In the late 1980s and early ‘90s, R.L. Stine’s horror series Fear Street—which featured ghosts, vampires, and killer cheerleaders, not to mention illustrated covers decked out with creepy fonts—terrified teens. Now, Stine’s Fear Street books are heading to Netflix in a three-film trilogy debuting this July. Here are a few things you might not have known about the series.
1. The Fear Street series has its roots in an editor’s fight with another teen horror author.
Stine had been working for Scholastic, writing joke books (under the name “Jovial Bob Stine”) and editing a humor magazine, when he had lunch with an editor friend who asked him to go in a … different direction. “She had had a big fight with somebody writing teenage horror. Who will remain nameless. Christopher Pike,” Stine told NPR. “And she said, ‘I'm not working with him again. I'll bet you could write good horror. Go home and write a novel for teenagers. Call it Blind Date.’ She even gave me the title. It's embarrassing! It wasn't my idea.”
Despite his reluctance, Stine wrote Blind Date anyway. After it was published in 1987, it became a bestseller. “I thought, ‘Wait a minute—I’ve struck a chord here. I’ve found something kids like!’” he told Mental Floss in 2014. “A year later, [my editor] wanted another one, and so I wrote Twisted. And it was a number-one bestseller, too. But she only wanted one [book] a year, and I thought, ‘You know, forget this funny stuff. I’ve got to write these scary books. That’s what these kids want.’ Kids like to be scared, and I just sort of stumbled into this. I said to her, ‘It would be nice to do more than one a year—maybe we can do more if we can think of some way to do a series.’”
2. R.L. Stine was told a teen horror series couldn’t be done.
“Publishers didn’t want a series because you couldn’t have these horrible things happen to the same kids over and over,” Stine said. “That would be ludicrous, right?” His publishers were likely thankful he was wrong: The Fear Street series grew to include 51 main series books and several spin-off series; by 2014, the books had sold 80 million copies.
3. The title for the Fear Street series just popped into R.L. Stine’s head.
“It was the first one I thought of: Fear Street,” Stine told Mental Floss. “And I thought, ‘That would be a place where bad things happen. It’ll be a very normal, suburban town, but there’ll be this one street that’s cursed. People who go to Fear Street or people who move to Fear Street, terrible things would happen to them. And that would be a way to do a series.’ And that’s how it started, by basing it on the location and not the characters.”
The New Girl, the first book in the series, was published in 1989; Stine released one Fear Street book almost every month after that. “Back in the height of Goosebumps in the '90s, I did 12 Goosebumps books a year and 12 Fear Street books,” Stine told PopSugar. “I don't know how I did it. Honestly, I don't know how!”
4. R.L. Stine amassed an impressive body count in the Fear Street books.
“When we first started doing the teen horror novels, I wasn’t allowed to kill anyone,” Stine told CNN. “[Then] we started getting bolder, one per book, maybe two or three. It’s a bloodfest.” In 2014, Stine jokingly told Mental Floss, “I kill off a lot of teenagers. It’s kind of my hobby. I was wondering why, recently; why did I love killing teenagers so much back in the Fear Street days? And then I realized: I had one back at home. Teenagers are tough!”
5. The Fear Street characters weren’t fleshed out on purpose.
Though he’s been criticized for it, Stine told CNN that his characters’ lack of depth is deliberate. “I don’t want to create a whole character, I want the reader to feel like the character,” he said. “So I’m great at full-blown cardboard characters.” The books’ settings were also purposefully nondescript to make them easily relatable to anyone.
6. There are some storylines R.L. Stine said he’d never include in the Fear Street books.
Drugs and child abuse are off the table for the author, and even divorce is only used sparingly. “That’s the kind of reality that ruins a story,” Stine said. “It’s better if the fears are less real.”
In 2015, he told The Verge that he avoided those topics because “I don't really want to terrify kids ... I think if you make sure it's a fantasy world, and the kids know what they're reading is a fantasy and couldn't happen, then you can go pretty far and you won’t upset them that much.”
7. There were a number of Fear Street spin-offs.
One series, Ghosts of Fear Street, was aimed at younger readers (at least some of these were ghost-written by someone other than Stine). Another, The Fear Street Sagas, stretched for 16 books; it explored the twisted and cursed history of the Fier family, from which Fear Street took its name. There were several trilogies, including 99 Fear Street: The House of Evil, Fear Street: Fear Park, Fear Street Cheerleaders, and Fear Street: The Cataluna Chronicles. Other series-within-the-series included Fear Street Super Chiller, Fear Street Seniors, and Fear Street Nights.
Though he did a lot of series, Stine was not a fan of linking the storylines: “It’s too hard for me,” he told Barnes and Noble in 2014. “I like starting all over with every book.”
