Goosebumps’ RL Stine: I was the best-selling children’s author, then JK Rowling came along!
On the 25th year anniversary of Goosebumps, R L Stine tells us how he never wanted to be a horror writer, his favourite scary movies, typing all his books with only one (very bent) finger and much more.
Before J K Rowling, there was R L Stine.
Robert Lawrence Stine (October 8, 1943), more popularly known as R L Stine, made all sorts of monsters and supernatural entities come alive for the kids of the 90s.
For three consecutive years in that decade, USA Today had named Stine as America’s number one best-selling author. Along with Goosebumps, Stine wrote various other popular series such as Fear Street and has written over 300 books, which have sold over 400 million copies worldwide.
What initially attracted kids to the books were the iconic neon cover art and catchy titles such as Legend Of The Lost Legend, Say Cheese And Die and The Werewolf In The Living Room.
Stine also gave witty takes to some of his titles after famous horror movies and books such as Bride Of The Living Dummy, Jekyll And Heidi and Invaders From The Big Screen.
In 2015, the Goosebumps movie (starring Jack Black) came out and there are plans of a sequel too.
We spoke to Stine (no relation to Frankenstein), and learnt about his foray into horror, real supernatural experiences and much more:
In 1986, you wrote your first horror novel, called Blind Date. Why did you get into horror?
It was completely by accident, a bit of an embarrassing story. I was meeting my editor at Scholastic for lunch. Till that point of time I had basically been writing joke books and never delved into scary novels. During our meeting, she said that she needed someone to write scary novels for teenagers, “You can do it! Go home and write a book with the title Blind Date.”
Now I had no idea about horror writing so I went to a bookstore and picked up a few books on teen horror to see what they were about and what I could derive from them. So then I ended up writing this book called Blind Date and when it hit the stores, it was the no. 1 best-seller! So I was like “Whoa! Wait a minute! What’s happening here?”
So before this you had never written a horror book?
No. I mean I always liked horror. When we were kids, my brother and I used to go watch a scary film every Saturday, classic horror films from the 50s.
When I started writing the books and they became hits, I never really understood why they were so popular. So whenever I used to go to schools for talks I used to ask the kids what did they like so much about them? And they said, “We like to be scared.” And isn’t that true for all of us? We all like to be scared as long as we know that’s it’s not real.
Which are your favourite horror movies?
I like The Shining and Night of the Living Dead 2. Then there’s a recent film called Cabin in the Woods. One film which I feel is very underrated is Arachnophobia. It has these thousands and thousands of spiders attacking humans.
What about the Evil Dead series?
Oh they’re crazy. So bad..awful..awful!
No vampire movies?
Oh I like the old ones..the original ones from the 30s’: Dracula and even Frankenstein. There was also a recent Scandinavian movie called Let the Right One In.
Which are your top 3 Goosebumps books?
My favourite is The Haunted Mask, and then there’s another one which no one really talks about. It’s part of the Goosebumps 2000 series, called Brainjuice.
What about spooky experiences yourself? Ever seen a ghost?
You’ve covered every possible scenario — ghosts, zombies, werewolves, vampires, aliens, etc. Where and how do you think you got your amazing imagination of the supernatural from? I mean we’ve heard you first think of the title and then write the book. There was also a time when you were writing one Goosebumps book every month.
Well, it certainly has gotten harder over the years. But it’s the only thing I’m good at. Somehow I just keep coming up with ideas.
Is it true you never learned to type and only type with your left index finger?
Yes, I never really learnt to type and I only used the index finger of my left hand and it’s completely bent. It’s ruined!
I think you should apply to the Guinness World Book of Records for that.
Well, I have been a part of Guinness for a couple of years as the best-selling children’s author until JK Rowling came along and that was it for me!
Would I be correct in saying that the Goosebumps books were more popular in the 90s?
Well Goosebumps is a really old series. It’s been 25 years now and all these books go through their cycles. But the 90s were amazing. There was a time when every month 4 million Goosebumps copies were being sold. It was amazing.
From 1993-1995, USA Today’s Top 50 Books list usually had 20 to 25 Goosebumps books. Then other series started coming out such as Animorphs and then the Harry Potter series, but we just kept going.
Then, in 2015 the Goosebumps movie came out and that really revived the Goosebumps sales.
What do you think about the Goosebumps movie?
I had very little say in the movie’s script, but it came out good. It could have been horrible. Jack (Black) was terrific; the three teenagers were wonderful, and the book sales just tripled after the movie came out.
And there’s talk of a sequel too?
Well, I hope so. Because with Hollywood, you never know. They’re crazy. They’re all nuts out there. I’m hoping for a sequel.
So there’s a portion in the Goosebumps movie which goes like this:
Teenager at the back of the car: Stop trying to be Stephen King, man.
Jack Black: (As R L Stine) Let me tell you something about Steve King. Steve King wishes he could write like me. And I’ve sold way more books than him, but nobody ever talks about that.
I feel that was hilarious. But have you ever met Stephen King?
I hate all those Stephen King jokes. I would never brag like that. I mean, we don’t have a rivalry going or anything like that. In fact, there were two more Stephen King jokes in the movie and I got them to take it out. It’s really embarrassing for me when those jokes are told.
So did you get a call from Stephen King after the movie?
No, he never talked about that. But Stephen King has accused me of using every Amusement Park plot there is, and hence not leaving anything for anybody else!
But I just love Amusement Parks. In fact, I just got back from Disneyland and had taken my three-year-old grandson there. I was so happy to be able to take someone there.
Which are the most memorable letters you’ve ever received from kids?
Well there’s one which I got which said:
Dear Mr Stine,
I have read 40 of your books and I find them very boring.
Recently I got a letter:
Dear R L Stine,
You’re my second favourite author of all time.
That’s it; it wasn’t mentioned who the favourite was! Then there’s this other one:
Dear R L Stine,
I am your biggest fan. I think you are the scariest man on earth. I want to know everything about you. Do you have hair?
Back in the 90s, I used to get thousands and thousands of letters in the mail bags. Some of them were so funny. Here’s another one:
Dear R L Stine,
I know your family and friends are proud of you, no matter what anyone says.
And with that, Mr Stine bid us goodbye, as it was time for him to take a short nap in his coffin. He shall be up again at midnight and in case you have any messages for him, you can tweet the article and your comment/question to @RL_Stine.
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