R.L. Stine, the fearless writer

Horror only makes Goosebumps creator R.L. Stine laugh. A movie based on his chilling tales for children opens here this week

Some may shudder at ghouls, ghosts and other hair-raising monsters but no scary movie or book frightens horror writer Robert Lawrence Stine.

He laughed while watching the shark attacks in Jaws (1975), and he has never read a horror book that scared him, not even his own.

The 72-year-old is better known as R.L. Stine, the author of perfectly pitched horror series for children and young adults that range from a little gory to gut-wrenchingly gruesome. The best known are the dozens of books for younger readers in the ongoing Goosebumps series.

And Stine is laughing all the way to the bank. More than 350 million English language books are in print for the Goosebumps series .

There's something missing in me. I never get scared by books or movies. People tell me: 'Your book was so scary I stayed up all night, turned on all the lights,' that's never happened to me.


A Goosebumps movie with Hollywood actor Jack Black playing Stine opens in Singapore on Thursday, more than two decades after he wrote the first novel.

In a Skype interview from his home in New York where he lives with his wife Jane and their dog - both make appearances on screen, the dog out of curiosity, followed by Jane to usher it away - Stine says that he saw the movie three times before it opened in the US.

"I liked it better each time. The first two times, it didn't have the real music and then it didn't have all the monsters finished," he says, face deadpan.

Black visited the author at his home last winter in a blizzard to prep for the part.

"We had lunch. I think he just wanted to look at me," Stine says. "You know, Jack and I are twins. People mistake us for each other all the time."

The Hollywood movie is the latest in a long line of screen adaptations of Stine's work, starting with a Goosebumps TV series which ran on the Fox network in the 1990s. It was based on the original 62 books written between 1992 and 1997 and published by Scholastic.

Stine has written many spin-offs, including the Goosebumps Most Wanted series.

The eighth in that line, Night Of The Puppet People, was released late last month, along with Stine's novelisation of the movie.

He also created other horror series pitched at different age groups, including The Nightmare Room - also made into a TV show in 2001 - and some such as the Circus Of Fear series go direct to DVD.

Then there are his Fear Street novels, first published in 1989 and for older readers, teens who want to stay up all night with the lights on after reading about their fictional peers dying in mysterious and gruesome ways.

The series was revived last year after more than two decades because fans from the 1990s, all grown up now, besieged Stine with requests on Twitter and Facebook.

"I said no publisher in New York would be interested because they think it's old hat. Ten minutes later, I got a note from a young woman who was an editor at St Martin's Griffin," he says.

Party Games was published last year, followed by Don't Stay Up Late this April and The Lost Girl late last month.

Funny story though, becoming a horror writer was not Stine's original plan.

Born in 1943 in Columbus, Ohio, he lugged a typewriter into his room when he was nine and typed out jokes. He also drew comic books.

"I just wanted to be funny," he says. "My parents didn't understand me at all."

His father was a shipping clerk and unloaded trucks in a warehouse, his mother was a housewife. He has a younger brother and sister.

He graduated from Ohio State University and moved to New York to become a writer.

He wrote at least 100 joke books before an editor friend at Scholastic told him over lunch that she had space in her list for a scary novel for teens.

"She even gave me the title. Blind Date."

The book was a bestseller and after that Stine dove into the horror world with relish.

So if horror books and movies do not scare him, what does?

"I have normal adult fears," he says. These included paying the rent in the early days or worrying about his son, Matthew, a composer and sound designer for the theatre.

Matthew has never read his father's work.

"He never read one and it makes me crazy. His friends would pay Matty to meet me," Stine says.

There is something about his stories that still strike a chord even though the world has changed.

"Cellphones have ruined every mystery plot," he says. "For Party Games, where they were trapped on an abandoned island, I had to have the host collect their phones or it wouldn't have worked."

But in the end, his books rely on the same things that have drawn readers to horror stories since the first caveman made shadow pictures and eerie noises by the firelight.

"We're all still afraid of the same stuff: fear of the dark, fear of someone hiding under the bed or in the closet."

Except Stine. "There's something missing in me. I never get scared by books or movies. People tell me: 'Your book was so scary I stayed up all night, turned on all the lights,' that's never happened to me."

• Look out for Goosebumps Movie Novel ($10.49); Goosebumps Most Wanted #8: Night Of The Puppet People ($11.81) and other books by R.L. Stine at major bookstores.

• The movie Goosebumps opens on Thursday

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 25, 2015, with the headline 'Fearless writer'. Print Edition | Subscribe