'Goosebumps' Forever

Article excerpt

Byline: Marlow Stern

Twenty years and 350 million copies later, R.L. Stine gets scary.

There are certain cultural artifacts that induce Proustian flashbacks in millennials--Saved by the Bell, Michael Jordan, Nickelodeon--transporting recession-plagued 20-somethings back to the halcyon '90s. Goosebumps, author R.L. Stine's wildly popular series of children's horror books, is another.

Aimed at kids ages 7-12, and initially priced at a modest $3.99 a copy, Goosebumps was a phenomenon. Huddled under the covers with flashlights, children ravenously consumed Stine's 120-page tales. Many had entire bookshelves devoted to the series.

According to Stine's publisher, Scholastic, more than 350 million Goosebumps books have been sold worldwide, making it one of the bestselling series of all-time. At its height in 1996, Goosebumps sold 4 million books a month, with Stine writing a book a month. The series became an industry unto itself--selling scores of merchandise and spawning a popular TV show that aired on the Fox Kids Network. Forbes estimated that in 1996-97 Stine pulled in $41 million, making him one of America's highest-paid writers.

To mark the series' 20th anniversary (the first book, Goosebumps: Welcome to Dead House, was published in July 1992), I visited Stine at his spacious New York apartment to talk about the books' legacy.

"One magazine called me 'a training bra for Stephen King.' I didn't really like that," says Stine, with a chuckle. "You don't want to be called a training bra." While his books give readers the chills, Stine, 68, clad in a black polo shirt and New Balance sneakers, is a paragon of equanimity.

"I do like a lot of things that a lot of adults would scoff at," he says. "SpongeBob SquarePants, Looney Tunes. It's my job, too, to keep up with pop culture and what the kids are into 'cause you don't want to sound like an old man trying to write for kids. …