Chances are, if you're between the ages of 7 and 33, you've read a Goosebumps book (or a hundred), and if you're under 80, you've bought one for someone. R.L Stine's children's horror books have been scaring kids and their parents since 1992 with his monsters like Slappy the dummy, lawn gnomes, cuckoo clocks, haunted cameras, and hundreds more. But despite Stine's rise to fame in the 1990s, the 71-year-old author has never shied away from modern ways of reaching out to readers. He's a huge presence on Twitter and other social media sites, and he has recently started up projects from Wattpad, an online writing community.
R.L. Stine talked with me about his new generations of fans, the readers that have stuck with him since they were children, and how he's using social media and the Internet to find innovative ways to reach them both.
People your age, those are my kids. That's my generation right there. So it's so wonderful to keep in touch with them. At the same time it's great to be able to scare other generations, When I do a book signing, there will be 7-year-olds, 12-year-olds, 20-year-olds, 25-year-olds. It took me awhile to get used to it. I'd say [to the older fans], 'What are you doing here?!'"
When talking about how often twenty- and thirtysomethings find him on social media to tell him how much they loved his earlier books, Stine laughs: "It's good for my ego," he quips.
In fact, it's because of social media that Stine is back writing teen horror fiction series Fear Street. Fear Street, which tells scary stories of the town Shadyside, began in 1989, but Stine stopped writing original series books in 1995. That is, until recently, when Stine revived the series in 2014 with Party Games.
"My Twitter experience has been incredible," Stine said. "I wouldn't have been doing Fear Street again if it wasn't for Twitter."
Stine says that when he tweeted to a fan that he wouldn't be writing any more Fear Street books because there wasn't any interest, a representative from St. Martin's Press responded to him within 10 minutes, the author says, to tell him that their publishing house was definitely interested. Stine says he's always been open to finding new ways to talk to his readers:
I've had such a good experience with Twitter, and I've been very open to doing stuff online and on the Internet. I've been doing classroom interviews online since the very early days when you had to have a chatroom, and it was impossible to communicate, you'd be talking on the phone and typing at the same time. And I've been doing it forever because I love talking to my readers and it's a wonderful way to get to people. ... I did a Skype Interview with a TV station in Washington D.C., and I've done a Skype interview with classrooms in Singapore and Tokyo. This is an amazing time. I don't even have to wear shoes.
So it's no surprise that Stine was open to working with Wattpad in innovative projects that reached out to his generations of fans. The first two chapters of his newest Fear Street novel Don't Stay Up Late are currently available on Wattpad, but you won't even guess how it's going to end. After an Ask Me Anything, AMA, on Wattpad, Stine will choose his favorite fan questions and answer them in a totally creative way: by turning his answers into a new chapter of his story with a special dedication to the reader that asked the question.
This isn't the first creative project Stine has worked on with Wattpad. He encouraged fans to collaborate with him on his newest short story in the R.L. Stine Fill in the Fear Contest.
With Wattpad, Stine sees an opportunity for young prospective writers to talk with each other and get advice from authors. And in this new era, platforms like Wattpad can give writers new opportunities in a difficult time for publishing.
For me, on Wattpad, it's just so interesting to see the concerns of young writers just starting out. Most publishing houses, they don't have anyone to read unsolicited manuscripts. There used to be people, a staff of editorial assistants who would open the mail and look through all the manuscripts that come in. That doesn't exist any more, so you pretty much have to have an agent to get noticed, or no one will read your manuscript.
But Stine says back in the golden era of Goosebumps, his major involvement in social media would have been "too overwhelming." In the early 1990s, Stine was writing a book every two weeks, one Goosebumps and one Fear Street every single month.
I think probably I wouldn't have been able to do [social media] the way I do now because I had such a deadline burden. Also I would have been overwhelmed! We were selling 4 million Goosebumps a month — and it was amazing; none of us could believe it, none of us had any idea this would happen — but the amount of fan mail alone, snail mail, meant I had a staff of five people answering the mail. My mailman hated me. He used to take this big canvas bag of mail and just toss it into my apartment, and say, 'Return the bag when you're finished.' So if there was email or Twitter at the time it would have been too overwhelming!
Stine will choose his favorite readers questions today, April 7, and the lucky winners will receive a signed copy of the hard-copy of his Wattpad-previewed book Don't Stay Up Late. But I tried to get Stine to give me some hints on the questions that would jump out and grab him. And for someone who finds great pleasure spooking young children, R.L. Stine doesn't like to be surprised.
"Questions that I really like are all the questions I've been asked before," Stine laughs. "I hate getting new questions, because I have all my answers. I hate getting a question where I'm totally surprised or caught off guard."