Friday, March 22, 2013

RIP Rick Hautala -- a lifetime is not long enough.

Yesterday evening a friend emailed me to let me know some sad news. Rick Hautala, Maine author and someone I’d just started to become friends with in the last few years, died suddenly yesterday afternoon of a heart attack at age 64.

Rick at NECON 2006
I couldn’t quite believe it was true, but when I went to his website at rickhautala.com, there it was. Rick’s wife Holly had posted the following on his Facebook page Thursday afternoon: “Hi all and thank you. Just to let you know there will be no funeral, as that was not Rick’s thing. I am hoping to put together a celebration of his life in a month or two. We are just devastated here, and I really appreciate your kind words. Will keep you posted…”

As shocked as I was, I can’t even begin to imagine what Holly and the rest of Rick’s family and friends are going through. My heart goes out to them.

UPDATE: Fellow author Christopher Golden has posted on his blog about how you can assist Rick's family:
http://christophergolden.blogspot.com/2013/03/if-you-want-to-help-holly-newstein.html

Those of you who attended the Lovecraft Lounge short film showing at my shop in August of 2011 to hear him speak and answer questions about the short film "Lovecraft's Pillow" which we screened will remember how nice he was, and how willing he was to give even the smallest crowd of fans his time and energy. He was even patient in explaining over and over again how to pronounce his name [HOW-tah-lah].

Rick was the most positive, friendly, and helpful "Ink-Stained Wretch" I have had the pleasure to meet. I am having a hard time realizing I'll never get a chance to tell him this. This post is simply one more small step towards reminding local folks of Rick, the writer-next-door that so many took for granted as being forever nearby. He will be missed. I'm glad he wrote as much as he did, it's going to have to last us a long while. Here's to Rick Hautala. Maine has lost a good inky friend.

I came to read Rick’s work only recently, though like many of us here in Maine I knew of him for years. I sampled his books here and there, invited him to speak about his screenwriting work for “Lovecraft’s Pillow” at my bookshop, and almost got to give an introduction for his talk at October 2012’s “Little Festival of Horrors” at the Portland Public Library (the event was cancelled by the arrival of Hurricane Sandy). I was looking forward to having another chance to introduce him this fall, but sadly that will not happen now.

Here is the short film, Lovecraft’s Pillow, if you haven’t seen it yet:


Little Brothers, 1988
I also spent some time last year interviewing him about his “Little Brother” stories as part of my research for a Strange Maine related book I am working on right now about Bigfoot in Maine history and culture. Rick was always ready to answer my questions and set me straight on what his goals in writing were.

As Rick said to me, “Honestly, I was (and am) just trying to tell stories to entertain and amuse people … and, yeah! … to creep them out.” What more could we ask from one of our state’s longest publishing horror authors? All he wanted to do was entertain us.

To quote Rick:
The most dominant theme I see (and what do I know? I’m just the writer) is people being tested to:

1) Accept something that they believe or have been told is “impossible,” and
2) Do something about it. Face it. Deal with it. Try to come out on top.

All of the LITTLE BROTHERS stories—and THE MOUNTAIN KING, too, I think, are about people coming to grips with something that, according to their limited belief structures, is impossible … yet real, nonetheless.

Losing Rick so suddenly has thrown myself and others who always thought he’d be around into just that position. How we deal with it is up to us.

For those of you who didn’t know much about Rick, here is the introduction I wrote for his postponed appearance at the Little Festival of Horrors:

RICK HAUTALA

Hello everyone, and welcome to the second author talk of the Portland Public Library’s LITTLE FESTIVAL OF HORRORS. I have the pleasure today of introducing Maine author Rick Hautala to you. He is the published author of over 90 novels and short stories, many of which have been translated to other languages and sold internationally. His short story collection, Bedbugs, was selected by Barnes & Noble as one of the most distinguished horror publications of the year 2000.

Most recently the Horror Writers Association awarded him the Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement for 2011, which was presented to him at the annual banquet in spring 2012. Rick lives just outside of Portland with fellow author Holly Newstein. He moved to Maine to go to college back in the day, and never left.

His stories, which are sometimes supernatural in nature, most often deal with monsters of all sorts. He enjoys monsters, whether they’re real or not. That’s how he approached his novel The Mountain King which he aimed to write as a rip-snorting, limb-rippingly fun monster book. The story places a family of Bigfoot-like creatures in the mountains of New England, and lets the reader in on what exactly happens when the inevitable culture clash between hikers and homicidal Bigfoot families happens.

His novel Little Brothers is a favorite of many of his fans, and spawned a handful of stories and pseudo-myths about these creatures which haunt the Maine woods. There is a new Little Brothers novella titled Indian Summer which is coming out soon from Cemetery Dance Publications. Other forthcoming books include Chills and Waiting (also from Cemetery Dance), and Star Road, which St. Martin's is slated to release in 2014.

