14 Freaky Facts About R.L. Stine's Fear Street Books

Lucy Quintanilla
Lucy Quintanilla

In the late 1980s and early ‘90s, R.L. Stine’s horror series Fear Street—which featured ghosts, vampires, and killer cheerleaders, not to mention illustrated covers decked out with creepy fonts—terrified teens. The series was revived in 2014, and now, Stine’s latest, Return to Fear Street: You May Now Kill the Bride (which has a fun “retro” cover) will hit stores in July. Here are a few things you might not have known about the series.

1. THE SERIES HAS ITS ROOTS IN AN EDITOR’S FIGHT WITH ANOTHER TEEN HORROR AUTHOR.

Stine had been working for Scholastic, writing joke books (under the name “Jovial Bob Stine”) and editing a humor magazine, when he had lunch with an editor friend who asked him to go in a … different direction. “She had had a big fight with somebody writing teenage horror. Who will remain nameless. Christopher Pike,” Stine told NPR. “And she said, ‘I'm not working with him again. I'll bet you could write good horror. Go home and write a novel for teenagers. Call it Blind Date.’ She even gave me the title. It's embarrassing! It wasn't my idea.”

Despite his reluctance, Stine wrote Blind Date anyway. After it was published in 1987, it became a bestseller. “I thought, ‘Wait a minute—I’ve struck a chord here. I’ve found something kids like!’” he told Mental Floss in 2014. “A year later, [my editor] wanted another one, and so I wrote Twisted. And it was a number-one bestseller, too. But she only wanted one [book] a year, and I thought, ‘You know, forget this funny stuff. I’ve got to write these scary books. That’s what these kids want.’ Kids like to be scared, and I just sort of stumbled into this. I said to her, ‘It would be nice to do more than one a year—maybe we can do more if we can think of some way to do a series.’”

2. STINE WAS TOLD A TEEN HORROR SERIES COULDN’T BE DONE.

“Publishers didn’t want a series because you couldn’t have these horrible things happen to the same kids over and over,” Stine said. “That would be ludicrous, right?” His publishers were likely thankful he was wrong: The Fear Street series grew to include 51 main series books and several spin-off series; by 2014, the books had sold 80 million copies.

3. THE SERIES’S TITLE JUST POPPED INTO HIS HEAD.

“It was the first one I thought of: Fear Street,” Stine told Mental Floss. “And I thought, ‘That would be a place where bad things happen. It’ll be a very normal, suburban town, but there’ll be this one street that’s cursed. People who go to Fear Street or people who move to Fear Street, terrible things would happen to them. And that would be a way to do a series.’ And that’s how it started, by basing it on the location and not the characters.”

The New Girl, the first book in the series, was published in 1989; Stine released one Fear Street book almost every month after that. “Back in the height of Goosebumps in the '90s, I did 12 Goosebumps books a year and 12 Fear Street books,” Stine told PopSugar. “I don't know how I did it. Honestly, I don't know how!”

4. STINE AMASSED AN IMPRESSIVE BODY COUNT.

“When we first started doing the teen horror novels, I wasn’t allowed to kill anyone,” Stine told CNN. “[Then] we started getting bolder, one per book, maybe two or three. It’s a bloodfest.” In 2014, Stine jokingly told Mental Floss, “I kill off a lot of teenagers. It’s kind of my hobby. I was wondering why, recently; why did I love killing teenagers so much back in the Fear Street days? And then I realized: I had one back at home. Teenagers are tough!”

5. THE CHARACTERS AREN’T FLESHED OUT ON PURPOSE.

Though he’s been criticized for it, Stine told CNN that his characters’ lack of depth is deliberate. “I don’t want to create a whole character, I want the reader to feel like the character,” he said. “So I’m great at full-blown cardboard characters.” The books’ settings were also purposefully nondescript to make them easily relatable to anyone.

6. THERE ARE SOME STORYLINES STINE SAID HE’D NEVER INCLUDE.

Drugs and child abuse are off the table for the author, and even divorce is only used sparingly. “That’s the kind of reality that ruins a story,” Stine said. “It’s better if the fears are less real.”

In 2015, he told The Verge that he avoided those topics because “I don't really want to terrify kids ... I think if you make sure it's a fantasy world, and the kids know what they're reading is a fantasy and couldn't happen, then you can go pretty far and you won’t upset them that much.”

