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Books Chat

R. L. Stine

A chat with the best-selling children's author

October 28, 1999
Web posted at: 4:00 p.m. EDT

(CNN) -- Robert Lawrence Stine is the best-selling children's author in history. The author of the best-selling series "Goosebumps," "Goosebumps Series 2000," "Fear Street," and "Nightmare Hour," was born in Columbus, Ohio.

Stine began his writing career at the age of nine-writing short stories, joke books, and comic books for his friends-and has been at it ever since.

Stine joined for a chat on October 27, 1999 to discuss his newest series "Nightmare Hour." Stine joined the chat via phone from Atlanta and provided a typist. The following is an edited transcript of the chat.

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Chat Moderator: Welcome R. L. Stine!

R. L. Stine :Hi everyone, I hope you are having a scary day!

Question : Why did you switch from being a humor writer to being a horror writer?

R. L. Stine : Actually I loved horror my whole life, but I never thought of writing it. I had so much fun writing joke books and humor books for kids. Then one day an editor asked me to write a scary book. The very first scary book I wrote was a best seller. And Iíve been scary ever since.

Question from AlexD :Two questions for Mr. Stine: do you visit schools? And do you still dress up for Halloween? What will you be this year if you do?

R. L. Stine :LOL. I've been visiting schools in several cities this week. I like to get out and see my readers around Halloween time. This year, I'll be celebrating Halloween at Disney World in Orlando. I'll be appearing at MGM studios on Saturday and Sunday of Halloween. I hope to see my readers there this weekend.

Question : Why did you chose to write for younger readers?

R. L. Stine :I've been writing for kids for 30 years. I love writing for kids! They are such an enthusiastic, honest audience and they write so many wonderful letters. Grownups don't write to authors. I like being so close to my readers.

Question :Is there a difference in writing for young readers and writing for adults?

R. L. Stine :I'm used to writing at a very fast pace. I write a Goosebumps book in about 10 days. But my grownup novel, "Superstitious," took over 4 months to write. That was too slow for me. I feel that I can be more imaginative with my kidsí books.

Question from Shannon :I am a big fan of yours and of Horror in general! I love your books and the books of Christopher Pike! Have you ever met Christopher or any other horror writers and do you read Horror books by other writers?

R. L. Stine :Yes, I have met Christopher Pike. We had a really nice talk. I have gotten to meet many writers. Last summer I met my all-time hero, Ray Bradbury. The one author I really want to meet is Stephen King. So far we have never met. But I really enjoy his books.

Question from AlexD : Have no fear, adults read your childrenís books too... I just read "Headless Halloween" -- Alex D's Mom

R. L. Stine :That's nice. Thank you Alex D's Mom! I hope you and Alex will enjoy my scary new hard cover storybook, "Nightmare Hour." It is my first illustrated book and it has 10 very scary stories for Halloween.

Question from Nick : How do you come up with the plots in your books?

R. L. Stine :I get most of my ideas by thinking up titles first. I think I work backwards from most other authors. Other authors get ideas first, but I always start with a title. When I have a good title, I start to think about what kind of a story will go with it.

Question from Shannon : What's your advice for kids who want to write?

R. L. Stine :I have very boring advice for kids who want to write. My advice is to read, read, read. Don't just read one author. Read as many different kinds of things as you can. Later, when you start to write seriously, all the things you read before remain in your brain and will help you with your writing.

Question : Your stories have been published in 16 languages. How well does horror translate to other cultures?

R. L. Stine :My Goosebumps books are actually more popular in France and Italy and England than they are here now. I guess it translates pretty well. I just got back from an Italian book festival. In Italy, Goosebumps is called "Piccoli Brevidi." It means "little shivers."

Question from Pixie :What is your favorite book, of yours and otherwise?

R. L. Stine :My favorite Goosebumps book is called Brain Juice. I also like the "Night of the Living Dummy" books, which features Slappy the evil dummy. I love writing Slappy because he is so rude.

Question from fleegle :What do you think of the crazed book burning mentality of the opponents of the Harry Potter books? Has this affected your genre at all?

R. L. Stine :We had a few problems with people who wanted to censor Goosebumps or get it off school library shelves. But actually, very little trouble. Most people are so happy to have kids reading. I think the controversy over Harry Potter is very silly. I think they are wonderful books.

Question from Bilbo :Are there plans for compilation books, or are they only available one by one?

