Reggie Lutz is one of those people whose feed you look forward to when scrolling absently through Facebook. Her updates are engaging and off the wall, and seemingly effortless in a social media world that I’ve learned requires a certain kind of savvy that doesn’t come naturally to everyone. She also writes beautifully – her novel “Haunted” released recently – and has a killer radio personality.
But with the exciting release of her novel, which I had the great fortune to read before its release (o’, the privileges of knowing other writers!), I wanted her to be interviewed, for a change.
Q: What is your life status?
A: I am single with no kids, 39, and currently working behind a seafood counter at a grocery store. I’ve had a lot of interesting jobs. Oddly, I tend to land in industries going through significant upheaval. In the ’90s and early aughts I worked in professional radio. I’m doing that now as a volunteer at WRKC.
Q: What were you reading when you were, say, 10?
A: Everything I could get my hands on. I was obsessed with the Little House on the Prairie series at that age, but I also remember trying to read the North and South series because my dad was really into that.
Q: What in particular attracted you to those stories?
A: I think Little House on the Prairie appealed to me because it was about a family on a farm. Animals and the agrarian setting were fascinating to me, but I suspect at that age I identified with Laura Ingalls in some way.
Q: How old were you when you started writing creatively, and what did you write about?
A: I was really little, when I think about it. I remember trying to write a novel when I was twelve. I actually finished it, but you know, I was twelve. So it was pretty awful. I got serious about writing in my late twenties, but I wrote stories for fun before that. Trying to hone in on a theme or genre that I worked with during that time is difficult. I’ve probably tried to write everything at least once.
Q: Your recently released page-turner Haunted has hints of the paranormal, but is otherwise straightforward earthbound-grounded. The deceased Gwen looks in on her husband and three fighting sisters a year after her death and observes them as they continue to try to accept her passing. Uncomfortable relationships and long-overdue conflicts explode. Do you ever wish you could be invisible for the purposes of watching people? (Not in their bedrooms. At their kitchen tables or in their living rooms, and fully clothed. Naturally.)
A: Yes. Whenever that question comes up about which superhero power you’d choose, I choose invisibility.
Q: What inspired Haunted‘s central conflict, which seems to me to be about family more than anything else?
A: I just knew I wanted to write about family in Haunted. One could say that most stories, in one way or another, are built on family conflict, whether the family is made of blood relatives or a close-knit group of people. But I hadn’t written anything previous to Haunted with family specifically in mind. Family relationships and dynamics are just very rich ground for conflict and storytelling.
Q: Do you have siblings who drive you crazy (or do you have siblings who you drive crazy)?
A: Ha! I have a brother. No, he doesn’t drive me crazy, although I miss him a lot. He lives in Massachusetts and I’m here in Pennsyltucky.
Q: Haunted‘s Gwen and her husband, Evan, still seem very connected a year after Gwen’s death. His grief threatens to damage his livelihood, and her attachment to him is also still very powerful. Do you believe in soul mates?
A: Ah, soul mates. I think the idea of soul mates is a beautiful one, but I believe we choose them. So I guess the answer is kinda yes, kinda no. I think they are born of interaction. There’s a line in a Robyn Hitchcock song called “I Feel Beautiful” that comes to mind. “No one’s ever watered me the way you do.” I think we find the people that help us grow and that connection becomes very powerful.
Q: What is it about people or their behaviors that you most like to explore in your fiction?
A: I like to explore what goes on beneath the surface. Fiction stretches our empathy, what we see in our day to day interactions with people might not match what’s going on inside. It’s something I think about a lot. You might listen to a husband and wife bickering and think they hate each other, but then you find out later that the back and forth is something they do for fun. Or that person at a cash register with the bright smile and sincere, “Have a nice day!” might be going through unbelievable turmoil in their personal lives.
There’s sometimes a contradiction in the way people behave and what goes on inside their heads that I think is worth exploring in fiction. In Haunted, the character of Trudy is probably the best example of this. She [redacted for spoilers] and so it seems like [redacted for spoilers] but really there is [redacted for spoilers].
Q: Who or what inspired your Haunted characters? Were they formed entirely in your imagination, or were they inspired by people you’ve known or traits you wanted to magnify or…?
A: This is such a hard question for me to answer! I started with a vague set of ideas about each character. I knew I wanted Sarah to be likeable but a bit selfish, and that the selfishness should be born of complexity. Trudy, right away I wanted to show as judgmental, and a bit mean, at least on the outside. Bethany was meant to seem dreamy, impractical and the family peacemaker. The details grew with the word count in the first draft.
Q: You are magically given the power of invisibility for one day. Where do you go/what do you do?
A: Well, I only have a day, so I might just observe the people geographically closest. I wouldn’t spy on friends and family because that would probably make me feel really guilty. Other than that, I think anyone could be interesting. People are very different at home or in private than they are in public, that contrast is always interesting. But if location were no object, I’d probably follow one of the wealthy writers around to satisfy my curiosity about what’s different about the day to day.
Q: You get to interview a lot of people on your radio show. Who has been your most enjoyable interview thus far (and why), and who is your dream interview subject?
A: That one is really hard! DON’T MAKE ME PICK A FAVORITE! Every interview is unique and so the things that make each stand out in my mind tend to be different. Live, in studio guests are probably the most relaxed interviews for me because there’s just something different that happens when you are in the same room. It also requires me to perform less technical wizardry than the Google Hangout interviews.
However, there is something really satisfying about the interviews I’ve conducted using that tool. It enables me to get folks on the air who are at a distance. Che Gilson (author – Carmine Rojas: Dogfight) was the first interview I conducted using the internet. I think the farthest flung interview was my friend Paul Shapera (composer – “Dolls of New Albion”), who lives in Serbia. RJ Keller’s interview was the first that I broadcast online through G+ at the same time the traditional broadcast signal went out and it was a lot of fun.
This is going to sound like a cop-out, but it is absolutely true (and it applies to writing as well) that my favorite interviews are whichever was the most recent. At the time I’m answering this question, that distinction belongs to Chuck Wendig.
Hmmm… dream interview subject. This is also a tough one to narrow down. Authors and musicians are always my dream guests, but the first name that popped into my head tonight is James Lipton. Of course, if that ever actually became a possibility, I would be really intimidated. I mean, what question could you ask James Lipton that he hasn’t already asked?
Kristen Tsetsi is the author of the novels The Age of the Child, The Year of Dan Palace, and Pretty Much True, Dr. Owen W. Gilman, Jr.’s “American War Literature and Film: Vietnam to Now” 2012 course curriculum selection. Kristen’s interview series at JaneFriedman.com offers behind-the-scenes insights into all things writing and publishing.