Submitted by Simsbury Public Schools
Children’s book author R.L. Stine has sold over 350 million books, making him one of the best-selling children's authors in history. His Goosebumps and Fear Street series has been read all over the world, but more significantly, they were a part of the childhoods of a group of Advanced Placement (AP) English students at Simsbury High School, who got the opportunity to meet this master of the horror genre on October 11th.
Stine was in town for the Mark Twain House & Museum’s “Mark My Words” event that evening, a forum about writing and publishing with three authors, Steve Berry, Sandra Brown and Stine. The event was hosted by Simsbury High School, but it was the English Department’s AP classes who got up close and personal with the author during an informal session in the school’s Amphitheater.
This was an exciting week for Stine, whose very first novel for adult audiences, Red Rain, debuted on October 9th. After 20 years of Goosebumps, he shared his reason for writing the book as simply, “My audience grew up.”
Stine began his talk with a short story, the last line of which revealed a surprising twist. He used the story as an example of his practical approach to the business of writing. “I think of the punchline first,” he said, “and then think of a story to go with it.”
Many students were surprised to find that Stine, despite being dressed head to toe all in black and adopting a calculatedly dour expression, was extremely witty. They were also surprised about Stine’s methodical, almost formulaic approach to the creative process. He explained that he creates a chapter-by-chapter outline for each book. Then there is a lot of revising. The similarity of what is required in a high school English class to what a real writer does did not escape these students.
With many of the members of the audience aspiring writers themselves, Stine took the opportunity to dispel some myths about their future profession. He admitted that his career began not as the children’s horror author he would eventually be. When he was told he might be a good children’s book author, he gave it a shot despite his lack of experience, attributing the turn in his career to a “happy accident.” He confessed, “I didn’t know anything about being scary. I really just wanted to be funny.”
The vision of the author typing in a frenzy into the wee hours was put to rest as well. He said he writes 10 pages per day until he reaches 120 for a Goosebumps book. All of his typing is done with one finger, he explained, dramatically holding the digit aloft. He remarked, “That finger goes, there goes my career.”
Stine allowed plenty of time at the end of his talk to answer questions. One student asked how he came up with his ideas. “Never from dreams like most people think,” he noted, adding wistfully, “Last night I dreamed I ate a Snickers bar.”
At the end of the question and answer session, a spontaneous line formed as students queued up to have a few words with Stine and sign autographs. SHS senior Nadia Gilbert came prepared with two Goosebumps books from her childhood for the author to autograph. SHS English Department Supervisor Ken Pera commented, “It was exciting to see the students react to meeting an author who had influenced so many of their childhoods.”
One student asked Stine if he ever forgot that he wrote something. He chuckled, “I’ve written 300 books. It’s hard to remember them all.”
Unlike R.L. Stine’s capacity to recall the details of all of his work, these Simsbury High School students will not soon forget their amazing encounter with a writer who was responsible for more than a few nights sleeping with the light on.
For information on R.L. Stine, you can visit his website at www.rlstine.com.