7. THERE WERE A NUMBER OF SPIN-OFFS.

One series, Ghosts of Fear Street, was aimed at younger readers (at least some of these were ghost-written by someone other than Stine). Another, The Fear Street Sagas, stretched for 16 books; it explored the twisted and cursed history of the Fier family, from which Fear Street took its name. There were several trilogies, including 99 Fear Street: The House of Evil, Fear Street: Fear Park, Fear Street Cheerleaders, and Fear Street: The Cataluna Chronicles. Other series-within-the-series included Fear Street Super Chiller, Fear Street Seniors, and Fear Street Nights. 

Though he did a lot of series, Stine was not a fan of linking the storylines: “It’s too hard for me,” he told Barnes and Noble in 2014. “I like starting all over with every book.”

8. STINE’S SON STARS IN ONE.

Stine’s son, Matt, didn’t read his dad’s books “because he knew it would make me crazy,” Stine said in a CNN chat in 1999. “And it worked. It’s horrible!” So Stine tried something unusual: He put his son in a Fear Street book. “I even made him the star of a Fear Street book called Goodnight Kiss,” Stine said. (From Amazon: “Matt must save his girlfriend April from a vampire hypnotizing her with intoxicating kisses ...”) But Matt didn’t budge: “He didn't read that one either ... he'll probably never read my books.”

What Matt did do was make some money off of them: “He would sell parts in Goosebumps to his friends," Stine told The Daily Beast. "They would pay him ten bucks and he’d come home and say, 'Dad, you have to put James in the next one.' I think he cashed in on them.” As of 2014, Matt was managing Stine’s website.

9. STINE GOT A LOT OF HEAT FOR A FEAR STREET NOVEL THAT DIDN’T HAVE A HAPPY ENDING ...

"I did one book called The Best Friend, and it had an unhappy ending, where the good girl was taken off as a murderer and the bad girl triumphed, and kids hated this book," Stine told Matt Raymond of the Library of Congress [PDF]. "They turned on me. I got all this mail: 'Dear R. L. Stine, you moron! How could you write that?' 'Dear R. L. Stine, you're an idiot! Are you going to write a sequel to finish the story?' They absolutely couldn't accept an unhappy ending.”

“I would do school visits, and that book haunted me," he told TIME. "The hand would go up: ‘Why would you write that book? Why did you do that?’”

10. ... AND RAN A CONTEST TO COME UP WITH THE PLOT FOR A SEQUEL.

The reaction to The Best Friend was so negative that Stine and Pocket Books ran a contest for kids to come up with an idea for what to do in the sequel. The cover of The Best Friend 2 read, “The book you demanded! The contest-winning story that answers the question ‘What should happen to Honey?’” Stine never tried an unhappy ending again.

11. TYPICALLY, IT TOOK TWO TO THREE WEEKS TO WRITE ONE FEAR STREET NOVEL.

But it didn’t always take that long: Stine told The Big Thrill that he wrote one of the novels in just eight days. “I’m sort of a machine,” he said. “I treat writing just like a job and write 2000 words, five to six times a week. I’m just cut out for this, I guess—it’s all I’ve really ever been good at.” The key to his speed, he said, is plotting everything out: “You can’t get writer’s block if you do that much planning. Once I’ve finished the outline"—which can run up to 20 pages long—"I can just enjoy writing the story.”

And he always starts with a title: “Most authors have an idea for a book, they write, they’re writing, later on they think of a title," he told the Huffington Post. "I have to start with a title. It leads me to the story."

12. STINE HAS TWO FAVORITE EARLY FEAR STREET NOVELS.

“One is called Switched. Every once in a while someone brings it up,” Stine told Vulture in 2013. “It's about two girls who go out to this magic rock in the forest and switch bodies just for the fun of it, but one of the girls has tricked the other—she's murdered her parents, and now she's in the other girl’s body. The first girl goes back, finds the parents have been murdered, and can't get her own body back. There's also Silent Night, that’s a Christmas one. Reva Dalby is the daughter of a guy who owns the big department store in Shadyside. She's rich and mean and terrible to her poor cousins, and everyone hates her. She was really fun to write.”

His favorite of the more recent Fear Street books—at least as of 2015—was The Lost Girl. “It has the most gruesome scene I’ve ever written. It’s disgusting,” Stine told Mental Floss. “It involves horses eating a man. I should be ashamed, but I’m so proud of that scene.”

