'Goosebumps' writer R.L. Stine on fear: 'I've never experienced it'

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Image Credit: Dan Nelken

R.L. Stine doesn’t exactly sympathize with victims in horror movies. “When I go to a movie or something, and the shark jumps up on the screen and eats the girl, I’m the one in the theater who’s laughing,” the Goosebumps author tells EW. “Horror always makes me laugh.”

Something else that makes Stine laugh? Mostly Ghostly: Meet My Ghoulfriend, a film based on Stine’s Mostly Ghostly book series that coms to DVD Sept. 2. In the movie, Max (Ryan Ochoa) plays a teenage boy who’s trying to impress his crush (Bella Thorne) but faces an otherwordly obstacle: The Berserker Ghoul, a ghost that inhabits him every so often and makes him go, well, berserk at inopportune times.

Stine took time from his vacation in Sag Harbor, New York to call up EW to talk about Mostly Ghostly, how he feels about Jack Black playing him in the upcoming Goosebumps film, and what does—or doesn’t—scare him.

EWWhere are you calling from?
R.L. STINE: I’m in Long Island. I’m out in Sag Harbor. I’m on vacation. This is what I do on vacation: On vacation, I only write 1,000 words a day, not 2,000. That’s the honest truth. That’s my vacation.

Aww.
No, no, don’t say “aw.” Then I go jump in the pool. Not a bad life. [Laughs]

Were you ever on set for Mostly Ghostly, or did you help write the screenplay?
They kept very close to the book, which was very nice. And of course I read the script and made all kinds of comments. Whenever I read scripts, I always look. My books have this kind of balance between scariness and funniness, and I think that’s what people expect from me. They expect some really creepy adventure, but they expect it to be funny at the same time so it doesn’t get too scary. And that’s what I always check when I read scripts and things.

And you’re also working with the Goosebumps film with Jack Black that’s premiering in 2015?
It just wrapped. Yeah, Jack Black is me! That’s very weird. Very weird to be a character in a movie. In this film, R.L. Stine is a grouchy old guy who’s retired, and I stopped writing because all the monsters are escaping from all my books. And these kids come to me and say, you’ve got to write one more book to round up all the monsters. And Jack Black is me! It’s very cool.

That is very cool. Did he spend any time with you to prepare?
Oh, yeah, he actually flew in, in the winter, like in a blizzard, I think just because he wanted to look at me, figure out what I’m like, you know. [Laughs] We had a nice lunch, we had a nice talk. He’s terrific. We got along really well, and I told him I thought he’d be a terrific me. And we had fun. I went down to the set,—we shot in Atlanta—did a little walk-on cameo. Yeah, I actually had a line. I had one line. And Jack and I had a really good time.

Do you have a writing routine?
It’s the 22nd year of Goosebumps. That’s a lot of stories, right? And what I usually do is think of a title first, which is backwards, I think, for most authors. Most authors get an idea for a story and start to write and then they think of the title later. But I always start with a title. Like, the Mostly Ghostly thing. I was walking my dog in the park, Riverside Park, and these words just popped into my mind: “Have you met my ghoulfriend?” I thought, “Wait, what is that? What a good title for a book!” And then I start to think, well, what is the story? Well, what if this boy finds these ghosts in his room? What if he’s the only one in his family who can see them? What if an evil ghoul after him? The title always leads me to a story, and that’s really the way I start out every book.

Now, do you get scared?
No. I always think horror is funny. I never really planned to be a horror writer. I wrote joke books for kids, and I did a humor magazine for 10 years. I only wanted to be funny. Then I started doing these scary books, but they make me laugh. Horror always makes me laugh. When I go to a movie or something, and the shark jumps up on the screen and eats the girl, I’m the one in the theater who’s laughing. People tell me, “Oh, your books scare me to death. I was like shaking, I had nightmares.” I don’t know what that feeling is like. I’ve never experienced it.

If you’re not scared, then how do you write these books?
I just learned how to do it. There’s this close connection between humor and horror, and I’ve written so many joke books and things. I see the scary moments as punchlines. And that’s just the way I write it. You practice.

Do you ever go on ghost tours or seek out haunted places for research?
No, I don’t. I never do research. I just make up everything. It’s really true. I don’t know, I wrote an adult book year before last called Red Rain, a horror novel for adults, and I had to do research—something I’ve never done in my life. [Laughs] I was shocked that authors have to learn things. It was hard! That’s why I like writing for kids.

Is there anything that scares you?
All these years, I don’t have a good answer to that question. I should have some really clever answer. I don’t. I have a few phobias, but nothing… Like, we have a swimming pool out here, and I can’t ever jump into a pool or dive into a pool. I have to climb in. Just like a phobia. My nephews thought, oh, that’s so funny, that this horror writer, this scary guy, is so scared… and they’re always trying to get me to jump in the pool. It’s just something I can’t do. But that’s not interesting. [Laughs] I need a good something that I’m scared of.

Maybe it’s good that you’re not scared of anything. Maybe that’s your answer.
Maybe, I don’t know. I have normal adult scares. Usual stuff.

What makes you laugh, then?
I came up with this idea of a Berserker Ghoul, and in [the film Mostly Ghostly] she’s this old, Russian entertainer. But when a Berserker Ghoul enters you—she like, inhabits the kid’s body in the film. Then you go berserk. And there’s a scene where Max’s older brother Colin is inhabited by this Berserker Ghoul and he just goes berserk. They did a fabulous job. He goes berserk all over the house. It was just a really hilarious scene.

What are you most excited for people to see in Mostly Ghostly?
I just want them to see it. This is a book series that I loved writing because  it was stolen from a TV show that I loved when I was a kid. The whole idea was stolen from a show called Topper. Which actually was based on a series of books back from the 1920s about a really respectable banker who suddenly finds his house inhabited by these two wild ghosts, this youg couple who are killed in a car accident. They try to make him as wild as they are. They try to improve his life. And they constantly get him into trouble. And I loved this TV series Topper when I was a kid. And then later, I started thinking I wanted to do a new series. I went, “I will steal that idea and I’ll do it with kids.” I’ll do Topper for kids. And that’s what the movie is.

Mostly Ghostly: Meet My Ghoulfriend comes out on Blu-ray and DVD Sept. 2.

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