R. L. Stine :There are no plans right now for compilation but I want to announce that some time in the year 2000, I will be starting a scary new book series for kids. I can't tell you the name of it yet. But it is going to be like a Twilight Zone for kids. I'm going to start working on the new series right after Halloween.

Question from alexa : At what age do you think young children should be reading your books? I have a 9-year-old and would like him to start reading your books. They are great!

R. L. Stine :Thank you! Kids know when they are ready for these scary books. I have two 10-year-old nephews. One of them started reading Goosebumps when he was 5. The other one is still terrified of them. He won't go near them. Kids themselves are the best judge of when they are ready.

Question from Shannon :How involved are you in the show?

R. L. Stine :The TV shows were all based on my books. But I didn't write any of the scripts. I got to read the scripts and make comments before the shows were filmed. I am so happy with the way the Goosebumps TV show came out. Iím very proud of it. But I love it when kids say, "the books are better than the show." It would be terrible if they said that the TV shows were better!

Question : Have you ever thought of branching out into writing screenplays?

R. L. Stine :Actually, I am now working on a direct to video scary movie for kids. Its going to come out in video stores next Halloween. The title is "When Good Ghouls Go Bad" for Fox. Isn't that a good Fox title!

Question from Nick :When did you decide that you wanted to be an author?

R. L. Stine :I think I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was 9 years old. When I was 9, I found an old typewriter up in the attic. I dragged it down to my room and started typing stories and little joke magazines. I have been writing ever since.

Question from Arepazo : How did you get started in writing and how did you go about getting noticed?

R. L. Stine :After college I moved from Ohio to New York. I thought you had to live in New York to be a writer. I started getting all kinds of magazine jobs. Eventually I began writing children's books. I don't know what I did to get noticed. I think I just got lucky. The success of Goosebumps comes from kids telling kids. It was entirely word-of-mouth. There was no advertising or hype.

Question from Gilgamesh : Do you like scaring people?

R. L. Stine :I don't really want to terrify kids. But I like giving them shivers. And I like making them laugh.

Question :When you hear statistics like "most borrowed book in British children's libraries," "#1 best-selling author in America", "best-selling children's author in history" etc, how do you react?

R. L. Stine :It's thrilling! It's the kind of thing I could never fantasize about. I'm so proud of what I've accomplished with these scary books and I'm so grateful to my readers. I'm a very happy person.

Question : Who are your influences?

R. L. Stine :I had many. When I was 8 or 9, I discovered these scary horror comics called "Tales from the Crypt" and "The Vault of Horror." They were very influential on me. So was "Mad Magazine." So was Ray Bradbury. And also Rod Serling and the "Twilight Zone."

Question from Pace :What made you decide to use "formula fiction" instead of writing novels?

R. L. Stine :I wish I knew the formula! If there was a formula, it would make it a lot easier. But I haven't discovered what it is yet.

Question from Shannon :What is the goriest thing you have ever written/read, and where can I buy it?

R. L. Stine :LOL. I will tell you the most disgusting story I have ever written. It is called "I'm Not Martin!" and it is in my new collection Nightmare Hour. It is truly disgusting; I should be ashamed of myself. Itís about a boy who has to spend Halloween night in the hospital. It is a very creepy night.

Question from Pixie :Can we have a ghost story or two for the Halloween season? Pretty Please??

R. L. Stine :Pixie, I'm sorry I don't have any ghost stories right now but there is a good one in Nightmare Hour called "The Ghostly Scare."

Question from Nick :Can you remember the name of the series that featured books more for teen-agers? I remember reading one... it had to do with a girl going to a party on the beach... Beach Party maybe?

R. L. Stine :The series was called Fear Street. I wrote about 100 Fear Street books. They are still in stores. I wrote Fear Street for 10 years and now I'm ready to move on to something new.

Question from MattH : Has somebody already asked you about your work habits? What's a typical writing day? Do you do more than one book at a time?

R. L. Stine :I write only one book at a time. I usually outline one book and then write a different book. I treat my writing as a full-time job. I usually start writing about 9 in the morning and I don't get up until I've written 15 to 20 pages. My dog has a very boring life. She sits under my desk and watches me type all day.

Question from Bilbo :Ever thought of writing a "how to write" book? (Not that they're much help beyond getting ideas)

R. L. Stine :That's something I never thought about. I don't know if anyone would want my advice. Thanks for an interesting idea. Thatís a first.

Question from Nick :Do you have another job besides writing?

