Friday, March 22, 2013

Rick Hautala

I couldn't even begin to type this yesterday. This morning it's not much easier, but I want to write it...need to write it. So here goes. I knew Rick Hautala long before I met him--knew him in the way readers always think they know their favorite authors. I grew up, you see, in the heyday of horror as a genre, when fine, incredibly talented writers like Robert R. McCammon, Charles L. Grant, Matthew Costello, Whitley Strieber and others were putting out regular doses of wonderful horror fiction. I read and absorbed it all. Sometimes, back in the early 1980s, my brother Jamie and I would latch on to a book we both wanted to read. Graham Masterton's Wells of Hell was one of them. I also recall a werewolf novel called Quarrel With the Moon. But of all of them, the one we shared the most enthusiasm for was MOONDEATH, the first novel by Rick Hautala. Witches and werewolves and spooky New England, combined with that intimate sense of growing dread that Rick did so well, right from the beginning of his writing career...how could we go wrong? I read all of his novels. Before and after I first met him, I read them all, even the Lois & Clark tie-in novel that nobody was supposed to know he wrote. But I'm getting ahead of myself. In the spring of my senior year of college, 1989, I ran into Craig Shaw Gardner at the Million Year Picnic in Harvard Square, Cambridge. I had interviewed Craig for Starlog Magazine (my first paid writing assignment) and he told me about a little convention in Rhode Island called NECON. It was fairly exclusive, he said. Never more than 200 people, and mostly horror folks. I should go. Well, I couldn't afford it then, preparing to graduate college, but my then-girlfriend (and now my wife, Connie, without whom I wouldn't have gotten through the day yesterday, never mind the past 25 years) paid for me to go. She thought it was important. My God, we had no idea how important it would be. My history with Necon is a subject for another time. What's important is this. That weekend was filled with so many of my heroes in the genre, writers I looked up to like Craig, Charlie Grant, Doug Winter, John Skipp and Craig Spector, and, of course, Rick Hautala. I was so nervous to talk to Rick. I picked up a copy of his latest novel, WINTER WAKE, at the Friday night signing event, went up to him and babbled something about what MOONDEATH had meant to my brother and me. Now, you have to understand that Rick didn't think much of MOONDEATH. He liked it all right, I suppose, but like most of us when we consider our first novels he looked at it as something he'd done with his training wheels on. Still, he appreciated the enthusiasm. I still have that copy of WINTER WAKE. In the inscription, he wrote, "It ain't no MOONDEATH, but it's a good 'un, too." That was my first meeting with Rick, but I kept going back to Necon, kept writing, and soon we became friends. "Mis-ter Golden" I can hear him saying, even now. We hung out together at Necon and other conventions and we gave each other a ton of shit, teasing pretty mercilessly sometimes. In time, somehow we went from being friends to being the closest of friends. A fraternal bond formed, and over the years we became each other's sounding boards and confidantes. Rick had a few of us--Matt Costello, Glenn Chadbourne, me, and a couple of others--who he called his Texans...the guys he wanted with him if he ever had to stand on the wall at his own personal Alamo. The guys he knew would never let him down. You had to be careful with Rick, though. His self-deprecating humor was only half honest, and the other half was the armor that covered a lifetime of self doubt. He had seen huge successes in his career, and had experienced more than one fall from grace. There were people he had loved who'd turned their backs on him, friends who had turned out not to be worthy of the name. But through all of that, he gave freely of himself. His heart was open to anyone who was willing to meet him just as openly. He joked constantly that he was the "Eeyore of Horror" (Connie and I were at breakfast with him at WHC in Atlanta in 1995 when he gave himself that nickname). "Just another book," he drawled in his Eeyore voice. "Not that it matters." But as constantly as he ruminated about his professional life, worrying about whether his books *did* matter, that never impacted the way he greeted us all. Rick was a guy who didn't just have your back, he wanted to have your back. He was built for loyalty. Nobody ever enjoyed a good time with friends more than he did, drinking a beer and smoking a stogie, singing along to the songs of his youth at Necon, or raving about politics at the various Vicious Circle dinners that he and I often shared with friends in our area. I could write thousands of words about all of the times we shared and the evolution that we went through as I went from fan to brother, our nearly twenty year age difference notwithstanding. When my daughter Lily was little, Rick would always try to say hello to her, but for some reason she would hide her face and cry. God, how we teased him about that. It would always bring out that sheepish, Eeyore grin. Much has been made of Rick's smile, and it's impossible to say how much I'll miss it, but more than that I'll miss his laughter and that particular way he'd roll his eyes at me, just out of sight, when he thought someone was being an idiot. I'll miss talking politics--God, he cared so much about the world and about people. Even after all of the times he'd been let down, he cared so much. I'll miss his hugs ("hug it out bitch"--"cracka please") and his cheerful greetings. I'll miss the phone calls, just to shoot the breeze, and the way he'd enter my house and say hi to Connie and our kids. I'll miss teasing each other. [The first time I ever saw Rick in New York City, he looked like Dorothy in the haunted forest, tiptoeing in his flip-flops, afraid of "lions and tigers and bears." A city boy, he was not.] I'll miss talking to him about writing and Rod Serling and, more than anything, about fatherhood. Rick's three grown sons--Aaron, Jesse, and Mattie--and they were his world, just as much a part of him as his arms and legs. No, more. He could have lived without his limbs. Those boys were his heart, cut into three pieces and living outside his body. He ached when they ached and wept when they wept and worried over them every day, even if there was nothing to worry about. We should all be so lucky as to have a parent who loves us as much as Rick loved his boys. And Holly...when they found each other Rick had reached one of the lowest points in his life. His friend Bill Relling had committed suicide and Rick never quite recovered from that. His self doubt had reached an all-time high. Holly's love helped to restore his faith in himself. It was the greatest gift to him, and a great gift to all of us who loved him to see that reflected in him. I'll stop now. Stop writing this, anyway. I have many people still to call and respond to about this, and deadlines to keep. Rick would understand deadlines. Now, some of the hardest words I've ever had to type. I love you, brother. Goodbye. The rest of my days just won't be the same.

