R.L. Stine

Highlights of a Life

Robert Lawrence Stine was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1943. His mother was a homemaker and his father was a shipping clerk. Bob and his younger siblings, Bill and Pam, grew up in Bexley, a first-tier suburb on the east side of Columbus.

Stine’s passion to entertain kids began when he was a kid himself. At age nine he found an old typewriter in the attic. That discovery was a defining moment in his life; Stine brushed off the cobwebs and carried the typewriter down to his room. He pecked away at the rusty keys to produce countless stories and little joke books he gave away at school.

Telling stories – whether funny or scary – made young Bob Stine the happiest. He recalls scaring the pajamas off his little brother with terrifying tales ending with a cliffhanger, leaving him wide-eyed for bed. Fifty years later, the celebrated author of Goosebumps continues to leave kids spellbound with his tales of horror and suspense.

Stine enrolled at the Ohio State University, eager to write for its renowned humor magazine, The Sundial. In fact, he became editor of the publication in his sophomore year, a post he held until graduating in 1965.

Stine longed to fulfill his dream of working as a writer in New York City. Educated but broke, he decided to remain in Columbus in order to save money for the move. This he accomplished through a brief stint teaching social studies at a Columbus junior high school.

In New York, Stine got by with a series of temporary writing assignments for fan magazines and trade industry journals. The break that got him noticed happened in 1968, when he was hired at Scholastic Inc. He quickly moved from staff writer to creator and editor of a humor magazine for children, Bananas. In those days, he wrote under the name of Jovial Bob Stine. While working at Scholastic, Jovial Bob even managed to write and publish his first book, How to Be Funny: An Extremely Silly Guide, in 1978.

In 1969 Stine married Jane Waldhorn, an editor and writer. The couple worked together on several children’s books. Later, Jane and a partner founded Parachute Press, an independent producer of books for children.

Stine’s adventure in horror book writing began in the mid-eighties. Scholastic cancelled Bananas magazine in 1984 and Stine was out of work. He paid the bills by writing everything from joke books to coloring books. Word of Stine’s craft as a children’s writer spread through media circles, and in 1986 he landed a job at Nickelodeon as head writer for its new program for preschoolers, Eureeka’s Castle. Stine’s contribution to the program led to its selection for the coveted Ace Award.

That same year, a former colleague approached Stine with an opportunity that changed his life. An executive at Scholastic offered Stine the chance to write a novel in a promising new genre: horror books for teens. He agreed to accept the assignment and, with no more to go on but a title, was instructed to go home and write a story called Blind Date. Since then, titles always come to Stine before the plots emerge. “If I can get a title first, then I start getting ideas for it,” he said. In three months, he submitted a story about a teenage boy with a memory lapse, and the dead girl who wants to date him.

To his surprise, Blind Date (1986) was an immediate best-seller, even among boys. The accidental horror novelist went on to write two more books for Scholastic, including the best-selling novel The Baby-sitter (1989).

Stine pored over fan letters requesting more scary stories. Stine and his wife, recognizing the chance to explore an exciting new niche in children’s literature, developed the concept of a series for young adults. Stine named his new series Fear Street;  the first title, The New Girl, was released in 1989. The collection relates the deadly adventures of teens who reside on “Fear Street,” a place “where your worst nightmares live,” according to the cover copy on early titles. The series now has 100 titles and millions of copies in print.

Noting that Fear Street was soaring in popularity not only among adolescents, but also pre-teens, Stine developed the concept for another scary series, “sanitized” for younger readers. The name “Goosebumps” came to Stine as he flipped through TV Guide, stopping at a promotion for “Goosebumps Week.”

With the debut of Goosebumps in 1992, Stine was headed for tremendous financial success. The series, which features spooky tales for ages 8–11, has sold more than 250 million copies worldwide. It has been reported that Stine, apparently immune to writer’s block, has kept up with a production schedule of two new books per month. “Writing comes easy for me,” confessed Stine, who doesn’t like to make revisions.

Stine prefers to begin with a title, around which he builds a plot. Next comes a chapter-by-chapter outline detailing the action. He writes the text, paradoxically, beginning at the end of the story. “That way I can go back and figure out how to fool the reader,” he noted. Critics have challenged his formulaic approach. “The contrived plot barely manages to hold together a series of bland cliffhangers,” scoffed a Publishers Weekly review of Ski Weekend (1991). “These formula stories are very predictable and require very little thought on the part of the reader,” declared Caroline S. McKinney in a review of The Second Evil (1992).

The merit of his work, Stine argues, lies in the entertainment value of his stories, not their literary significance. “I believe that kids, as well as adults, are entitled to books of no socially redeeming value,” he once noted. Stine’s characters talk like real kids (minus the slang), dress like real kids, and have the concerns of real kids.

Others have objected to his books for targeting an audience too young to cope with such frightening content. But Stine counters that his intention is to entertain kids, not terrify them. His young heroes manage to find a way out of dangerous situations, unharmed. Almost always, good triumphs over evil in the Goosebumps stories. Parents and educators who tolerate Stine’s books concede that his work has managed to transform reluctant students – especially boys – into avid readers.

Goosebumps didn’t stop when it reached the top of best-seller lists. The series’ unprecedented popularity gave rise to a multitude of licensed products. The Goosebumps brand became ubiquitous; everything from snack foods to sleeping bags bore the same creepy lettering as did the series’ first book. What’s more, the thirst for thrill in children’s literature appears not to be fading. Stine’s newest series, Rotten School, struck yet another chord among young readers.

Non-juvenile works by Stine include his autobiography: It Came from Ohio! My Life as a Writer (1997), and a horror novel for adults titled Superstitious (1996), which earned him a big advance and a movie deal.

Still living in New York, R.L. Stine is at work on the fourth title in the Rotten School series. It has, of course, been given a title: Lose, Team, Lose.

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