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Interview with R. L. Stine

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Matthew Peterson: Youíre listening to The Author Hour: Your Guide to Fantastic Fiction, which can be found at Iím your host, Matthew Peterson, author of Paraworld Zero.

My next guest is R. L. Stine, the #1 bestselling childrenís author in the world with over 300 million books sold in over 30 languages. In fact for three consecutive years during the 1990s, USA Today named Stine as America's number one bestselling author. Heís best known for his Fear Street, Goosebumps, and Rotten School series. And the Goosebumps TV show was the #1 kids' show in the U.S. for three years in a row. R. L. Stine received the Disney Adventures Kids' Choice Award and the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Award three times, plus the Thriller Writers of America Silver Bullet Award. Thanks for being on the show today, Bob.

R. L. Stine: Oh, thank you, Matthew. Itís very nice to be here.

Matthew Peterson: Now youíve been a very busy man. Just this morning I was looking on wikipedia and counting all the books with your name on them, and I counted over 400. [laughs]

R. L. Stine: Oh, please! Now I have to go take a nap! Sorry you reminded me. They donít let me out much.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah! I just canít imagine writing so many books and so much success. What got you interested in . . .

R. L. Stine: I still love it. I donít know, I still look forward to getting up in the morning and typing, typing.

Matthew Peterson: Typing, typing.

R. L. Stine: I wouldnít know what else to do all day.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs] Well, what got you interested in the first place in writing?

R. L. Stine: Well, I have no idea. I was a weird kid, Matthew. I started when I was nine years old. And I found this old typewriter up in the attic and dragged it down to my room and just started typing stories, typing little funny magazines. I donít know why I found it so interesting. But I think I knew when I was nine years old that I wanted to be a writer.

Matthew Peterson: Ah.

R. L. Stine: My mother would be outside my door and sheíd say, ďGo outside and play. Whatís the matter with you? Go outside.Ē And Iíd say, ďItís boring out there.Ē Type, type, type, type.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs] And this is one of those old typewriters. I think I had one when I was a little kid... or my dad had one. Where you had to use the whiteout strips and the . . .

R. L. Stine: Oh, yeah. People had carbon paper; we made copies. Now kids donít know what that is. You know, you see typewriters in a museum now.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. Thatís how I learned how to type, myself. Same age as you, doing that.

R. L. Stine: Right.

Matthew Peterson: Thatís great. Well what made you decide to write horror books for children?

R. L. Stine: Well I . . . first I was funny. I was funny. I wrote maybe a hundred joke books for kids and funny books. My very first book was called How to Be Funny.

Matthew Peterson: Oh!

R. L. Stine: And it was about how to get big laughs at the dinner table.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs]

R. L. Stine: And how to be funny in school, and parents hated this book.

Matthew Peterson: Oh.

R. L. Stine: Very subversive. But I always wanted to be funny. I did a humor magazine called Bananas for ten years back in the Ď70s and the Ď80s. It was sort of a Mad magazine. I always loved horror. When my brother and I were kids, we used to go every Saturday... weíd go see some horror film: you know, It Came from Beneath the Sea or The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

R. L. Stine: I loved all that stuff! And it was very influential on me. But I never really thought of--itís kind of embarrassing--I never thought of writing horror until an editor suggested it to me. It wasnít even my idea. I was still being funny! I always say, you know, ďI donít really want to terrify kids.Ē Theyíre sort of teasers.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. Now the covers of your books are... [laughs] some of them are very horrifying.

R. L. Stine: Yeah, the covers a lot of times are scarier than the books. [laughs]

Matthew Peterson: [laughs] I know there must be more than one artist, but I have to hand it to them . . .

R. L. Stine: No, actually, the first 87 books--the original Goosebumps series back in the Ď90s--covers were all done by a guy named Tim Jacobus.

Matthew Peterson: Really?

R. L. Stine: Who painted a cover every month.

Matthew Peterson: Wow!

R. L. Stine: He did all 87. He was amazing!

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, those covers are so memorable. Theyíre just, like you said, amazing.

R. L. Stine: Well, he was good because he captured the humor as well as the horror. They are scary, but they are also kind of funny at the same time. You know, thatís what I try to do in the books. And I think thatís what he did in all those covers.

