Goosebumps cast a spell upon children by transforming even the most reluctant students into avid readers. Despite the fact that almost every book has a different collection of characters, the series has one common element that kids can't get enough of: the author!
However believable his plots seem to his readers, Stine insists he has never lived one of his stories. "I've never turned into a bee -- I've never been chased by a mummy or met a ghost. But many of the ideas in my books are suggested by real life. For example, one Halloween my son, Matt, put a mask on and then had trouble pulling it off. That gave me the idea for The Haunted Mask."
Although he never experienced terror first hand, he did enjoy reading about it. "When I was a kid, there were these great comic books called Tales From The Crypt and The Vault of Horror. They were gruesome. I discovered them in the barbershop and thought they were fabulous. I used to get a haircut every Saturday so I wouldn't miss any of these comic books. I had no hair at all when I was a kid!"
His ideas came from two sources: his memory and his imagination. "When I write, I try to think back to what I was afraid of or what was scary to me, and try to put those feelings into books." He also keeps a tribal mask and a skeleton hanging in his writing studio to provide eerie surroundings. Although he handles the writing by himself, Stine says he gets "lots of help from my editors, my readers, and my friends."
Kids reading Goosebumps may be looking for a scare, but the laughs they get are no accident. Before he was R. L., he was Jovial Bob, author of such works as 101 Silly Monster Jokes, and Bozos on Patrol and editor of Bananas magazine. His ability to know what kids will laugh at , as well as what will frighten them, makes the Goosebumps series all the more enjoyable for his readers.
Stine started writing when he was 9 years old! He would write stories and jokes on an old typewriter and hand them out at school. "The teacher would grab them and take them away," Stine says, "but I kept doing it." He wrote for his high school newspaper in Columbus Ohio. After graduating from Ohio State University, he moved to New York City, where he worked on a variety of writing jobs.
Although his books are fun and exciting, writing them is serious stuff. He treats writing "...like a job." To unwind after work he enjoys playing the pinball machine conveniently located in his own apartment.
For aspiring authors, Stine feels reading is as important as writing. He offers this advice: "If you want to be a writer, don't worry so much about writing. Read as much as you can. Read as many different writers as you can. Soak up the styles. You can learn all kinds of ways to say things." As a boy he read Norse legends, Greek myths, Edgar Allan Poe and baseball stories. "And Mad Magazine changed my life."
Author biography courtesy of Scholastic, Inc.
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In our interview with Stine, he shared some fun and fascinating facts with us:
"My first job in New York was making up fake interviews with movie and TV stars for a group of six movie magazines. I never spoke to the stars I wrote about. I wrote three-to-four "interviews" a day, all out of my imagination."
"'I've written over 300 books but I never learned to type. I use only one finger, the pointer on my left hand -- that's all. Three hundred books on one finger! The finger is very ugly now -- completely bent and curled and callused. When I show it to audiences, they can't believe it! This is my sacrifice for my art!"
"Sometimes kids show up at my country house and ask if my son Matt can come out and play. That's because they saw him mentioned in the back of my books. But they're very disappointed when he comes to the door -- because Matt is in his mid-twenties now! They were reading very old books! Matt is a musician, composer, and sound designer. You can hear his music at my web site, www.rlstine.com."
"I hope my readers get a chance to see my 4-D movie, R. L. Stine's Haunted Lighthouse. The movie stars Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Lea Thompson, Weird Al, and others. You can find it playing at four parks: SeaWorld San Antonio, SeaWorld San Diego, Busch Gardens Tampa, and Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Virginia. Watch out -- you might get very wet!"
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In the winter of 2005, R. L. Stine took some time out to tell us about some of his favorite books, authors, and interests.
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
I discovered the stories of Ray Bradbury when I was nine or ten, and they changed my life. Up till then, I'd spent most of my time reading horror comics. The EC horror comics, such as Tales From the Cryptand Vault of Horror were very influential in my later writing. But Bradbury's stories were so imaginative and so well written and surprising, they turned me into a reader for life.
What are your all-time favorite books, and what makes them special to you?
Not in any order:
Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury -- A masterpiece of writing, much under-rated, an incredible rendering of a lost time and place. Something on every page is so beautiful it makes you want to cry.
Barefoot Boy with Cheek by Max Shulman -- The first book that made me laugh till I had tears running down my face. A pretty-much-forgotten Midwest humorist, one of my heroes.
The Nine Wrong Answers by John Dickson Carr -- One of the cleverest, most outrageous, slyest mysteries I've ever read.
The Earthsea trilogy by Ursula K. LeGuin -- Wonderful fantasy novels that I didn't want to end.
