Tom Perrotta’s Horror Ghostwriting Past
Motoko Rich followed Tom Perrotta along to Wayne, NJ to attend an abstinence rally – something that Perrotta writes about in his new novel THE ABSTINENCE TEACHER but never got to experience firsthand till now. It’s a good piece but I was particularly intrigued by this:
In 1979 Mr. Perrotta headed off to Yale, where he returned as a
writing tutor and part-time instructor after obtaining an M.A. in
creative writing from Syracuse University.
It was then that he began writing “Lucky Winners,” a novel about a
working-class family that wins the lottery. While that first novel was,
as he put it, “being rejected everywhere in New York,” he landed a gig
ghost-writing a volume of a popular horror series for teenagers. (He is
duty-bound not to disclose the title.)
Writing that horror novel in the afternoons, he spent the mornings working on a manuscript that would become “Election.”
I look back now, that was the year I became a writer,” Mr. Perrotta
said. It was also a disappointing time. Publishers kept rejecting
“Election,” confused by whether it was a young adult novel or a
literary adult title.
ELECTION would eventually be published a few years later but as soon as I read about the ghostwriting gig, my mind jumped to the following conclusion: FEAR STREET, the long-running, rather repetitive teen horror series R.L. Stine created in the early 1990s, the bulk of which was ghostwritten. I didn’t read nearly as many volumes of those books as I did that other famed ghostwritten series, SWEET VALLEY HIGH, a few years earlier, but still enough to start warping my brain early.
And as for the “duty-bound” business, that got debunked pretty fast by Entertainment Weekly’s PopWatch blogger Missy Schwartz:
Brazenly ignoring Perrotta’s warning not to bother inquiring about
which illustrious series helped him pay the bills in the early Clinton
years, I grilled the guy. Cornered him. Made him an offer he couldn’t
Okay, not really. I simply guessed that perhaps the “Stephen King
with training wheels” collection he described to me was one of R.L.
Stine’s creations. And he, being an honest, good-natured fellow,
confirmed it. “Yeah,” he said. “Not Goosebumps, but Fear Street, which was the bigger one.” The particular tome to which Perrotta lent his verbal gifts was The Thrill Club (pictured),
and though he describes it as “the stupidest book,” he actually looks
back on writing it with fondness. “It’s good to take the romance out of
writing,” he said, laughing heartily. “That certainly did it for me!”
So that confidentiality agreement? Not so enforceable, I reckon. Though I totally want to know what other bestselling writers would fall out of the FEAR STREET ghostwriting closet…