It's a safe bet that anyone who grew up in the '90s has been frightened by R.L. Stine at one point or another. The mastermind behind the hugely successful Fear Street series, which sold more than 80 million copies during its run, as well as the iconic Goosebumps series, was responsible for introducing a generation of kids to horror novels.
Now, Stine is back and resurrecting the Fear Street franchise with an all new book Party Games (out Sept. 30), in order to scare a whole new generation of teens (as well as some now-grown long-time fans). TIME spoke with Stine about the original series, spending time on Twitter and why it's okay for adults to read YA.
TIME: When you started writing Fear Street books back in 1989, what was your motivation for writing a horror series about teenagers?
R.L. Stine: I had been funny up until then. I never really planned to write horror. I had done one horror novel for teenagers called Blind Date and it was number one on Publisher’s Weekly best-seller list. I thought, Wait a minute, what’s going on here? Because I had never been close to that list before! I thought, Wait, I think I've stumbled onto something here that kids really like. And that's when we decided we'd try to do a monthly series.
Horror has a lot of sub-genres. How would you classify Fear Street’s brand of horror?
It was teens in terror. And in the beginning, we didn't even kill anyone. We started off kinda slow but then I discovered that everyone loves to see teenagers get killed. They love that!
But I would say about half the Fear Streets were supernatural. Or they would just be horrible dilemmas. One of the very early ones I remember was called Missing, [where] these two teenagers come home from school and their parents never come home. They've vanished. At first they think it's great, but after a night or two they get really worried. And they call where their parents work and they've never heard of them their. So they realize something really bizarre is going on. There are a lot of stories like that.
And then there was this whole historical aspect of Fear Street. We did the first trilogy of the Fear Street saga — those were three of the best books, I think. They were the most popular. It went back in history, all the way back to the colonial days and how Fear Street became Fear Street, this cursed place. There were the two families, the Fears and the Goodes, and this horrible wicked feud they had over generation after generation. And so we had this real back-story.
Why did you stop the series? And what made you decide to bring Fear Street back?
Well, I thought I had killed off enough teenagers. I did about 80 of them and we had a spin-off series and the sagas. I just wanted to do something new. I'd sort of run out of stories. And now I see horror is popular again in many ways. I always think that in scary times horror becomes popular.
Why do you think that is?
I think it's just a way that people [deal] with anxiety about the real world. I think now, well, it's not a great time. There's not a lot of good news. I think it's led to the real resurgence in horror.
Also, I'm on Twitter and everyone on Twitter, they're all in their twenties and thirties, and they've been begging me to bring Fear Street back.
What do they say?
Oh, “we loved your books when we were kids” or “I wouldn't be a writer today if it wasn't for you” — I mean, wonderful things! That's why I'm there. It's really good for my ego. And I had all these people asking me for Fear Street. So one night on I just decided to be honest and I said, “You know, I thank you for all your interest in Fear Street but after all this time I really don't think any publisher would be interested.”
And then I got this tweet from Kat [Brzozowski] from [Thomas Dunne, an imprint of] St. Martin's Press who said, “Well, I'd be interested. Why don't we talk?" Like 10 minutes later! We had lunch and I said I would love to do a bunch of them. And now it's happening — all because of Twitter.
Your new book Party Games has been described as Fear Street for the 21st century. What does that mean?
People aren't walking around with Walkmans or something. I try to keep up with things, you know. [But] I think horror doesn't change. I always say the fears don't change at all. It's just the technology changes and the way we talk to people changes. But the fears — being afraid of the dark, being afraid that someone is lurking under your bed or in the closet — those things never change. So in that way, it's the same old Fear Street I think.
What kind of horror do you like to read? Who are your horror idols?
I think Stephen King is a great storyteller and I think he's written a couple of horror novels that are just amazing. Pet Semetary is just a favorite of mine. I think I've stolen that plot at least four or five times! And Misery, that's an amazing book, I think.
Then there's a Ray Bradbury book that I always recommend to kids. I think it's an amazingly underrated horror novel and it's called Something Wicked This Way Comes. It's very creepy. It's about this boy in the Midwest — and I grew up in the Midwest, I'm from Ohio — and this boy sneaks out of his house late at night and goes down to this empty lot where a carnival is setting up. He's just so excited to see this carnival being set up and he doesn't realize it's maybe the most evil place on Earth and he's being drawn into it. It's wonderful.
YA has also had a resurgence and a newfound popularity with adults. But then you have some naysayers who believe adults shouldn't be reading books for teenagers. What do you think of that?
Well it started with Harry Potter, didn't it? I think like 40% of the Harry Potter readers were adults and a huge percentage of the Twilight readers were adult women. I think it's for a couple of reasons. They're plot-driven and you get right into the story without all this extra stuff. I think a lot of adults don't have a lot of time to read or don't choose to spend a lot of time reading and these books get right to it. I think that's a big part of it. I wouldn't say don't read them. I really don't think it's a bad thing. I think it's a bad thing if kids aren't reading them. But there are just a lot of talented people in YA fiction these days.
There's also a tremendous urge not to grow up. It goes back to the world being a scary place. Most adults don't want to be adults. It's a way of prolonging childhood. This is very deep for me!
I like it! Do you ever get the feeling that by writing YA you can revel in youth?
In some ways. Writing is sort of a game for me. It's a challenge to see how many surprises I can get into a book and, at this point, how I can do stories and not repeat myself. And every one of my chapters ends in a cliffhanger, so how to come up with new chapter endings that I haven't done before.
So there will still be cliffhangers in the new books?
Yes. A lot of writers think it's a cheap gimmick, but I think it's a really good way to get kids to keep reading. That's the whole point of these books — to get people to enjoy reading. That's really all I care about. It's all about just discovering how much fun reading can be.