Rick Hautala left us suddenly on March 21, 2012. He was the first interview I did for Cybling.com and the interview was part of a massive launch for 999, the anthology that is to be the definite volume of horror writers for the new millennium.
I offer it as a look at a different time and a snapshot of where Horror and Rick were at that time. My condolences to his wife Holly and his children. He was special and he will be missed by his fans and the entire horror field.
AN INTERVIEW WITH RICK HAUTALA, July, 1999
The massive horror anthology 999: NEW STORIES OF HORROR AND SUSPENSE, edited by Al Sarrantonio was released in July 1999. I was one of the lucky ones picked by Avon Books and Cybling to participate in a nationwide anthology release party. Many of the writers involved were doing special signings and interviews in bookstores, radio stations and online.
Rick Hautala was born and raised in Rockport, Mass. He graduated (BA and MA in English) from the University of Maine, Orono. Currently, he has seventeen published novels, including THE HIDDEN SAINT, IMPULSE, NIGHTSTONE, and WINTER WAKE. Fifty of his short stories have been published, including one collection, BEDBUGS, from Cemetery Dance Publications due out this October (1999).
Rick is married, with three children. He is planning on retiring to Finland when and if he hits the Hollywood jackpot.
Baryon: How did you first become interested in horror, and when did you first start writing it?
Rick Hautala: Easy answer ... I've always been interested in the "dark side" of life, and I've found that writing helps me dig deep in my own subconscious. I've always paid attention to dreams and nightmares, so I use them as sources.
Baryon: Speaking of 999, how did you become aware of it and was "Knocking" written especially for it?
Rick Hautala: Al Sarrantonia was at NECON last year (a horror con in Rhode Island I attend every year). He asked if I had something short because he had some long stories from Blatty, King, and Oates. I said sure, and submitted two stories (which he bounced). They were "trunk stories" and should have been bounced, so I wrote KNOCKING specifically for 999. It started with the first line. That's all I had, and it just sort of unrolled from there.
Baryon: Often young authors are told to send their stories to the big markets first and work their way down to the ezines and fanzines. Does there ever come a time in a writer's career when UNSOLD stories should be kept in a trunk, and how do you know when that time has arrived?
Rick Hautala: I always believe that you should aim high and then adjust your sights. Of course, you have to be sensible and not shoot for impossible goals. You have to know your markets and target them accordingly. But I suppose there are some stories that are certainly dead puppies that should be buried after a while before they start to smell up the place. I do believe that a well-written story will--eventually--find a home and, conversely, a lousy story will -never- sell. There are too many writers out there with good work for crap to find a home. The sad truth is, though, that the market for stories is terribly small, so even terrific stories might not find a home. Bottom line, you have to have faith in your work. You also have to keep developing as a writer. I find even some of my published stories (and novels) strike me as ... well, maybe not the best I could do. But I do think a writer has to do the best he or she can every time at the keyboard or else ... what's the point? When is it time to retire an idea? Never. In fact, just recently, I took an old idea--the second outline I ever tried to write for a novel way back in 1974 or 75. I revised it some and now a film company is looking at it as a possible project. So even if a particular story dies and is buried, the idea may be worth keeping in the back of your mind.
Baryon: How does it feel to be in with this line up of writers in what may be the last horror anthology of the Millennium?
Rick Hautala: I always appreciate being invited into an anthology. I don't generally write short stories unless someone asks me for something. I consider myself primarily a novelist and screen writer. In the case of 999--particularly because of the names involved--I wanted desperately to be included. I think 999 will, in many ways, define horror for the turn of the century the way Kirby McCauley's DARK FORCES defined horror for the 70s and 80s. Look at the list of authors included in 999! Tell me -anyone- who -wouldn't- want to be in such company! I was thrilled and honored when Al accepted my story. (The money was purty good, too.)
Baryon: Are there any other anthologies or short stories scheduled for the near future?
