Sometimes I get sent books unsolicited and they are books I really want and I get excited. I have gotten hooked on quite a few series (I can elaborate in comments below) because of these unsolicited books. And then there are those times where I go, "Really? You thought I'd like a book titled "How to find the perfect husband"? And then I was sent a second copy of that one a week or so later. Yes, really.
I mention this to introduce this book and this piece since it requires a bit of explanation. It is the first novel by author R.L. Stine intended for adults, as opposed to ones scary enough to be enjoyed by children. Stine has scared many kids - OK, and sometimes their parents and other adults - with his Goosebumps series and other books.
While I had not actually read any of Stine's books my girlfriend, Penny Crisp, is a fan of the author. She agreed to help me with what was intended to be a direct interview with the author but instead, due to the author's popularity, became a beast of another sort. Put simply, we both read the book and then sent Stine our combined questions via email but his publicist who later said he didn't have enough time to do individual interviews so he was sending out a mass interview we (those thinking we were interviewing him directly) could use. So we'll do so shortly.
But first a comment or two about the book, and I confess this may come off more snarky than it would have had the author and publicist done the interview as promised. The book has potential and is scary and freaky in parts. But there are also sections which seemed designed purely to titillate. It was as if he decided, knowing this one was being targeted for adults, that he decided "I must create some sex scenes" and they feel very staged and unnecessary.
The book acknowledgment includes this comment which is one of the things we asked about but did not get the pleasure of his response. Namely, "Finally, I need to mention three old horror movies: Village of the Damned, Children of the Damned, and Island of the Damned. While this book is not a re imagining of those films, the horrifying children in all three of them gave me the inspiration that disgusting evil children might be a fitting subject for me."
I asked Penny her thoughts on the book and she basically said this was below par for Stine. That said, she liked it more than I did as she explains below.
She wrote, "When my niece was younger she both read and watched the "Goosebumps" series. I heartily admit that I enjoyed them just as much as she did. We began reading Mr. Stein in our house because my niece was having trouble with reading in school. Having a hand in teaching her how to read, I knew I had taught her how to read so it wasn't a shortage on ability. After some inquiry the answer lied in the material the teacher wanted them to read, she simply had no interest. In my family we are horror movie fanatics, this includes my niece who even at an early age loved the thrill of a good scare. After a little footwork and research, I found R.L. Stine. I took her to the bookstore and we found the Goosebumps series. As she began picking them up you could see her face light up and a glint of excitement come into her eyes, (I thought to myself "YES!"). "Aunt Penny, can you buy me this book?". Sweeter words I'd never heard. As an avid reader myself I soon realized I had her hooked when we were on our 4th book.
"To my surprise the stories were always quite good, they had twists, and plot and most of all children using their brains, imagination and having the ability to be a hero.
"Therefore when I saw Scott had gotten an R.L. Stine book and asked "Why did they send you a children's book?" The answer was, they hadn't - it was a new book geared toward adults. I'm fairly sure the same look of excitement my niece had at her first Stine book came into my eyes some twenty years later...I immediately asked if I could read it, I was so excited! We then got the idea to both read it and Scott has graciously allowed me to step on his interviewing toes to help out. I am both honored and thrilled. So what did you, Penny, a fan of R.L. Stine think of the book you may ask?
"I found it really quite good, it had a wonderful nod to "The Children of the Damned" series in horror movies. He has managed to create a couple of children that frankly had me a little freaked out. Certainly evil children is not a new idea among horror, but Mr. Stine has managed to put his unique twist on the main characters that will make you see children a little differently the whole time you are reading the book.
"It is smart and moves along fairly rapidly. As a matter of fact, at the end I thought, well I could use some more. (Never a bad sign). Mr. Stine has taken all of our "normal" usual fears and weaved them into some supernatural fear and superstition to create quite a nice first adult book. I look forward to his next one and hopefully many more."
And with that let's get to the interview. I'm going to include our questions and his answers but again I remind you the answers he
provided were not directly for us but were sent to a bunch of writers. As a result where necessary I've altered the wording on our questions to fit his answers.
What is the new book about?
A devastating hurricane destroys almost all of a tiny Outer Banks island.
Lea Sutter, a young travel blogger, steps out into the devastation the next day, wanders toward the ocean—and finds herself in a powerful rainstorm.
To her shock, the raindrops are red. She thinks: This is the blood of all the victims raining down on the island. Stepping out of the curtains of rain come two beautiful blond twelve-year-old twin boys. They say they are now homeless and parentless. Lea falls under their spell and brings them home with her to her family in Long Island. The reader knows that these boys are supernaturally evil, but Lea and her husband Mark are clueless—until the hideous murders begin.
What made you want to transition into adult novels? Do you plan to write more books aimed at 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 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 it freeing to write a book aimed at adults instead of young adults?
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.
Is there a line you won't cross in your books?
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.
Why are twins 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 believed 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.
Would you be surprised to know that you now have an adult fan base due to your Goosebumps stories? Why do you think the Goosebumps and Fear Street series were and continue to be so popular? What do you enjoy most about working on them?
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 favorite writer.
Dear R.L. Stine … I like your books, but how come the endings never make any sense?
What's next on the agenda for you?
I am writing six Goosebumps books a year. The newest series is called Goosebumps: Most Wanted. I am very proud of The Haunting Hour TV show which is seen every Saturday on the Hub TV Network. As to a new adult book, I guess it will depend on who asks me… and typically, how much of a fight I put up…before I say yes.
What is your favorite Goosebumps book? What is your favorite book in the Fear Street series?
My favorite Fear Streets are the Silent Night books because they star Reva Dalby. She was the meanest character I ever created… so much fun to write. I also love the Cheerleader books. Everyone seems to remember what happened to Corky in the shower. Yuck.
My favorite Goosebumps book is The Haunted Mask. That’s why I did a new Haunted Mask book to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Goosebumps. It’s called Wanted: The Haunted Mask, and it’s the first hardcover Goosebumps novel ever… and I think it’s one of the best.