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BUT HE LOOKS SO NORMAL Author R.L. Stine, who has been freaking kids out for 20 years, speaks at Vericon this weekend.
For a man who's spent the past 20 odd years writing about psychotic cheerleaders, undead ex-boyfriends, and all manner of creatures ghoulish and gruesome, R.L. Stine is a cheery guy. In fact, Stine — who says of his chosen craft, "Every month I was killing off teenagers! It was fun!"— wrote joke books as Jovial Bob Stine until he discovered what kids really want: to be scared shitless. He's been writing horror fiction ever since.

Stine, who has sold a over 300 million books with his wildly popular YA series Fear Street and kids' series Goosebumps, is set to speak at Vericon XII (Harvard's sci-fi, fantasy, and gaming con) this weekend. I caught up with Stine from New York, where, he says, "I'm chained here to my desk." That's because he's still at it, churning out six Goosebumps books a year for a whole new generation of kids.

He has an unorthodox method for writing those books. "I think of a title first," he says. "I think that's backward for most authors, right?" Right, but it's a formula that works, if sales are any indication. One such recent title was Little Shop of Hamsters. "But then I had to think," he says, "what could possibly be scary about hamsters?" Mutant hamsters, maybe, I offer. "Oh no," he says, laughing. "There's just a lot of them. A lot of hamsters might get scary."

And that's the thing. Though Stine says he never set out to be scary, he knows his stuff. Favorite horror writer? No surprise there, it's Stephen King. "It's funny to say it, because he's so huge, but I think he's underrated," he says. Favorite movie? He liked Village of the Damned, which inspired Red Rain (Touchstone), his upcoming second novel for adults, out this October. "Not too many noticed the first one," he says. "But so many of my readers are in their 20s and 30s now, I thought it might be the right time."

So has writing spooky kids' lit changed over the last two decades, in a genre lorded over by Twilight's sexy vamps? "You're still afraid of the dark, of something in your closet, or something under your bed that's going to grab you," Stine says. "The fears never change."

Vericon XII is at Harvard University March 16-18. Visit vericon.org for more information.

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