The self help guru

Soul healer: Dr. Joseph F. Ruggiero, retired founder of Somerton’s Self Help Movement treatment center, recently released his third novel, Crystal Umbrella. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

Dr. Joseph F. Ruggiero writes novels for the same reasons that he hopes people will read them. It also has a lot to do with why he spent more than four decades helping lost souls overcome drug and alcohol addiction.

“I’ve written two dissertations in my career and I’m tired of it,” said the retired founder of Somerton’s Self Help Movement treatment center during a recent interview. “I’ll still write about drugs and alcohol, but in fiction because fiction doesn’t preach, it entertains and you can deliver powerful messages in fiction. I believe fiction can heal the soul and help change values.”

Ruggiero’s newly released third novel, Crystal Umbrella, features plenty of entertainment, assuming most readers consider suspense, violence and mystery entertaining. And it also has some powerful messages, including a timely one about homosexuality and tolerance.

Published by AuthorHouse, the book is available in paperback from the publishing house, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It’s also available in digital format for Kindle and Nook. Ruggiero will conduct a book signing on Saturday, Sept. 27, from noon to 3 p.m. at Mignoni Jewelry, 200 Mill St., in Bristol.

The novel’s August release followed another landmark achievement in Ruggiero’s second career, the signing of a distribution deal for a feature film based on his first book, A Rose on Ninth Street. Ruggiero wrote the screenplay and produced the film, which was directed and co-produced by Dwight Wilkins. It’s available on demand via Vimeo and will soon be available in DVD format.

Although raised in South Philly, Ruggiero, 72, has deep roots in the Northeast. A psychotherapist, he founded Self Help in 1967 and served as its chief executive until his 2010 retirement. The nonprofit center still operates at Roosevelt Boulevard and Southampton Road, while Ruggiero serves on its board of directors.

Crystal Umbrella is pure fiction, but it’s realistic. Set in modern-day Philadelphia, Ruggiero drew upon his vast clinical experience in molding the characters and story. There’s a serial killer on the loose in the city and he’s targeting gay people.

“Being a psychotherapist for years, I met a lot of people with drug and alcohol problems and people who were struggling with their sexuality and those with anger toward the gay community,” Ruggiero said. “That anger can be a reflection of anger at themselves.”

The identity of the killer is a mystery that has been left up to two cops — one active and one retired — to unravel as they each cope with their own personal trials and demons. The story also follows Barry Witherspoon, a murder witness who is engaged to a woman, but likes the company of men and has to keep up appearances for the sake of his politically connected family.

The reader is left to ponder who may be responsible for the slayings.

“Could the murderer be gay himself? Could he be seeking revenge?” Ruggiero asked rhetorically. “The story takes you around in a lot of circles.”

It’s not meant for the faint of heart.

“The characters are pretty authentic and it’s a chilling novel,” said the author, who now calls Levittown home. “My writing is simple, crisp and I hope at the end of the chapters, you can’t wait to turn the page.”

The story may resonate deeper with local readers in light of the recent controversy involving a Center City altercation between a gay couple and a group of party-goers that resulted in serious injuries to the couple. Authorities have said the couple claims they were targeted because of their sexual orientation, although police have made no arrests in the case.

“The book brings out the dignity of human beings and the right of everyone to have dignity,” Ruggiero said. “Though gays have fought for their rights, the prejudices and bigotry of the 1950s are still alive and well. Whether you agree with the lifestyle or not, that’s not the point. Humans have to be protected and respected.” ••

For more information about the novelist and his works, visit www.josephfruggiero.com.