RL Stine on the 30th Anniversary of Goosebumps
Maybe it’s the skeletons barbecuing on the cover of Get Cheese!Slappy’s beady-eyed, feisty face Night of the Living Dummy. It could be the hand of the green reaching out from the darkness. Keep out of the basement. If you’re an adult of a certain age, you probably remember the image on the front of the first GoosebumpsAs a kid you remember grabbing the book and squirming at it.
It has been 30 years since The New York Times was published. Welcoming to Dead HouseThis is the first R.L. Stine’s GoosebumpsHe is happy to be remembered for the nostalgic work he did. At the same time, he’s still churning out at least four GoosebumpsMore than 180 books are available in the library. GoosebumpsThe world’s most comprehensive list of all time. The series has been around for three decades. Goosebumps has become one of the best-selling children’s book series of all-time, with, according to publisher Scholastic, 350 million English language books in print, plus an additional 50 million international copies in print, translated to 32 languages.
Goosebumps wasn’t Stine’s first foray into writing horror for a young audience. With the 1989 release of The New GirlStine is launched Fear StreetThe most recent in his series of slasher novels for teens is titled. Drop Dead GorgeousIn 2019, a book entitled, was published. Netflix released a trilogy of films that were based upon a small number of original sources. Fear StreetThe plots for 2021. But Goosebumps remains Stine’s biggest success: the books, intended for a slightly younger, under 12 crowd,The two films, starring Jack Black in a sinister, darker-than-usual version of the author, were inspired by the book. They also inspired a series of television shows, games and toys. Second edition in hardcover. Goosebumps series, Do not be a slave!—the origin story of Slappy the evil dummy, who has starred more than a dozen books over the years—is set to be published Sept. 20.
The 30th Anniversary of Goosebumps, Stine spoke to TIME about how he got his start in horror books for kids, balancing frights and humor, and why the series almost didn’t happen.
Do you feel about the 30-year anniversary of The? Goosebumps books—and what does it mean to you that the series has lasted this long?
I’m amazed. We started off with me being reluctant to complete the entire series because of my involvement in the Fear Street books for teenagers, and I didn’t want to mess up the older audience. Nobody had done anything scary before. [ages] seven to 11 before, and I just wasn’t sure it would work. That’s the kind of businessman I am: I didn’t want to do Goosebumps. I said, All right, if I can think of a good name, maybe we’ll do two or three. And now it’s 30 years later.
You’re still writing new Goosebumps stories—how do you keep coming up with ideas?
I don’t try to think of ideas anymore, because it’s too hard. I’ve done every story a human can write. Now, I try to come up with good titles. Fifth Grade Zombies. Okay, that’s a good title. How would this book look?
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What kind of things were you reading when you were your audience’s age?
I didn’t read books until I was nine or 10, but I was a real comic book freak. There were those scary EC comics when I was a kid—Tales from the Crypt The Vault of Horror—I loved those. My mom brought me to the library from Columbus, Ohio when I was a child. Bobby, the librarian replied, “I know that you enjoy comic books.” You might also like something I have. And she took me to a shelf of Ray Bradbury’s stories. These stories were simply amazing. These stories were imaginative, well-written and had wonderful twist endings. Ray Bradbury, the librarian, turned me on to reading.
At nine years old, you decided that you wanted a career as a writer.
It’s true. This typewriter was found by me, so I brought it in my room and started to write science fiction and funny jokes. I was an odd kid. I’d just be in my room typing all afternoon.
Is it possible that you wrote scary stories as a child or was this later on in your life?
Non, it was not something I ever considered scary. My goal was to be humorous. It’s an embarrassing story because it wasn’t even my idea for me to write scary books. Jean Feiwel (a Scholastic publisher) was with me as we were having lunch. Jean arrived furious. She’d had a fight with a guy who wrote teen horror novels and she said, I’m never working with him again. It’s possible to write an excellent horror novel for teenagers, I think. Write a book. Blind Date. I didn’t know what she was talking about. How is it possible to read a teenage horror story? Then I ran to the bookstore to buy a bunch of books by Christopher Pike, Lois Duncan, and other horror novels for teenagers. After that, I created this book. Blind Date. It was number one on the bestsellers list. I thought, wait a minute, forget the funny stuff—kids like to be scared. I’ve been scary ever since.
With Goosebumps,It’s possible to mix humor with scary things. You did it!
It didn’t take me very long. It was the first. GoosebumpsThe book is scary to me. I didn’t have the right combination yet—it doesn’t have the humor. The second book was a success. Keep out of the BasementYes, it’s there. I just figured I don’t really want to scare these kids. If a scene is getting intense, I will add something amusing. And of course there’s a punchline at the end of every chapter.
Is technology changing your way of thinking? Are your kids afraid of the same scary things as they were in the beginning? Or are their fears more heightened now than they used to be?
Every mystery is lost in the age of technology. Technology is destroying every mystery. Fear Street, we do this plot where a girl’s getting terribly frightening phone calls. She now looks at her phone. She realizes it’s her. The plot fell apart. Or five teenagers are trapped in a cabin and one of them’s a murderer, but they now they just call for help. For most books, I have to get rid of the phones—they lose them or run out of power. However, you must not use too much technology. These are just a few of the many old technologies. Fear StreetChildren walking with Walkmans in books What’s a Walkman? As far as fears go, they never change: afraid of the dark or afraid something’s lurking under the bed, afraid of going down in the basement or afraid of being somewhere you’ve never been, getting lost.
Is it possible that kids can be more resistant than adults to reading scary stories?
It’s not hard for kids to know whether they are able to take something. They’re very smart in that way. There are two of them. They were 6 or 7 years old when one loved. Goosebumps. It was just funny to him. And the other one wouldn’t go near it. It was far too frightening for him. I would send him a book and I’d say, Sam, I think you’ll like this one. It’s not too scary. I would answer the phone and he’d say “Uncle Bob”, where was this book? The garbage.
Wow, harsh! However, you try to avoid making things supernatural. Why don’t you put real-life horrors in Goosebumps?
That’s my one rule. The kids have to know it’s a fantasy, that it could never happen. Children find the real world scary. I do my best to avoid it. I don’t have divorce or drug problems or anything really serious. No one ever dies in a Goosebumps book. If they’re a ghost, they died like a hundred years ago. When you’re writing for teenagers or adults, it has to be the exact opposite. They’re not going to buy it unless they can believe every detail.
This interview has been edited to be more concise.
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