24 Comments:

Blogger This blog's author said...

Exquisite. My heart breaks for you, Chris, and for the community at its loss. Thank you for sharing your Rick with us.

6:57 AM  
Blogger matt costello said...

Like seeing it all happen from the beginning...to this end. Thanks for this, Chris,

7:00 AM  
Blogger matt costello said...

Like seeing it all again from the beginning...to this end. Thanks for this, Chris.

7:01 AM  
Blogger Hunter said...

Beautifully written. Thanks for sharing, Chris.

7:13 AM  
Blogger Hunter said...

Beautifully written. Thanks for sharing, Chris.

7:13 AM  
OpenID slayground said...

Sending you strength. I'm here if you need me.

7:16 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thank you for the courage it took to share how wonderful your life with Rick was; my heart aches for his loss in your life, Holly and all of us who loved his laughter, his ease at sharing with others.

7:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The good guys die young.

Rick Hautala was one of my favorite writers, and now that he is gone,the moon will cry alone...

Thanks for sharing with us your memories with Rick !

Stephan, from Brazil

7:51 AM  
Blogger kenyonn2000 said...

Such a perfect, heartbreaking tribute. This says so much about who Rick was and why he was so important to those who knew him. Thanks for writing it, Chris.

7:57 AM  
Anonymous Michael Rowe said...

Beautiful tribute, Chris. Well said.

8:19 AM  
Blogger Benjamin Kane Ethridge said...

:( Wonderful write-up. Losing a friend this close... there are words, but really there are no words.

8:28 AM  
Blogger Benjamin Kane Ethridge said...

:( Losing a friend this close... there are words... but really there are no words.

8:30 AM  
Blogger Sephera said...

Thank you for this, Chris.

8:36 AM  
Anonymous Mike Myers said...

So perfect Chris. I welled up last night reading the introduction you wrote for Moondeath, knowing Rick is now gone. Now I'm at work, tearing up all over again.

8:42 AM  
Blogger Nick Cato said...

That was beautiful Chris.

8:56 AM  
Anonymous Weston said...

'The rest of my days just won't be the same.' Nor will they be for me. Although I feel I am a better person for knowing him because of the character I learned from him, the world is a far worse place without him.

Good words Chris.

10:08 AM  
Blogger T. F. Monteleone said...

That's the Rick I've know and loved for a long time. Perfectly written, amico mio.

10:47 AM  
Blogger T. F. Monteleone said...

That was the Rick I've known and loved for a long long time. Perfectly written, amico mio.

10:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautifully written, Chris! We are all as shocked and heartbroken as you. I've known Rick for 25 years. I've watched his children grow from boys to men. I've witnessed his highs and his lows. But I'll always remember his bright smile, his wonderful voice, and that strong hug he gave to friends like me. If it wasn't for Rick I would have never gone to NECON and met awesome people like you, Matt Costello, Steve Spignesi, Dave Hinchberger, and many others who have stayed in touch with me throughout the years. I'm certainly going to miss picking up the phone and chatting with him. Or his friendly e-mails. Knowing that I'll never see him again will undoubtedly be the hardest. Sincerely, Dave Lowell

11:29 AM  
Anonymous Ginjer said...

Beautifully done, Chris. We will all miss our Eeyore...I kept thinking of him last night, all the memories of Necon...thank you.

1:30 PM  
Anonymous Steve Sargent said...

Christopher, not sure what to say, really, but I feel for you, and hope that one day you'll come out the other side.

1:38 PM  
Blogger Ann said...

And still I cry...thanks Chris for your sensitive, beautiful words. You damn writers!!! Ann Costello

3:57 PM  
Blogger Lara Scott said...

I was a student of his at SMCC, he was easily my favorite teacher. He made coming to class enjoyable, he helped me improve as a writer and a person as far as learning how the world works. He'll always be the "chillest" teacher. Thanks for writing this, he was a great man. I'm going to miss him.

4:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chris - Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing this. My heart goes out to you, Holly and everyone else who knew and loved Rick. He was very kind to me and I am thankful to have known him. ~Martel Sardina

4:13 PM  

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