Matthew Peterson: Youíve written quite a lot of books, and these are short books; you can read them fairly quickly. Like you said, he was doing one a month, of the covers.

R. L. Stine: Writing a novel a month.

Matthew Peterson: A novel a month.

R. L. Stine: Yeah.

Matthew Peterson: Where did you get all your ideas without overlapping yourself?

R. L. Stine: I donít know, where do you get ideas? I donít know! [laughs] Every author gets that question, you know, from everybody, from reporters, from kids, from parents. I donít know! Thereís no way to answer where ideas . . . Once I was in an airport and the security guy was searching me. And I was, you know, in line, in the security line. And the guy is ďwandingĒ me and Iíve got my pants unbuckled and heís searching and he says, ďCan I ask you something?Ē And I said, ďYeah, okay.Ē He said, ďWhere do you get your ideas?Ē

Matthew Peterson: [laughs]

R. L. Stine: Itís unbelievable, right? That was the highlight of my trip.

Matthew Peterson: That is funny. [laughs] ďWell, I just got an idea just now for a horror.Ē

R. L. Stine: [laughs] Yeah, thatís right.

Matthew Peterson: ďSomeone with a wand and my pants unbuckled.Ē

R. L. Stine: Seriously, what I do is, [laughs] I get ideas from . . . I think of the titles first. I think I work backwards from most authors. Most authors get an idea for a story and they start to write it, and then later they think of a title. But I think of the title first and then the title sort of leads me to the story. Like I had this Goosebumps title: Say Cheese and Die.

Matthew Peterson: Ooooh.

R. L. Stine: And it was a good title.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, yeah.

R. L. Stine: And then you start thinking, ďWell maybe thereís an evil camera. Maybe some kids find the camera, and the camera maybe takes pictures of bad things that happen to them in the future.Ē

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

R. L. Stine: And then you just keep going from there. And I do that with a lot of things. Hereís a title Iím very proud of. Itís a Goosebumps Horrorland book thatís coming out in March. Itís called Little Shop of Hamsters.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, I love that. I love it.

R. L. Stine: Itís a great title, right?

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

R. L. Stine: I worked very hard to make hamsters scary.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs]

R. L. Stine: I will tell you... [laughs] I had a hard time. But I loved the title so much, I just had to keep plugging away.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, I was just looking at that one this morning. I thought, ďWhat a clever title.Ē [laughs] Yeah, Ďcause hamsters, how do you make them scary? You know, the artist made them scary on the cover. [laughs]

R. L. Stine: Yeah, he really did, I know! Figure, either you make them really big or you put a lot of them in.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, with different colored eyes.

R. L. Stine: Yeah.

Matthew Peterson: Do you usually have the ending of the book in mind when you write?

R. L. Stine: Yeah. Always.

Matthew Peterson: You do.

R. L. Stine: A lot of people-- kids especially--think you just sit down and start writing a book. And kids always say to me, ďWell, I get off to a really good start and then I bog down in the middle. I can never finish anything.Ē

Matthew Peterson: Oh.

R. L. Stine: And I always say, ďWell, you know, I think of the ending first.Ē

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

R. L. Stine: Which is what I do. I know the ending, so then I know I can always get there. I know what it is. I donít do this... write a book a month anymore, but almost. If you write that many books, youíve got to do a lot of planning, I think. I plan out every book first before I write a word. I do a chapter-by-chapter outline of every book. So before I start to write, I know everything thatís going to happen in the book. I have it all planned, and then I can just enjoy the writing. Iíve done all the hard part. Iíve done the thinking before I start to write.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

R. L. Stine: I try to tell kids this. Everyone hates outlining, right?

Matthew Peterson: Exactly. Yeah. Actually, thatís exactly how I write. I do the exact same thing.

R. L. Stine: Oh, yeah?

Matthew Peterson: I usually get the ending first. And then I write the outline. I know some authors--who are very successful authors--will just start writing, and they donít know what exactly is going to happen.

R. L. Stine: Yeah. I have a friend who wrote horror for teenagers, and she said, ďI donít want to know whatís going to happen next.Ē

Matthew Peterson: [laughs]

R. L. Stine: ďI donít want to know what happens when they turn the corner.Ē

Matthew Peterson: Oh, wow.