13. STINE KILLED THE SERIES IN THE LATE '90S—AND BROUGHT IT BACK IN 2014.

After ending the Fear Street series in the late '90s with Trapped, Stine returned to Shadyside with Party Games in 2014. “The whole thing happened because of Twitter,” Stine told CNN. "It's a great way to keep in touch with my original readers, and Fear Street was mentioned more than anything else. That's what they read when they were kids. And I suppose we're all nostalgic for what we read back then.” After tweeting that no publishers were interested in bringing the series back, one publisher reached out to tell him she’d love to do it—and the rest is history.

The new Fear Street books were about 100 pages longer than their predecessors and in hardcover for the first time. The Return to Fear Street books—the first of which comes out this summer—are paperbacks with retro covers. (You can still get a number of the original books, with their excellently creepy covers, on Amazon.)

14. TECHNOLOGY MADE STINE'S JOB HARDER.

Stine told TIME that writing the books today was tougher than it was in the '90s, “because the technology has ruined a lot of things that make for good mysteries—largely because of cell phones … You have to get rid of the phone when you’re writing the book.” In one of 2014's Fear Street books, Stine's characters surrendered their cells early in the book for a phone-free weekend, allowing the murder and mayhem to proceed unchecked.

In order to write the new Fear Street books, Stine says he has to be familiar with technology that teens currently love. “You don’t want to sound out of date at all, but I’m very careful because the technology changes every two weeks. You have to be not terribly specific about what they’re using,” he said. So don’t look for any Facebook stalkers or Snapchat murderers in Fear Street: “In a month, that would be [over], and then you look like you don’t know what you’re doing. The lucky thing about horror is that the things that people are afraid of, it never changes. Afraid of the dark, afraid someone’s in the house, afraid someone’s under your bed—that’s the same.”

6 Facts About International Women's Day

iStock.com/robeo
iStock.com/robeo

For more than 100 years, March 8th has marked what has come to be known as International Women's Day in countries around the world. While its purpose differs from place to place—in some countries it’s a day of protest, in others it’s a way to celebrate the accomplishments of women and promote gender equality—the holiday is more than just a simple hashtag. Ahead of this year’s celebration, let’s take a moment to explore the day’s origins and traditions.

1. International Women's Day originated more than 100 years ago.

On February 28, 1909, the now-dissolved Socialist Party of America organized the first National Woman’s Day, which took place on the last Sunday in February. In 1910, Clara Zetkin—the leader of Germany’s 'Women's Office' for the Social Democratic Party—proposed the idea of a global International Women’s Day, so that people around the world could celebrate at the same time. On March 19, 1911, the first International Women’s Day was held; more than 1 million people in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Denmark took part.

2. The celebration got women the vote in Russia.

In 1917, women in Russia honored the day by beginning a strike for “bread and peace” as a way to protest World War I and advocate for gender parity. Czar Nicholas II, the country’s leader at the time, was not impressed and instructed General Khabalov of the Petrograd Military District to put an end to the protests—and to shoot any woman who refused to stand down. But the women wouldn't be intimidated and continued their protests, which led the Czar to abdicate just days later. The provisional government then granted women in Russia the right to vote.

3. The United Nations officially adopted International Women's Day in 1975.

In 1975, the United Nations—which had dubbed the year International Women’s Year—celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8th for the first time. Since then, the UN has become the primary sponsor of the annual event and has encouraged even more countries around the world to embrace the holiday and its goal of celebrating “acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.”

4. International Women's Day is an official holiday in dozens of countries.

International Women’s Day is a day of celebration around the world, and an official holiday in dozens of countries. Afghanistan, Cuba, Vietnam, Uganda, Mongolia, Georgia, Laos, Cambodia, Armenia, Belarus, Montenegro, Russia, and Ukraine are just some of the places where March 8th is recognized as an official holiday.

5. It’s a combined celebration with Mother’s Day in several places.

In the same way that Mother’s Day doubles as a sort of women’s appreciation day, the two holidays are combined in some countries, including Serbia, Albania, Macedonia, and Uzbekistan. On this day, children present their mothers and grandmothers with small gifts and tokens of love and appreciation.

6. Each year's festivities have an official theme.

In 1996, the UN created a theme for that year’s International Women’s Day: Celebrating the Past, Planning for the Future. In 1997, it was “Women at the Peace Table,” then “Women and Human Rights” in 1998. They’ve continued this themed tradition in the years since; for 2019, it's “Better the balance, better the world” or #BalanceforBetter.

8 Enlightening Facts About Dr. Ruth Westheimer

Rachel Murray, Getty Images for Hulu
Rachel Murray, Getty Images for Hulu

For decades, sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer has used television, radio, the written word, and the internet to speak frankly on topics relating to human sexuality, turning what were once controversial topics into healthy, everyday conversations.

