Welcome to 52 Fear Street, McNally Jackson’s month-long celebration of R.L. Stine. Join us on October 30th for an evening with Mr. Stine himself and his Fear Street editor Kat Brzozowski, and follow the #52FearSt tags on tumblr and Twitter to hear what authors, booksellers, and editors have to say about Fear Street and Goosebumps.
Today’s post is from Robin Wasserman, author of The Book of Blood and Shadow, Skinned, and The Waking Dark.
The Man Who Terrorized One Babysitter After Another
I am too old for Goosebumps, and always have been.
This kills me to say, not least because I’m still young enough that I resist the idea of being too old for anything. But the series debuted in 1992, when I was fourteen—slightly too old to be earnestly reading middle grade books, slightly too young to be reading them ironically. (Two years later I’d be hiding in the aisles of Barnes and Noble with a stack of Sweet Valley Highs, already, at sixteen, nostalgic for the simpler time of ‘my youth.’)
My timing was off again when I arrived at Scholastic as an eager young editorial assistant—a couple months after the last of the original Goosebumps made its way into the world. By the time I figured out where the bathrooms were and how to work the fax machine, the era of long-running paperback series had given way to Harry Potter, and Scholastic was all-wizard, all-the-time. (Or maybe that’s just how it felt to me, buried as I was most days in a mountainous pile of Potter paraphernalia.) I would have killed to work on something like Goosebumps (or The Babysitter’s Club, or Animorphs, both of which also came to a close along with the millennium), but once again: bad timing.
And yet. Here I am, with my own story of How RL Stine Changed My Life, because somehow, despite bad timing and missed connections, he did.
I started at Scholastic in 2000, a few years before the YA boom began in earnest, back when the words “young adult” were thought to be a death knell. Speak had been published, and soon Scholastic would launch Push, its boutique imprint for dark, edgy teen fiction—slowly, a few bold editors were carving out a place for brutal and literary stories of adolescence. But the kind of YA I’d gobbled up myself, the YA that had forever imprinted me with a vision for what teen life should be? The Sweet Valley High, the Christopher Pike, the Fear Street—the cheap paperbacks with soapy twists and high body counts? The romances, the thrillers, the tearjerkers, the stories designed not to educate on the ills of society or illuminate the human condition, but simply to entertain?
Forget it. That age was gone and, common wisdom said, never coming back.
So I forgot about it—had, in fact, already forgotten about it years before. College, and its arms race of literary pretension, will do that to a girl. These were the days of Harry Potter and Pokemon and Magic School Bus, and working at Scholastic may have evoked memories of how much I’d loved A Wrinkle in Time or The Westing Game, but anything skewing older than that was verboten.
And then I found them. Lying on top of the giveaway pile, a treasure trove of discards that those of us barely scraping by on our entry-level publishing salaries scooped up as eagerly as we did cheap wine at book parties and any snacks set out in the break room. Sometimes you could root through for half an hour without finding anything. Sometimes, you struck gold.
The taglines are enough to tell you exactly what kind of stories you’re getting yourself into:
His girlfriend’s back…from the grave.
New neighborhood. New nightmare.
A night to remember. A night of terror.
Someone is watching her. Waiting for her. And he won’t leave until she’s dead.
(Here’s where I had to take a little break from writing this post to start re-reading The Girlfriend, because at no point have I ever had the will to resist the promise of lines like, “Now Scotty has a new girlfriend. One who won’t go away. One who will stop at nothing. One who loves him…to death.”)
I know R.L. Stine is the master of middle grade horror, but for me he always has been and will be the man who terrorized one babysitter after another, who turned teenagers into killers and mental patients and voices from beyond the grave. The books in this photo are only a few of the R.L. Stine Point thrillers I found, all of them from the early 90s. I took them home with me, devoured three of them in one night, and still have them on my shelf as a reminder of what they did for me.
What they did:
Remind me of the books I’d once loved to read.
Reawaken my desperate wish to write some of my own.
I spent my next and last two years at Scholastic slowly but surely adding to my collection of dogeared paperbacks and trying to convince anyone who would listen that we should be launch a new era of commercial YA—that teenagers couldn’t have changed so much since the 90s, and surely there was still an audience for the kind of books I used to love. No one listened to me, which is fair enough, since I was five minutes out of college and, on most subjects, had no idea what I was talking about.
But on this one—as I’ve been unabashedly (and I suspect somewhat irritatingly) bragging to everyone I’ve met in the last eleven years—I was right.
There were a bunch of us at Scholastic nurturing our love for YA fiction, biding our time, as there must have been at all the major publishing houses, because (and by this point I’d quit, so I could only watch in blissed out awe and envy) eventually, they got their way. Suddenly everyone was putting out books that harkened back to the glory days of 90s YA, books that evoked the best of Francine Pascal, Christopher Pike, Lois Duncan, and of course, R.L. Stine.
If I hadn’t found that stack of books in the giveaway pile, maybe I eventually would have rediscovered my dormant love for YA, maybe I still would have pitched a commercial teen paperback series to Simon Pulse as soon as I’d quit my job, maybe, even without R.L. Stine and his murdered babysitters and evil girlfriends, I would have ended up where I am now anyway, writing and publishing YA books, living out a childhood dream.
But I wouldn’t bet on it.