In 1992, R.L. Stine published his first book in the “Goosebumps” series, launching 30 years of frights and selling more children’s books than anyone other than J.K. Rowling.
This Saturday, R.L. Stine will attend a special event at the Library of Congress with author Mary Pope Osborne, who is celebrating 30 years of her series “The Magic Tree House.”
“It’s been a big celebration year,” Stine told WTOP. “Can you imagine 30 years of this stuff? It’s hard to believe. When we started ‘Goosebumps,’ I said, ‘Let’s try two or three.’ I wasn’t real optimistic at the time. Now 30 years later, I’ve lost track of how many books.”
Born in Ohio in 1943, Stine grew up reading spooky stories. “When I was a kid there were these great horror comics that I loved: ‘Tales from the Crypt,’ ‘The Vault of Horror’ and ‘Witch’s Cauldron.’ … I wasn’t a horror guy to begin with, I’ve always been funny, I wrote 100 joke books for kids and I wrote a funny magazine. It wasn’t my idea to be scary.”
He thinks the horror and comedy genres have a lot in common. “I think horror and humor are just very closely tied,” Stone said. “It’s the same visceral reaction. When you go up behind somebody and you go, ‘Boo!’ What’s the first thing they do? The first thing they do is they gasp, and then they laugh. The reaction is very close together.”
In 1989, he created the Nickelodeon TV series “Eureeka’s Castle” (1989-1991), which “was sort of like ‘Sesame Street’ except we didn’t teach them anything. Kids who watched ‘Eureeka’s Castle’ I think lost IQ points. I’m proud of that.”
That same year, he also began writing his “Fear Street” books for teens. “We were killing off teenagers every month,” Stine said. “I did ‘Fear Street’ first, then my editor said, ‘Let’s try a scary book series for 7 to 11 year olds. Nobody’s ever done it before.’ I said, ‘No way.’ That shows you what kind of businessman I am. I didn’t want to do ‘Goosebumps.'”
The first novel in the series was “Welcome to Dead House” (1992) where zombies approach a kid saying they used to live in his house. “I always thought ‘Welcome to Dead House’ was too scary for the series. It didn’t have that combination of humor and horror. It’s just scary. I always thought that book was maybe the scariest book, the very first one.”
He followed up with titles known to a generation: “Monster Blood,” “Say Cheese and Die,” “It Came From Beneath the Sink,” “The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight,” “Welcome to Camp Nightmare” and “Night of the Living Dummy.”
“Kids like ‘Goosebumps’ because they know it’s going to be scary, it’s going to be a fun ride and they all have happy endings,” Stine said.
His personal favorite is “Brain Juice” (“It’s about a purple liquid that turns kids really smart. They drink it and they get smarter and smarter and it ruins their lives”), while his most popular is “The Haunted Mask” (“That’s my best Halloween story about Carly Beth: the girl who wants to be scary, puts on this mask, it sticks to her face, won’t come off and turns her evil”).
In fact, “The Haunted Mask” was the first episode of the TV series “Goosebumps” (1995-1998). More recently, Jack Black played Stine in a pair of “Goosebumps” movies in 2015 and 2018 with another movie on the way. He also continues to crank out books, including a brand new 30th anniversary hardcover book called “Slappy, Beware.”
“Slappy is my most favorite character and my least favorite character,” Stine said. “This Halloween, thousands of kids will go out as Slappy the Dummy, which is a thrill for me, that’s amazing, but he’s my least favorite character because I’ve written 15 books about a dummy that comes to life. It gets harder and harder! How do you come up with more plots?”
You can hear all about the new book and his 30 years of “Goosebumps” memory at the Library of Congress on Saturday. Free timed-entry passes are required to enter the Thomas Jefferson Building allowing you to enjoy the author event in Coolidge Auditorium.