Sunday, March 24, 2013


Goodbye to Another Old Friend, Stephen King and Smoke on the Water, and hello to a new King novelist.

R.I.P. RICK HAUTALA : Back in the mid-'80's, I picked up a paperback original horror novel. It was set in Maine, mentioned several things I had read about in Stephen King novels, and had a blurb from King on the cover. It was very well-written, and I began to wonder if I had stumbled upon a new King pseudonym. Since this was not long after Richard Bachman had been "outed", I thought the best bet was to go straight to the source, so I called King's office and asked Stephanie Leonard, who was then my boss at the late, great Castle Rock newsletter, if I was on the mark.

"No," she told me. "He's a real guy. I'll give you his number, if you want to talk to him." She did, and I called, and that's how I met Rick Hautala.

  Rick was very friendly to me, and consented to an interview which ran in Castle Rock, along with a review of his then-current novel, Night Stone. I obtained his two previous novels, and sent them all off to have them signed. He returned them, and for the next several years, on into the early '90's at least, he would send me a signed copy of each book as it came out, all with his little skull sketches next to his name, and I reviewed them for my columns, first in Castle Rock, then in Cemetery Dance.

Rick and I actually met at a convention, I believe it was the HWA convention in Providence, Rhode Island. We had a chance to sit down and talk face-to-face for a change, and he was as friendly and open in person as he had been over the phone. He was always encouraging me to make time to attend NECON in Rhode Island, which he always referred to as "Camp NECON", but I never did make it.

During that time, I was putting together an anthology called "Sideshow", which featured horror tales set in the milieu of circuses, sideshows and carnivals. I had contributions from everyone who was anyone in the field at the time lined up -- contributions old and new from King, Koontz, Barker, Ellison, Lansdale and many more. Rick's contribution was "Voodoo Queen", and was one of my favorites of the new submissions I got. The anthology, sadly, did not sell, and the story ended up being released to Rick. it did see print via Dave Hinchberger, and appeared in "Bedbugs". I was also pleased to see it listed in the contents of "Glimpses: the Best Short Stories of Rick Hautala", and heartily recommend you check it out.

I remember him being plagued by self-doubt, despite an enviable degree of success in our field. He had, after all, been able to sell multiple novels, and to succeed in making a living -- albeit at times a precarious one --at this extremely difficult trade, and was well-known in his field. But he could never seem to make that next leap into general success and name-recognition, and that bothered him.

As time went by, Rick and I lost touch. His work began to appear in small-press editions, and my own review-writing grew more and more limited, and, as happens, we lost touch. Then a couple of years ago, we hooked up again via Facebook. Our dialogue resumed, albeit electronically instead of by phone, and I always looked forward to his post, since we agreed on things such as books, movies and politics and always got a kick out of each other's posts. On Election Night 2012, the two of us were exchanging quips back and forth as the night wore on, sharing our hysterics as Karl Rove began to melt down on Fox News as he saw the election he had thought to be a sure thing slipping away. Other writers and mutual friends joined in, and I had a grand time celebrating with him and other friends across the country, maybe even the globe.

On March 20, I downloaded a copy of Rick's 2012 novel, THE WILDMAN, which Amazon was offering for free on Kindle. He posted the link, along with a note asking readers to let him know what they thought, unless they didn't like it. I read the first chapter, really enjoyed it, and thought about writing to let him know. But I decided to wait, because I thought I had time.

How I wish I had gone ahead and done it.

Rick Hautala died of a heart attack the next afternoon, March 21. I found out about it from his close friend Chris Golden, via Facebook, later that evening. Because I had been posting with him just the day before, and may have even commented on one of his posts earlier that day, I was stunned -- I had no idea this was going to happen. I doubt anyone did.

The outpouring of grief, remembrance and sympathy for Rick's wife, Holly and his grown children, has been greater than anything I've ever seen on Facebook.He truly touched so many people during his life. I only hope he knew it.

The best tribute I can think of of for Rick Hautala is for his work to live on. So I urge all of you to seek out some of Rick's work, in whatever format you prefer, and discover for yourselves what a truly fine writer he was. Goodbye, Old Friend. I'll miss you.

Christmas Eve, 2012, was a bright, cold, sunny day. There was a slight pall over things, due to the horrific events in Newtown, Connecticut, the week before. However, my wife, Janice, and I lived in the Rochester, New York area, and those things were removed somewhat. We were on our way to the grocery store for some last-minute items for the next day's family dinner. As we went, we noticed a thick black column of smoke rising into the sky to the northwest, toward the southern shore of Lake Ontario. I remember wondering what it was.

