New York When R.L. Stine sits down in his plush black desk chair to write, next to a model skeleton sporting sunglasses and beneath shelves packed with his best-selling books, he has just one thing on his mind terrifying millions of young children.
Fear has helped Stine become one of the most popular children's writers ever (yes, he's sold more books than that oh-so-clever little British wizard). The 87 volumes of his "Goosebumps" series, also adapted into a television show, made his name synonymous with scare among pre-teen readers.
With a new series for 8-to-12-year-olds just under way, R.L. Stine is hoping to repeat his earlier success. He promises "The Nightmare Room," now slated to include 12 books, will send a whole new kind of shiver down readers' spines.
"I always saw 'Goosebumps' as sort of 1950s horror movies dummies coming to life, monsters coming out, werewolves," he says. "And I see 'Nightmare Room' more like a 'Twilight Zone' a fun house.
"You walk in and everything seems fine at first, everything seems normal, and then you notice that the floor is tilted, and then you see that the walls are closing in, and you look in a mirror and you're all distorted. And you realize nothing is the same you've stepped into another reality."
"Don't Forget Me," the first book in the "Nightmare Room" series, tells the story of 15-year-old Danielle, who realizes something is horribly wrong in her family's new house. Her once-boisterous, slightly annoying little brother Peter has begun behaving oddly, forgetting which breakfast cereal he likes, how to play his favorite video game and even his sister's name.
While their parents are on vacation, Danielle discovers the cause of her brother's sudden memory loss the family has moved into the Forget-Me House, where earlier generations of forgotten children lurk in the basement. Covered in slimy goo, these forlorn ghosts lure Peter to their creepy hide-out, calling to him every night until even his parents forget who he is.
Plots like that have made Stine's books scarier than a trip to the dentist for his legions of readers.
That fear is at the heart of his appeal.
Kids, he says, "love being scared when they know they're safe at the same time."
author R.L. Stine
While Stine's words terrify grade schoolers, in person he's as unintimidating as they come.
He makes a valiant effort to cultivate a hair-raising image, dressing all in black and holding online chats with fans on the 13th of each month, at 6 p.m. on his Web site, www.night
mareroom.com. But Stine, 56, spent much of his pre-"Goosebumps" career editing the kids' humor magazine Bananas and writing joke books, and it shows in his relaxed, down-to-earth demeanor.
"As you see, I'm not too scary," he says. "That's my problem."
Nonetheless, he's sometimes called the Stephen King of children's books, and he prides himself on his stories' ghoulish twists and turns.
With the huge (and hugely hyped) success of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series drawing new attention to fantastical children's books and by many accounts helping bring new young readers into bookstores the pressure is on Stine to match his earlier success with the new series.
He praised the Potter books, but says he worries more about competing with his own track record than with Harry's magic.
"Someone once said to me that children's books were a bunny-eat-bunny business, but I don't feel competitive with other authors," he says. "Because of 'Goosebumps,' people have very high expectations for 'Nightmare Room.' I have no way of knowing if you can do it all over again."