langford says:

    I think it’s true that anything we study can become grist for the authorial mill. I know that in my case, I read because I want a good story, but also because I like learning new things. Well-written fiction can do that.

    I also agree about how irritating it is when a writer gets something wrong out of what seems to be sheer laziness. Granted, there’s no end of things you could check (and no matter how much you do check, it’s almost certain that you’ll get something wrong). But half or more of the fun comes in trying. Playing with the net up.

    For what it’s worth, I can tell you that even after 25 years as an informational writer and editor, I still get manuscripts back all marked up–not just for my fiction but for my business writing as well. There are always things other people can see that I as the writer am too close to it to see.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. And thanks to Josi for lining up this worthwhile contribution!

  2. Tracy says:

    Seriously hope you bring home the Whitney this year. Don’t know anyone that deserves it more.
    Blink of an Eye is your best work to date. I’m looking forward to reading more of your work in the future.

  3. Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

    Its always nice to hear from a new-to-me writer. I’ll have to sample Gregg’s work.

    The writing life is a surprising one. We learn so much, not only about our topics, but about ourselves. Just this morning I had a conversation with another writer about how she doesn’t like to do a lot of plotting before writing because the process itself is the discovery for her. Life is like that, isn’t it? We have a general plan for our life, but along the way we encounter surprises that make us better than we thought we would be when we started out.

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