R. L. Stine :No. Someone once asked my son Matt, "what do you want to be when you grow up?" Matt said, "I don't want a job, I want to hang around the house like dad." lol

Question from Gilgamesh : What's your movie pick for Halloween movie night?

R. L. Stine :Two films: "The Shining" and "Arachnophobia."

Question from Shannon : It seems that you and a lot of other young adult horror writers hit big in the late 80s, early 90s. Why all at once and why at that time?

R. L. Stine :I think scary books have always been popular with adults. But childrenís publishers ignored the genre until then. Scary children's books weren't popular before the early 90s simply because they didn't exist.

Question :Do you write for a specific child?

R. L. Stine :No, I don't write for a specific child -- especially since my son has never read one of my books! But I do write for the specific age group. I spend a lot of time studying this target group. I work very hard at keeping up with them, so that my characters seem very real.

Question from Pixie :Why do kids like scary books?

R. L. Stine :I don't really know. Kids always tell me they just like to be scared. I think they like having these scary adventures in books and knowing at the same time that they are perfectly safe.

Question :The Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association notes that you are #4 on the "most-challenged" authors, behind Robert Cormier, Lois Lowry and John Steinbeck. What's your reaction to that?

R. L. Stine :I'm proud and humble. I think itís more a sign of success. My feeling is that anything that becomes really popular in this country is going to be attacked by some people. It's just the price you pay for being popular. I am opposed to all censorship of books, including books for kids. I think I was #1 most banned one year.

Question from Pixie :What are the challenges of writing for kids. Tough audience?

R. L. Stine :A very tough and honest audience. If you do something they don't like, you'll really hear about it. Once I wrote a Fear Street that had an unhappy ending. The bad girl won. It was the only book that had an unhappy ending. And kids hated it. Immediately I got letters that read "dear R L Stine, you moron, How could you write such a thing???" Kids are very direct, very smart, and very honest.

Question from Mags :"Nightmare Hour" has a spooky book cover, with flashing eyes!

R. L. Stine :Right. I'm really happy with the cover for "Nightmare Hour." I think it is really creepy. it's a lot more sophisticated than my usual covers. Actually it was designed by Stephen King's art director. The same man who designed "Bag of Bones." I think the holographic eyes on "Nightmare Hour" are pretty scary.

Question from Bilbo :Is there a service through which I can subscribe to one Goosebumps per month to be delivered?

R. L. Stine :No, we don't have that service. I'm afraid you have to buy them one by one.

Question from Nick :Why doesn't your kid read your books?

R. L. Stine :Matt never read my books because he knew it would make me crazy. And it worked. Itís horrible! I even made him the star of a Fear Street book called "Goodnight Kiss." He didn't read that one either. Now Matt is in college and is reading Ulysses. So he'll probably never read my books. I've met a lot of authors and none of their kids read their books. It's like a normal way for kids to separate themselves.

jonathan :Maybe Matt will read them to his children.

R. L. Stine :That's nice :) People are nice.

Question from jonathan :have you had a "J.K. Rowling-style" welcome (meaning thousands of screaming fans) when you visit a school or bookstore?

R. L. Stine :My biggest crowd was at a mall outside Washington DC. We had given out tickets for 500 kids to come. But 7,000 showed up. It was a nightmare, but a thrill. We had to shut off the escalators in the mall so that kids wouldn't get crushed. It was a nightmare! But it was also a thrill for me. I love meeting my readers, but 7,000 is a little too much. I had to send them all home.

Question from AlexD :I hope no one asked this already, but why did you name your dog Nadine and have you used her in any of your stories?

R. L. Stine :Nadine was named by my son after the Chuck Berry Song. I have a lot of dogs in my stories. But I've never used Nadine because she is not too scary. She's a little King Charles Spaniel.

Question :Do you see a friendly competition among authors like yourself and Ms. Rowling?

R. L. Stine :I don't think authors see each other as competitors. I know I don't. I feel so lucky that so many millions of kids have enjoyed my scary books that I'm happy to see other authors also enjoying success.

Question :Mr. Stine, would you come back for a chat online with Stephen King? (your biography says you really want to meet him. You could be guest host!)

R. L. Stine :I'd love to.

Chat Moderator : Any final thoughts..

R. L. Stine :I hope everyone enjoys my new book "Nightmare Hour" and if you are in Orlando for Halloween I hope you will come see me at Disney World.

Have a scary day everyone!

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