The ‘Goosebumps’ and ‘Fear Street’ author discusses his first nonfiction book, where he gives advice on writing horror for kids
R.L. Stine admits that his books don’t come from a sentimental place.
“I think that I've written over 300 books, not a single word from my heart,” the author, 80, tells PEOPLE. “It's all written to entertain people. Writing what I know would be very boring.”
Stine, the author of the Goosebumps and Fear Street series, and one of the best-selling children’s writers of all time, knows a thing or two about the genre. Now, he’s doling out writing advice in his first nonfiction book, There’s Something Strange About My Brain, out Oct. 31 from Di Angelo Publications. The book is a guidebook on writing horror for kids, as well as writing in general, and is composed of tips from his Masterclass.
“I start out with the idea that writing is not hard,” Stine says of his teaching process. “If you think of it as fun, it's going to be more fun.”
Stine, whose books have been giving young readers chills since Fear Street debuted in 1989, admits that he was an extremely fearful kid.
“It was a terrible way to grow up,” he says. “I really was afraid of a lot of things, and very shy. I think that's why I stayed in my room writing all the time.” He recalls a “coffin-shaped” freezer in his family’s basement, and how he was terrified that he might find a corpse behind the door one day.
“I could remember that feeling of panic and bring it to the books,” Stine says.
There’s Something Strange About My Brain provides practical writing advice for aspiring authors, such as knowing your audience, making the protagonist relatable and developing the rules of your fictional world. Stine also includes stories from his career: how he got his start writing humor books, and that he writes as a way to motivate children to read. He says that middle grade readers — typically between the ages of seven to eleven — are the best audience there is.
“It's the last time in their lives they'll ever be enthusiastic,” Stine says. “They want to read you, they want to know you…they want to do everything.”
Stine also explains how writing for a new generation of readers doesn’t come without its challenges. He tells PEOPLE that technology is one of the biggest hurdles he faces nowadays, since “cell phones have ruined every plot.” Finding a balance between horror and humor, he writes, is also essential. He recalls one idea he had for one of his Goosebumps books, The Girl Who Cried Monster, that teetered that fine line.
“In the original draft of that book, I had the librarian eat a kid. My editor thought maybe that was going too far. Maybe we shouldn't eat a kid in Goosebumps,” he says.
Stine also says that one key to his books is that they’re, essentially, moralless — something almost unheard of in the children’s genre.
“They don't learn anything, except maybe ‘run.’ You don't learn anything in a Goosebumps book. It's just for fun,” Stine says. “I always say there used to be this rule in children's publishing that characters in a children's book always had to learn and grow. I always thought, ‘Why?’ Adults don’t have to read books where people learn and grow. We can read whatever we want. I think kids should have the same right.”
Stine has had multiple books publish this fall, including the first volume in the new Goosebumps spinoff series House of Shivers. The latest TV adaptation of his work, Goosebumps, is now streaming on Disney+ and Hulu.
Stine says that he remains gratified that readers still enjoy his books, though he feels it’s almost “too nice.” He says that his wife, who also happens to be his editor, is also tasked with keeping him humble.
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“I handed in a book and she handed it back,” he says. “It had two words at the top. It said, ‘Psychotic ramblings.’ I wasn't laughing, but yeah, it's funny now.”
There’s Something Strange About My Brain is out now.
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