With a new Fear Street novel, Goosebumps, and picture book out, plus a Goosebumps movie based on the famous series in theaters on Oct. 16, R.L. Stine is a very busy man. Luckily, Stine was able to carve out time for an interview with us, and we talked about everything from his writing process to the Goosebumps novel he's most proud of, to what Stephen King said to him when they first met.
POPSUGAR: You're one of the best-selling children's authors in history, selling more than 400 million books worldwide — what advice would you give to any aspiring author?
R.L. Stine: My most practical advice for someone who wants to write books would be to go to a bookstore and see what's out there already, and don't try to write something where there's no place for it. Don't try to make up your own category. See what people are reading and get an idea of if you want to be a children's author, what kids are reading, or if you want to be a YA author . . . see what's there already and make sure you don't do something that's not there.
PS: I was watching an interview where you said you used to write a book a month. That's impressive! What was your process for that?
R.L.: Back in the height of Goosebumps in the '90s, I did twelve Goosebumps books a year and twelve Fear Street books. I don't know how I did it. Honestly, I don't know how! I didn't get out much, but I wrote a novel every two weeks. The way I could do it was to outline them all first, and I still do. Nobody wants to hear that — everybody hates to outline. Kids especially, they hate that advice. But I do a complete chapter-by-chapter outline of every book before I write it. Everything that's going to happen in the book is in the outline. So when I sit down to write the book, I've done the hard part. I've done all the thinking, and then I can write really fast and just enjoy the writing because I've done all the work.
PS: Wow. Which Goosebumps book are you most proud of?
R.L.: Maybe The Haunted Mask. I think that's the best of all the Halloween books I ever wrote. I think that's a really good, lasting story. You know, there are a lot of them that I like a lot. And when you write that many books, you always like some more than others. The very second one, Stay Out of the Basement, where the father is down in the basement and he's slowly turning into a plant — I always liked that one, too.
PS: Where do you derive inspiration for your books?
R.L.: Well, you know what I do? People are always saying, well where do you get the ideas? And you know, I've written over a hundred Goosebumps books now. So, I mean, there are no ideas left, right? [Laughs] I've done every story a person could possibly do. But my trick is to think of a title first. I don't try to think of ideas. I never try to come up with an idea; I only think of titles. And I have a new Goosebumps book that just came out — it's called Night of the Puppet People. And I just thought, this sounds like a good old-fashioned horror movie. I came up with the title, and then I started to think, well, do I want the kids to turn into puppets or do I want them to find some evil puppets in an alley or something . . . and that led me to the idea. And that's pretty much how I do every single book. They almost always start with the title. Which I guess is backwards for most authors, right?
PS: Right! How can anyone tap into their creativity?
R.L.: That's an interesting question. I don't know; it has to be there. It has to be there in the first place. I think you have to let yourself think about experiences and memories. Ask yourself, what if this happened? What if that happened? A lot of authors use that question, "What if?" as a springboard. And sometimes I do that, too. But that's a good way to start.
PS: What's your biggest challenge as an author?
R.L.: Well, my biggest challenge now is to come up with new scares, and not to repeat myself. It's sort of gotten harder. Like I just had to come up with another Halloween book. Well, I've written every Halloween story there is to write. I've done haunted masks, and haunted costumes, and haunted pumpkins. So for me right now, that's the really big challenge.
PS: So coming up with fresh ideas is something new you have to deal with, after writing so many books.
R.L.: It's just that I've done so many stories that it's gotten harder. But that's kind of the fun part, to be able to say, well you've already done that — what can you do now? You know, I met Stephen King last April at the Edgar Awards, the mystery writers' banquet. I had never met him. For 30 years, I've been telling people how I've never met Stephen King, and I'm supposed to be Stephen King for kids. So we finally met at this thing, and he accused me . . . he said, "You know, you've used up every amusement park theme anyone could ever use. You took them all." [Laughs]
PS: [Laughs] That's kind of a compliment, though.
R.L.: Yeah, it was! I don't think he was really complaining. It was a nice compliment.
PS: I read the book based on the new Goosebumps movie, and I like how your character became jealous over Stephen King's fountain pen in the display case at the high school. I thought that was pretty funny.
R.L.: [Laughs] I don't know. There are a couple Stephen King jokes in the movie. In all honesty, I felt uncomfortable about it. I would never brag about being a better writer; that's not me at all.
