Thursday, March 21, 2013

Rick Hautala, Rest In Peace

Rick Hautala had a beautiful smile. I mean that. When he smiled his face changed and the world around him was brighter.

Before I was a writer, back when I was just a crazy fan of horror fiction and a voracious reader, I met the woman I would later marry. We were reading the same Dean R. Koontz book when we met and we discussed that book and several of our favorite writers. Right at the top of that list was Rick Hautala. He was a writer who could evoke emotions, paint with his words and make you absolutely love and hate his characters. Which is what a writer should do, as far as I'm concerned. 

Back when I was starting out in the writing business he and I ran across each other at my first Horror Writers of America meeting (back before it became the Horror Writers Association) and meeting Rick was, well, it was unique. First, I was surprised to find out he wasn’t Hawaiian. I had assumed with that last name he just had to be. That shows nothing but my rampaging ignorance of world cultures and last names. Turns out Hautala is Finnish. Second, he was, hands down, one of the nicest individuals I had ever met. We hit it off immediately. Talking with Rick was like talking with a friend you’ve known for years, and that was a feeling that never went away. Through times when we talked every week and times when we were both far too busy to pick up a phone and call each other, whenever we did cross paths—far too seldom for me—we were friends.

Just a few days ago he got good news on a couple of novels and Chris Golden picked up his phone while we were at a conference in Florida, and called Rick to congratulate him. Chris, Jeff Strand, Lynne Hansen, John McIlveen and yours truly all bellowed out our congratulations into Chris’s cell phone.

If I’d had any idea that would be the last time I conversed with him, I would have broken apart there and then. Assuming you can call two words bellowed into a phone a conversation. Really, I can’t, but you get my point, I suppose.

There were times when we talked every week like clockwork. Back in those days I had a semi—regular schedule and getting hold of me wasn't nearly as challenging. These days, well, I work retail and there’s no such thing as a regular schedule, regardless of how much one might hope. I didn’t talk to Rick nearly as much as I meant to. I suck at picking up the phone and calling my friends, even the ones I love and I can say without hesitation that I love Rick Hautala. He was part of my extended family. He still is, but damn, I’m wishing I’d called more often. The world is full of regrets, isn’t it? It’s often said that writing is a solitary business and that is true, but you know what? It’s only partially true. There are still people I talk to with great regularity and people I MEAN to talk to in the same fashion who proved that to me a long time ago.

There were plenty of times when I was starting out that Rick and I would have conversations about the business and about our lives and we even though we MIGHT see each other once or so a year at conventions, we kept in touch. Hell, we even kept in touch back in those long ago days when long distance calls were charged by the minute and neither of us had the spare change to actually make those calls without wincing at the cost.

Earlier tonight I got a call from Chris Golden. He’s been the intermediary for keeping me caught up on what goes on in Rick’s world and I suspect he returned the favor with regularity. It is seldom that I have heard Chris sound so very devastated. I heard it in his voice when I called to let him know that my wife had passed away, and I heard it in his voice tonight when he called to let me know that Rick Hautala was no longer among the living. He called me while I was at work, and I felt my world go a little numb. It does that when the news is too big to want to hear, too big to want to absorb.

Rick is survived by his family, his friends and his fans. He will be missed. Dear God, he will be missed.  His wife Holly--Who made him smile more than I ever saw before she entered his life. His kids. His family, both those related by blood and those related by spirit. They will all miss him.

I keep thinking just one thing right now, as I look back on a wonderful man, a brilliant writer and a dear friend. Rick Hautala had a beautiful smile. The world is a little darker for the lack of it, I think.


  1. Beautiful words, James and yes, Rick had a beautiful smile.

  2. Couldn't have said it better. Many hugs to you <3

  3. Hugs, Martel. I hope you are well, dear lady.

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  5. the man had a smile that was beyond genuine. thanks for writing about such positive memories of my dad, our relationship was so close and so deep that it's amazing finding out that he had deep, meaningful relationships with almost everyone with whom he crossed paths. thanks for broadening my view of how great my dad was i appreciate it and feel the love.

    1. Matti, we have never met but I don't think I can remember any phone conversations with your dad where you were not brought up. I can say with conviction that I never ran across a man more open about how much he loved his children than your father. I might have met a few who were at the same level, but none who surpassed him when it came to how much his children meant to him. He was very proud of you. If we ever have a chance to meet, expect a few bear hugs.