R. L. Stine: I couldnít do that. [laughs]

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, thatís not me either.

R. L. Stine: I donít know, it would make me nervous not knowing whatís happening.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. Well, your books have become a TV series as well--which have been very successful. The Goosebumps series.

R. L. Stine: I was very lucky with that show. They did a really good job. You know, with television you never know what youíre going to get. And I was just very lucky because they did a great job. ĎCourse, I have to say, it was interesting for me as a writer, you know, sitting home and everything to see what other scriptwriters would do with my stories. That was kind of fun. I enjoyed that part.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. Did you have much say in the script writing?

R. L. Stine: Yeah. Yeah. I did, but you know, there I was, writing a book a month; I didnít have a whole lot of time, really, to check out the TV stuff. So as I say, I was really lucky. But of course, I always loved it when kids would come to me and say, ďI thought the book was better.Ē

Matthew Peterson: [laughs]

R. L. Stine: Every author likes that, right? [laughs]

Matthew Peterson: Oh, yeah. Yeah, definitely.

R. L. Stine: You know, I have a couple of TV movies that were on recently. One was called Mostly Ghostly. It was on the Disney Channel and one called The Haunting Hour, which was on Cartoon Network. I think they show them every Halloween now.

Matthew Peterson: I saw that one. Donít Think About It. The Haunting Hour. [laughs]

R. L. Stine: Yeah, thatís right.

Matthew Peterson: I actually did watch that one.[laughs]

R. L. Stine: [laughs] Well, great!

Matthew Peterson: ĎCause I have 10-year-old boys. And I was like, ďUh, is this going to scare them to death?Ē [laughs] Right near Halloween? Theyíre not going to want to go out. [laughs]

R. L. Stine: [laughs] Well, the poor pizza guy in that movie.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, yeah.

R. L. Stine: The poor pizza delivery guy. He doesnít end up too well.

Matthew Peterson: Yep. Well, we are going to get some more Goosebumps Horrorland books. Thatís some of the books that youíre working on right now. And you mentioned one of them: Little Shop of Hamsters.

R. L. Stine: Yeah, thatís what Iím doing.

Matthew Peterson: The one that came out this month, January, is Goosebumps Horrorland: When the Ghost Dog Howls.

R. L. Stine: Yeah. Thatís pretty creepy. The kid is wearing a tooth from a dog, and the tooth makes wishes come true... but not in nice ways. And it also makes the dog return for its tooth.

Matthew Peterson: Ahh.

R. L. Stine: So itís creepy. Iím doing seven new Goosebumps Horrorlands for 2010. So thatís fun. I just wrote the 100th Goosebumps book. Thatís kind of interesting.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, wow! 100th Goosebump.

R. L. Stine: I donít know.

Matthew Peterson: Wow!

R. L. Stine: You know, I type with one finger too.

Matthew Peterson: Really?

R. L. Stine: Yeah. I donít even type with two fingers. Iíve written like 300 books with just one finger.

Matthew Peterson: One finger. Now you donít do it on the old typewriter anymore. [laughs]

R. L. Stine: Iím telling you, Matthew. No, itís ruined. The finger is ruined.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, wow. Thatís like hundreds of thousands of words on one finger.

R. L. Stine: One finger, I know. If the finger goes, thatís the career.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, no! [laughs]

R. L. Stine: Iím finished.

Matthew Peterson: I told my wife, I said . . . you know, sheís like, ďYou should get disability insurance.Ē Iím like, ďWell, as long as I have one finger and one eye [laughs], you know, I can still type.Ē

R. L. Stine: [laughs] Thatís a career. Thatís right.

Matthew Peterson: Yep. Well, thatís about all the time we have, Bob. Iíve been speaking with R. L. Stine, the #1 bestselling childrenís author of Goosebumps and Fear Street. Thanks so much for being on the show today.

R. L. Stine: Well, I really enjoyed it, Matthew. Have a scary day!

Matthew Peterson: Thank you! [laughs]

Alright, after the show, donít forget to visit to listen to the bonus questions that didnít make it onto the live show. Donít go away. Iíve still got Todd McCaffrey, whoís continuing the Dragonriders of Pern, coming up next.

  Read or Listen to the extra questions that didn't make it onto the live show.  

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