R.L. STINE INTERVIEW
Conducted by Chris Shamburger
The Hub TV Network’s hit R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour: The Series, a half-hour, live-action children’s series inspired by the master of children’s horror — R.L. Stine’s — spooky stories, is creeping into its third season on October 13th.
HorrorTalk’s very own Chris Shamburger returned from the grave just to talk to R.L. Stine (a.k.a. Bob) about Stine's new addicting TV show, his new adult novel Red Rain, and the 20th anniversary of his popular book series Goosebumps.
Chris Shamburger: There’s really no way to start this interview but to just say—20 years of Goosebumps!
R.L. Stine: Don’t say it like that; you’ll make me feel old!
CS: How did this happen?
RLS: Well, my publisher said let’s try a scary book series for 7 – 12 year olds because it had never been done before. And I actually didn’t want to do it because I didn’t want to mess up Fear Street. And I sort of fought it but they kept insisting. And finally I said, “Alright, if I can think of a good name for it, we’ll try a couple.” And then I came up with the Goosebumps title which I thought was good because it was scary and funny. And we sold Scholastic—I think the first contract was for four books. And I figured that we would just do four. And they came out, and they just sat there. They didn’t sell at all. And we figured it was just a failure. Then suddenly, after four or five months, it just took off and became a sensation all over the world. And there was no advertising, no hype—it just happened. And we definitely didn't mean for it to be a series for twenty years. No one knew.
CS: The covers for the books are absolutely gorgeous. Do you feel that the covers influenced children to read Goosebumps more than other books out at the time?
RLS: Oh yeah. Those covers are just — the first 87 covers were done by a guy named Tim Jacobus. He did all 87 cover paintings. And he is amazing. The covers are good because they say “Horror!” but they also have a great deal of humor. And they really sold the books.
CS: When you were writing the books, did you think at the time what the covers were going to be?
RLS: No. It was two separate things. In fact, I didn’t even meet Tim until two years into doing Goosebumps. The way we’d work is I would be planning a book, because I planned them all out in advance, and I would send over a short synopsis of what the story was going to be, and they sent that to Tim. He would then come up with cover sketches and all of the editors looked at those, and then he finally did his paintings. But I wasn’t really involved. They don’t like for the author to be involved. They try to keep the author away. But all of those covers actually turned out to match the books. There were very few that didn’t.
CS: I want to talk a little bit about The Haunting Hour which is so much more impressive than I was imagining. The production value for this show is outstanding.
RLS: They do a wonderful job, don’t they?
CS: It’s a very slick production. How did this come about? How did you decide to turn this into the next series?
Stine: Well, I did two short story books: one called “The Haunting Hour” and one called “The Nightmare Hour,” and so we had twenty stories. Then The Hub approached us about doing a TV series starting out with these stories. And I was reluctant but then I saw the guys who were producing the show, Dan Angel and Billy Brown, also did the Goosebumps show. And we loved working with them. I’m so proud of the Goosebumps TV show. They did such a great job. And you know it was the #1 kids show three years in a row back in the ‘90s. And so when we saw they were going to be the producers, we said, “Alright, let’s go ahead and do it.” They just get it. They get that combination of horror and humor the way a lot of people don’t get it.
CS: Now whereas Goosebumps was aimed for the 7 -10 crowd, would you say The Haunting Hour is more for those children entering adolescence, those children entering middle and high school?
RLS: Yes. It’s definitely older. Even the actors are older. We used much younger kids for Goosebumps and we use teenagers for The Haunting Hour. I still think it’s good for a whole family. We always talk about watching it with your parents.
CS: Do you feel like you can do more with The Haunting Hour than you could with Goosebumps as far as scares go?
RLS: The scares are pretty much the same, I think. The Haunting Hour might be a little bit darker. But I think the scares are about the same. You know, when you do scary stuff, the fears are about the same for every age group. Adults are pretty much scared of the same stuff kids are.
CS: Do you feel there was ever a time between Goosebumps or The Haunting Hour where you pushed the horror too far?
RLS: I tend to be kind of squeamish. My editors are always saying, “Make it scarier, make it scarier!” No one has ever accused me of going too far. Only once: there was an early Goosebumps book called The Girl Who Cried Monster. And it was about a librarian. You remember that one?
CS: I remember.
RLS: In my original version, the girl is hiding behind a stack of books and she sees the librarian eat a kid. And she realizes the librarian is a monster. And everyone said, “That’s going too far.” That’s really the only time I can think of. And we changed it because everyone said, “That’s just terrible.” So we gave the librarian a bowl of live turtles on his desk. And every once in a while he would reach over and pluck a turtle out of the bowl and eat it, which is actually better because they’re crunchier than a kid, right? So that was the one time I think I went too far.
CS: Are you glad you changed it? Do you think the change works just the same, or is it less effective?
RLS: Oh, it’s better! Turtles are much better than kids! More disgusting!
CS: You also write standalone novels and just wrote an adult novel called Red Rain. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
RLS: Well, it’s the twentieth anniversary of Goosebumps, and all of those readers who were kids in the ‘90s are now in their twenties and thirties.
CS: That’s me!
RLS: Right! I keep in touch with my old audience on Twitter — I hear from them all — and they all say, “Write something for us! Please write something for us!” And that’s why I wrote Red Rain — for my old audience.
CS: Can you tell me a little bit more about the plot of Red Rain?
RLS: It’s sort of an old-fashioned horror novel. It’s about evil twins. People are scared of twins. I did a lot of research into twins. And there are so many legends and weird beliefs about twins. So I thought they would be a good subject. And I also thought people would find it funny for me to be writing about evil kids since I’ve written about so many good kids.
RLS: It’s about a young woman who writes a travel blog and goes to an island — an Outer Banks island off the coast of South Carolina. And there’s a horrible, devastating hurricane, and it wrecks the island and kills and destroys everything. The next day, she wanders out and sees all the devastation, and they’re piling up the bodies, and it starts to rain. And the raindrops coming down are red — blood red. And she thinks, “This is the blood of all of the victims of the hurricane.” And these two beautiful blonde twin boys step out from the curtain of the red rain and say, “We’re lost. We have no family. We have nothing.” And she becomes enchanted by them and brings them home to her family in Long Island. And the reader knows they are supernaturally evil, but the family doesn’t have a clue. And that’s basically what it’s about.
CS: I’m not going to take up any more of your time. I appreciate you talking with me today!
RLS: I enjoyed it a lot.
CS: Thank you so much.
RLS: Take care, man.
We'd like to thank R.L. Stine to take time to sit down with us. Make sure you check out the links below!
Links: R.L. Stine's Official Site | R.L. Stine on Twitter | The Haunting Hour
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