In addition, Little Brothers was recently optioned for a film, and a team is currently working on adapting it into screenplay form.

In fact, Rick writes screenplays himself. His adaptation of award-winning author Kealan Patrick Burke's "Peekers" is currently on the film festival circuit. My personal favorite of these projects is the short film “Lovecraft’s Pillow,” which was based on a story suggestion from Stephen King. In this speculative story, a desperate and bankrupt man buys a pillow that once belonged to famed horror author H.P. Lovecraft in the hopes it will inspire his own writing. The results are … understandably uncanny, to say the least.

But enough from me. I’ll let Rick speak for himself. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Rick Hautala!

Where ever he may be headed to now, I hope his audience has a warm and friendly welcome for him, as he well deserves.

At the end of January, he was interviewed on the Francy and Friends podcast. You can download the MP3 on their site here. Rick shows up about 24 minutes into the otherwise raucous show, and talks candidly, as always, about life as a writer. His personality shines through. He was always a wonderful conversationalist. Enjoy.
http://www.blogtalkradio.com/francy/2013/01/21/rockin-with-rick-hautala-legendary-horror-author
Listen to internet radio with FRANCY AND FRIENDS on Blog Talk Radio

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Mysterious Darkness of Dean Kuhta

Occasionally I like to add the odd bit of artwork to sell in the shop. Sometimes I find new artists randomly, and sometimes I go in search of them. On a recent troll through the varied waters of Etsy in search of new Lovecraftian art, I found the prints of Dean Kuhta of Twisted Oak Press (http://twistedoakpress.com/). You can find his Etsy shop at https://www.etsy.com/shop/twistedoakpress/about?ref=announce.

Windowpane by Dean Kuhta
While Dean's most eyecatching work is his collection of colorful, fairytale-like landscapes, what really caught my attention was his shadowy monochromatic work. It reminded me of the layered black and white chalk art of Jean Francois Millet and Georges Seurat, which I was obsessed with in art school, while at the same time hinting at the shifting horror of M.R. James' ghost stories, or the isolated terror of H.P. Lovecraft's dreamlike weird fiction. My favorite pieces are his "Stage I," etc., series, and his drawing "Windowpane," which makes me think of some of the most poignant imagery in Lovecraft's story "The Thing on the Doorstep."

Long story short, I contacted Dean and obtained a selection of his black and white 8" x 10" prints which are now available in the shop. Short story long, being a fellow art geek, I decided I also wanted to interview Dean about his work to introduce you all to it. Enjoy!

Q: What size are the original pieces from which you produce your prints?
Since most of my artwork is disturbingly detailed, I tend to work small. Otherwise, it would take me many months to finish anything. It also depends on the medium I'm working with. Ink, colored pencil, charcoal, and pencil illustrations are generally 8-inch by 10-inch, but I did recently draw a bigger, Lovecraft inspired, ink drawing called "The Pyramids of R'Lyeh" that is 18" x 14".

Q: What materials are you using to capture the subtle shading in these pieces?
I'm very stubborn and I've used the same drawing materials virtually my whole life. Derwent drawing pencils, General's kneaded erasers, tortillons (or blending stubs), Micron ink pens, and General's charcoal pencils. The combination of the kneaded eraser and the tortillon are what I think generate the subtle shading.

Q: What is your favorite size to work in?
I love to work big, but because of the amount of detail I tend to cram into a drawing, it usually comes down to time and resources. So, smaller drawings are usually the case. My oil paintings, on the other hand, range from 1-foot by 2-foot to 3-foot by 4-foot and are always a fun break from the small-scale, crosshatching madness.

Stage I: Departure by Dean Kuhta
Q: What are your favorite materials? Do you find working in black and white focuses your attention differently on a piece than when you work in bright colors? How does this affect your translation of a piece onto paper?
Hard question! I have to say I love working in all the traditional mediums. It sounds lame, but it's true. Each one has it's own technical issues that need to be overcome to truly bring to life an idea and put it on paper. For example, I always get pencil smudges all over the paper throughout the life of a drawing, but at the same time it seems to be an easier medium to achieve dynamic shading. Ink, by contrast, is a really clean drawing experience (no graphite all over the sides of my hands), but is extremely difficult and time consuming when shading. I don't even want to talk about charcoal shading! :P

Detail of Farmers Market by Dean Kuhta
Black and white drawings, as opposed to color, I believe, are "easier" to achieve values and contrast. Color is a whole different beast, and for me, much more difficult to successfully use to render lighting and shades. To overcome this, I've redrawn a lot of my black and white work in color. It's fascinating to me to see how a black and white drawing can possess an entirely different mood when re-drawn in color. My colors seem to be on the whimsical side, so that affects the mood as well.

