Ask anyone whose formative years were the 1990s about R.L. Stine and they'll probably list off their favorite Goosebump novels. Or, if they're a little older, their favorite Fear Street books. They might even talk about his television series and how a particular story traumatized them for life, giving ventriloquist dummies or Halloween masks the power to make them tremble well into their twenties or thirties.
Stine has scared at least two generations of American kids, so one might expect him to be aloof, or even a little scary, but he was genial and cheery talking with BuzzFeed about Red Rain, his latest novel, aimed at the fans of his early books who are now all grown up.
It's been seventeen years since your last adult novel hit was published, what made you step back into the adult novel arena?
I'm on Twitter, and it's a great way to keep in touch with all my old readers from the '90s. They're all there, they're twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings now, no kids. Just my original audience. And it's wonderful for me. We have the best time! They're a great readership. And they're all saying, "Oh we loved you when we were kids, please write something for us." And I thought, I have to listen to my original audience. And that's who I wrote it for. That was really the whole inspiration for it. My audience was still out there, so why don't I give it another try?
Was the switch to writing for an adult audience difficult?
Very. It's not just the length. I've been saying it's like a runner who is a sprinter, and then suddenly has to run a marathon. You use the same skills, but everything is different. When I write a Goosebumps book I don't really want to scare kids. So I have to make sure they know it's a fantasy. They have to know it's not real, it couldn't happen. That's important for those books.
But when you write adult books every detail has to be real, and believable or the readers aren't going to go along with you. They don't want it to be a silly fantasy. It's gotta seem like it could really happen and it's just the complete opposite of what I normally do.
What was the initial spark that got this story going?
It was kids. It was doing evil kids. It was the first thing I thought of when deciding what to write. I thought people would find it really ironic if I did evil kids. Because I do so many good kids. Every book has a good kid battling evil. So I thought people would find it funny if I turned it around. And then I got interested in twins.
Yeah, for some reason evil kids seem to come in pairs. When I was reading, the boys reminded me of the girls from The Shining mixed with the Children of the Corn.
People find twins scary. I don't understand it, but all through time — I did a lot of research on twins — and it goes way back in history and people were always frightened. They'd separate them at birth because they were bad luck. You couldn't bury a twin in dry ground or your whole village would go dry. And there's all these beliefs that twins control the weather. And that's how it developed. And I always had an idea of starting out with the hurricane, or just some completely devastating natural disaster.
Is it different writing children in a book for adults as opposed to writing children for children? Other than the swearing, obviously.
Having written 99% of my books from the point of view of a twelve year old child, those were definitely the easier chapters to write. Which was nice because, you realize, this novel was a major challenge for me. Every Goosebumps book I write has one point of view. The narrator tells the story and everything you see happens through their eyes. And that's kind of what makes Goosebumps scary. You're right inside this one person and experiencing it all with them. But with Red Rain I wanted to do five or six points of view and see if I could still keep it scary. It's something I've never done.
You even told it a bit from a villains' perspective!
That was really fun for me.
You know, I named the evil twins after my nephews and I only told them a few days ago. But they're in their twenties and took it well.
You've been writing scary stories for decades now, do you ever have nightmares about your own work?
No. Never. I never have nightmares anymore. I used to have this really scary recurring dream where I was being chased but as soon as I started writing scary books, the dream went away. And I never have nightmares now.
You said you've reconnected with a lot of your fans on Twitter. Some of them have kids of their own now. How does it feel to be a cultural touchstone for several generations?
It's great to be able to scare a new generation.