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Reader Beware! Ohio shapes scary stories by best-selling “Goosebumps” author R.L. Stine

Five of R.L. Stine's "Goosebumps" books are staged against a light green backdrop.
The creator of "Goosebumps", R.L. Stine, says his childhood in Bexley influences his immensely popular children's horror books.

When R.L. Stine was growing up in Bexley in Central Ohio, he was afraid of everything. It’s part of what led him to spend so much time writing in his bedroom beginning at age 9.

“I was always sure something was lurking in the garage, waiting for me. Something horrible,” he said.

Stine channels these childhood fears in writing his bestselling horror books for children, “Goosebumps.” The frightening fiction, which started more than 30 years ago, has scared generations of young readers through more than 200 books, with plots of ventriloquist dummies wreaking havoc and horror-filled amusement parks. (The Beast, a ride at Kings Island in Cincinnati, even earned its own book!)

The spooky series has spawned TV shows, movies and graphic novels. Stine joined The Ohio Newsroom to talk about his childhood in Ohio and his success in writing the stuff of nightmares.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

On his childhood fears

“I was a very fearful child, and very shy. And I think that's why I liked to stay in my room writing … I felt safer there. Because I really was very fearful. I had all these weird fears. I used to ride my bike around the neighborhood after dinner. And then I'd come up the driveway in the dark. And I was always sure something was lurking in the garage, waiting for me, something horrible. And I would take my bike and I would heave it into the garage and run into the house. That was a terrible way to grow up, but when I started writing these scary books, I can remember that feeling of panic. I can remember what that was like. And I could bring that to my books.”

A headshot of R.L. Stine wearing a black collared shirt.
Dan Nelken
R.L. Stine says he's lucky to have scared generations of young readers.

On his most famous character, Slappy the Dummy

“People forget that Slappy is evil. Thousands of kids go out as Slappy at Halloween time, which is really very gratifying to me. It's kind of a thrill. Slappy is my favorite character, and my least favorite character. He's my favorite just because he's so popular and everyone likes him so much. He's my least favorite because I've had to write 15 books about him. 15 books about a dummy coming to life and it's very hard to come up with plots.

“When the ‘Goosebumps’ movie came out with Jack Black playing me, [Slappy] was a big star. People loved him in the movie. And I think that helped his popularity a lot. I don't really get it. I don't know why people think he's scary, really. He’s just a wooden dummy.”

On Ohio’s influence in his writing

“[Ohio is in] every ‘Goosebumps’ book, because just about every book takes place in a suburb like Bexley, in someone's backyard. ‘Goosebumps’ never takes place in middle Europe, in an old castle somewhere far. ‘Goosebumps’ always starts out in the kitchen or in the backyard. And when I write those books, I think back to my childhood in Bexley, and I picture what that suburb looked like.”

On his next book

“I just finished a ‘Goosebumps’ book called ‘Night of the Living Mummy.’ And partly it takes place in ancient Egypt with a boy king who gets murdered in his castle. And he has to come into the future to find his murderer. So he has to come to (the) present day.

“We've [also] changed ‘Goosebumps'. The new name … is ‘Goosebumps House of Shivers.’ And this will be the third one. I just finished it this week.”

Kendall Crawford is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently worked as a reporter at Iowa Public Radio.