Rick Hautala: Besides 999, I'll have a short story in a HELLBOY anthology coming out from Dark Horse sometime soon ... I forget the exact month. Also, my short story LATE SUMMER SHADOWS is being adapted by Glenn Chadbourne for the first issue of GRAVE TALES, the horror comic that Rich Chizmar at CEMETERY DANCE is putting out. I generally don't write short stories unless someone asks me to, but right now I'm working on a story called MRS. HENRY. I don't know if it will be a short, a novella, or a novel ... I'm just going with it to see where it takes me, but this is something I very, very seldom do. It's just that I'm between projects. I have three proposals "under consideration" at publishers, so I'm filling my time with this story.
Baryon: I've read that you only write in the Horror genre? Have you never been tempted to try your hand at SF or Fantasy?
Rick Hautala: I don't specifically limit myself to horror, but usually when I start a story, that's what comes out. I've done some SF and fantasy, and some mystery and suspense as well--usually in short stories. A script I wrote that's getting some serious attention in Hollywood now is a family adventure. But the bottom line is, I just write the story that's in my head. More often than not, it takes a turn for the dark side. Just the way I'm made, I guess ...
Baryon: In your opinion, is it necessary that "evil" be psychotic for a fast-moving story, or can the antagonist just be a neurotic mess and still provide a good foil for the hero?
Rick Hautala: I guess the question really comes down to: "Where does the conflict in the story originate?" The protagonist has to be in opposition to something, but whether it's "evil" or just a neurotic mess, the antagonist has to represent bad. Bottom line, the -conflict- has to be compelling. I don't think a supernatural evil is absolutely required. There are plenty of human evils and messed up people in the world to be antagonists. But there -has- to be conflict. The source of that conflict can be as varied as existence, imagined and real.
Baryon: I've noticed that your writing style is very fast paced and smooth. How did you develop your style and what stumbling blocks should young authors avoid?
Rick Hautala: Thanks for the compliment. I try to keep the story moving, and I think that's key to the success of any fiction. I write about eight to ten pages a day, and if -something- doesn't happen within those ten pages, I'll be bored silly. So I make sure things keep moving every day. Beautiful, elegant prose is nice, but if the story isn't driving along, carrying the reader with it, then I think the author has failed at his or her primary task, which is to entertain the reader. The biggest problem I see beginning writers make is that they seem to get what I call "word drunk." They're so enamored of writing that they get lost in flowery descriptions that don't keep the story moving. If the story doesn't move ... well, it's a train I, at least, don't want to be on.
Baryon: In your opinion, then, what's the fastest way to derail a train. What is the error you avoid at all costs?
Rick Hautala: I always remember that, first and foremost, I am telling a story. My job is to entertain the reader. Period. I get paid to do that job. If I don't do it right, I don't earn (or get) my pay. Never lose sight of the -story-. Put interesting people in interesting situations. Give them problems that make them twitch and react. My job as a writer is to create a dream that I share with the reader, so it's important that I not break the illusion, wake up the dreamer. The fastest way to derail the train is to lose your plot. The second fastest way is to make uninteresting characters. I don't want to sound like I'm preaching here. This is just my subjective reaction, and I'm sure there are other writers who can disagree with me, but they're probably writers I don't enjoy reading.
Baryon: Who do you read for pleasure?
Rick Hautala: My reading tends to split about 1/3 fiction, and 2/3 non-fiction. A lot of the fiction I read is what I call "social reading." I know a lot of people in the horror field in particular, and I feel compelled to read their new books when they come out. So I read friends, like Matt Costello, Charlie Grant, Chet Williamson, Joe Lansdale, and of course King and Koontz. My favorite author is James Lee Burke, the mystery writer. He is so damned good, I practically cry when I read him because I know I'll never have the command and mastery that he has.
Baryon: Do you have any plans for collaborations?
Rick Hautala: I have collaborated on quite a few scripts, particularly with my friend Bill Relling. We've got three scripts that have gotten some good coverage in Hollywood, but --so far, anyway-- we don't have anything in production. A few options, but I want to see something on the screen. Also, I've worked with Tom Monteleone and Matt Costello on a couple of scripts, and these are getting some attention now. Collaboration is very difficult, but Bill, Matt, and Tom have all been great to work with. Also, I collaborated with a friend, Jim Connolly, on a HELLBOY short story titled "Scared Crows" for an upcoming HELLBOY anthology. Jim's an unpublished writer who loves HELLBOY, and when I was offered a spot in the anthology, he and I just sort of worked out the plot together, then I wrote the thing. It's a fun story.
