Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Goosebumps Galore--Yep, I'm Talking about R.L.Stine!

When he does school visits, the kids expect someone with fangs, wearing a cape. And he has sold more than 350 million in his Goosebumps series alone, making him at one point the bestselling children’s series author of all time. (He’s now No. 2, right behind J.K. Rowling.)

Of course, I'm speaking of R.L. Stine, kids' author who has scared (in the nicest way possible), a whole generation of children who are wanting a safe fright. He has a successful thing going, and he's sticking to it!

He begins a book with the title.  "That's the inspiration," he says. “You want to know where ideas come from—for me, they come from the title.” For instance, he was walking his dog around New York City, and he thought, Little Shop of Hamsters. It just popped into his head. He liked it, so he came up with a story to bring it to life—What can I do to make hamsters scary? OK, a boy goes into a strange pet shop. It’s all hamsters, and there’s something wrong with one of them …
“Most authors I know work backwards,” he says. “I can’t do it.”

When he was a kid growing up in suburban Columbus, Ohio, Stine’s mom had a rule: Never go up to the attic. He obeyed—but he’d lie in bed at night and wonder what horrifying things might be up there, and the monster in the attic found its way into the scary stories he and his brother had a habit of trading at night.

Eventually, he faced his fears and climbed the stairs. He was 9 years old, and no monsters were lurking about. His mom just didn’t want him going up there because the floorboards were rotting.  But he found something life changing.  He found a typewriter!

He began to write. “My parents didn’t understand it at all,” he says. “You know, some guy staying in his room typing. And my mother would say, ‘Go out and play, go outside—what’s wrong with you?’ I’d say, ‘It’s boring out there.’”
So, he’d stay in his room and create. And as the years went on, he never stopped.

“People say, ‘What advice do you have for people who want to be writers?’ I say, they don’t really need advice, they know they want to be writers, and they’re gonna do it,” he says. “Those people who know that they really want to do this and are cut out for it, they know it.”

How to Be FunnyAfter he graduated from Ohio State in 1965, he moved to New York City to fulfill his dreams of working for a magazine.  He was told to make up interviews with celebrities for fan magazines. So he did—he (faux-)interviewed all the greats, from The Beatles to Diana Ross, and he sharpened both his speed and his imagination in the process.

Following a short time working in the Soft Drink Industry, he was hired by Scholastic, where he’d spend the next 16 years, mastering the art of writing at different grade levels, and presiding over his kids’ humor magazine, Bananas.

His debut book, How to Be Funny, followed in 1978—under the name “Jovial Bob Stine.” He wore bunny ears to his first signing.

At a fateful lunch with Stine’s Scholastic friend, Jean Feiwel, she asked him a simple question: Have you ever thought about writing young adult horror? And she made an equally simple suggestion: Go home and write a book called, Blind Date.

“I said, ‘OK, sure, no problem,’” he recalls.
book cover of 
Blind Date 
R L Stine
And the amazing thing is—and this is a hint at what makes Stine stand out from millions of other writers, a testament to how much of a born storyteller he truly is—he actually did it. He outlined for a month. He wrote for three. He spent a month revising. He sent it in. It came out in 1986, and became an instant bestseller.

During the writing process, he developed his trademark cliffhanger chapter structure—something he picked up in his humor career. In fact, Stine says the line between humor and horror isn’t all that distinct—horror is like a rollercoaster in which the intention is to laugh and scream simultaneously. And a cliffhanger is a lot like a punch line.

“I think after I came up with that, it was easy,” he says. “Then, it was storytelling.”

More books followed—notably his breakout series, Fear Street (the title just popped into his head, so, of course, he wrote the books to accommodate it). Novels began pouring out of him at a monthly rate.

How’d he match the demand? “Writing is the only thing that ever came easily to me,” he says. “It’s the only thing I’m really competent at. And I never had trouble. I was always confident about it; I could always sit down and write 10 pages. In those days, I could write 20 pages a day.”

Welcome to Dead House (Goosebumps, #1)He wrote the first Goosebumps book, Welcome to Dead House, in just over a week. It was released in 1992. Two more books followed, to little fanfare. And then kids found it.  Readers told readers—the best advertising an author can get.

Many books followed. T-shirts. TV shows. A Goosebumps attraction at Disney World. Overall, he attributes the series’ amazubg success to the fact that it was the first to get equal amounts of female and male readers.

“It was unbelievable for me—you just never dream of having something like that,” he says. “I don’t know if it taught me any lesson; it was just lucky, I think. The only lesson is, you gotta keep at it.”

Stine is still writing. A lot. He’s written about 100 Fear Street books and about 105 Goosebumps. He sits down at 10 a.m. and writes six days a week. He does six new Goosebumps a year, which he has described as “like a vacation,” compared to his previous output. His method?

A Goosebumps manuscript is 120 pages. He has his title. He doesn’t really do research, preferring to work off his imagination. He creates a character list and takes two to four days to outline—extensively (which he says also prevents him from getting writer’s block). The outline has dialogue, every chapter ending, and so on, up to 20 pages. And then, when he returns to the book, all the work is done. He writes 10 pages a day, does a second draft for a couple days, and turns it in. Grand total: About three weeks.

How does he pull it off  “I?’m cut out for it,” he says. “I’m cut out for working at home: I don’t get distracted, I’m very disciplined.”

When asked if he’s gotten tired from producing such a massive output for so many years, he laughs.

“No, I still enjoy it. I still look forward to it in the morning. It’s gotten harder to come up with new ideas. It’s more challenging: new kinds of scares, new chapter endings …”
Of course, while writing may seem like the only thing Stine does, he lives a normal life in his beloved New York City home, devoid of the capes and fangs some of his readers expect: He goes to the theater and opera, he walks his dog in the park, he takes vacations.

He says of Goosebumps:

 "I love it. It’s a wonderful thing. I feel so lucky. I would never resent it in any way. I’ll always be Goosebumps Author R.L. Stine. I’ll always be called that. Always.”


  1. What a terrific story about the attic. If it wasn't for his curiousity he may have never discovered his love for writing!

    Warm regards,
    The Golden Pathway Story book Blog
    Author PR Services

  2. I found that part of the post the most amazing as well. Talk about serendipity and follow through!

    Thanks, as always, for your support and comments, Donna. So appreciated.