Image Source: Columbia Pictures
PS: Are you concerned viewers are going to perceive you differently than you want to be perceived?
R.L.: No, I think everyone will know it's Jack Black. [Laughs] Everyone's going to know that's not really R.L. Stine. And the movie is so ridiculous, and the plot is so absurd, it's such a big fantasy . . . I don't think anyone's going to think that's really the way I am.
PS: Actually, that leads me to my next question — how do you feel about Jack Black playing you?
R.L.: Oh, he's wonderful. He's terrific. He's a great sinister version of me. [Laughs] It's very weird to be a character in a movie. It's a very strange thing. But I love the way he did it. I've seen the movie three times now — I like it better each time.
PS: That's great!
R.L.: It is. You never know, right? It could be horrible! Seriously. As an author, I'm not really involved or anything. You don't know what these people are going to do. Same with television. I've been so lucky in television. The Goosebumps show was so good. They still hold up. But you know, it doesn't always happen. I've just been very lucky.
PS: Yeah, the movie looks awesome. What are you hoping viewers get out of it?
R.L.: Just what they get from my books. Just fun. There's no moral lesson; you don't learn anything, except, you know, run. People are always saying, "What's the moral or the message?" I don't have any! It's just for fun; it's all entertainment. I think the movie is the same.
PS: What's your greatest fear?
R.L.: I have just basic adult fears. I have one phobia, but it's very boring. It's about swimming pools and water. I can never dive into a pool — I have to climb in. I don't know why. I just can't let go that way. We have this swimming pool in our backyard, and it has a 30-foot water slide, and I hate it. I hate slides. Everyone else loves it; they're always on it. I do the slide once every five years. That's my tradition, and my son records it. So I have proof that I did it.
PS: [Laughs] You should upload that to YouTube.
R.L.: [Laughs] Yeah.
PS: So what's your favorite horror movie?
R.L.: Oh, I have a bunch of them, but I think The Shining . . . I also love Evil Dead II. I think it's hilarious, [but] my favorite one is The Shining. And when kids want to know what's a good horror movie that young people will like, I always recommend Arachnophobia.
PS: Oh, I love that movie!
R.L.: Yeah, I do, too. All the thousands of spiders.
PS: What does the future hold for you in terms of upcoming projects?
R.L.: Well, I have this whole new career. I just had a picture book published. I'm a grandfather all of a sudden; I have a one-and-a-half-year-old grandson, and I thought, I'll do some scary books for him! And Marc Brown, who does Arthur the Aardvark . . . [he] and I did a picture book together called The Little Shop of Monsters. He did these amazing monsters. It's a store where you go to pick out a monster to take home. I just finished a two-week book tour with Marc for this picture book. So that's a new project of mine.
PS: Are they monsters from your books?
R.L.: No, it's just a boy and a girl and they go to the shop and try to pick out a monster, and it's just filled with funny monsters. It's for little tiny kids. I think Marc and I will probably do some more books together. And you know, I'm doing new Fear Street [books]. I'm killing off teenagers again. Great! Everyone loves that, right? [Laughs] The new Fear Street book is called The Lost Girl. I have to warn you, seriously, it has the most gruesome scene ever. I probably should be ashamed.
PS: I don't think you should be.
R.L.: [Laughs] Well, you haven't read it!
PS: So, are you going to continue the Goosebumps series?
R.L.: Oh yeah, I'm still doing new Goosebumps. I've got my contract for, like, three or four more. I just keep doing them.
PS: Do you read a lot of horror yourself?
R.L.: I'm a Stephen King fan and I read most of his books. I'm not a big horror fan. [I like] mysteries and thrillers and current fiction. My all-time favorite book is a book by Ray Bradbury called Dandelion Wine. It's a wonderful fictional memoir of growing up in this small town in the Midwest, and what it was like, and just beautiful writing. It may be the most underrated book ever.
PS: My final question is, what are you dressing up as for Halloween?
R.L.: [Laughs] I'm always out working on Halloween. On Halloween Day, I'm doing a Halloween book party at Lincoln Center, and then I'm going to run across the street and I'm going to be guest ring-master at the Big Apple Circus. I have to dress up as R.L. Stine. I'm all in black. That's my costume; I'm scary.