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R.L. Stine Goes Bump In The Night
By Scott Nicholson

R.L. Stine has millions of books in print and is a compulsive writer—so much of one that even in “retirement” he publishes a dozen titles a year. Despite the acclaim, he still feels his greatest accomplishment is helping instill a joy of reading in young people.

R.L. Stine said he loved the classic EC horror comics as a child. “They were so gruesome and bloody, and I thought they were great,” he said. “And all the stories had a funny little twist at the end.”

Because his parents didn’t allow the comics in the house, Stine was a frequent visitor to the local barber shop, where he could read the comics. He began drawing his own cartoons and passing them around the class, saying as a shy boy it was a way to get attention. He began writing joke books, and the “Banana” series for 10 years.

Stine, who married an editor, was writing G.I. Joe books, coloring books, and copy for bubble gum cards. At the time, Lois Duncan and Christopher Pike were successful with teen readers, but Stine felt there was a niche for middle-grade books. His first one, “Blind Date,” took three months to write, and he downplayed his unexpected success by saying, “I found something kids like.”

He noted the transition between his subject matter wasn’t abrupt: “There’s a very close connection between humor and horror,” he said. “When you go to a scary movie, you hear people screaming and laughing at the same time. When scary things happen, I always laugh.”

That’s when he shifted to the Goosebumps series that became his claim to fame. He wrote about 200 “scary thrillers” and said parents and teachers were supportive of the books and also inspired kids to read. “That was the best part of it,” he said.

He attributed the popularity of Goosebumps to its appeal to a wide audience. “The secret of ‘Goosebumps’ was that both boys and girls would read them,” he said, defying the popular wisdom that only girls read. “I wrote them for girls, but half the mail was from boys.”

Stine typically starts with a title, and then outlines the entire book. He said having a chapter-by-chapter outline helps him write fast to meet a demanding publishing schedule. Now in semi-retirement, he writes five pages a day. “Five pages a day is not a career,” he said, noting that in his prime he was writing 15 to 20 pages a day.

Stine has moved away from horror with his new series, “Rotten School,” but he’ll be forever linked with spooks and laughs by a generation of readers. “Someone once described me as a literary training bra for Stephen King,” he said.

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