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Plenty of Skeletons in R.L. Stine's Closet

Books * After a six-year break, author launches scary new series for kids.

October 30, 2000|SCOTT MOORE | THE WASHINGTON POST

The bestselling children's author of all time goes by two initials instead of a first name. But it's not J.K. Rowling.

No, R.L. Stine stands atop the children's all-time bestseller's list. He has nearly 300 million Goosebumps, Fear Street, Fear Street Seniors and Blind Date books in print.

After a six-year break, the 56-year-old Stine has scared up a new series for 8- to 12-year-olds: The Nightmare Room, which puts an eerie spin on everyday situations. Instead of monsters and goblins, the chills come from dark halls, shadowy trees and overactive imaginations.

Question: Do you do anything special to get in the mood to write scary stories?

Answer: I knew a writer who wrote scary books, and she had a haunted desk. She had a coffin in the room. . . . I can write anywhere. It's the only thing in life that comes easy to me. . . . Now I do have a lot of atmosphere here. I have an office in my apartment where I write, and I have a full-size skeleton and a lot of eyeballs and . . . a dummy of myself. The challenge is not to repeat myself.

Q: What scares you?

A: Not much. Scary movies don't scare me; I really find them funny. Horror stuff always makes me laugh. I do have one phobia: I'm afraid to jump into a swimming pool. . . . I've never been able to do it. My 10-year-old nephews think it's hilarious.

Q: What do you give out on Halloween?

A: Well, I'm in an apartment building on the 11th floor, so I'm hard to find. But I always give away books. And Halloween is my busy time for making appearances . . . so I'm almost never home.

Q: What kind of books do you read?

A: When I was a kid, I read a lot of science fiction. I loved Ray Bradbury. His books were so imaginative, so clever and had so many twists. Those stories turned me into a reader. . . . Now I read a lot of fiction and mysteries. I love old British mysteries: John Dixon Carr and Agatha Christie.

Q: What do you think of the Harry Potter series?

A: I read the first one. I enjoyed it a lot. I was mainly happy to see so many kids in the bookstores.

Q: Why do you write children's books and not books for adults?

A: This seems to be my level. I love this audience because it is the most enthusiastic reading audience. . . . And they write wonderful letters. At one point I was getting 2,000 letters a week. They all want to know where I get the ideas for these books.

Q: So, where do your ideas come from?

A: I don't know. . . . Most of my ideas start with a title. A title I have for The Nightmare Room is "Liar, Liar." Then I start to think, what does that mean, what could that be? Maybe there's a boy who lies a lot. What would be the consequences of that? Well, maybe he lies so much that he loses reality. Maybe he finds himself in a parallel world.

Q: Have you always been scary?

A: Before I was scary, I was jovial Bob Stine. For years I wrote joke books for kids, and funny books for kids. I was editor of a humor magazine for kids for 10 years. . . . Someone asked me to write a scary book. And the very first one I wrote . . . was a bestseller. I realized it struck a chord with kids, and I've been scary ever since.

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