When I got home, I logged on to Facebook to see what my friends around the world were up to. There was a post from Rick Hautala, now sadly deceased (see above), commenting on a horrific story which, oddly enough, explained that plume of smoke. It seemed that in the predawn hours, in the suburban town of Webster, New York, a man who had been released from prison, where he had been serving time for beating his grandmother to death with a hammer, had set fire to his home and car, and then gone up to the top of a nearby berm to wait for firemen and police to arrive. He had with him a cache of weapons similar to those used by the Newtown shooter.

When the firetrucks arrived, he began shooting, killing two firemen and wounding two others. A police officer on the scene was also slightly injured. Shortly afterward, as officers closed in, the shooter took his own life. Since then, a young woman who knew him was indicted by a Federal Grand Jury for purchasing the weapons for him. My family plays various instruments in a local pipe band, and as such we performed at the funerals for the two firemen who were killed that day, along with pipers, drummers and fire companies from all over the country. We all got to to see the effects of rampant gun violence in this country first-hand, something which happened basically in our own backyard.

Which was why I welcomed Stephen King's essay, "Guns", when it became available as an e-book download. In it, King, a gun-owner himself, makes a well-reasoned impassioned plea for sensible reforms which would do something to curb the ongoing flood of gun-related violent acts, and explained why they would help clearly and cogently. The things he proposed were simple and sensible -- background checks, reducing the size of magazines, and banning assault weapons.

The essay is an important one, and well worth your time to track down and read. Unfortunately, there was a strong reaction from the extreme right-wingers, the NRA types whose comments made it obvious that they either had not -- or could not -- read King's essay before deciding to speak out against it. For them, the ability to own assault weapons to shoot at ranges  is more important than the lives of children and first-responders. At any rate, I support King's stand, and wish that our government had the nerve to do something about the problem aside from ensuring that it goes on and on.

This past week, King did a second essay, in the Bangor Daily News, outlining some of what had happened since the essay was published, an update which is well worth tracking down and reading. I recommend both highly to you.


King's youngest son, Owen, saw his first novel, DOUBLE FEATURE, hit bookstores this past Tu8esday. The novel, his third book, is a strong first effort by a young writer whose work I've been reading with a lot of enjoyment for the last few years.  One review I read drew comparisons to John Irving, and given the story's serio-comic tone and sometimes quirky plot twists, that coparison is not inapt.

The novel tells the story of Sam Dolan, a young man who has grown up in the shadow of his famous father, B-movie stalwart Booth Dolan, whose larger-than-life portrayals in mid-to-low-budget potboiler films is exceeded only by his offscreen philandery and extravagant carousing. Booth is modeled in large part on the late Orson Welles, who also, not likely by coincidence, figures in the novel as a friend. And Booth's quest to obtain one of Welles' plethora of prosthetic noses figures prominently at one point in the story.

Sam wants, perhaps in spite of this, to become a filmmaker, a career path which goes jolting awary when his first effort goes horribly wrong in an unexpected and funny way which is too good to reveal here. It is much better to discover it for yourself. The same goes for the eventual fate of that film, which becomes a classic in an unusual way which does not impact Sam in any positive way.

The novel skips back and forth in time, tracking sam at various points in his life as he struggles to do some meaningful film work while avoiding the scars of the past, and tries to achieve a meaningful relationship in his life as well.

This is a novel in which many things start out quite differently from where they end up; the best example is the movie theater which is a constant throughout the story. It starts out as a theater, then becomes a cafe catering to student revolutionaries, and makes another transformation or two. It reminds me of the theater in my hometown in New Hampshire, which became an auction house and finally an antique store later on.

An the characters -- the novel is replete with quirky, bizarre characters whho are truly Irvingesque in their Dickensian strangeness, from the contractor who cannot stop adding on to his house, the retired Yankees catcher who is homicidally obsessed with Sam's ongoing dalliances with his wife; the indie-film legend who gives Sam's film its credibility (before it goes wrong), and many others.

All of these go together to make DOUBLE FEATURE a stellar debut novel which should not be missed. And if you manage to track down one of the 1,000 copies of "Special Features and Deleted Scenes", the chapbook companion to the novel, you'll find some more delightful treats in there, as well, just for lagniappe! Make no mistake -- this is not a horror novel; King is not a horror writer. But he is a writer worth tracking down and reading, and I strongly suggest you do so.