R.L. Stine: The Lost Interview

How do you keep scaring kids, year after year? I read that you like to separate "real fear" from "book fears."
Especially for kids. You don't want kids to think this is true. You want kids to say this is a fantasy. I try to make sure they know it's all crazy and silly. I just get so scared when there's a killer in the news and what would happen if the cops go back to his house and there are only Fear Street books on his shelves. That's a huge fear of mine. Wouldn't that be awful.

I'm always in favor of good violent things. I think violence is good for kids and good for people. It gets it out. I also think that even kids know the difference between real violence and fantasy violence.

People who go after violent things for kids just don't like kids. People are always trying to punish kids, and if there's something kids really like, people will find something bad about it. People resent kids. If there's a hairstyle the kids like, the school bans it. Any music? It's trash. It's horrible. I was one of the most banned books of the '90s from libraries! I do have to say though, reading teachers and librarians have been tremendously supportive [of Goosebumps] because it gets kids to read. They develop a reading habit they have for life.

Do you find it hard to be in this strange time of print vs. web?
No one in book production knows what to do, what to do with author contracts, rights to books that are already out, electronic rights. It's complicated. People my son's age think everything should be given away for free, and I'm like, "who's paying for it?"

But...I love my Kindle. I take it everywhere. You can take 8 or 9 books with you on the beach.

What are you reading now?
A Rebus mystery. I just read a Ken Follett book; it was great -- Fall of Giants, a WWI book. Really great stuff. 1,000 pages. A woman at the beach asked me what I brought to read; she said, "Oh, those are beach reads?" I said that's what I read all year round. I read mysteries and thrillers.

Do you have a favorite thriller?
Rosemary's Baby. It's a perfect thriller. He [Ira Levin] did another book, A Kiss Before Dying -- a fabulously creepy book. The book's much better than the movie. Unfortunately, he was a lazy bum and never wrote that much.

Have you read the Stieg Larsson books?
I read the first one and wasn't intrigued. I would've cut out 100 pages, all the coffee drinking. There should've been some editor saying, "You've done this scene too much, cut it." No one ever cracks a joke or says everything funny. They're so ponderous.

How about Agatha Christie?
I've read them all and I hate to tell you how many plots I've stolen. She invented all of these plot things that people use endlessly. I like that English stuff that's slow and atmospheric...tea and smoky pubs, and it's foggy and raining out.

I'm a huge P.G. Wodehouse fan. It's such a wonderful world that he's created. He wrote 93 funny novels and they're all exactly alike. I love that. There's a consistency in his work that's just brilliant. My wife says I'm a "Pringles reader" -- I just kind of read the same thing over and over, like eating Pringles.

There are also books by this guy Charles Todd about a sergeant named Rutledge who was shattered by World War One and now investigates these dark mysteries. It's actually a mother/son writing team. I can't even imagine how that works. Jane and I tried doing it and we didn't like it: I like to do the first word and then the second and go on. She likes to start in the middle, then go to the beginning, then to the ending, and then change it. So it didn't end. She locked me in a closet and left the apartment, that's how bad it got. We didn't collaborate after that.

But she's your editor now?
That's the only thing we fight about -- plots. Nothing gets past her. She finds holes in the plots and always thinks of better stuff. I've never been right. I've been married 40 years and have never won a bet. She's always right.

Would you want her to be wrong?
Yes! Well, with these books out every month, I always say, "They don't all have to make sense." The next one will be good! It's more fun to come up with new stories now that I've done everything. I've done 105 Goosebumps books. I've never started a book without a title. I did a book called "Guitar Lessons Could Be Murder." My son said "What's scary about guitar?" so I changed it to "Piano."

"Little Shop of Hamsters" is something I'm really proud of. It was hard to write but I knew I had a great title and I had to do it.

