Next month, author RL Stine’s wildly popular youth horror novel series “Goosebumps” will celebrate its 30th anniversary.
“Welcome to Dead House” – the frighteningly great first book in the series aimed at ages 7 to 12 – was published by Scholastic in July 1992.
Stine, 78, a Bexley native and Ohio State University graduate, could rest on his laurels, but instead he continues to produce new works in a bibliography that now numbers more than 330 titles. Currently in progress is the “Goosebumps” spin-off “SlappyWorld”, about the dummy of a ventriloquist called Slappy the Dummy.
On Tuesday, the latest “SlappyWorld” novel, “SlappyWorld #17: Haunting with the Stars,” will be published by Scholastic. The publisher will release a new hardcover book documenting the infamous doll’s “origin story,” “Slappy, Beware!”, on September 20.
To reflect on his position as the main spine-inducer of millennials, Stine — whose initials stand for “Robert Lawrence” and who currently lives in New York City — recently spoke by phone with The Dispatch.
Question: Did you think “Goosebumps” would have that kind of stamina?
Stine: I never had any idea. The truth is, when we started “Goosebumps” in 1992, I was very reluctant to do it. No one had ever done a scary book series for 7-12 year olds, and I was worried it would spoil my audience for “Fear Street.” I was already doing the old teen series. That’s the kind of businessman I am: I didn’t want to get goosebumps. I said, “OK, fine, let’s try two or three.”
Q: Between 1992 and 1997, you wrote 62 books in the series, right?
Stine: In the first group, then we changed the name to “Goosebumps 2000”, and we did about 20 of them. We keep changing and refreshing it.
Q: At the height of the original series, what kind of writing rhythm did you keep?
Stine: One per month. How did I do? I do not know. I was writing a “Goosebumps” book every month and a “Fear Street” novel every month. One every two weeks. I was much younger. I haven’t been out much.
Fortunately, I had some really tough editors. My wife was editor of “Fear Street” for many years. She was a real editor. I couldn’t get away with anything. They made sure I didn’t repeat myself. It was their job. Would you like to be married to your publisher? The only thing we fought for was conspiracies.
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Q: When you were growing up in central Ohio, what did you read?
Stine: I only read comics. I haven’t read any books. . . . My friends and I all carried around a big pile of comics. When I was a kid, there were those scary EC Comics (series) “Tales from the Crypt” and “The Vault of Horror,” those really horrific comics that were scary and funny at the same time. I loved them and they had a very big influence on me.
I grew up in Bexley and my mum dropped me off at Bexley Library on Main Street. I was about 9 or 10 years old. The librarian was waiting for me and she said, “Bobby, I know you like comics. I have something else that I think you will like. She took me to a shelf of Ray Bradbury stories, and these changed my life. I couldn’t believe how awesome they were. They were so beautifully written and so imaginative and all had great plot twist endings. Ray Bradbury made me a reader. Then I started reading all kinds of science fiction and fantasy. It was like a great moment: this librarian really changed my life.
Q: Bradbury (the author of “The Martian Chronicles”, “Fahrenheit 451” and other classics) is also a Midwesterner: he was originally from Waukegan, Illinois.
Stine: I’m going to tell a sort of self-aggrandizing story. I only met him once and he was truly my idol. We were at the LA Times Book Festival, and I spotted him in a publisher’s booth eating a hot dog. My wife said, “Go to him, introduce yourself. I was shy. I said, “I can’t.” She said, “Go ahead, he’s so important to you.” I approached him and I was shaking. I was like a kid. I was so nervous. I shook his hand and said, “Mr. Bradbury, you are my hero! And he turned around. . . and he said, “Well, you’re a hero to a lot of other people.”
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Q: You started writing around the age of 9. What prompted you to do this?
Stine: I was a very shy kid and a very fearful kid, and I think I just loved being in my room all day, typing, writing my own stories. I didn’t know why it appealed to me so much. My parents did not understand anything at all. My mother would be outside my door, saying, “What’s wrong with you? Go out and play. Worst advice I’ve ever received, right? “Stop typing and go play.”
Q: When you entered Ohio State University, were you set on writing as a profession?
Stine: At that time, every college had a comedy magazine, and Ohio State had a comedy magazine called The Sundial. I just wanted to work on The Sundial, and I ended up being its editor for three years in a row. And that’s all I did in college – this comedy magazine.
Q: Take us to the present time. You are in the middle of “SlappyWorld”.
Stine: Slappy is so popular. It’s actually in my contract that all the other books have to talk about Slappy. I do not really understand. I don’t know why people think he’s so scary. I like writing to him, because he’s like an insulting comedian. It’s like writing Don Rickles or something. He’s so insulting to everyone, and mean, so it’s fun to write. But I don’t really understand why people are so afraid of him.
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Q: Why do you think young readers like to be scared?
Stine: With my books, I think what they like is the twists and surprises, and they’re also funny. They know, when they read it, (it) will never get too scary (or) ever go too far. I think it’s really important to them. It’s like a roller coaster ride – the twists and turns, lots of screaming and laughing, and then it gets you off to safety. Every book has a happy ending, every one of them.