Beloved horror author R.L. Stine, who became famous for his scary kids’ series in the 1990s, is still giving us Goosebumps. Fans who have grown up with Stine’s popular books have a new title to get thrilled about, Red Rain, an adult horror novel the author wrote just for them. The book follows the life of a travel writer who finds herself on a small island off the coast of South Carolina following a devastating hurricane. After finding twin orphans on the island, she adopts them and brings them to her home in New York, where her husband and two children are awaiting her return. Strange things start happening in classic R.L. Stine fashion, as the twins’ evil intentions are revealed. Reader Beware…
Biography.com caught up with R.L.Stine who told us about his comic start as a writer, how his career turned scary good and gave us a peek at what lurks inside the pages of his newest book.
Q: Did you always want to write?
Stine: I always just wanted to be funny. I never really planned to be scary. I really wanted to be a cartoonist, and I was in 4th or 5th grade and I would bring my drawings in, and I’d look around, and everyone could draw better than me. Everyone. My drawings were just awful. So that’s why I had to write. I started writing when I was 9 years old. I was like this weird kid who would just stay in my room, typing little funny magazines and drawing comic strips.
Q: What influenced your early writing?
Stine: One of my earliest influences were those horror comics back in the ’50s—Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror—all of these really gruesome comics. I just loved them because they were scary and funny at the same time, which is sort of what I ended up doing.
Q: Who has inspired you?
Stine: Oh, a million people. But the very first writer that inspired me was Ray Bradbury. I discovered his stories when I was 9 or 10 years old. Those were the first books I ever read—up until then, I had only read comic books—and I just loved his stuff. Because of him, I started reading all kinds of science-fiction authors. I also started reading fantasy and ghost stories and fairy tales. Rod Serling was also a real hero of mine—I never missed The Twilight Zone.
Q: How did you get started as a professional writer?
Stine: When I went to Ohio State [University], in those days, every college had their own humor magazine. And Ohio State had this magazine called The Sundial, which has been around since the turn of the 20th century—James Thurber worked on it back in 1917—and I was editor of that humor magazine for three years. That’s all I did in college. I hardly went to class. I just put out this funny magazine. And I was so happy. My ambition in life was really to have my own national humor magazine; I was a magazine person.
Later, I got a job as assistant editor of Junior Scholastic magazine. I stayed at Scholastic for 16 years, and my wife worked beside me, and we ended up doing these kids’ magazines in the ’70s and ’80s. I did a humor magazine called Bananas for 10 years, and it was just funny.
Q: How did you begin writing horror?
Stine: [Bananas] folded and they fired me. Then I had lunch with this friend from Scholastic, and she said, “I need a scary novel, I bet you could write a scary novel for teens. Go home and write a book called Blind Date.” It wasn’t my idea, but I was at that point in my career where you say “yes” to everyone. It took me three months to write Blind Date, and when it came out, it was a No. 1 best-seller. I finally thought, “Wow, I struck a cord here. I found something kids really like. I’ve got to do more of this.”
Q: What inspired you to write ‘Red Rain’?
Stine: This is why I wrote this book: I hear from my ’90s readers all the time; I hear from them on Twitter every day, and I love this audience. I mean, these were my kids back in the ’90s, and I try to keep in touch with them. All day long, they’re saying, “We loved your books when we were kids. Please write something for us.” And really, that was a big impetus for doing this book. I thought, “OK, my audience grew up, I should try and reach out to them again.”
Q: Where did you get your ideas for ‘Red Rain’?
Stine: I wanted to do an old-fashioned horror novel, and I thought people would find it ironic if I did a book about evil kids. So I watched these three movies, Village of the Damned, Children of the Damned and Islands of the Damned, and all of them feature really evil kids and really naive adults who don’t realize how awful the kids are. And then, the more I thought about it, I realized that people find twins scary. I mean, a lot of horror has been written about twins. And the more I did research about twins, [I found that] there are all of these cases where people—it goes back all through time—have been superstitious about twins. In some cases, they would separate them immediately because they thought twins were bad luck. In other cases, people thought twins could control the weather. That research led me to [begin writing] Red Rain.
Q: How did you come up with the title for this book?
Stine: The title came later, after I wrote the book, which is very odd for me. I never get an idea and then think of a title; I always start with a title. I think of a good title and then I can work from there; the title leads me to a good story. But this was different. I didn’t really know the title. This was also a much longer book and much more involved. I had to do research for the first time in my life, and then I discovered that there really was a blood rain. A blood rain really did happen in this village in Africa, and it terrified everyone. The rain started coming down and the raindrops were bright red, and it was never explained.
Q: What sets this book apart from your past work?
Stine: I wanted a challenge. Goosebumps has been a lot of fun, but I wanted to make things hard for myself. This book takes place on this island where I’ve never been, so I had to do research and figure out what the island looks like, and learn about plant life and animal life. I had to write about this island without being there, which was a challenge—something I never do. Also, all of my kids’ books are told in first person by one narrator; they’re all from one close point-of-view. And that’s why they’re scary: Everything happens through this character’s eyes; everything happens to this one character. So I wanted to see if I could do that with several characters, writing several points-of-view, which I had never done before. That was a big change for me. But, of course, just the fact that I’m writing for adults is a big change.
Q: What do you have in store for the future?
Stine: Right now, I’m very eager to see how Red Rain does. But I am working on a young-adult book for next year. I haven’t written a young-adult book in years. I’m also doing six Goosebumps books a year now. The new series is called Goosebumps Most Wanted. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Goosebumps, so it’s a celebration year.
Q: You mentioned before that you always wanted to start up a humor magazine. Do you ever think you’ll do that in the future?
Stine: No, I have to be scary now. I have to be a scary guy.