T’was the night after Halloween, when all through the town, the jack-o'-lanterns had dimmed and the candy been downed. Yet at the Phoenix Orpheum Theatre, the spooky spirit was still to be found.
On Friday, Nov. 1, iconic children’s horror author R. L. Stine took the stage to the delight of more than 600 children, parents and community members whose enthusiasm for his work spanned generations. Over the course of an hour, Stine regaled the audience with a reading of fellow children’s author Shel Silverstein’s poem “Haunted,” fan letters, stories from his own life and answers to their most burning questions.
Stine’s visit was made possible through a collaboration between Arizona State University’s Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, Phoenix Fan Fusion, Changing Hands Bookstore and Burton Barr Central Library. He is one of this year's featured speakers in the Piper Center's Distinguished Visiting Writers Series.
ASU Dean of Humanities Jeffrey Cohen, no stranger to the genre himself, introduced Stine with a story about his daughter, who he said was “addicted” to the author’s internationally best-selling series “Goosebumps.” According to Cohen, he awoke one night to his daughter standing over him, watching him sleep. If that weren’t creepy enough, she then proceeded to recount to him the frightening things she’d read that were keeping her awake.
After putting her back to bed, Cohen snuggled back up in his own — only to find himself now wide awake with fear.
“He owes me a lot for the insomnia,” Cohen said of Stine, adding more seriously that it’s just further proof of how Stine “has taught us over and over again how powerful the written word is.”
Ironically, despite his unmatched success as a children’s horror author (Stine was the best-selling author in America for three years in a row, from 1993–95, and Guinness World Records cited him as the best-selling series author in history), Stine never wanted to be scary.
“That was an editor’s idea,” he said. “So to be sitting here today is unbelievable to me.”
Stine initially wrote funny books for children and later created the humor magazine “Bananas,” which Cohen subscribed to. His affinity for joking around came through often at Friday’s event; almost no anecdote ended without a punchline.
In greeting the crowd, Stine told them he was especially glad to be there, considering he’d just come from a book signing in New Jersey where the kids thought he was dead.
Though he never foresaw a future in writing horror, Stine did always want to be a writer. More accurately, he wanted to be a comic book author, but he couldn’t draw. So instead, he spent whole days in his room as a child typing on a typewriter, and his mother would yell at him to go outside and play.
“That was the worst advice I ever got,” he said.
Thankfully, he didn’t listen. As Stine got older, he went from being a “comic book freak” to reading Ray Bradbury and other sci-fi and fantasy authors.
The most common question Stine is asked is where he gets his ideas from. Fair enough, seeing as how he has published literally hundreds of books. He doesn’t have a good answer, though; he’s never seen a ghost (but he’s always looking) and the only book to ever be inspired by a real life experience is “The Haunted Mask.”
As the story goes, Stine’s son Matt was very young when he tried on a green, rubber Frankenstein mask and couldn’t get it off. Stine joked that instead of helping his son, he ran to make note of his idea.
He also enforces a strict policy of writing 10 pages a day.
“Sometimes it feels like I’m writing uphill,” Stine said, but he knows he can always go back and make it better later.
And he’s showing no signs of slowing down. Recently, Stine saw his comic book dreams come true when he partnered with artists Kelly and Nichole Matthews to publish the first of a new four-volume graphic novel horror series, “Just Beyond.” And next summer will see the release of three movies based on books from his “Fear Street” series.
Asked if he would ever consider writing for adults, Stine was resolute: “No.”
“Why would anyone want to?” he asked. “I have the best audience there is.”
Top photo: Prolific children's horror author R. L. Stine speaks to a crowd of more than 600 children, parents and community members Friday, Nov. 1, at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now
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