At age 90, Westheimer shows no signs of slowing down. As a new documentary, Ask Dr. Ruth, gears up for release on Hulu this spring, we thought we’d take a look at Westheimer’s colorful history as an advisor, author, and resistance sniper.

1. The Nazis devastated her childhood.

Dr. Ruth was born Karola Ruth Siegel on June 4, 1928 in Wiesenfeld, Germany, the only child of Julius and Irma Siegel. When Ruth was just five years old, the advancing Nazi party terrorized her neighborhood and seized her father in 1938, presumably to shuttle him to a concentration camp. One year later, Karola—who eventually began using her middle name and took on the last name Westheimer with her second marriage in 1961—was sent to a school in Switzerland for her own protection. She later learned that her parents had both been killed during the Holocaust, possibly at Auschwitz.

2. She shocked classmates with her knowledge of taboo topics.

Westheimer has never been bashful about the workings of human sexuality. While working as a maid at an all-girls school in Switzerland, she made classmates and teachers gasp with her frank talk about menstruation and other topics that were rarely spoken of in casual terms.

3. She trained as a sniper for Jewish resistance fighters in Palestine.

Following the end of World War II, Westheimer left Switzerland for Israel, and later Palestine. She became a Zionist and joined the Haganah, an underground network of Jewish resistance fighters. Westheimer carried a weapon and trained as both a scout and sniper, learning how to throw hand grenades and shoot firearms. Though she never saw direct action, the tension and skirmishes could lapse into violence, and in 1948, Westheimer suffered a serious injury to her foot owing to a bomb blast. The injury convinced her to move into the comparatively less dangerous field of academia.

4. A lecture ignited her career.

 Dr. Ruth Westheimer participates in the annual Charity Day hosted by Cantor Fitzgerald and BGC at Cantor Fitzgerald on September 11, 2015 in New York City.
Robin Marchant, Getty Images for Cantor Fitzgerald

In 1950, Westheimer married an Israeli soldier and the two relocated to Paris, where she studied psychology at the Sorbonne. Though the couple divorced in 1955, Westheimer's education continued into 1959, when she graduated with a master’s degree in sociology from the New School in New York City. (She received a doctorate in education from Columbia University in 1970.) After meeting and marrying Manfred Westheimer, a Jewish refugee, in 1961, Westheimer became an American citizen.

By the late 1960s, she was working at Planned Parenthood, where she excelled at having honest conversations about uncomfortable topics. Eventually, Westheimer found herself giving a lecture to New York-area broadcasters about airing programming with information about safe sex. Radio station WYNY offered her a show, Sexually Speaking, that soon blossomed into a hit, going from 15 minutes to two hours weekly. By 1983, 250,000 people were listening to Westheimer talk about contraception and intimacy.

5. People told her to lose her accent.

Westheimer’s distinctive accent has led some to declare her “Grandma Freud.” But early on, she was given advice to take speech lessons and make an effort to lose her accent. Westheimer declined, and considers herself fortunate to have done so. “It helped me greatly, because when people turned on the radio, they knew it was me,” she told the Harvard Business Review in 2016.

6. She’s not concerned about her height, either.

In addition to her voice, Westheimer became easily recognizable due to her diminutive stature. (She’s four feet, seven inches tall.) When she was younger, Westheimer worried her height might not be appealing. Later, she realized it was an asset. “On the contrary, I was lucky to be so small, because when I was studying at the Sorbonne, there was very little space in the auditoriums and I could always find a good-looking guy to put me up on a windowsill,” she told the HBR.

7. She advises people not to take huge penises seriously.

Westheimer doesn’t frown upon pornography; in 2018, she told the Times of Israel that viewers can “learn something from it.” But she does note the importance of separating fantasy from reality. “People have to use their own judgment in knowing that in any of the sexually explicit movies, the genitalia that is shown—how should I say this? No regular person is endowed like that.”

8. She lectures on cruise ships.

Westheimer uses every available medium—radio, television, the internet, and even graphic novels—to share her thoughts and advice about human sexuality. Sometimes, that means going out to sea. The therapist books cruise ship appearances where she offers presentations to guests on how best to manage their sex lives. Westheimer often insists the crew participate and will regularly request that the captain read some of the questions.

“The last time, the captain was British, very tall, and had to say ‘orgasm’ and ‘erection,’” she told The New York Times in 2018. “Never did they think they would hear the captain talk about the things we were talking about.” Of course, that’s long been Westheimer’s objective—to make the taboo seem tame.

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