Who doesn’t love a good ghost story? I am hoping that all of you do, because today’s blog subject is about a man who made a fantastic living writing a complete collection of ghost stories.
In fact, this man has written well over two hundred books in his whole career thus far. And not all of them are scary books either. He worked for a children’s magazine for a number of years, helped create a children’s television show on Nickelodeon, penned several anthologies and short stories, and he’s even been credited with writing at least seventeen joke books, and a few novel adaptations of popular movies.
Of course, if one were to pick out what this man’s specialty is in terms of books...well, let’s just say that the answer will leave you with “goosebumps”.
I’ll explain that comment a little bit later.
So, what do you say? Should I introduce you to the author in the spotlight for this week?
Now, how many of you recognize this man?
I imagine that a few of you already know who he is, but I can see some of you scratching your heads right now, unsure. And yes, I can see you through my computer screen. I have the power to do that, you know. J
Okay, I’ll elaborate a little bit further. His name is Robert Lawrence Stine. He was born on October 8, 1943 in Columbus, Ohio (making him 69 years young as of just two days ago). He grew up with his mother Anne, a homemaker, and his father Lewis, a shipping clerk.
Robert Lawrence Stein is definitely a man after my own heart. When I was nine years old, I was already illustrating and writing incredibly basic stories on notebook paper for my third and fourth grade classrooms. When Robert was nine, he also began writing. After discovering a typewriter stashed away in his parents attic, he frequently used it to type out joke books and stories.
TRUE CONFESSION: Ironically enough, my first experience with typing also involved a typewriter! The only difference was that the typewriter was stashed in our basement, not the attic. In fact, I’ll be the first one to admit that when I was in high school, I typed out all my essays and book reports on a typewriter. Keep in mind that I started high school in 1995!!! But hey, whatever worked, right? For whatever reason, I still have this desire to type on a typewriter. I loved those things!
Oh, wait...I’m getting off track. You should know by now that sometimes this happens.
Anyway, getting back to the life and times of Robert Stine...Robert graduated from Ohio State University in 1965 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. While he was a student at Ohio State, he kept his writing skills tuned up by writing for and editing the campus humour magazine “The Sundial” for the majority of his time as a student. Four years later, he would marry Jane Waldhorn, and together they would have one child, Matthew, born in 1980.
It wasn’t until he moved to New York City that Stine’s writing career really started to take off, but not in the genre that most people would associate his name with. Going under the pen name of “Jovial Bob Stine”, Robert ended up penning several humour and joke books with such titles as “101 Vacation Jokes”, “101 Wacky Kid Jokes”, and “101 Silly Monster Jokes”.
Apparently Stine loved the number 101 for whatever reason.
He also ended up not only contributing to the long-running Dynamite Magazine under his original pen name of “Jovial Bob Stine”, but he was also a key player in the creation of another magazine, “Bananas”, which was in publication between 1975 and 1984.
Believe it or not, this already busy man was also responsible for the creation of the Nickelodeon television series “Eureeka’s Castle” in 1989!
Now while all of these were fantastic achievements for Stine, it only skims the top of the iceberg compared to what was about to come for Stine.
It was during the mid-1980s that Stine decided to switch from writing joke books and began creating stories that were a bit scarier. In 1986, Stine published his first horror themed novel, “Blind Date”, this time going under his real name, R.L. Stine. Other books soon followed including “The Babysitter” (and its three sequels), “The Beach House”, “The Girlfriend”, and “Hit and Run”. By 1989, Stine had begun work on the first of the many series of books that he would end up writing, the “Fear Street” series. But while he was working on the “Fear Street” books (which included such titles as “The New Girl”, “The Wrong Number”, and “The Cheater”), he penned three humour books based on the subject of science-fiction, creating the “Space Cadets” series.
All the while, he continued to write scary stories which were published in Dynamite Magazine, and which seemed to get a generally positive reaction from kids who read the magazine. But when Dynamite printed its last issue in early 1992, Stine contemplated the idea of beginning a series of horror novels for children. The tales would be scary, but not nearly as gory as the standard horror novels written by Stephen King, or Dean Koontz. He figured that he could pen a series of books that put children and teenagers in scary situations and by using plotlines that combined suspense, humour, and the supernatural, he could expand on his short stories that used to run in Dynamite Magazine to create brand new book-length adventures.
With a publishing deal with Scholastic Publishing (who also published “Bananas” and “Dynamite”, R.L. Stine released the first of 62 books in the original “Goosebumps” series.
(You saw where that introduction was leading, right?)
TRIVIA: The source for the name “Goosebumps” came from an unlikely source. R.L. Stine was leafing through an issue of TV Guide when he stumbled upon an ad that proclaimed that it was “goosebumps week on Channel 11”. And initially, when Stine signed on with Scholastic Publishing, the contract was good for half a dozen books. Stine inevitably ended up writing ten times that amount!
