Monday, March 25, 2013

WRITERS AND PUNKS - In Memory of Rick Hautala

WRITERS AND PUNKS In Memory of Rick Hautala I have written about Rick Hautala many times over the years—his bio when he was Guest of Honor at our beloved Necon, the introduction to the reissue of his wonderful first novel, Moondeath, and the announcement of his HWA Lifetime Achievement Award, among others—but I never thought that I would be writing this. I hope I might be forgiven, then, for plagiarizing myself in these dark days, when words don’t come easily. The things I’ve written about him before are all still true—it’s just that they mean more to me, now. I’ve talked elsewhere about Rick as a friend and as a man—about his humor and his struggles and his love for his wife and sons. But in truth, if you’d asked him what he was, he wouldn’t have said a friend or a man or a father or a husband…he’d have said he was a writer. He believed more firmly than anyone I’d ever met that writers were born, not made, that he had no choice in the matter. His career had some breathtaking highs, but even at the lowest points, when others might have urged him to cut his losses and find some other vocation, Rick felt helpless in the face of his nature. He didn’t even truly understand the suggestion that there might be some alternative. He was a writer. How could he conceive of being anything else? I loved him for that. Rick liked unique and funny t-shirts and would always have a new one to show off at Necon every July. The best—the one that author Jack Ketchum and I recently agreed best represented the true Rick—was emblazoned with the following: What are you, a writer or a punk? That was Rick. ~ No one wrote horror with as heavy a heart, or with as deep a sense of foreboding and sorrow, as Rick Hautala. His characters are ordinary people, so full of worry about mundane, human things that when the extraordinary begins first to invade and then to tear apart their simple lives, we feel the tragedy on a visceral level that so many who came after Hautala never achieved. Right from the beginning of his career, Rick achieved something that marked him out as a force to be reckoned with—he didn’t write like anyone else. When you crack the pages of a Hautala novel (whether under his own name, or his AJ Matthews pseudonym), there’s no mistaking that voice for anyone else. There’s an anguish in his characters and a terrible claustrophobia to even the most open of settings that marks his novels indelibly. With Rick Hautala and the modern ghost story, author and subject formed a perfect bond. The horror in Rick’s work is the sorrow of isolation and the fear of the unknown future that lies ahead, often laced with echoes of past mistakes. He didn’t go for the cheap scare, ever. Instead, he created a supernatural catalyst with which he deconstructed human frailties and the fragile ties that bind us. These themes are found everywhere in Rick’s work. Some of the best examples include the million-copy, international bestseller Night Stone, the milestone short story collection Bed Bugs, and the extraordinary novella Miss Henry’s Bottles, which may be Rick’s finest work. Fan favorites include the novels Little Brothers and The Mountain King. Hautala’s in top form in Winter Wake and Cold Whisper, as well as the novels he wrote as AJ Matthews, in particular Looking Glass and Follow. With The Demon’s Wife—the last novel he completed—he had begun a new phase in his writing career, written something truly unique. We can only wonder where his ruminations would have taken him next. The tragedy of Rick’s life was that he never knew how many people loved him, how many held him in high regard—or if he knew, he never quite believed it. He never knew how good a writer he was. Oh, he wanted you to read his novels, and he wanted you to like them, but even the books of which he was most proud he dismissed with comments like, “I think that one worked out pretty well.” That was the highest compliment he could give himself. Rick Hautala was the horror writer's horror writer. He never looked down his nose at the genre, but embraced it instead. Legendary for his kindness and his generous spirit, he influenced a great many young writers and exuded a sense of camaraderie that became infectious. In Rick’s view, we were all in the trenches together. Self-effacing and approachable, he combined a blue collar work ethic with literary sensibilities shaped by his love of Shakespeare and Hawthorne. His passion for the horror genre was second only to his love for writing, and all of those elements conspired over decades to transform him into a determined mentor, offering critical feedback and quiet encouragement to many new authors as they began their own careers. Despite the mark he has made on the genre and his quiet mentorship of other writers, Rick was rarely recognized for his work until 2012, when he received the HWA's Lifetime Achievement Award. That honor meant the world to him. I worry that Rick Hautala and other masters are in danger of having their legacy forgotten. That can’t be allowed to happen. Go and pick up a copy of Winter Wake or Little Brothers or one of Rick’s fantastic short story collections. Connecting with readers, making them feel…that was the only reward that ever really mattered to him. So go and read some Hautala, and spread the word. Don’t forget. --Christopher Golden Bradford, Massachusetts March 25th, 2013

Saturday, March 23, 2013

If You Want to Help Holly Newstein Hautala

Dear friends, I don’t have the words to put Rick Hautala’s death in any form of context. His wife, Holly, told me this morning that it’s blown a crater in her life, and that’s as good an image as any I could imagine. So many people have written so sincerely and so eloquently about their love for him personally or their admiration for him as a man and as a writer. Holly and those of us who were closest to Rick always tried to tell him how much he was loved, but he never believed it. I only wish he could have seen the outpouring of love and support that has come in the wake of his passing. Holly would like me to pass along her love and gratitude. She has been deeply touched and hopes, in time, to personally thank everyone who has reached out to her. Unfortunately, Rick’s sudden death could not have been more untimely. The life of a freelance writer is often one lived on the fringes of financial ruin, and Rick struggled mightily to stay afloat in recent years. Just within the last couple of months, that struggle became difficult enough that he could not afford to continue paying his life insurance bill, and allowed it to lapse. Though he could never have foreseen it, the timing, of course, could not have been worse. Then, just this morning, Holly discovered that the social security benefits she might hope to receive as Rick’s widow are not available to her until she turns sixty, three years from now. Efforts are under way on projects that we hope will earn some money for Rick’s estate, but meanwhile there are costs involved with his death to consider, and then, for Holly, the struggle will continue. If you’d like to help, any donation would be appreciated. You can PayPal directly to Holly at Thank you so much for your time. Christopher Golden

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 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.