Unlike in making films, writing a scary story doesn’t have the support of jump-scare scenes and heart-palpitating sound effects. It needs a good storyteller to be able to scare people through his books. Being compared, most of the time, to the world’s most renowned elegantly dark storyteller, Stephen King, one author had proven that varying techniques and speed in writing a scary story totally depends on the mood and passion of the writer.
Robert Lawrence Stine, a Jewish American novelist, was born in Columbus, Ohio on October 8, 1943. His mother, Anne Feinstein, was a homemaker and his father, Lewis Stine, was a shipping clerk. Stine has younger siblings— Bill and Pam. His family calls him Bob instead of his name. They got to be kidding. “Rob” would have been much closer. Or does it matter?
He graduated from Ohio State University in 1965 with a Bachelor of Arts in English. He is known by his pennames R.L. Stine, Jovial Bob Stine, and Eric Affabee. Stine is famous for writing Goosebumps, the bestselling horror series for kids. He also created the successful Fear Street series.
THE BOY AND THE MAGICAL TYPEWRITER
Stine recalls how he struggles from the embarrassment of having to wear his cousin’s old clothes to school because they were very poor back then. Stine’s passion for writing didn’t bloom until the day he found an old typewriter up in the attic. As a kid, it was like magical for him. The discovery changed his life. He brought it in his room where he started typing stories and little joke books. He spent most of his time in the room typing away every idea that comes into mind. When his mother got curious and worried, she begged him to go outside and play. But he always said it was boring outside. Ever since that discovery, Stine was always itching to wrestle his little fingers into the typewriter. Because of that, he never excelled in any subjects. He was so hooked up by the magic, to which he admitted in several interviews,
I knew when I was nine that I wanted to be a writer. I don’t know why it sounded so interesting, but it did.
Stine then went to college at Ohio State University. At that time, every college had a humor magazine, though it unfortunately died out in the ‘60s and were replaced by underground newspapers. Stine spent his college as an editor in the school’s magazine, The Sundial, more than being a student. That’s all he did in college. And as an editor, he was entitled to 22 percent of the profits, which according to him had paid his way to New York.
He married Jane Waldhorn in 1969. And Jane later became a writer and editor.
After graduating from Ohio State University in 1965, Stine headed to New York City to pursue his career as a writer. Although the first two jobs he had was not much of a success, it gives a little more light because he’s been paid more than enough. He was writing for living. Then he went to Scholastic Inc., where he got a job as assistant editor, working on children’s magazines.
“That’s the first time I wrote for kids,” said Stine. “I never planned to be a kid’s writer.”
He created a humor magazine for kids, Bananas, which was intended for teenagers and was published by Scholastic Press for 72 issues between 1975 and 1984. He later launched Maniac magazine for the company. During these times, Stine wrote humorous books for kids under the name “Jovial Bob Stine”.
These books include How To Be Funny, The Sick of Being Sick Book, and 101 Creepy Creature Jokes. Humor was actually his first mastery before indulging into writing scary stories. In fact, he even agreed that “the best way to be scary is to be funny”, because according to him, they’re closely related— humor and horror.
Wait, that’s just about rhyming, isn’t it? Well, he’s proven it with the brilliance of his works, so we couldn’t disagree more.
When the Scholastic had a company reorganization, Stine lost his job. He then began writing full-time, delved into the horror genre, beginning with his first scary tale, Blind Date. It was released on 1986 and was surprisingly well-celebrated. He then released scary teen novels Twisted, and The Baby-sitter, on 1987 and 1989 respectively. Although he has already written dozens of scary stories before, but these novels has somehow become his first stepping to get a little more focused on the genre.
“I told myself, forget about the funny stuff. Kids like to be scared!” said Stine. In 1989, he was able to make the bestselling YA series in history by creating Fear Street series with more than 100 books and roughly selling more than 80 million copies. That was his first horror book series for young adults and teenagers were in terror month after month! With the catch phrase, “where your worst nightmares live”, the series was about the dark misadventures of students at Shadyside High school.
Then in 1992, he created the series that had later on brought his name into the history, among the legendary authors— the Goosebump series!
GOOSEBUMPS, THE ULTIMATE SUCCESS
Around 80’s, Stine’s wife and her business partner formed their own publishing company, Parachute Press. It wasn’t too difficult for her to run the company since she herself came from Scholastic with Stine. After the success of Fear Street, which was aimed for young adults, Stine’s editor at that time suggested that he should write a horror book series in Fear Street that would take younger readers on their own thrill ride. Stine doubted at first, because it might screw up the Fear Street if the theme would shift from teen to a much younger audience.
Stine didn’t really give up the entire idea. As he agreed on pursuing it, he has already set up his mind to make it a separate project instead of including it into the Fear Street series, though he hasn’t thought of a good name for it, yet. While he was reading a TV Guide, his attention was hooked up by an ad at the bottom of the page that said, “It’s goosebumps week on channel 11.” Later that day, he started writing the new series project, which he entitled, Goosebumps.
These books were produced through Parachute Press, and its target was the tween market.
The first of the series, Welcome to Dead House, has proven to be the perfect stepping stone for the entire Goosebumps career, because of its superb writing quality, justified by its outstanding success in the market. It was quickly followed by more novels. During those times, Stine was writing one or two books each month, where each title, featured the trademark elements of the series: page-turning plots and daring cliffhangers at the end of each chapter. The sales of the first three series, where Stay Out of the Basement was the second book right after Welcome to Dead House, then was followed by Monster Blood, and Say Cheese and Die, were initially very slow.
The books sat around on the= shelves for about three to five months. They sat there, like it would take forever to be noticed. Until the sales suddenly exploded the next couple of days. It amazing indeed, but what was really surprising was the fact that unlike this days, there were seldom advertising or anything before. There was so little initial promotion for the books, and Stine didn’t do interviews. So, it’s hard to believe that it actually sold millions of copies a month.
Stine’s point was somehow justifiable and true. He thought that maybe it was discovered by kids and the whole thing happened by word of mouth. It was just kids telling kids, according to him. He goes exactly with this words, “Kids told kids. I think that’s how all the big book crazes started, not by advertising. You can’t really force kids to read something they don’t want. Harry Potter started the same way, I think. Kids telling kids, all over the world. That’s the amazing part.”
Goosebumps soon became a literary phenomenon. The books became bestsellers from United States to other countries, and were eventually translated into 16 languages. Goosebumps was then pushed through different medias, TV shows, and movie adaptations. It was a total success.