Rick Hautala is one of the most prominent and celebrated figures in modern horror fiction. His short story “Knocking” is part of a Stoker-winning compilation for Best Anthology (999). Barnes & Noble singled out his own collection of short fiction, Bedbugs, as one of the most distinguished horror books of 2000. He is also the recipient of the Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award, which recognizes a living artist’s “superior achievement in an entire career.”
Not that you’d know any of that reading The Horror… The Horror, Hautala’s striking posthumous autobiography.
From the first pages, Hautala paints a picture of himself as an introverted, achingly shy man who revels in his failures and questions his successes. His admissions and revelations wallop the reader; immediately, we are thrust into Hautala’s most private thoughts, his most naked confessions. He struggles to find reasons for his personality, chalking at least some of it up to a combination of his Finnish background and his bullying brother. At first, the frankness of this monologue shocks, then it simply absorbs. We are reminded of Stephen King’s On Writing, and King’s stunning discussion of his life as an addict.
This isn’t the last time Hautala invokes King: indeed, he went to college with him. From here, Hautala delves into one of the most fascinating aspects of The Horror…, notably his relationship with the man who changed the face of horror fiction. Stephen King’s influence on the world of horror – and fiction in general – is quite simply legendary, especially in the 1980s, when the horror boom was still in full effect. Imagine being a horror novelist at that time. No one was at the stature of King, but there were writers like Peter Straub and Clive Barker who were wildly successful in the horror field and also had mainstream success. Now: think about the other horror novelists of the era, the ones who, for whatever reasons, never quite struck it huge. Hautala provides a rare glimpse into the world of horror publishing seen not from the heights of King or Straub or Barker, but down in the trenches.
It’s to Hautala’s credit that none of this ever devolves into a slog. Instead, his self-effacing good nature elevates his story to one of struggle and reward. In later chapters, he offers advice to would-be writers (story over style, treating writing like a job with a daily goal) and gives a look into his own process. (One of the more amusing – and less self-aware – aspects of The Horror… is Hautala’s admonition of writers who share their daily word count with the world, and his subsequent sharing of his daily word count.) Along the way, he talks about his approach to short stories and screenplays, how he met luminary artist Glenn Chadbourne, and how a small-press publisher saved his life.
“I don’t live an interesting life,” Hautala tries to convince us near the end of The Horror… the Horror, after an entire book providing evidence to the contrary. For Hautala fans, horror fans, and readers who want to know about the inner lives of writers, this book is a must. It’s a breezy read, too – a short book with short chapters – even when the subjects get heady. For those who have never picked up a Hautala novel or collection before, this offers a terrific introduction to his style and approach. Hautala’s passion for writing is evident in these pages; now, go seek out what that passion wrought.
The Horror… The Horror: An Autobiography, along with much of Hautala’s backstock, is available in multiple eBook formats by Crossroad Press. You can read more about Rick Hautala (February 3, 1949 – March 21, 2013) on his still-maintained personal website.
Kevin Quigley is an author whose website, CharnelHouseSK.com, is one of the leading online sources for Stephen King news, reviews, and information. He has written several books on Stephen King for Cemetery Dance Publications, including Chart of Darkness, Blood In Your Ears, and Stephen King Limited, and co-wrote the upcoming Stephen King Illustrated Movie Trivia Book. His two short-work collections, This Terrestrial Hell and Surf’s Up, are also available from Cemetery Dance, and his first novel, I’m On Fire, is forthcoming.