Interview with YA Author Greg Wilkey on Writing, success with indie-publishing and the dreaded –Rules of Writing

I am really excited to bring to you an interview with indie-author, Greg Wilkey.

In 2011 Greg burst into the indie-publishing world with his debut novel, Growing Up Dead, and has had continued success with the sequels in what has become the Mortimer Drake series. Not only are Greg’s novels enjoyable to read, but they’ve been endorsed by the Queen of the Damned, herself – Anne Rice.

GregWilkey Photo

Greg Wilkey is an educator and author of young adult fiction. Currently, he has written and published four books in his popular Mortimer Drake Series. He was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1971. He developed a love of stories and adventure at an early age. He has always loved to read and write. He graduated from college with a degree in education and began a career in teaching world languages in 1993. He spent the next 15 years as a classroom teacher of Spanish until moving into school administration in 2007. He has been married for 20 years to his wife, Alicyn. He makes his home in Chattanooga where he and his wife are the proud pet parents of three spoiled cats. ​

Greg was kind enough to chat with me about his writing habits, hope for traditional publishing and the rules of writing.

You’ve published four novels in 2 years. That’s impressive. With a full-time job as an assistant principal, how do you find the time to write?

It’s not an easy task to find time to write, but I make myself write every night for at least an hour. Usually, that happens late at night before I head to bed. The majority of my writing time is on the weekends and during the breaks in the school year. I love waking up early on the weekends and heading to my home office. I can spend countless hours lost in my imagination.

 I remember the first time Anne Rice endorsed your novel. In fact, that’s how I found out about it in the first place, but I have to say that it wasn’t just the endorsement that got my attention—it was the name of your character, Mortimer Drake. I thought it was such a great, catchy name. How did you come up with it?

        The name came to me after I began researching and mapping out the first book. I wanted something to play on the word “dead.” I immediately thought of the word morbid. That got me to thinking about other words that were similar: morte, muerte, mortuary, etc. Suddenly, there it was: Mortimer. His last name was intended to be a reference to the most famous vampire of all, Dracula. I played with a few ideas before I decided on Drake. And there you have, the origin of my young hero’s name, Mortimer Drake.

Most writers identify themselves as either a story plotter or a fly by the seat of their pants writer. Which are you, a plotter or a pantser?

        I am actually somewhere in the middle (a “plontster” maybe?) I do outline and map out key scenes that I want to write. I spend a lot of time plotting out specific details of the beginning, middle, and end. Once I start writing, I let the characters and the mood of my story lead me and connect the dots. In fact, that’s how I know the story is working. Once the characters take over and guide me from scene to scene, I’m happy. I will admit, however, it does make more work for me. Every once and a while, the characters will go in a direction I never saw and I have to rethink the scenes. That’s the great thing about writing fiction. Anything can happen.

Do you have any unusual writing habits? Any funny quirks that happen only when you write?

        I have to have music or background noise. I cannot write in silence. In fact, as I work on a book, certain music will start to work its way into the story and I begin to develop this internal soundtrack. When that happens, I will download songs by artists in that genre or select that type of music on my Pandora Radio. It’s funny, because as I was writing the Mortimer Drake Series, I discovered that I loved alternative rock/heavy metal music. That’s the soundtrack of Mortimer’s world. Who knew?

While you’ve had success with the Mortimer Drake series, you’ve said in other interviews that you still hope to find a place in traditional publishing. Do you have other projects that you’ve set aside for this purpose?

Yes! I have mapped out three books in a new series I am writing. I already have two publishers that have expressed possible interest in seeing the first book. I am working to complete the manuscript by March so that I can submit it. I am hopeful, but I am truly enjoying my journey as an indie author. If I don’t land a traditional publisher, I will certainly self-publish again. I have a strong following now. It feels surreal.

 Can we talk about “The Rules of Writing” for a moment? These are the rules that agents, editors and self-appointed writing gurus constantly preach at aspiring authors, and yet, time and time again we see these rules broken.

        If I have learned anything from my life as a reader and a writer, it’s that there are no set rules. Every writer has his or her own guideline. In fact, I recently posted my “rules” on my author’s page on Facebook. Here are my very own 7 rules:

1. Read. Read a lot. I can’t imagine being a writer and not reading. I read everything from non-fiction to autobiographies to children’s picture books. I am always looking at how other authors use language.

2. Set aside time to think. I have to do this. Once I get an idea going, I need time to just sit and think about it. This looks differently depending on where I am. Sometimes I think in my office. Sometimes I sit on my patio in my favorite rocking chair. Sometimes I think while I’m watching an old movie. This step for me is crucial because this is when I let the idea marinate in my imagination. This is where the story starts to grow.

3. Research. I love to do research for a book, but I have to be careful not to get lost in this step. I can spend hours reading articles and following links that interest me. The research is important to me because I want my readers to have something real to connect with in my books. Good fiction must have a touch of reality to be believable.

4. Map out the story. I have to do this. I know that not all authors follow this step, but for me it is necessary. I don’t have to outline every detail, but I at least want a basic road map of the book. I like to have a sense of where I’m going before I start the journey.

