By Dawn Ius
It started with a tweet.
A one-hundred-forty-character plea from a fan asking R.L. Stine to revive the sprawling creeptastic series that vaulted the FEAR STREET author from funny man to “the Stephen King of children’s literature.”
For Stine, the request came as quite a shock. It had been more than fifteen years since he’d abandoned the harrowing halls of Shadyside High School, leaving behind nearly one-hundred books that have sold more than eighty million copies worldwide.
“Before I knew it, a whole bunch of people started tweeting me with the same request,” he says. Fans of all ages began reminiscing about gory deaths, favorite characters, and the books they’d dug out of their basements and passed on to younger generations. “These kids grew up on FEAR STREET and to my surprise, they wanted more of it.”
The twitter campaign got Stine seriously thinking about reviving the series. He shopped it around, but despite the ongoing success of GOOSEBUMPS, a handful of movie and TV options, and a couple of adult novels under his belt, he couldn’t find any takers for a FEAR STREET revival. Publishers felt the genre had changed too much, the titles were too young, young readers had moved on—Stine almost gave up.
“One night on Twitter, I decided to be honest,” he says. “I told my followers that I would love to do more FEAR STREET books, but it wasn’t going to happen. No publishers are interested in it.”
A short while later, he received a tweet from Kat Brzozowski, an ambitious editor with St. Martin’s Press.
“She said, ‘I’m an editor and I am very interested in doing more FEAR STREET books.’”
They met for lunch, and much to readers’ delight, the publisher bought six new books.
“It’s really pretty amazing how the whole thing happened,” Stein says, noting that he’s fully embraced Twitter, quickly amassing more than one-hundred-thousand followers. “It’s a really gratifying way to keep in touch with my fan base. It feeds my ego.”
And, a strong example of how social media has changed the publishing industry.
As for the FEAR STREET series, Stine says he won’t have to change—much.
“Basic fears don’t change,” he says. “There are still the same monsters under the bed. People are still afraid of the dark. Readers have evolved and technology has changed, but the basics are still there. I just need to add a bit of intensity.”
But not too much.
The FEAR STREET brand is built on what parents, librarians, and young readers have come to expect as “safe scares”— a little more conservative than what you might see on the market today in teen horror.
That doesn’t mean they lack fear factor. The series is known for its twists and turns, heart-pounding cliffhangers, gruesome events and, in some cases, an infusion of the supernatural.
Stine admits he doesn’t quite understand the zombie apocalypse currently sweeping pop culture. “Zombies are boring as characters,” he says. “You can’t disguise them as humans. There’s really not much that can be done with them.”
Bloodsuckers on the other hand, are a different story. “Vampires are sexy. Interesting. I understand that phenomenon.”
Stine’s real challenge won’t be in developing the stories or characters, but rather in not repeating the individual elements that make each book unique, such as new chapter endings, which he likens to punch lines. A fitting analogy for an author who started his career writing comedy.
“All I ever wanted was to be funny,” he says.
And for a while “Jovial Bob Stine” was just that. In his early career, he penned more than a dozen joke books for kids and created a humor magazine for teenagers called BANANAS. A chance meeting with an editor led to his first horror novel contract, BLIND DATE. It debuted a bestseller.
“I’ve been scary ever since,” he says. “To me, there’s a very close connection between humor and horror. I always go to a horror movie and laugh—sometimes I feel cheated that I don’t have the same reactions others have. I don’t get scared.”
Except when diving into a swimming pool.
Water phobias aside, Stine says he’s embraced the “scary” and enjoys seeing growth in a market once reserved for teen romances. When FEAR STREET entered the scene back in 1986, there were only a handful of horror writers. He’s thrilled to remain in the game.
And, after a long FEAR STREET hiatus, Stine admits he’s looking forward to further exploring the dark mysteries and misadventures of the students at ShadySide High School.
Starting in October 2014, three new FEAR STREET books will be released in hardcover, beginning with PARTY GAMES, a book about a girl named Rachel who Brendan Fear invites, along with a bunch of other friends, to the Fear’s summerhouse on Fear Island. One by one, those guests get murdered.
After that, Stine says he’ll probably revisit the ShadySide cheerleaders. “Everyone loves the FEAR STREET cheerleaders,” he says.
Fans of Stine’s popular GOOSEBUMPS series need not fear—he has no plans of abandoning that popular ship any time soon. Everything just gets added to an extensive list of “books to be written.”
“I’m sort of a machine,” he says. “I treat writing just like a job and write two-thousand words, five to six times a week. I’m just cut out for this, I guess—it’s all I’ve really ever been good at.”
Plus, he’s fast. Stine says a typical FEAR STREET book takes about two to three weeks to write (minus one from the late 80s that he penned in just eight days.) The secret to his productivity, he says, is thorough plotting.
“You can’t get writer’s block if you do that much planning,” he says. “Once I’ve finished the outline, I can just enjoy writing the story.”
Which is the advice he gives new writers—young and old.
“I try not to give kids real writing advice,” he says. “Other than don’t send it to publishers, because nobody publishes kids. And I think kids who are going to be writers already know what they want to do.”
As for adults, his advice is a little more pointed. “Figure out your audience. Go into a bookstore and pinpoint where your book belongs, where it will fit on the shelf. It drives me crazy when authors talk about writing for themselves, or writing from the heart. I’ve never written a single word from my heart—why would I? I write to entertain people. To tell a great, scary story.”
A legion of FEAR STREET fans couldn’t agree more.
To learn more, please visit his website.