Getting spooky with Goosebumps’ R.L. Stine
Some authors need no introduction, and you might think R.L. Stine is one of them.
Maybe you read all 62 original Goosebumps books, which he turned out in an astounding burst of productivity between 1992-97. Maybe you own a few dozen of the hundreds of books he has sold in his amazing career, making him one of the bestselling authors of all time. Maybe you’ve seen the 2015 Goosebumps movie starring Jack Black as the author, or dived into any of the nearly two dozen other book series, numerous stand alone novels, TV series, amusement park attractions, video games and movies he’s produced.
But did you know that he’s a born Buckeye and attended Ohio State University before heading to the Big Apple to launch his writing career? One thing I learned while researching for this interview and reading his biography, It Came From Ohio, there are always more skeletons to uncover.
The driving force behind his success has always been his ambition and his love for his craft, both of which were forged in the Columbus suburb of Bexley. The 73 year-old author spoke with me about growing up in Ohio and working for OSU’s humor magazine, The Sundial, and how he became such an important part of young adult culture around the world, and of course, Halloween.
You’re an Ohio native but have done so much in your career. You don’t often make it back to your home state.
The last time was when I did the commencement speech at Ohio State [December 2013], they asked me to do that and I thought it sounded like something I’d like to do. That was the last time.
And though you moved to New York City immediately after graduating from OSU, you give Ohio a lot of appreciation in your biography for shaping you and your style.
So much of what I knew came from working at The Sundial. That’s pretty much all I did on campus, I spent all my time there, I didn’t go to class. I went in and asked for a job my first year on campus, and then by my sophomore year I was the editor. Which was great because the editor was entitled to 23% of the profits, so I made that magazine some profits! I did that for three years and I used that money to move to New York.
I just thought you had to move to New York to be a writer at that time, I thought you had to be in Greenwich Village. So I moved there and got the first job working for a magazine that I could. I was making $100 a week, taking cabs to restaurants, and I thought I was rich!
You mention some specific Columbus people and places in your book, including Rubino’s Pizza and Fritz The Night Owl, who has been a good friend of yours for years. Clearly this city and state had an important impact on your youth then.
You’ll notice I’ve never set a book in New York, not one book. It’s because I thought that kids wouldn’t be able to relate, that it was too big or too far away. I wanted to put my books in neighborhoods and cities that were identifiable, and a lot of the towns end up sounding a lot like Bexley. So many authors use these fantasy settings, a medieval castle or something, and how can kids relate to that?
Two books of yours that had a particular impact on me were the pair you wrote about the famed wooden roller coaster The Beast at King’s Island, one of my favorite places and rides on Earth.
Oh yes, I rode it twice in the very front seat. They made my son and I do it twice in a row, it’s wild. That’s the only time I did it, but it was very impressive. How it takes you back through the trees, and it’s all-wooden. I think it’s still got to be one of the best around.
You were a magazine writer for decades before being challenged to write a young adult novel at 43 (1986’s Blind Date, essentially a dare that became his first #1 Bestseller). It was then that you found tremendous success, and your creative output is still unbelievably prolific. You constantly have new books or movies projects coming out. I’ve got two new Goosebumps books this year, and a Christmas book that I’m very proud of called Young Scrooge. It’s about Scrooge as a twelve-year old, it will be out soon [it was released Sept 12] and I’m very happy with how it turned out. But I try to write for a few hours everyday.
I just saw the new Mostly Ghostly movie last night, “One Night in Doom House.”
Oh, I really love that series, it’s very fun to write. I get to incorporate some humor into those. I never wanted to be scary; I always wanted to be funny. I also just wanted to write for magazines. I never thought I would write books.
Your mix of humor in the horror has always been one of your signature devices, and I would imagine a big reason why kids like your books so much. You got to be portrayed by one of Hollywood’s leading funny men, Jack Black, in the big Goosebumps movie last year. Jack is a really lovely guy, very funny. I went and visited the set in Atlanta and it was a great experience.
And you got a little cameo, humorously playing a character called “Mr. Black.” Yeah, I got my four seconds in [laughs]. I hope there will be a sequel, I know they’re working on it. Someone is writing a script but hasn’t turned anything in yet. I’m not sure if it will happen, but I really hope it does. And next year is the 25th anniversary of Goosebumps so I know they’ve got some things planned but I don’t know what [laughs].
You frequently mention your love of art and how you wanted to be an artist. The covers of your books have always been so distinctive, an important part of the full aesthetic. Have you ever considered working on a graphic novel?
Well I was terrible at it and still am [laughs]. They did turn some of the Goosebumps books into graphic novels, but I didn’t have anything to do with them. Actually I did do something being announced at Comic Con in New York on October 6. I did a series of comics with Marvel. They asked me to do one and gave me a few characters that weren’t being used; I chose to do a character called Man-Thing. It’s a swamp creature that I really love. I did five books for them that I’m very proud of. I’ve always loved creatures that come from swamps and I have no idea why, I’ve never even been to one [laughs].
You’re very interactive with your fans and your Twitter is very entertaining. It seems like you still attend as many conventions and signings as well. I’m sure you’ve seen some really cool costumes of your characters.
I really enjoy meeting my fans, I really do. I do it as much as I can, when I’m asked. I’ve seen so many Slappys [an evil ventriloquist’s dummy, one of Stine’s most iconic reoccurring characters], it’s incredible, a lot of great costumes. My grandson, who was a year and a half old at the time, actually dressed as Slappy last year. I have the actual [movie prop] in my apartment, and the tie and jacket fit him! So he was the only one to ever go out as Slappy in the actual outfit, but no one knew that. Of course they didn’t [laughs].
Do you dress up for Halloween? Any plans for this year?
I don’t, I don’t have time. This is my busy season [laughs]. I am just too busy and usually working on Halloween so I don’t get a chance. But I have seen kids dress as me for Halloween, which is really crazy. They put on the black pants and black shirt and the black glasses and then they’re me, it’s terrific.
You’ve made it, now you’re really part of the zeitgeist.
Hah, I guess I am!