An interview with R.L. Stine, known as the “Stephen King of children’s literature,” who spoke at the master’s tea on Tuesday sponsored by the Yale Undergraduate Magazine.
Q:What is your writing process like?
A: I write six days a week, usually from about ten to about two-thirty or three. But I don’t really go by time; I go by pages. I set a goal for myself every day. I say, ‘Today I’m going to write ten pages, or today I have to write fifteen,’ and then I don’t get up until I do it. I also write a complete chapter-by-chapter outline of ever book before I write it. And I type with one finger. You should see the finger. It’s hideous and totally bent. I’ve written 300 books with this one finger.
Q: What are your favorite books now? When you were growing up?
A: Now I read a lot of new fiction and a lot of mysteries. I like a lot of quaint British mysteries, which is bad for my horror image. I read only fiction. I hate everything real. Growing up, I read those amazing horror comics, “Tales from the Crypt” and “The Vault of Horror.” Ray Bradbury is also a real hero of mine.
Q: Why did you decide to write new “Goosebumps” books?
A: I stopped the “Goosebumps” series eight years ago and all this time I’ve been doing a lot of other series, but half the messages on my web site asked when I was going to write more “Goosebumps” books. I always try to listen to the kids, which is probably a good idea. There were so many books already that I had to do something different. In the new books you actually get 2 stories in one: a “Goosebumps” story with a beginning, middle and end, but then, just when you think it’s safe to close the book, there’s a second story that takes place at Horrorland theme park, the scariest place on earth. It’s a serial for kids, which I don’t think anyone’s ever done before.
Q: What kind of ghoul would you be?
A: I’d be a boring one. I’d be a ghostwriter.
Q: How does writing books for children differ from writing for teens or adults?
A: It’s just that you have different faces in front of you when you’re writing. You think about how you would talk to them, how you would relate to them, what they would be wearing. It’s easy to switch back and forth, but I do spend a lot of time trying to keep up with kids. I’ve been lucky because I have lots of nieces and nephews.
Q: You traveled to Russia with Laura Bush to talk to Russian kids about books and reading. What was that like?
A: It was very exciting for me. All four of my grandparents came from Russia, so it was nice to talk to Russian kids and tell them that all my ancestors came from there. They were all very sweet, and they all spoke English, although their parents didn’t. It was a fantasy-type trip, flying in her plane and driving around in her motorcade. We had an amazing banquet in The Kremlin. She was a librarian and very knowledgeable about books.
Q: Why did you decide to write the autobiography, “It Came From Ohio: My Life As A Writer?”
A: Kids wanted more information about me because they had to write book reports. It was kind of a strange process. My college friend Joe Arthur remembered more of my childhood than I did, and my wife wrote insulting photo captions.
Q: What kind of bedtime stories did you tell to your son?
A: We read the same Dr. Seuss books, especially “Hop on Pop,” to him a thousand times. He just loved them. He thought they were hilarious. And luckily they are brilliant. He never read any of my books, though. Isn’t that mean? He did it just to make me nuts. When he was the appropriate age he only read Garfield comics. Then he went off to college, and he was an English major. He went right from Garfield to James Joyce.
Q: Do you ever get spooked while writing, and have to check under the bed or in the closet?
A: I don’t get scared from scary books or scary movies. They always make me laugh. If I watch a Stephen King movie or something, I always think it’s funny. That’s why I have that combination in my books. I use humor in the “Goosebumps” books so that whenever something is especially intense, I throw in something funny. I see chapter endings as punch lines.
Q: How do you determine just how scary is too scary for your readers and viewers? (I still have nightmares about “The Haunted Mask” movie.)
A: “The Haunted Mask” was pretty creepy. I think the “Goosebumps” show, which is back in reruns on Cartoon Network, holds up really well. In order for it to not be too scary, the kids have to know that it’s a fantasy. It can’t seem to too real. I try to keep the real world out because it’s a scary world for kids these days. I keep all that out of it and don’t do divorce or anything because it would ruin the fantasy.
Q: Have you ever had any supernatural experiences?
A: No, none, I keep looking, but so far nothing. I keep my eyes open.