Right Ho, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse -- Some people argue that Uncle Dynamite is funnier, but this is my favorite -- by my favorite author. I've read about 80 of them!
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury -- I always tell kids this is the scariest book ever written!
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller -- A hilarious classic. A wonderful, twisted masterpiece that will always be funny.
Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov -- I love any book with a narrator who doesn't have a clue as to what's really taking place, and this is the best of them by far. I've read most of Nabokov. Ada and Lolita are other favorites.
A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin -- A perfect thriller. I wish Ira Levin would write more!
Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories and Other Disasters by Jean Shepherd -- Wonderfully told, hilarious Midwestern adventures, wise and goofy at the same time, by one of my all-time heroes.
What are some of your favorite films?Sullivan's Travels
The Lady Eve
It's A Wonderful Life
Damsel in Distress
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
The Godfather (I and II)
Star Wars (IV, V, and VI)
These are films I watch once a year and never get tired of.
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
I like many kinds of music from country music to opera. Some of my favorite singers: George Jones, Randy Travis, Dinah Washington, June Christy, Natalie Merchant, Little Richard, Otis Redding... an endless list. These days, I'm obsessed with XM Satellite Radio. A wealth of music-- over 130 stations of music without commercials, the depth of selection you never have on regular radio. I spend a lot of time with that!
As for music while I'm writing? None. I can write anywhere -- airplanes, hotels -- but any kind of music is too big a distraction.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading?
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larsen. I don't read much nonfiction -- I don't like anything real -- but this book reads like a fabulous novel. The nation's best architects get together in rough-and-tumble 1890's Chicago to build an Unforgettable World's Fair -- and just a few blocks away, a serial murderer is killing dozens of young women. Amazing history, gruesome murders, early Chicago politics, geniuses struggling to build something unforgettable -- there's enough for endless discussion!
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
I like to find very old, obscure books to give to friends. One friend is an acting teacher and former actor/director. I was so excited to find a long out-of-print book from the '30's by Al Hirschfeld, filled with drawings and funny theater anecdotes and history.
As for books I like to receive, I guess I most enjoy getting books written by my friends. I'm lucky to have many writers and artists as friends, and it's always exciting when they bring a new addition to their works. I keep them on a special shelf in my den.
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
I'm really a writing machine. I have no rituals. I don't need a special desk or special background music. As long as I have a keyboard in front of me, I can write. I work from an office room in my apartment which I share with my dog. And I do have some creepy atmosphere -- a life-sized skeleton, some plastic rats, and a cup full of eyeballs. But that's just in case kids come by.
What are you working on now?
I'm writing two new kids' series. Mostly Ghostly (Random House) is a scary series about a boy named Max who has a small problem -- He has two ghosts living in his room, and he's the only one who can see and hear them.
My other new series, Rotten School (HarperCollins) isn't scary. It's a funny series about life in a very bad boarding school, featuring a fourth-grade con man and schemer named Bernie Bridges and his battles against a goody-goody rich kid named Sherman Oaks.
I am also adding new titles to my Fear Street teen thriller series (Simon & Schuster), which is being revived.
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
Most people don't realize that I wrote for kids for more than twenty years before Goosebumps came along. I wrote joke books and humor books. I wrote entire series of choose-your-own-path-type books. I wrote Indiana Jones and G. I. Joe books. I wrote Mighty Mouse and Bullwinkle coloring books! I wrote a series of funny bubblegum cards. I had fun with all of it. I was earning a living doing what I'd always wanted to do. But my "overnight" success took nearly 25 years!
If you could choose one new writer to be "discovered," who would it be -- and why?
There's a British mystery writer named Peter Lovesey, who probably doesn't need to be "discovered" in England since he's written nearly twenty books and has won a lot of awards. But I think his mysteries are extremely clever and well-written and very funny -- and he needs to be discovered by mystery readers over here.
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
It's hard to give that kind of advice. Every person's story is different, I think. After college, I moved to NY to become a writer and started getting magazine-writing jobs. This led to a 16-year stint as a magazine and book editor at Scholastic. My years there allowed me to meet many writers and editors. Many of these editors moved on to other publishing houses. I soon found that I had friends at many houses, editors that I could bring book ideas to. By working in publishing, I became a kind of insider -- I saw editors socially and at work -- and I didn't have to send out proposals to strangers. Consequently, I've never needed an agent for children's books.
Would I recommend working in the publishing business first as a good way to get books published later? Maybe. It helped me. But, as I say, it's hard to give good advice since every story is different.
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