Anyone curious about the writing life and the confused state of American publishing at the confluence of the 20th and 21st centuries really ought to savor “The Horror…The Horror: An Autobiography” by the late Maine author Rick Hautala (1949-2013). This is a terse, witty, honest, dead-on self-assessment by a particularly hard-working genre novelist, who made it big (if briefly), lost most of his worldly goods, fought back and eventually learned to be happy – or, as Hautala writes; “as happy as a Finn can get.”

Dark, brooding thoughts often drawn from his Finnish-American boyhood, childlike fears (including the sudden screech of an owl and a bullying older brother), fueled his taut, compelling tales in the course of some 30 novels. Usually the settings were in contemporary Maine or New Hampshire, territory he knew intimately and peopled with anything but stock characters. Indeed, he could create his protagonists and villains thoughtfully and did not dispatch or save them whimsically. Yes, there was violence, but not for its own sake. There is careful plotting, reasoning, building questions, slowly rising fears. The reader feels the chill expand. There are stories of growth and disintegration within the horror genre. Each book stands on its own. Everyone has a favorite. Mine may be “Night Stone” (1986), which takes place in the town of St. Anne, Maine, with the main character being Tolvo Kivivinen. This turned out to be Hautala’s million-copy best-seller. Dip into this volume if you have not read his work.

“The Horror…The Horror,” snags its title from Conrad but is no pudgy memoir of past glories, no self-indulgent rant, simply a nuanced, beautifully composed self-reflection, a saga of editors, publishing houses, agents, hologram covers and contracts, while producing 2,000 words a day, holding a job (teaching literature in high school, college or working in a local bookstore) and helping to raise a family. “Writers write” notes Hautala. “I don’t live an interesting life.”

Most outside observers would disagree. My wife and I have a whole shelf of his books and though four of them were review copies, most were purchased and all have been read.

In “The Horror,” Hautala unfolds a kind of Faustian wish fulfilled. As a classmate of Stephen King at the University of Maine, the writer was impressed by the latter’s work from the start and recalled; “We weren’t close friends. We didn’t hang out together. We didn’t party or ‘trip’ together but I knew who he was.” As Steve King’s star ascended he graciously read Hautala’s first manuscript, “The Dark Brother,” and turned it over to his own agent. Iin 1980 it was published by Zebra as “Moon Death.”

One supposes the cliché “be careful what you wish for” covers the rest. Hautala was ecstatic, grateful, but did not like the title and the contract was not tops. Open a dictionary of literature under topic “horror story” and it will start with “gothic novel,” move to “Edgar Allan Poe” and end with “Steven King.” Hautala became known as “Maine’s other horror writer.”

Many if not most authors would have been thrilled, and Hautala was – to a point. Then a better offer came from Warner and here he confesses, “I made my big mistake: I was honest.”

Read the book to learn the particulars. Hautala presents the contemporary writer in a lucid, self-controlled recollection. Probably not intended for print, the manuscript was saved from his papers by his wife and partner, Holly Newstein Hautala. What a wonderful rescue – it’s just about the finest description of a writer’s working life I have read, no wasted words, straight from the heart and mind. “The Horror… The Horror” is fun to read and an enlightening volume for Maine writers and readers to reference.

William David Barry is a cultural historian who has authored/co-authored seven books including “Maine: The Wilder Half of New England,” “Deering: A Social and Architectural History” and “Pyrrhus Venture” (a novel with Randolph Dominic). He lives in Portland.

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