Rarely, in life or in books, do you get the full story from the perspective of the deceased.
However, “Haunted,” the debut self-published novel by Wilkes-Barre-area native and former State College resident Reggie Lutz, has readers considering not just the trials of a family dealing with the loss of a sister and wife, but also the perspective of the deceased.
“If there’s an afterlife and ghosts, they have to experience loss and grief, too,” Lutz said.
The book is a ghost story, but not in a horror-movie sense. The ghost and narrator is Gwen McTutcheon, one of four sisters who dies unexpectedly while on a hike with her older, pub-owning English husband, Evan. “Haunted” explores the dynamics of the four sisters’ relationships with each other and with their brother-in-law in a small Pennsylvania town.
However, a year later, no one can move on. Evan sulks in his grief, unable to unpack his wife’s things or fulfill her will. Self-absorbed sisters Trudy and Bethany hide secrets, plotting and scheming even against their own family, while the youngest, Sarah, finds herself in a budding romance with Evan.
Add an arsonist, mystery and a ghost trying to save her family from beyond the grave, and “Haunted” makes for an entertaining read. Lutz has decent plot and character build-up. With every page turned, you want more family dirt and to know what becomes of Gwen, Sarah, Trudy, Bethany and Evan, good or ill.
There’s another reason to pick up a copy, paper or e-book (it’s available for Kindle): “Haunted” shrugs off genre fiction in favor of interpersonal family dynamics. Love, jealousy, death and spite mingle to paint a rich literary picture.
“I thought it was interesting and different from what a lot of other self-published authors are writing,” said Marie Jaskulka, Lutz’s editor on “Haunted.”
Most self-published authors write mystery, romance and horror novels, she said. But Lutz aimed for something deeper.
Lutz, 39, said she’s always wanted to be a writer since she was 12 years old. Usually, she explores fantasy and science fiction in her writing.
“But I’d never written anything long about family,” she said, “so I figured let’s do that.”
Family dynamics are interesting to write about because they shape who we are, she said. Even if that’s just by clashing and contradicting who we are at any one time.
Another appeal for readers is that “Haunted” is set in Pennsylvania instead of the high society of a distant metropolis. The small-town setting for the book could be your town, or State College for that matter.
Pennsylvania is important to Lutz, who grew up in Mountain Top and lived for a time in State College. Bellefonte native Josh Troup created the cover art for the book.
“Haunted” also is an example of the growing market of self-published works, which owes a lot of success to e-books on services such as Amazon.com and Google Play Books.
E-books had a banner year in 2012, drawing on best-sellers to tabulate more than $3 billion in sales nationwide, according to the Association of American Publishers’ BookStats project.
In 2013, e-book unit sales were up more than 10 percent to about 513 million, but revenue was flat, according to BookStats. Still, e-book revenue last year was 43 percent more than in 2011.
Statistics for 2014’s e-book sales won’t be available until March, said Marisa Bluestone, AAP’s communications director.
E-books have been great for emerging authors to get their works to readers faster, and self-publishing allows the author to have a greater degree of control, Jaskulka said.
“Just five years ago, if someone told you to self-publish, you would think they were nuts,” she said.
Lutz said about 40 percent of her book sales since April have been e-books. Self-publishing meant getting her work out there and helped her learn the finer points of publishing, such as design, layout, marketing and distribution.
“It’s a great do-it-yourself, punk-rock ethic,” Lutz said.
Avid readers who find they like Lutz’s writing can look forward to more from her in the next several years, including a collection of previously published short stories in early 2015; a “post-apocalyptic, sci-fi, dystopian urban-fantasy” trilogy (as Lutz describes it) and a sequel to “Haunted.”
“I wasn’t planning on it,” she said, “but a lot of readers wanted to know what happened to the sisters.”