Sag Harbor’s R.L. Stine makes a living by scaring the daylights out of kids and teens—though reality is anything but dark and stormy nights for the horror author.
Stine is one of the most famous and prolific children’s authors of all time, known for the iconic Goosebumps and Fear Street series of novels. Goosebumps’ original run, from 1992-1997, comprises 62 books with campy titles like Say Cheese and Die and The Blob That Ate Everyone. Stine himself has become a mythical figure among kids who read Goosebumps religiously, but this down-to-earth writer couldn’t be more approachable and open: willing to talk about his family life, about keeping his books fresh and relevant and about some of his upcoming projects.
Stine and his wife, Jane Waldhorn, honeymooned on the East End and have lived here for much of their careers. “In 1980, [Jane and I] bought a house in Southampton, bought a car and had a kid. We became adults in 1980,” Stine laughs. “We did everything in one year. We had a couple houses in Southampton, and we’ve been in Sag Harbor almost 20 years.”
Stine hasn’t set any of his Goosebumps stories on the East End, or in Manhattan for that matter; relatability is key. “I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and most of my stories are very suburban,” he says. “They all start out in the backyard. The Hamptons are too rarified. I don’t think many kids in, say, Montana could identify. I’ve never done a story set in New York City. That’s partly a superstition of mine.”
As summer approaches, Stine is looking forward to spending time in his Sag Harbor backyard. “I just love it,” he says. “Cappelletti [Restaurant] is right around the corner. Jane and I love walking around Sag Harbor. We just really love the Hamptons!” Stine plans on staying in Sag Harbor through Labor Day. “It took me 25 years to realize I didn’t have to go back and forth to the city. It took me all that time,” he marvels. “We built this insane pool, three waterfalls and a 30-foot waterslide. The neighborhood kids all want to swim.”
The friendly, warm Stine is a far cry from the wacky, unhinged persona Jack Black created for 2015’s Goosebumps film—and Stine wouldn’t have it any other way. The well-received movie starred Black as a fictional version of Stine. In the film, Stine teams up with his young daughter and her friend to save their small town from monsters that escaped from Stine’s books.
“I actually liked it! As the author, you don’t know [how a film will turn out],” Stine says. “I got lucky, I think. It could have been horrible. It could have been series-ending. They did a wonderful job. I thought Jack was a great evil version of me! He flew out the winter before they filmed, just to look at me, I think. He said, ‘Bob, what’s true about you in the script?’ I said, ‘Nothing, not a thing!’ He said, ‘I’m going to play a sinister version of you.’ He decided to play me as Orson Welles,” Stine chuckles. He’s very happy with how the film turned out. “It did so much better than anyone thought it would,” he says. “Goosebumps is heading into its 25th year next year. All those kids who read the books in the 1990s are now in their 30s, and they took their kids to see it.”
Stine continues to write Goosebumps books, and is astonished by the influence the film had on making some of his classic characters become new fan favorites. “Slappy the Dummy is the most popular. We’re doing four Goosebumps Slappy World books. It was so astounding to see how many kids went out as Slappy for Halloween,” he says.
Stine also recently revived his teen-oriented Fear Street series. “I’m killing teenagers again!” Stine exclaims, noting that while he never kills children off in the Goosebumps books, teens are fair game in Fear Street. And while he can’t share details, Stine hints that audiences could be seeing a Fear Street movie in the near future.
When asked a common question—what makes Goosebumps so successful?—Stine’s answer is simple: the storytelling. “Jack said it in the movie: every story has a beginning, a middle, and a twist. I don’t know who wrote that [line] but it’s perfect! There has to be, at some point in the book, a huge twist and the reader has to be shocked and say, ‘I didn’t realize that.’”
Life is good for Stine. His books show no signs of slowing down, he loves the East End and he continues to develop new ideas. “It’s nice to be old,” he smiles.