The bestselling author you read as a kid on how he’s made scary stories his life’s work, as told to Jen Doll.
(Image credit: Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 3.0.)
All I ever wanted to be was a writer. I started when I was 9. I’d be in my room writing little joke magazines, and I would bring them to school. I was a shy, fearful kid, and it was my way of getting attention. People always ask, “Did you have any teachers who encouraged you?” and the right answer is, “Yes, I did.” But I didn’t. They begged me to stop!
These days, I read the paper and get to work at about 9:30 every morning in my apartment. It’s the world’s best commute. I write 2,000 words and usually finish by 2:30 p.m. I walk the dog, go to the gym, and take a nap. That’s it. It’s a full life.
The challenge is coming up with new ideas. I’ve done every scary thing you can possibly do. I met Stephen King at the Edgar Awards and he said, “You’ve taken every single amusement park plot and haven’t left any for anyone else.”
I’m lucky. When I need a new idea, I get one. But it’s mysterious to me. People say, “R.L. Stine has the formula.” I wish I knew the formula. I don’t think there is one.
About every Goosebumps book has to take place in some kid’s backyard, or the kitchen, or the basement. It’s scarier for kids if it starts in their own house or neighborhood. Some writers make a mistake; they want to do something creepy, so they pick a huge dark castle in Europe, but kids don’t relate to that.
I don’t get scared. I watched this horror movie, It Follows. It just made me laugh; they all do. I think horror is funny. That’s the combination kids like: books that are funny and scary at the same time, but not too scary.
I don’t read much horror. A few Stephen King books are absolutely brilliant. I think Misery is the best book ever written about writers and editors. Pet Sematary, I’ve stolen that plot about six times. I had to—it’s just so good.
Planning a book is the only time I get stuck. I can do a Goosebumps outline, which is 25 to 30 chapters,…