(Rick Hautala at NECon in 2006. Photo by Jill Bauman.)
Last night I got the terrible news in a text from Brian Keene: Rick Hautala passed away. He was 64. That’s way too young. Although for someone as warm and beloved as Rick, even 99 would have been too young.
Many people knew Rick as the author of the international bestselling novel Night Stone, as well as more than 30 other books under both his name and the pseudonym A. J. Matthews. In 2011, he received the Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Horror Writers Association. (I remember thinking at the time, Really, lifetime achievement already? He’s not that old! Of course, in hindsight, I’m so happy they awarded him when they did.)
I knew Rick a different way. I met him in 2000, I think, at my very first NECon in Rhode Island. We were never close friends, but we were always happy to see each other. He and his wife Holly Newstein were fixtures at NECon. (In fact, they met there! They were a true NECon love story. He told me once that their first date was dinner at Stephen King’s house, so how could she not marry him?) Rick was always ready with a warm smile, a hug, and kind words. He was a true gentleman and a treasured presence everywhere he went.
I remember back in 2008 I moderated a panel at NECon called “Kicking Horror to the Curb: Why genre horror deserves a quick and nasty death, and how every one of us can help!” Despite its tongue-in-cheek title, the panel was meant to be a pep talk to inspire horror authors to start thinking outside the box so the genre could find a larger audience. However, as these things often do, the panel became a bit of a gripefest about things we thought were wrong, outdated, or lazy in horror writing, and the room, which was packed, started to get a little tense. Then this lone hand rose into the air. It was Rick Hautala with a question. He asked, “Is it possible we’re all just a little jaded?” And I cracked up. We all did. Somehow, Rick knew exactly how to take the tension out of the room and remind us we were all in this together.
That was Rick in a nutshell: a good man who cared. He will be deeply missed. His passing was a sad and sudden shock, and an enormous loss to us all. Rest in peace, Rick. You’ve earned it.