Friday, October 5, 2012

The Moon of Rick Hautala

As improbable as it sounds, I was introduced to the writer Rick Hautala by a Mr. Charles Dickens. Charlie wrote the not unknown Oliver Twist and was responsible also for David Copperfield, A Christmas Carol, and A Tale of Two Cities. Not too shabby, eh? He was no literary slouch.

Neither is Mr. Hautala.

The Bookshop of Charles Dickens, like Charlie himself, was buried deep in the oily guts of a mighty city. You accessed this cavern of literary surprises via Melbourne's Flinders Street Station, the city's commuter hub. At the bottom of a steep stairwell the bookshop flourished for more than a decade, attracting distracted travelers rushing home to dinner and enthusiasts like myself who weren't yet old enough to cook their own dinner. Each trip to Charlie's place was an adventure for me, an opportunity to open new doors and step into fresh crypts. When I stepped into Charlie's joint, it always amazed me how variations on twenty-six letters of the alphabet could fill a decent sized building.

Mr. Hautala's Moon Bog, his second book, jumped off the shelf at me with its illustration of a young lad sinking into brackish water. The lad, by the way, was a dead ringer for my brother Colin, and the two of us would often regard the illustration with pleased smiles.

My brother Colin appeared without credit on this book cover

The title married two of my favorite words together. If you're a horror fan, or a mere visitor to the dark, you can't  go past "moon"; it evokes everything we love: mood, time, and myth. It's practically a verb. Then there's "bog". At this time in the early 80's, I was still hot for Guy N. Smith's boggish  The Sucking Pit, a nasty bit of pulp set also on uncertain ground, ground referred to frequently as both pit and bog . Hautala's use of "bog" in his title aroused deliciously familiar horrors in me.

Who doesn't love a bog? Who's can't conjure their own private horrors in the moist, sucking earth?

I plucked the mint condition Zebra paperback (pictured) from the shelf, paid a princely sum for it (Aussie book prices have always been murder!), and practically waltzed out of Charlie's book vault with a plan to devour the book immediately on my homebound train. Thirteen stations and one hour later, I'd become well acquainted with Mr. Hautala and his doom-laden tale of a bog that eats children replete with creepy and  doom-laden Shakespeare quotes.

In the weeks ahead, Mr. Hautala was worked into my inevitable book conversations. When someone would mention Clive Barker, Stephen King, and James Herbert, I'd throw back names like Michael McDowell, Guy N. Smith, Richard Laymon, TM Wright, and, of course, Mr. Hautala. Most of my acquaintances were slow to adventure beyond their literary comfort zones, but one fellow did ask to borrow my mint copy of Moonbog. That, of course, presented a problem, because, by that time, I'd gotten smart already and decided that I didn't loan my books (especially my paperbacks!) to anybody anymore.

A first edition paperback of Herbert's The Rats, loaned to a friend, had crawled home looking like one of Jim's rats had chewed it up and regurgitated it onto a pile of steaming dog shit. A second friend, who transitioned rapidly to ex-, borrowed my copy of Smith's Night of the Crabs and returned it with spinal damage so severe, if it had been human it would have required a wheelchair. The final straw was a John Saul book ruined by a female friend. The book was Cry For The Strangers, the writer's third outing, that had left my shelf in a handsome state. It returned ugly. The truth is, the female friend almost cried when I made her re-buy the book for me. Not surprisingly, we were strangers a week later.

It made sense that I wouldn't part with the Hautala book. Hell, Charlie had given it to me for a gratuity. Out of respect to him, and Mr. Hautala, I needed to protect its integrity. My solution was a trip back to Charlie's place with this friend. I walked him to the horror section and hand-picked the last copy of Moon Bog. I also picked up Moon-Death, the writer's first. The guy liked moons, it seemed, and, like Mr. Smith, had started with wolves and followed up immediately with bogs.

Mr. H broke the cycle with Night Stone and Little Brothers a few years later, but he returned to his lunar origins with Moon Walker.

Like Guy N. Smith's maiden novel, Werewolf By Moonlight, Moon-Death was about a werewolf loose and hungry in a small town. It was a fine harbinger of great works to come, boasting strong characterization, unexpected chills, and prose often close to poetry. 

I'm happy to report, thirty years later, that Mr. Hautala is still at large with a string of distinguished horror novels such as Winter Wake, Night Stone, Occasional Demons, Twilight Time, Impulse, and Reunion.  I'm not so happy to report that he's not as well known as he should be. Through no fault of his own, he's been flying a couple of inches below the mainstream radar while managing to forge a brilliant career as both himself and another writer named A.J. Mathews. I recently enjoyed a second hand edition of Mathews' Looking Glass, a twisty ghost tale. It and other Mathews books are soon to be reprinted by Dark Regions Press, so Mr. H's secret life will continue to remain no secret.

Last week, I stumbled across Mr. Hautala on Facebook, and acquainted myself with him in person --  virtually, anyway. There's something terribly magical about meeting someone you've had a thirty year relationship with, a relationship built exclusively on twenty-six letters of the alphabet. It builds a foundation like no other, and gives you an unfair advantage over them. I met Charlie under similar circumstances, of course, and I'm grateful for his "friendship", too.

Like a werewolf who's been dodging silver bullets for three decades and running on moon time , Mr. H is still out there. I hope -- I really do --  he crosses your path one day. If not, you can always put yourself in harm's way by by clicking up one of his books.

Very recently, the Horror Writers Association gave Mr. H a Lifetime Achievement Award.

They had this to say about him:

 “Rick Hautala is the horror writer’s horror writer. Since his first novel, Moondeath, was published in 1980, he has held the torch of the genre high, for all to see. At the height of the horror boom of the Eighties, he stood shoulder to shoulder with the giants of the era, perfecting the contemporary ghost story. With such novels as The Night Stone, Little Brothers, and Winter Wake, Hautala helped to influence a great many young writers who were just coming of age. Self-effacing and approachable, he has always combined a blue collar work ethic with literary sensibilities shaped by his love of Shakespeare and Hawthorne. His passion for the horror genre is second only to his love for writing, and all of these elements have conspired over decades to transform him into a determined mentor, offering critical feedback and quiet encouragement to many new authors as they begin their own careers. Over the course of more than thirty years, he has produced as many novels, both under his own name and as AJ Matthews. Hautala has also authored the scripts for award-winning short films, and dozens of short stories and novellas, including his wistful and unsettling masterwork, Miss Henry’s Bottles. Despite the mark he has made on the genre and his quiet mentorship of other writers, Rick has rarely been recognized for his work. Thus we are doubly pleased to present Rick Hautala with the HWA’s Lifetime Achievement Award.”

Not too shabby, eh, for a man who sells the moon?


  1. Whoa. I have owned Night Stone for several years now but never read it. I only picked it up because of the holographic cover, admittedly.


  2. I've liked Rick Hautala ever since reading TWILIGHT TIME back in '94 (a time when quality horror fiction was difficult to come by). Interestingly enough, I just got finished reading Lisa Rogak's '08 Stephen King biography, in which Hautala is quoted quite extensively about his longtime college pal Steve.

  3. I attempting to write a short biographical note about Charles Frederick Dickens of the Charles Dickens Bookshop ... can you help me with information, please?

    Robert C. Littlewood

  4. What information do you need help with, Robert?

  5. What information do you need help with, Robert?