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R.L. Stine on Reviving Fear Street and Why He Loves Twitter

Photo: Andy Kropa/Getty

Nineties-era nostalgists are celebrating the news that Fear Street, R.L. Stine’s sprawling classic horror series for teens — which ran from 1989 to 2005 and has sold 80 million copies — will be making a comeback. Starting in October, 2014, three new books will be released in hardcover by Thomas Dunne Books, a division of St. Martin’s Press. For that, we can thank the Internet. Stine is an avid Twitter user, and that’s exactly the medium through which he connected with Kat Brzozowski, an associate editor at Thomas Dunne, who had long been interested in doing “a Fear Street for the 21st century” and who is now actually doing Fear Street for the 21st century.

“It’s a dream come true for me to work with him,” Brzozowski told me. “Fear Street was one of the reasons I wanted to work in publishing; they’re one of the things that kicked off the Y.A. phenomenon.” The new books will be targeted to the Y.A. market, but a “huge crossover appeal” is also expected, as evidenced by the aftermath of the announcement of Fear Street’s return: The publisher collected 25 pages of euphoric response tweets from teens and adults; some of the latter hope to introduce the new books to their own kids. This week, I spoke to Stine about his Halloween plans, how it feels to be “too old to play yourself” in the movie, and what we can expect from Fear Street, the next generation.

I just saw a clip of you telling ghost stories in a cemetery for the Texas Book Festival!
Yes! Five hundred people came to a graveyard in Austin at night. Kids and adults. They all sat on the grass and I told a couple of “true” ghost stories I made up.

This is your time of year. What were your Halloween week plans?
On Monday, I did an [NPR] game show in Brooklyn called Ask Me Another, [recorded live] at the Bell House. Tuesday was The Takeaway on NPR, and Wednesday, I was at Scholastic taking over Facebook and Twitter, and judging Halloween costumes. On Halloween, I’m usually out running around, making appearances and scaring people. If I am home, we drag out the human skeleton from my office for a little atmosphere, and we always give out candy — and books. Next week everyone forgets about me.

Let’s talk about the return of Fear Street, which I — among others — am very excited about. How did that come about?
I’d wanted to go back for quite a while and do more Fear Street, but the original publisher, Simon & Schuster, wasn’t interested. They have hundreds of them. They put them out in collections; they did a thing called Temptation last summer, so they weren’t interested. We tried some other places, and everyone said, “That name is too young now, Y.A. has changed, things have moved on.” One publisher worried that Fear Street is too young; others said, “We need dystopian, we need paranormal.” Meanwhile, I’m on Twitter all day, and it’s all my old readers from the nineties, now in their twenties and thirties, who are on Twitter. More than any other subject they ask me about Fear Street. They’re saying, I can’t find them, why don’t you do more, we want a Fear Street movie … Finally, I was just honest. I said, “Look, I’m glad you’re interested, but it’s not going to happen, there are no publishers who are interested in that.”

You tweeted that? When did this happen?
I tweeted that; this happened five or six months ago. A short while later, I get this tweet from a woman, Kat Brzozowski, and she says, “I love Fear Street, and I’m an editor at St. Martin’s.” I tweeted her back and said I’d love to talk. She and my wife, Jane, whose company Parachute Press owns Fear Street, and I had lunch, and we had a great time. There was a contract immediately. Kat bought three new Fear Street books.

The first of those comes out next October. Can you tell us about it?
It’s called Party Games. It’s about girl named Rachel, who Brendan Fear invites along with a bunch of other people to the Fear’s summerhouse on Fear Island, in the middle of a lake. They’re 17, in high school. It’s Halloween time, and they’re reopening the summerhouse just for this party. Brendan invents games, he loves games, and one by one the guests start getting murdered — every murder is attached to a game. One girl is found all folded up and there’s a note that says, “Twister, anyone?” They’re trapped on an island, and there’s a killer there who wants to kill everyone.

That sounds perfectly terrifying. And the one after that?
One will be about cheerleaders, I think. Everyone loves the Fear Street cheerleaders. I think it will be set at camp. I haven’t decided on the next.

Will this round of books be different from the originals?
They’ll be longer; that’s what they wanted. The old ones were about 150 pages. People like long books now! I write short books, but Harry Potter came along, and everyone wants long books.

What has the reaction been to the news of Fear Street’s comeback?
Everyone was amazed. That’s why I love Twitter. After I retweeted the New York Times piece [announcing the news], it went on the whole night: “You’ve made my life! Something to live for, I can’t wait to re-live my childhood!” Twitter is great for my ego.

Do you have a favorite early Fear Street?
One is called Switched. Every once in a while someone brings it up. It’s about two girls who go out to this magic rock in the forest and switch bodies just for the fun of it, but one of the girls has tricked the other — she’s murdered her parents, and now she’s in the other girl’s body. The first girl goes back, finds the parents have been murdered, and can’t get her own body back. There’s also Silent Night, that’s a Christmas one. Reva Dalby is the daughter of a guy who owns the big department store in Shadyside. She’s rich and mean and terrible to her poor cousins, and everyone hates her. She was really fun to write.

All the new ones will be set in the same town, Shadyside?
It will be exactly the same. I got out the old map of the town. It’s all coming back to me. I’m really enjoying it.

Will we see any old characters again?
Probably not, since we’re in the future now. Unless we go back. We did the Fear Street sagas, about the Fear family and how they got cursed. If we go back and do some of that, we’ll see some of those old characters.

What are some most memorable Fear Street moments?
The one thing on Twitter everyone brings up is when the boy puts his hand in the garbage disposal and they turn it on. I don’t remember which book it is! He pulls up this bloody stump. And there’s one with the cheerleader Corky Corcoran. She’s locked in the showers, and they all come on and are scalding hot, and she scalds to death.

How many teenagers have you killed off at this point?
[Laughs] Probably a few hundred.

You’re simultaneously still writing Goosebumps, too, right?
I’ve got a bunch of new Goosebumps. I just finished one for next October called Zombie Halloween. And there’s been more talk about the Goosebumps movie. The question is, who would play me in the movie? [Jack Black is reportedly in negotiations for the role.] I thought Daniel Day-Lewis [Laughs]. Some very nice people on Twitter said I should play myself. My wife told me, “You’re too old to play yourself.” Jen, I’m 70 years old, how did that happen? It’s gruesome. For my birthday this year, this birthday cake comes out. It’s green and purple like Goosebumps, and on top of the cake is a picture of Jack Black, and it says “Too Old to Play Yourself.” Jane did it! [Laughing]

That’s hilarious. That will keep you young.
I write books for kids, that helps! Working is highly overrated, though. Why am I doing more Fear Street? It’s very weird. Someone once asked me, “How long can you go without writing?” I said I can maybe take ten days off, go on vacation, and then I have to get back to it. He said, “See, it’s an addiction.” I honestly wouldn’t know what to do all day without it.

R.L. Stine on Reviving Fear Street