Stine calls himself a "paperback guy," and he remains a fan of that model, even as he acknowledges that it's "pretty much doomed." He says, "I grew up writing series. I like one a month; kids are waiting for the next one. I also liked it because kids could afford it. They'd come into a bookstore with five bucks and buy four different books. Now a book is $16 and a kid can buy one." This change goes for adult mass-market paperbacks as well, which, he says, "used to support the business"—now those books are often kept hidden because stores don't make enough money on them.
Stine's adult book, Red Rain, is out in October, and it's also in hardcover—it's his second for adults, following a novel he wrote 10 years ago called Superstitious. He told me that his inspiration this time was his former kid readership, now grown up, people he keeps in touch with on Twitter: "I hear from them all day, saying, 'Why don't you write a book for us, why don't you write a book for us?' So that's what I did, trying to reach my old audience." He adds, "Twitter is great for my ego. Jane [his wife] has to keep me humble."
It was a bit of a shift for the master kid author to go grownup again. "Writing scary stuff for kids is totally the opposite of writing horror for adults," he explained. "I have to be very careful that kids know it's not real, that it's a fantasy and can't happen. I don't put in real issues, real-life things ... but when you write horror for adults they're not going to buy the story at all unless every detail is real. It all has to be believable or it's ludicrous. So for the first time in my life I had to do research! To me it's a very different process." Red Rain took four months—the whole of last summer—compared to Goosebumps' average one because of this. Writing Goosebumps is "like sitting down and having fun," he says. "But I thought I needed a challenge." One main difference readers of both may see: "The adult book is much scarier because it's so real."
Stine has mixed feelings about the 20th anniversary, which he told me by email makes him "feel old," but admits that scaring a new generation is pretty exciting: "I get 7-year-olds and 8-year-olds and 20-year-olds, and I hear from so many who grew up on Goosebumps and say they're saving them for their kids to read, or that their kids are starting to read the series."
That's a lot of adults and kids. Over the years, by his count, he's done about 115 Goosebumps books and about 80 of the Fear Street series, along with his other projects—all in all, a rewarding pursuit he's very much proud of. "Everywhere I go, the parents pull me aside and say, 'My kid never read a book in his life and then he discovered your books, and now he's a great reader,'" he says. "You never get tired of hearing that."
I asked Stine, who'd told me previously that he never gets scared, if maybe he'd found something new to scare him (like his adult book? New news reports of a Florida zombie surge?). He said no. It's nice to know that some things never change, and that, for Stine, the ability to think of new ways to terrify kids is one of those things. "Luckily, there are a million things people can be scared of," he says, then pauses. "How lucky is that, to still be able to be doing this 20 years later?"
Lucky for his readers, new and old, as well.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.