8. R.L. Stine’s son stars in one Fear Street book.
Stine’s son, Matt, didn’t read his dad’s books “because he knew it would make me crazy,” Stine said in a CNN chat in 1999. “And it worked. It’s horrible!” So Stine tried something unusual: He put his son in a Fear Street book. “I even made him the star of a Fear Street book called Goodnight Kiss,” Stine said. (From Amazon: “Matt must save his girlfriend April from a vampire hypnotizing her with intoxicating kisses ...”) But Matt didn’t budge: “He didn't read that one either ... he'll probably never read my books.”
What Matt did do was make some money off of them: “He would sell parts in Goosebumps to his friends," Stine told The Daily Beast. "They would pay him ten bucks and he’d come home and say, 'Dad, you have to put James in the next one.' I think he cashed in on them.” As of 2014, Matt was managing Stine’s website.
9. R.L. Stine got a lot of heat for a Fear Street novel that didn’t have a happy ending …
"I did one book called The Best Friend, and it had an unhappy ending, where the good girl was taken off as a murderer and the bad girl triumphed, and kids hated this book," Stine told Matt Raymond of the Library of Congress [PDF]. "They turned on me. I got all this mail: 'Dear R. L. Stine, you moron! How could you write that?' 'Dear R. L. Stine, you're an idiot! Are you going to write a sequel to finish the story?' They absolutely couldn't accept an unhappy ending.”
“I would do school visits, and that book haunted me," he told TIME. "The hand would go up: ‘Why would you write that book? Why did you do that?’”
10. ... And ran a contest to come up with the plot for a sequel.
The reaction to The Best Friend was so negative that Stine and Pocket Books ran a contest for kids to come up with an idea for what to do in the sequel. The cover of The Best Friend 2 read, “The book you demanded! The contest-winning story that answers the question ‘What should happen to Honey?’” Stine never tried an unhappy ending again.
11. Typically, it took two to three weeks to write one Fear Street novel.
But it didn’t always take that long: Stine told The Big Thrill that he wrote one of the novels in just eight days. “I’m sort of a machine,” he said. “I treat writing just like a job and write 2000 words, five to six times a week. I’m just cut out for this, I guess—it’s all I’ve really ever been good at.” The key to his speed, he said, is plotting everything out: “You can’t get writer’s block if you do that much planning. Once I’ve finished the outline"—which can run up to 20 pages long—"I can just enjoy writing the story.”
And he always starts with a title: “Most authors have an idea for a book, they write, they’re writing, later on they think of a title," he told the Huffington Post. "I have to start with a title. It leads me to the story."
12. R.L. Stine has two favorite early Fear Street novels.
“One is called Switched. Every once in a while someone brings it up,” Stine told Vulture in 2013. “It's about two girls who go out to this magic rock in the forest and switch bodies just for the fun of it, but one of the girls has tricked the other—she's murdered her parents, and now she's in the other girl’s body. The first girl goes back, finds the parents have been murdered, and can't get her own body back. There's also Silent Night, that’s a Christmas one. Reva Dalby is the daughter of a guy who owns the big department store in Shadyside. She's rich and mean and terrible to her poor cousins, and everyone hates her. She was really fun to write.”
His favorite of the more recent Fear Street books—at least as of 2015—was The Lost Girl. “It has the most gruesome scene I’ve ever written. It’s disgusting,” Stine told Mental Floss. “It involves horses eating a man. I should be ashamed, but I’m so proud of that scene.”
13. R.L. Stine killed the series in the late ‘90s—and brought it back in 2014.
After ending the Fear Street series in the late '90s with Trapped, Stine returned to Shadyside with Party Games in 2014. “The whole thing happened because of Twitter,” Stine told CNN. "It's a great way to keep in touch with my original readers, and Fear Street was mentioned more than anything else. That's what they read when they were kids. And I suppose we're all nostalgic for what we read back then.” After tweeting that no publishers were interested in bringing the series back, one publisher reached out to tell him she’d love to do it—and the rest is history.
The new Fear Street books were about 100 pages longer than their predecessors and in hardcover for the first time. The Return to Fear Street books—the first of which comes out this summer—are paperbacks with retro covers. (You can still get a number of the original books, with their excellently creepy covers, on Amazon.)
14. Technology made R.L. Stine’s job harder.
Stine told TIME that writing the books today was tougher than it was in the '90s, “because the technology has ruined a lot of things that make for good mysteries—largely because of cell phones … You have to get rid of the phone when you’re writing the book.” In one of 2014's Fear Street books, Stine's characters surrendered their cells early in the book for a phone-free weekend, allowing the murder and mayhem to proceed unchecked.
In order to write the new Fear Street books, Stine says he has to be familiar with technology that teens currently love. “You don’t want to sound out of date at all, but I’m very careful because the technology changes every two weeks. You have to be not terribly specific about what they’re using,” he said. So don’t look for any Facebook stalkers or Snapchat murderers in Fear Street: “In a month, that would be [over], and then you look like you don’t know what you’re doing. The lucky thing about horror is that the things that people are afraid of, it never changes. Afraid of the dark, afraid someone’s in the house, afraid someone’s under your bed—that’s the same.”
A version of this story ran in 2018; it has been updated for 2021.