Yeah, We’re Talking About R.L. Stine By: Zachary Petit Something about R.L. Stine freaks me out. It’s not that he acts nothing like you might assume, though he is wearing all black. He’s funny and charming, and his amiable character throws kids off on school visits: “They expect someone with fangs, wearing a cape,” he says.
It’s not that nobody calls him “R.L.” except book jackets. (He goes by Bob.) Its not even that he has written some 300–400 books (!), and has sold more than 350 million in his Goosebumps series alone, making him at one point the bestselling children’s series author of all time. (He’s now No. 2, right behind J.K. Rowling.)
No, it’s how he writes the things that freaks me out: He begins with the titles.“That’s the inspiration!” he says with a laugh. “You want to know where ideas come from—for me, they come from the title.”
For instance, he was walking his dog around New York City, and he thought, Little Shop of Hamsters. It just popped into his head. He liked it, so he came up with a story to bring it to life—What can I do to make hamsters scary? OK, a boy goes into a strange pet shop. It’s all hamsters, and there’s something wrong with one of them …
“Most authors I know work backwards,” he says. “I can’t do it.” So, I decide to conduct an experiment: I’m going to be like Stine. I’m going to work backward, and I’m not going to write a word of my article about him until I’ve got the perfect title, one I can build a story around. Simple enough for a little profile, right? And without knowing it, I’ve fallen into the trap of R.L. Stine, the trap of writing for kids, maybe the trap of writing anything: It all looked so damn easy.