STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Just as a blockbuster thriller movie leads to a sequel - more blood, more suspense, more chainsaws - a series of scary kid's books has created a market for more. The series is called "Goosebumps," and it was wildly popular in the 1990s. It sold more than 300 million copies worldwide. Now R.L. Stine and his publisher hope the fan base will buy into his new Goosebumps series called "HorrorLand." NPR's Lynn Neary reports on a drive to recapture a fan base that is still loyal and still large.
LYNN NEARY: Anyone who might think that Goosebumps is a thing of the past would have been disabused of that notion at this year's National Book Festival here in Washington, DC. Book lovers lined up all along the National Mall waiting to get autographs from their favorite authors. But late arrivals for the R.L. Stine line were out of luck
Unidentified Woman #1: R.L. Stine, keep going.
Unidentified Woman #2: You are kidding.
Unidentified Woman #3: Get into that fourth line. It's the end of R.L. Stine.
NEARY: The line stretched halfway across the National Mall, till it reached the sidewalk and then began twisting around like a snake. Anyone standing at the end had little chance of meeting the creator of "Goosebumps." For those at the front of the line, the wait was worth it.
Unidentified Boy: I have 142 of your books.
Mr. R.L. STINE (Creator, "Goosebumps"): You do not, you do not.
Unidentified Woman #4: He started writing his own series.
Unidentified Boy: I'm a big fan of you.
Mr. STINE: You - come here, you're kidding me!
NEARY: There were little kids, big kids, moms and dads even a scattering of 20-somethings nostalgic for the books of their childhood. And all of them had a favorite scary story. Here's a sampling from Jacob Meyer(ph), Roland Cunni(ph), Mary Anne Warrick(ph) and Julianna Eaton(ph).
Mr. JACOB MEYER (Fan of R.L. Stine): Oh, especially the Monster Blood Four.
NEARY: Why is that?
Mr. MEYER: Because Monster Blood Four are unlike the other Monster Bloods - they're blue creatures, and if they drink water they duplicate.
Mr. ROLAND CUNNI (Fan of R.L. Stine): My favorite is the living dummy one, "Night of the Living Dummy." Dummies looks scary to begin with, and then he had it start walking, talking and trying to hurt people, and that really made me, like, look over my shoulder.
Ms. MARY ANN WARRICK (Fan of R.L. Stine): I had nightmares with the haunted teddy bear book.
NEARY: Oh, you did? Why?
Ms. WARRICK: Because I have lots of stuffed animals, so I was afraid one of them would come alive and eat me.
NEARY: Oh, really. Did you have to put your teddy bears away for a little while or just one?
Ms. WARRICK: No.
Unidentified Woman #5: Just one.
Ms. WARRICK: Oh, yeah. Well, just one. Because it looked like it had hawk eyes.
Ms. JULIANNA EATON (Fan of R.L. Stine): One of the biggest ones for me was "The Blob That Ate Everyone" and this was just - this wasn't, like, as scary as some of the other ones. The ending was actually really comical. You read it and you just, like, started cracking up because it was like - oh, my gosh, he's crazy.
NEARY: Stine may not be crazy, but he is funny. He began his career as a humorous known as Jovial Bob Stine, and he still sees a close connection between humor and horror. Ask him about everyone's favorite scary holiday, Halloween, and he tells this story about the time his parents went to buy him a costume for trick-or-treating.
Mr. STINE: I really wanted to be something scary. I wanted to be a mummy or I wanted to be a ghost or a vampire. And they came home from the store and I opened up the box and it was a duck costume with a fuzzy yellow tail.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. STINE: I actually used the duck costume in one of my Halloween "Goosebumps" books called "The Haunted Mask," so I did make use of it later.
(Soundbite of laughter)
NEARY: Did you - were you able to scare anyone with that duck costume?
Mr. STINE: No.
(Soundbite of laughter)
NEARY: Stine's writing process is a little different from most authors. He says he begins with the title and figures out the rest from there.
Mr. STINE: Let's say I have an idea for a story and if I can't think of a good title for it, I just throw away the idea.
NEARY: Really, you just get rid of the idea?
Mr. STINE: Yeah. You never know when you get good titles, too. I was walking the dog in the park and this title popped in my head, "Say Cheese and Die." Where did that come from? It just - there it was - it was a title and it had to be something about an evil camera, right?
NEARY: It is Stine's genius for combining humor and horror that is the key to his appeal to kids, says children's book expert Anita Silvey, because kids love to be scared - but not too scared.
Ms. ANITA SILVEY (Writer and Children's Book Expert): If you can laugh about being a little bit scared, then it doesn't make it so bad when you find yourself that you are scared. So these books allow them to kind of laugh at the fear, to walk through the fear, and if it gets too much, to put it down and go get a peanut butter sandwich and be perfectly OK.
NEARY: When the "Goosebumps" books were in their heyday, some adults disapproved. They thought they were too scary, or complained the books were formulaic and not well-written. Here and there a school or library tried to ban "Goosebumps." Some adults just didn't like the books, says Silvey.
Ms. SILVEY: They were really very afraid of what effect they might have on children. And the only effect that truly they seem to have had is they got them reading and they kept them reading and they got them excited about reading. And that is a great skill of an author, to be able to get children to finish one of your books and then want to pick up another. I mean that is really what every author wants.
NEARY: Stine takes great pride in his reputation for getting kids excited about reading. He says he is constantly meeting parents who are grateful to him forgetting their kids interested in books.
Mr. STINE: Parents come up now and say, my kid never read a book in his life, and last night I caught him reading with a flashlight under the blankets at 2 a.m. So, I am very proud of that.
NEARY: Stine thinks kids are reading more than ever now and his publisher, Scholastic, certainly hopes he's right. Scholastic also published the "Harry Potter" series, and with no new Potter book in sight, revenues are down sharply and the company is cutting back. Scholastic is hoping the magic will strike again with Stine's new "Goosebumps HorrorLand" series. As for Stine, he's just happy to be doing what he loves, and what his fans want.
Mr. STINE: What am I going to be remembered for? You know, it's going to be "Goosebumps." So it's very exciting for me to be back doing it. And as far as I know, we're doing very well. Somehow the "Goosebumps" audience never really went away. It was a craze for a while, it was a, you know, enormous worldwide craze and that can never last. But the books have sold all this time even when there were no new ones coming out, which - I'm just very lucky.
NEARY: As for the kids who are reading his books, Stine says, despite all the emphasis on technology, he doesn't think they've changed much. They still like a good scare, and they still like to laugh. Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.
INSKEEP: You can read text or listen to an audio excerpt of R.L. Stine's "Revenge of the Graveyard Dummy" on our website, npr.org.
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