SINGAPORE - The Goosebumps novels by R. L. Stine have terrified generations of young readers, but only one of them was inspired by a true event.
The American author, 78, said at a Singapore Writers Festival virtual talk on Sunday (Nov 7) that this novel was The Haunted Mask (1993).
"When my son Matt was a little boy, it was Halloween and I was watching as he was trying on a green rubber Frankenstein mask. He pulled the mask over his face, and he couldn't get it off. And I was watching from the doorway as he tugged and tugged and I thought, 'What a great idea for a story.'
"I should have helped him, but I went to start making notes."
Stine, the best-selling author of more than 300 books, including the Goosebumps and Fear Street series, was one of the headliners at this year's 10-day festival, which runs till Nov 14 with the theme Guilty Pleasures.
He regaled moderator Joel Tan and a virtual audience with tales of terror and humour from his New York apartment, a creepy dummy version of himself visible over his shoulder. His dog Lucky made a cameo, to the delight of the session's chat box.
Asked what he was most scared of, he said the most terrifying moment of his life also involved his son.
"He was four or five years old, and I took him to the New York Automobile Show at the convention centre here in New York City, hundreds of cars and thousands of people walking around, and I lost him. I turned around and he was gone.
"I had this incredible feeling of panic, which I've never felt again. It lasted about 30 seconds, and then I spotted him standing over by a car and ran over to him and said, 'Matt, are you okay?' And he said, 'Where were you, dad? I was about to call the manager.'"
Stine, who was a humour writer before he was bitten by the horror bug, shared some of his favourite fan letters. "I got a letter that said 'R. L. Stine, I'm your biggest fan. I think you're the scariest man on earth. I need to ask you one question. Do you have hair?'
"Here's my all-time favourite letter: 'R. L. Stine, I've read 40 of your books and I think they're really boring.' Isn't that perfect?"
Despite his horror empire, Stine baulks at graphic violence and gore. He has, for instance, been watching Squid Game, the South Korean phenomenon that has conquered Netflix. "Oh god, it's just brutal. It's too horrifying for me. People like to see people get shot in the head. I don't really get it."
What he creates are "safe scares", he said.
"The kid reader has to know that what happens in the book couldn't really happen in real life, it's a fantasy. And once you establish that, you can get pretty scary."
- For more information about the festival, go to this website.