Interview with R.L Stine

By Linda Hall


Already known as the Stephen King author for children for his famous Goosebumps and Fear Street books, R.L. Stine has written his first adult thriller, or should I say horror. Red Rain is spooky and I still can't get the blond angelic twin boys out of my head.

There's something about evil children characters.

You accept evil acts from adults but, when it comes to innocent children, it just seems way more scary.

The story begins on an island where Lea is caught in a devastating hurricane. Through the wreckage emerges orphaned twin boys.

Lea is determined to adopt them and takes them home to her husband and two children. The consequences are deadly.

The author of hundreds of children's horror novels, including the famous Goosebumps series, Stine has now turned his eye on adults. Be scared. Be very, very scared.

WHY DID YOU DECIDE IT WAS TIME TO SCARE ADULTS?


Here's the real truth: like most everything I have done in my career, I wrote it because someone asked me to. I started writing horror because an editor said, 'Can you write a teen horror novel?'. I said, 'Yes', even though I had never read a single teen horror book.

Then another editor suggested that I write a teen horror series - and I said it was a bad idea. But I did it, and that was my YA [young adult] series Fear Street.

Same thing with Goosebumps. I thought it was a bad idea to compete with Fear Street. But I did the new series and it worked out fine.

Red Rain - same story.

Someone asked me to write an adult book, but this time it wasn't an editor. I wrote this book because my readers who loved Goosebumps and Fear Street when they were kids are now grown up, and they sent me so many letters and emails asking for a book for them - that I couldn't say no anymore.

WAS RED RAIN HARDER TO WRITE THAN CHILDREN'S FICTION?


Mostly it was very different for me. It was like a runner who has always been a sprinter who then decides to try a marathon. Your training and skills are useful but you need new shoes. You have to train yourself to follow a different rhythm.

You use new muscles.

You have a new regimen and a new mindset. And all of that is a challenge.

But I have to admit that after writing so many books for kids I did have fun writing the world's most evil kids.

SOME SCENES ARE VERY GRUESOME. IS THERE A LINE YOU DON'T CROSS?


Interestingly, the lines are really the same for me whether I am writing for kids or adults. I want the scares to be fun, not disturbing. I often use the example of a roller coaster. If you listen to people riding a roller coaster they scream and they laugh. They are scared, but rationally they know that they are safe.

But if you were on a roller coaster and you looked up ahead and saw that the track was broken - you would be scared in a way that is far too disturbing to be fun. Clearly, adults can take a bit more reality in their scary books - but the idea that you are always safe still marks the difference between scary fun and unpleasant panic.

WHAT DO YOU THINK IT IS ABOUT TWINS THAT MAKES THEM SO DAMN SCARY?


When I started working on Red Rain it became clear that fascination with twins and fear of twins is practically universal.

Many cultures seem to have superstitions, myths and taboos about twins. I have to say, it gave me chills when I read about how many cultures associate twins with weather - in fact, with rain and storms and floods.

For example, some Indians of British Columbia believe that twins control the weather - and they prayed to rain and wind to calm down the breath of twins.

Other tribes said that twins must be buried near wet ground because if they are buried in dry, the village will also be dry and the crops will die.

They also believed that all the wishes of twins are granted - which makes them a formidable enemy. And that's pretty much the way it goes down in Red Rain.

Many tribes in Africa have taboos about twins - some even separate the twins at birth. Others believe that twins have super powers throughout their lives.

And in many cultures, legends say that twins are either part animal (unlike other infants, they start out as animals and eventually grow into humans).

So why are twins so creepy? The best answer I got is from a psychologist who answered the question this way. She said, 'We all know that even though we are good people we have our own unseen twin inside of us. He's the evil twin who cannot be trusted. So we keep him locked up inside us, out of sight, safely hidden from the world.

Then we allow the law-abiding, go-to-work, nice twin to go into the world.

But when we see twins on the street or in the movies or even in books like Red Rain, we are scared because we see that clearly both twins are out. And since we know subconsciously what would happen if the twin who lives inside us ever got out, the mere sight of twins starts our fear alarm blasting.

Think about it. It makes sense to me.

Anyway, that's the story of Red Rain. The evil twins get out and they cause a lot of trouble - and, I hope, a lot of creepy fun.

WHAT IS THE SCARIEST THING THAT'S EVER HAPPENED TO YOU?


My wife and I went away for a long weekend at a charming inn in Connecticut. When we checked in, it was immediately clear that the place was rather empty. We told ourselves that people were probably out doing sports or hiking, or seeing the sights. But that evening when we went to the inn's large dining room, it became clear we were the only guests in the whole place.

It was creepy, but it got worse. In the middle of the night, we were awakened by the sound of a key turning in the lock of our room. I called out, 'Who's there?' And someone murmured, 'My room, my room'. The next morning we were again the only guests in the dining room. No sign of our night visitor. We checked out immediately. But who knows? I might have missed my only chance to meet a ghost!

I COULDN'T WORK OUT HOW YOU WERE GOING TO END THIS BOOK. DID YOU HAVE THE ENDING IN MIND BEFORE YOU STARTED?


For all my books, I always come up with the ending first - because if I know where I am heading, the plotting and writing are easier. It puts me in control. Then my main job is make sure that I distract and fool you enough that you don't know where you are going and you can just take the ride.

WHO DO YOU MOST ADMIRE IN THE LITERARY WORLD?


My absolute favourite writer is Ray Bradbury. As a child, he showed me the vast world of creative writing and imagination and turned me into an avid reader.

Agatha Christie is a hero of mine, too, because no matter how many of her books you read, she always fools you.

PG Wodehouse is simply the best plotter ever - and hilariously funny.

My other favorite is Vladimir Nabokov - a great genius but also a great comic writer. I think Pale Fire is the funniest book I have ever read.

WHAT ARE THE MAIN INGREDIENTS FOR WRITING A HORROR NOVEL?


Worry, shock, surprise and humour.

Worry: a good horror book or film makes you worry right from the beginning. Either you've seen something bad that's going to be trouble for your main characters, or things are too nice, which makes you think something really unspeakable is going to happen. However the writer does it, the readers have to worry about the main characters - and the readers have to worry for themselves. Waiting to see the monster is much scarier than actually seeing it.

Shock is the close-your-eyes-and-scream moment that you always remember. A friend of mine was so scared when she saw Jaws in a movie theatre that she bent down to avoid seeing the shark - and broke her nose on the seat in front of her. Now that's a good response to shock!

Surprise comes either from a plot twist or from a development that is so out there that you just go with it and enjoy.

Humour: to me, horror and humour are close bedfellows. If you jump out of the dark and shout, 'Boo!' at someone, he or she will scream - and then laugh. The two are always close. And as a writer, the way you set up a scare is just like setting up a punchline for a joke.

WHY DO YOU THINK THE GOOSEBUMPS AND FEAR STREET SERIES WERE, AND CONTINUE TO BE, SO POPULAR?


You know, I have been asking kids the same question for years, and they all say the same thing: 'We like to be scared'. And I think that's the basic appeal. The books are scary but not disturbing.

I love working on Goosebumps and Fear Street because the readers are so communicative.

They write wonderful, touching letters - also furious ones. Letters that make me feel so proud and happy and letters that bring me back down to Earth. A few recent ones: 'Dear R.L. Stine, You are my second favourite writer'.

'Dear R.L. Stine, I like your books, but how come the endings never make any sense?'.


 


WIN!!

We have a copy of R.L. Stine's new book, Red Rain to give away. Send your name and contact details to competitions@apn.co.nz by October 25.

- Hamilton News

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