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The R.L. Stine Interview, Part 3: Kids and Horror

Thanks for re-joining us after some (pleasant) interruptions this past week. And in case you missed them, here are Part 1 and Part 2 of the interview. In this, the final part of our conversation, we pick up right where we left off…

***

After he read Ulysses, did your son ever decide to check out some horror?

He reads some thrillers—he reads all kinds of things now…

I was just wondering because for a lot of young readers you’re kind of a welcoming gatekeeper to the entire horror genre. How does that feel?rlstine The R.L. Stine Interview, Part 3: Kids and Horror

Well, it’s a really nice thing. And it’s not something I ever thought about. I’m in the International Thriller Writers, which is a great organization—there are about 400 thriller writers [in it].

You did a panel or something with them, didn’t you?

Well, I was honored as Thrillermaster last summer.

Oh, okay, sorry—wow. That’s what I was thinking of…

I was introduced by Ken Follett, and it was a wonderful honor. And I thought, I’m about the only kids’ author here. They’re all authors for grownups—you know, it’s Lee Child and Harlan Corben and Doug Preston, all these people. I asked, “Why? Why would you choose me as Thrillermaster?” And they said, “Well, you got us our audience.”

Nice!

They said, “You’re the one got them reading thrillers and mysteries. You’re the one who introduced them to the whole genre. You got us our audience.”

And that leads into something I wanted to ask anyway: after kids follow up on their new interest in, or love of, the horror-thriller genres, are you happy with where horror takes them?

I was once called—and maybe by School Library Journal, actually—a “literary training bra for Stephen King.”

[laughs]

Right? Which is—you don’t want to be called a training bra. I didn’t really like that. But it’s kind of true. It’s a normal thing to graduate on to Stephen King from here. It’s all a big surprise to me because I never planned to be a horror writer, ever. I just wanted to be funny.

Right…

I wrote joke books and did a humor magazine for ten years before I got scary. I never really planned this, so it’s kind of interesting to me, a bit of a surprise. I spend a lot time trying to find clever horror films.

What’s impressed you in terms of clever horror films?

What comes to mind? There are a lot of clever ones. There was one a couple of years called Orphan. Do you know that film?

Oh, I loved Orphan!

Orphan The R.L. Stine Interview, Part 3: Kids and HorrorYes, that was a really clever, really good horror film. I always try to find ones that have a good surprise and aren’t stupid.

Yep.

That’s very hard. And I hate slashing, I hate the torture kind of horror films. I hate those.

So that’s not a welcome direction for the genre, I take it.

No, I don’t like that at all. There’s a Canadian film, a real cheap-o Canadian film called Pontypool.

I love Pontypool, too! You have excellent taste if I may say so, sir.

[laughs] Thank you. I thought that was very clever, considering they had ten cents to make the film.

Uh-huh.

And I also like Let the Right One In, the Swedish film.

Sure. Well, you’ve named some high points of the past decade.

But they are few and far between. Usually I get very disappointed by horror films.

Yeah, well that’s the sign of a fan—that you’re willing to wade through the dreck to find those gems…

I do want to mention that I have this adult novel, the first one in ten years, called Red Rain. It’s a real hardcover, old-fashioned horror novel for adults. Not for kids at all. It’s being published by Touchstone, Simon & Schuster…

Uh-huh.

…in October. It’s about evil kids, which I thought would be good. People would appreciate that from me.

Sure. And that harkens back to Orphan and some of the things we were just talking about—Let the Right One In.

Yes, but with my being basically a kids’ writer, I think people would find that funny. It actually was inspired by three films: Village of the Damned, Children of the Damned, and Island of the Damned.*

Ah, that’s a great series.

And they all had evil children and naïve adults [laughs]. So I wanted to reimagine those films. It was a nice year for me: twentieth anniversary of Goosebumps, and an adult novel.

Then let me ask about Goosebumps and Red Rain together, and this could be naïve of me, but when a successful author becomes a “brand” is there a concern that the writer as a creative force can sometimes get lost. That is, you know it will get attention, but what about taking you seriously as an author? The R.L. Stine Interview, Part 3: Kids and Horror

I never think about people taking me seriously as an author. I don’t think about that. I don’t feel that in writing for kids, I’m sitting at the children’s table.

Great…

I mean, there’s a real attitude with a lot of people who say, “Well, if you’re so successful, why do you write for kids?”

[laughs] Wow…

I’ve heard that from people, and from newspapers, everything. But the kids are the best audience. You hear from them, you get great mail from them. It’s not the same. But I wrote this adult novel to reach my readers from the ‘90s, the ones we were talking about. They’re all in their twenties and thirties, and on Twitter and everywhere else, they say, “Why don’t you write a book for us now that we’re adults?” So I did. And it’ll be totally separate. Believe me, no one’s going to confuse it with the kids’ books.

That’s great—we’ve now come full circle in this conversation.

Goosebumps is still the most fun for me. That’s my real audience: 7 to 12. They’re just great. Listen, Peter, I get them the last time in their lives they’ll ever be enthusiastic. Right? After 12 they discover sex, they’re off, they’re gone, they have to be cool. I get ‘em when they’re still kids. I love that.

###

*I’m pretty sure this refers to the ’70s film also known as Who Can Kill a Child? Not really part of a series with the first two films, but close enough, especially in terms of theme.

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