Baryon: Do you think the Internet is a viable place for Horror to grow since publishers seem to be downscaling?
Rick Hautala: I have no idea. I'm a technological moron, which was proven last night when we tried to do this interview live. I just use my internet account to send e-mail to friends and to send scripts and stories back and forth with my collaborators. The most recent novel and three short stories I've done haven't seen hard copy until they were finalized. I'm an old-fashioned "book-in-the-hand" kind of guy, but I can envision a future where people get their entertainment from computer versions of stories.
Baryon: Will the declining number of publishing companies help or hinder the horror field?
Rick Hautala: It can only hurt because the mega-publishers will spend all their money on the Clanceys and Danielle Steels of the world and let mid-list writers flounder even more than they are now. Publishing now is like the Hollywood star system ... If you're not a big enough name, your sales and career spiral downward.
Baryon: You seem to prefer to create your own characters, but you have worked in the White Wolf universe, (BEYOND THE SHROUD, "White Terror") which do you prefer, and why?
Rick Hautala: I also have a POLTERGEIST: THE LEGACY novel titled THE HIDDEN SAINT coming out from Berkley in October. That and the White Wolf stuff were fun to write. With both novels, I adapted outlines I already had for stand-alone novels. I just modified them to use the characters and terminology from the "world" I was working within. Obviously I prefer making up my own stuff, but--well, there's a long story about why I did the POLTERGEIST novel. I'll try to be brief. Almost three years ago, we had an unexpected death in the family. I hit the wall. Hard. So hard,. in fact, that I thought for a couple of years that that was it; I wouldn't write any more novels. (I'm doing better now.) But Berkley asked me to write the POLTERGEIST book, and I accepted, knowing that I had to get my ass back in gear because I -am- a writer. So I was glad for the opportunity to see if I could still do it. The death of someone really close to you makes you see every aspect of life differently, and until I did the POLTERGEIST novel, I wasn't even sure I could still write. But I'm glad I did it, and I hope to get a deal for a new novel soon so I can keep writing.
Baryon: I recently finished IMPULSE and found it an incredibly tense and fast moving novel. Do you have plans to bring this family back in a future novel? Or is there no market for series in Horror?
Rick Hautala: Thanks. I'm glad you enjoyed it (even in spite of the HORRIBLE editing job and proofreading job they did at Zebra.) So far each book has been stand alone. One time a long time ago, I said half tongue in cheek that I would never consider a sequel unless or until there had been a movie of the first book. Well, there have been no movies of any of my books, so I've had to go along and invent new characters and settings every time (although I have used the same towns in a few stories and novels. For instance, TWILIGHT TIME and SHADES OF NIGHT are set in the same town.)
I'm not sure what the market is for series or stand-alone novels. I do know that most publishers have been telling me for years that horror's dead, and nobody wants to buy or read the kind of story I write. But there is one major publisher who -does- like what I do, and she's looking at a new proposal for a stand-alone novel called THE WHITE ROOM. Also, someone has asked me to do a series of books (based on a TV character) and we're in negotiations about that. We'll see where it all goes. I do think that, with the success of THE HAUNTING and -especially- THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, as well as SIXTH SENSE and DEEP BLUE SEA, we'll see a resurgence in horror. How much of this will translate into horror books? I don't know. I have always written a particular type of book--a very narrowly and deeply focused family horror with a New England setting. I probably won't do a wide canvas, BIG concept novel of suspense or horror. We'll see if anyone thinks they can still get big sales with what I do. In the meantime, I'm also working on scripts.
Baryon: Yours is the only story in the 999 anthology to mention the Millennium, was this a conscious decision?
Rick Hautala: Yeah. I thought we were supposed to mention the Millennium. The story started with the first line, like I said. That's all I had, so then I thought it'd be cool to set the story (and jack up the protagonist's paranoia) during the Millennium celebrations. It all worked out, using the celebrations as a backdrop. Of course, that will totally date the story in a few months.