Q: Are there materials that you haven’t yet experimented with that you would like to explore in the near future?
I've used all of the traditional mediums (oil, acrylic, watercolor, ink, pencil, charcoal, etc.) and I love using all of them. I definitely have my favorites that I gravitate around like ink, pencil, and oil. I've recently discovered Prismacolor art markers. They are super fun to color with and it almost feels like painting with a brush.

Q: What are your literary influences, and how do you find yourself responding to them through these pieces? I know I often start out with a literal depiction in mind, but then wind up choosing a more mysterious, oblique image for the illustration – your pieces seem to follow this idea of using suggestive imagery instead of telling a story word for word.
Great questions. I have a ton of literary influences and they're all mangled together in my head when I'm working on a new idea. Lovecraft, Tolkien, Clive Barker, Jules Verne, and H.G. Wells to name a few. I'm sure that each of their influences have found their way into my drawings in some form or another. Lovecraft's dark, supernatural environments, Barker's bizarre fantasy, and Verne's epic adventures. I try to incorporate all of these aspects into my work. During my art shows, I'm regularly asked what the stories are behind my drawings. Where once I would shrug at the question, I can say now that my goal is not to tell a literal story, but to achieve an overwhelming mood through the drawing, whether it be a dark, haunting mood, or a fantastical, storybook one.

She Was Swathed in Sorrow by Dean Kuhta
Q: What elements in your pieces do people seem to respond to the most?
It depends. Some people are attracted to the style and technique, like the ink crosshatching or the pencil shading. Others are drawn in by the mood. One of my drawings, in particular, always seems to generate a dramatic response. "She Was Swathed in Sorrow" is a collaborative piece I did with a friend of mine years ago. I think the combination of the dark, surreal imagery and the creepy ink crosshatching style, combined with whatever the viewer has going on in his or her life, really has an effect and it's the one piece that consistently draws out emotion.

Q: What elements are you most pleased with?
I'm most pleased with the ability to take an idea from my imagination and successfully translate that onto a piece of paper. More specifically, a good composition is a pleasing element, as well as other artsy things like movement and balance. Designing a quality composition is no small task, and is an immensely satisfying accomplishment when achieved.

Q: What are your artistic influences in general? Which artistic influences found a particular connection with you through these pieces?
As I mentioned, books have played a big role in my artistic growth. My biggest influence, however, is without a doubt other artists. Masters like Gustave Dore and M.C. Escher, as well as contemporary artists like Alex Grey and Clive Barker (yes I mentioned him in my author list, but he's a nasty artist too!). I've always been infatuated with the work of Dore. His elaborate and complex compositions combined with an insane amount of detail are characteristics that I'm always striving to reach.

Detail from Mushroom Castle by Dean Kuhta
Q: How long do you work on one of your black and white pieces, typically? Do you work progressively on more than one at a time, or do you prefer to focus on each piece individually until it is complete?
Most everything I work on, whether black and white or color, takes me a fair amount of time. Typically a few weeks, but sometimes a month or two. The medium plays a major role in how long a drawing/painting will take. Ink is usually the quickest and easiest, whereas, colored pencil and oil are always the most difficult and time consuming. My technique with colored pencil is to start with a soft layer of color for the entire drawing and progressively build upon that until the final layer is intensely rich with contrast and thick with colored pencil. I do work on more than one piece at a time, but that's because I have a lot of other projects and commissions going on at the same time. Regardless of how many jobs I have going, I try to have a personal piece to work on a little each day.

Q: When you envision a piece prior to making it, do you draw inspiration from existing photos or art? What are the most useful to you in finishing the details and structure in a piece – photos, other artwork, or objects and scenery in the real world around you?
I'd like to think that the majority of my work has originated from my imagination. Of course, all of the influences I've mentioned always play a role, but for the most part I try very hard to come up with my own new ideas. That said, I certainly integrate elements that I see all around me into the overall idea I've conjured up. I normally don't draw from photographs, but I have to admit to using Google as a reference from time to time. I'm sorry if my squirrel anatomy skills are lacking! :P

Q: Do you have any projects you are looking forward to working on this year?
Indeed! I'm working on a huge, collaborative book project at the moment (Editor's note: a new edition of 3D Space Mazes) that will span several editions and many many illustrations. It's keeping me very busy at the moment! Additionally, I was just filmed for an upcoming episode of "House Hunters." The episode will feature a giant print of the drawing I mentioned earlier, "She Was Swathed in Sorrow." I'm very excited to see what kind of response that will generate and the opportunities it may provide. I also have five or six more art shows to do this year.

Visit Dean Kuhta online at http://twistedoakpress.com/!