5. Be ready to trash the map. Now, having stated rule #4, I have learned to let the map go and follow the lead of my characters. There is something wonderful about letting go of control and giving myself over to the world I’ve created. Sometimes, it’s better to let the characters dictate their actions to me. In fact, as a writer, I want this to happen. When it does, I know that my story is now a living organism with a life all its own.

6. Don’t revise while writing. I had a hard time with this one in the beginning. I was so worried about grammar and vocabulary that I’d spend all my energy on correcting and editing every line that I wrote. It took me a long time to figure out that was why I never finished a book. I was burning out before I really got started. Now when I write, I just write. I let the story flow onto the page. I just want to get the words out of my head. I want to paint those scenes before I lose them. I don’t worry about the language mechanics until the end.

7. Have fun. This is my favorite rule because writing is too hard and too painful not to enjoy. I love to write. I have to write. It’s who I am and I can’t imagine not doing it. I love to hide out in my home office with my favorite music playing while I slip into my imagination. As long as I’m having fun, that’s all that matters. I write for my own pleasure. If others read and enjoy my work, that’s just wonderful, but I can’t allow that to motivate me. No, I write because I love it.

What are your thoughts on:

Adverbs – I use them. I think that YA fiction, at least for me, needs a lot of action. I like to use active verbs, therefore, I like the adverbs.

Using anything other than “said” to carry dialog – I think “said” pretty much does the trick, but I do like to occasionally toss in a new verb, you know, just for fun.

Avoiding detailed descriptions of people, places or things – I try to avoid too much description. Again, for me, I want my readers to fill in some of the gaps for themselves. I use enough description to set the mood and create the picture. I truly hope that my readers will be able to insert themselves into the story and see everything through my eyes and through theirs. I like to leave a little of the story open for the reader’s imagination.

Character thought exposition “He knew”, “She thought” etc… – I am torn on this one. I use it some, but the more I develop my own style, I tend to use it less. I guess I’m evolving. I try to let the story and the actions relate the character’s thoughts. It’s not always easy.

What can we expect from you next?  Will you take your Mortimer Drake novels from the YA world into the New Adult category?

         I am actually mapping out a possible 5th book for Mortimer. I left a tiny little door open in the last book of the series just in case I wanted to come back to Mortimer’s world. I still miss him, but for now, I am fully dedicated to my new young adult hero and his adventures. I am having a blast creating this new universe. I am very optimistic about my future as an author. I will never stop trying. I promise you that!

You can find Greg on Facbook

You can find his books in ebook and paperback through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


Book 1 GROWING UP DEAD: Mortimer Drake discovers that he is the product of a supernatural mixed-marriage. His mother is human and his father is a 925 year old vampire. His life is completely turned upside down as he struggles with this knowledge and his emerging vampiric nature. The truth behind the myths and legends of the vampire are revealed as Mortimer enters into a centuries old war of the Undead.

Book 2 OUT OF THE UNDERWORLD:  Mortimer Drake and his family continue to work toward a new understanding of how to survive as a supernatural family living in the mortal world. Unexpected events have altered their close-knit family even more as Mortimer’s mother gives birth to a baby girl. Is she human, vampire or something entirely different? A new battle in the war among the Undead begins as the Mother and Queen of the vampire race is discovered.

Book 3 HOPE AGAINST HOPE: The world has changed for the living and the undead alike. Mortimer Drake and his family have been forced underground in the wake of the Dark Revelation. Humankind has learned of the existence of vampires and society has crumbled into chaos. The centuries old conflict between True-born vampires and Cross-blood vampires has taken a backseat to a new war that has spread across the globe. HOPE, an organization determined to wipe out the vampire race, has risen to power under the absolute authority of the Director. HOPE promises to restore peace, safety, and security, but that promise has a price. Vampires have been forced from the security of the shadows. They can no longer hide behind the myths and legends. If Mortimer wants to survive, he will have to learn to trust new friends with supernatural secrets of their own. If he fails, the world will never be the same again.

Book 4 STAR BLOOD: The Collapse of the HOPE movement brought a renewed sense of unity to the world. For the first time in recorded history, humans lived side by side with creatures of myths and legends to build a new life fueled by optimism. Vampires are joined by their preternatural kin – merfolk, fairies, and werewolves – to pave a new path for life on Earth. But this feeling of faith and hope is short-lived. Mortimer Drake and his friends must now a face a new enemy from somewhere beyond the stars that threatens to destroy all life on the planet.

3 responses to “Interview with YA Author Greg Wilkey on Writing, success with indie-publishing and the dreaded –Rules of Writing”

  1. This is wonderful. I did pretty well for a month or so carving out a few hours in my week to write… then my computer broke… and now it’s the holiday season.

    When the holidays are over, I plan to snap back into action. Who knows, maybe one of these days you’ll be interview me here ^_^. Until then, I’m soaking up all of this advice. It looks like there’s a definite balance between planning a story and letting the story run it’s own path.

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