I will be the first one to admit that I read a few of the Goosebumps books that were available in our school library. There were some books that didn’t really make me afraid, but there were others that made me want to require some sort of light source nearby if I were reading the story in a dimly-lit place. And I think that was part of the appeal of the Goosebumps series. Each book focused on, or exploited a fear that many of us had as kids. Whether it was the dark, the “monsters” hiding in the bedroom closet, or ghosts haunting a house, I don’t think there was one kid I knew who didn’t get frightened by at least one of the books in the series.
And that was really the goal that R.L. Stine had when creating the series. He was quoted in an article that had been published on Kidsreads.com, where Stine stated the following: “I think everyone loves a good scare --- especially when you know you’re safe at the same time. I like to think of Goosebumps as safe scares. You know everything is going to turn out okay in the end. Or maybe not...”
I think that was part of the reason why “Goosebumps” did so well initially. Stine really knew how to write plot twists and surprise developments that kept millions of kids glued to the books.
Goosebumps began in July 1992 with the first book, “Welcome To Dead House” which tells the tale of siblings Amanda and Josh Benson, who are haunted by a group of ghosts who previously lived in the house that their family just moved into. Within one month, the book had already sold one million copies, even landing the coveted spot on the New York Times Best Seller List for Children’s books! It also topped the lists of USA Today and Publishers Weekly, with the first few books in the series appearing on the USA Today list for 115 consecutive weeks during a period in the mid-1990s!
During the original run of the series, R.L. Stine kept audiences salivating for more stories, and over the next five years, he kept churning out books every month. Some of the most memorable Goosebumps books include the following;
BOOK #3 – MONSTER BLOOD (September 1992)
In this book, Evan and Andy discover a can of novelty slime known as “Monster Blood”, which ends up consuming everything in its path, and causes dogs to become giant-sized. And, this book isn’t the only one that contains the substance known as “Monster Slime”. It makes returns in books #18, #29, and the final book in the series, #62.
BOOK #7 – NIGHT OF THE LIVING DUMMY (May 1993)
The idea behind this book was inspired by the classic tale of “Pinocchio”, which features a pair of twin sisters who are horrified to witness destructive pranks after they both find a pair of ventriloquist dummies. One of the dummies, Slappy the Dummy, makes a reappearance in book #31 and book #40.
BOOK #11 – THE HAUNTED MASK (September 1993)
Poor Carly Beth. She just can’t get any respect...especially after wearing a duck costume for Halloween that makes her the butt of everyone else’s jokes. She ends up finding an enchanted mask at a costume shop and immediately puts it on...but the longer she keeps wearing it, the more warped her personality becomes...and the longer she wears the mask, the harder it gets for her to take it off. It was inspired by a real-life event in which Stine’s son, Matthew, ended up having difficulty getting a Halloween mask off his face one year, and inspired the sequel in book #36.
BOOK #19 – DEEP TROUBLE (May 1994)
In this book, Billy Deep is on vacation in the Caribbean when he almost gets eaten by a shark. He is saved by a mermaid, but Billy must decides where his loyalties lie when he finds out that the mermaid is the target of one of his uncle’s scientific experiments. The sequel to this tale can be found in book #58.
BOOK #28 – THE CUCKOO CLOCK OF DOOM (February 1995)
Think the movie “Groundhog Day” only with horror elements mixed in. After Michael vandalizes his father’s cuckoo clock and blames it on his sister in revenge for her ruining his birthday party, Michael’s guilt causes him to become stuck in a parallel universe where he is forced to relive his horrible birthday over and over again.
BOOK #52 – HOW I LEARNED TO FLY (February 1997)
This is the only Goosebumps book that does NOT contain any supernatural elements within it. Instead, the book bases its fears on human nature, which is proved by the plot in which two boys end up becoming celebrities after learning how to fly.
The original book series wrapped up in December 1997, after sales began to dip, but despite the dip, fans were still in love with the Goosebumps books. By 1997, the official Goosebumps Fan Club had approximately 75,000 members, and by 2008, an estimated 350 million copies had been sold through bookstores, Scholastic book fairs, and Scholastic book orders. At one point, the Goosebumps series accounted for 15% of Scholastic’s annual revenue, and it remains Scholastic’s bestselling children’s book series of all time fifteen years after the original series wrapped up.
This was in spite of the fact that the Goosebumps series was one of the most frequently challenged books by the American Library Association, which believed the books were too frightening for young children. I mean, I certainly wouldn’t read a Goosebumps book to a three year old child as a bedtime story, but I don’t really seem them being all that bad. Of course, maybe it’s just me.
But don’t think that you have heard the last of the name “Goosebumps”. The series has since been revived a few times. In 2000, Stine created the “Goosebumps Series 2000” series which ran for 25 books. The 2000 books were a lot like the original series...only scarier. As well, the “Goosebumps HorrorLand” series kicked off in 2008, and the “Goosebumps Most Wanted” series debuted earlier this year! There was even a television show based on the television series that ran from 1995-1998!
And that is all that I have to say about “Goosebumps”. Now I turn the floor over to you.
BONUS QUESTION: Did you read Goosebumps? And what was your favourite book?