What's your favorite book you've written?
Kids ask that all of the time. I do have a favorite, but no one ever read it, no one ever liked it. It's called "Brain Juice." It has a brain on the cover. It's about these kids that drink this purple liquid and get smarter and smarter and smarter. They get so smart they lose all their friends, they get kicked out of school, they know too much. Their whole lives are ruined because they're so brilliant. I think it's great, but no one ever liked it. There's this alien from outer space that comes down and realizes that they're smart enough to be slaves on his planet. As the ship takes them to his planet the liquid makes them get stupider and stupider. I don't know how much it sold. It's my favorite, but I never say it is.

Did you read the Twilight series?
I read half of the first book, but I didn't finish it. Pale kids? We know they're vampires, get on with the story. I'm obviously wrong.

You're not a teenage girl.
It's all about longing. 40 percent of the audience have been adults. It's all about unfulfilled things. I like Harry Potter. Very clever. But these books for me ruined publishing. I'm a paperback guy, and they changed all of children's publishing into hardcover publishing. All publishers want now are hardcover novels and not paperback series. The monthly book series are over.

What scares you?
I never get scared. I don't know what the feeling is. Even as a kid. It's something lacking up there or something. People say, "Your book keeps giving me chills," but I don't know what that feeling is. Horror always makes me laugh. Normal adult things scare me, but not things from a book or a movie.

I never intended to be scary; I only wanted to be funny. I can never lose myself or suspend reality. We have this waterslide and I'll go on it once every 5 years. I don't like losing control.

What are you working on now?
I just finished a Goosebumps yesterday. It's called "Don't Scream." I'll start the next one tomorrow, it's called "The Birthday Party With No Return."

At one point I was doing a novel every two weeks. I had two series going. I don't know how I did it. Goosebumps and Fear Street, the teen novels: I did one a month of each of them. I never went out for lunch. I would do 20 pages a day. Now, I don't know how I did that. The success was so exhilarating, it kept me going.

Now I do 7 Goosebumps a year, and that's a lot. I feel like it's a full-time job. I write every day from about 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

You have a new TV show, too, right?
Yes, on Saturday at 8 p.m. It's on this new weird channel, The Hub. We're getting pretty good ratings. They just ordered four more shows, so we're doing 22 episodes. It's really fun. It's just like the Goosebumps show, maybe a little bit darker.

I had been writing for 20 years and no one noticed. I did some Nickelodeon; I was an editor at Scholastic for 16 years; and I did educational magazines. I had my own humor magazine for 10 years called Bananas. That was fun. Then they fired me and I went home and thought, That was my ambition (to have my own national humor magazine), and I had done it. I was about your age and I was done. I thought I would just coast for the rest of my life, but I had no idea what was in store and I think the surprise of it all kept it going.

What do you still hope to accomplish?
I feel very lucky. I have a third TV show. That's a lot for a children's author. You think of all of the millions of kids who learned how to read from these books. I had my own ride at Disney World and a 3-D movie at Busch Gardens. It's more than you ever dream of, really. And I just signed a contract yesterday to do an adult horror novel. I must be nuts, right? Just for a change of pace....

I caught up with R.L., who goes by Bob, today to get an update (and to alert him to the very, very, very delayed publication of this interview). Turns out, there's a peg after all!

R.L.: This is a very special year for Goosebumps. It's the 20th anniversary year. I have mixed feelings about it! The kids who were 10 in '92 are 30 now. But we're going to do some special things -- the very first hardcover Goosebumps comes out in July.

Another thing this year is, I've written that horror novel for adults. It ruined my summer -- writing for adults is hard! It's called Red Rain and is coming out in October, a big, old-fashioned, hardcover horror novel published by Touchstone. It's about evil children, these twins, which I thought would be a good subject for me, to deal with really evil kids.

The third thing is, my TV series, The Haunting Hour, on The Hub Network, has been renewed for a third season, which starts up next fall. Hub is also showing '90s Goosebumps episodes. As for Goosebumps books, I just finished "Planet of the Lawn Gnomes" and am now working on "The Son of Slappy."

Sometimes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Thanks, everyone. This has been a wonderful run. See you on the Internet.

[JDoll / @thisisjendoll]

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