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21 Bone-Chilling Secrets About R.L. Stine

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As told to Jen Doll. 

The bestselling author of the Goosebumps series (which has more than 350 million English-language books in print) and the recently revived Fear Street series on how he's made scary stories his life's work

1. All I ever wanted to be was a writer.
I started when I was 9. I’d be in my room writing little joke magazines, and I would bring them to school. I was a shy, fearful kid, and it was my way of getting attention. People always ask, “Did you have any teachers who encouraged you?” and the right answer is, “Yes, I did.” But I didn’t. They begged me to stop!

2. These days, I read the paper and get to work at about 9:30 every morning in my apartment.
It’s the world’s best commute. I write 2,000 words and usually finish by 2:30 p.m. I walk the dog, go to the gym, and take a nap. That’s it. It’s a full life.

3. The challenge is coming up with new ideas.
I’ve done every scary thing you can possibly do. I met Stephen King at the Edgar Awards and he said, “You’ve taken every single amusement park plot and haven’t left any for anyone else.”

4. I’m lucky.
When I need a new idea, I get one. But it’s mysterious to me. People say, “R.L. Stine has the formula.” I wish I knew the formula. I don’t think there is one.

5. About every Goosebumps book has to take place in some kid’s backyard, or the kitchen, or the basement.
It’s scarier for kids if it starts in their own house or neighborhood. Some writers make a mistake; they want to do something creepy, so they pick a huge dark castle in Europe, but kids don’t relate to that.

6. I don’t get scared.
I watched this horror movie, It Follows. It just made me laugh; they all do. I think horror is funny. That’s the combination kids like: books that are funny and scary at the same time, but not too scary.

7. I don’t read much horror.
A few Stephen King books are absolutely brilliant. I think Misery is the best book ever written about writers and editors. Pet Sematary, I’ve stolen that plot about six times. I had to—it’s just so good.

8. I’ve read every PG Wodehouse novel, he’s my hero really.
All of the Jeeves and Wooster books are just amazing. There’s one so brilliant you can’t believe it, so hilarious, called Right Ho Jeeves, it’s the best of them all. He made it look so easy you know. He was sort of the Shakespeare of comedy, Wodehouse.

9. One of my earliest influences were the EC Comic books.
I just loved those comics. They were beautifully drawn, but they had this great combination of being really disgusting, really horrifying and horrible, and they all had funny endings. That was very influential on me, that combination.

10. I try to find good horror movies.
The Shining is my all-time favorite. I like Evil Dead 2, it’s totally crazy, and Cabin in the Woods is probably the most recent horror film that I thought was really good. What makes a horror movie good is that it surprises you.

11. Planning a book is the only time I get stuck.
I can do a Goosebumps outline, which is 25 to 30 chapters, in three or four days. But if it’s not going well, it might take me two weeks. My editor is my wife, Jane, and I never get a book through without revising. It’s the main thing we fight about—plots.

12. In the early days, Jane and I collaborated on funny books for kids.
But we work so differently. I go in order, starting in the beginning, and Jane would write something in the middle, then write an ending, then go back. We fought about it, and she locked me in a closet and left the apartment. Then we decided not to collaborate.

13. After college, I went to New York and worked for a year on a soft drink magazine, and then I became assistant editor of Junior Scholastic.
It was 1968. I wrote history and geography articles and news stories, and then they gave me my own magazine, Search. It was a history-current affairs magazine for junior high kids, but written at a fifth-grade level. That’s how I learned about reading levels. I learned all the vocabulary lists for fourth and fifth grade, and that’s how I keep Goosebumps easy to read.

14. I did that for four years, and then we did Bananas, which was my life’s goal: my own humor magazine.
I was 30, I did it for 10 years, and I had the best time. When the magazine folded, I thought, “God, I’m never going to shave again, never get dressed.”

15. I was doing everything just to make a living.
I was writing Bazooka Joe comics and jokes for bubble gum. I did Rocky and Bullwinkle and Mighty Mouse coloring books. That was a great job because it’s one sentence per page. Then, I was having lunch with Jean Feiwel, the editorial director at Scholastic at the time. She’d just had a fight with a YA horror writer and said, “I’m never working with him again. You could write a good teen horror novel. How about it?” I hadn’t read any teen horror novels, but I didn’t say no to anything in those days. I ran to the bookstore and bought a bunch of horror books.

16. Fear Street sold like crazy: 80 million books.
Jane’s business partner at Parachute Press, Joan, said, “Let’s try to do middle-grade horror for 7- to 12-year- olds.” I refused. But she kept after me. I finally agreed that if I could think of a good name, I’d write a few books. Well, I was reading TV Guide, and there was an ad on the bottom of the page that said, “It’s Goosebumps Week on channel 11.” The name was just staring at me!

17. I think I made Halloween more popular.
Don’t laugh. Seriously, it wasn’t a big family thing. It wasn’t until after the Goosebumps show. I honestly think we made Halloween more of a big deal. Everyone was thinking about scary stuff and all of those kids who were 10 in the early 1990s, that entire generation, they were all reading scary books. Those were the days.

18. I don’t know if people’s fears over the years change at all.
Technology has done a lot to ruin horror. Cell phones. Computers aren’t scary. You can’t do a scary book about a hacker. I don’t know if there are new areas, because we all have the same old fashioned fears, like 500 years ago. The biggest fear is being someplace unknown, and being threatened in some way in a place you’ve never been before.

19. I’ve always said, “Yes,” to everything and it always worked out.
When I did my commencement speech at Ohio State, that was my one bit of advice: “Say yes to everything.” I just want to keep going.

20. I recently went back to writing Fear Street, and the new one [out September 29] is the best.
It’s called The Lost Girl. It has the most gruesome scene I’ve ever written. It’s disgusting. It involves horses eating a man. I should be ashamed, but I’m so proud of that scene.

21. I think I’m totally normal, don’t you?
Horror guys aren’t sick at all.

This interview has been condensed and edited.


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Tony Wilson
A Visit With Doctor Laser: New York’s Resident Holographer
Tony Wilson
Tony Wilson

On an unassuming street in Manhattan’s Kips Bay neighborhood, a man by the name of Dr. Laser toils away. His given name is Jason Sapan, but when you’re at the helm of the oldest (and possibly only) holography gallery-slash-laboratory in the world, a colorful moniker only seems appropriate.

Laser’s Holographic Studios has been in operation since the later 1970s. Before that it was used for making medical instruments, and before that, was the site of a blacksmith’s forge. As the doctor himself says, his business is a logical tenant in that line of succession: he, like those who came before, specializes in taking objects, making them glow red, and giving them shape. Of course his work is a little bit different. He gives shape to things that aren’t really there.

When you ask Dr. Laser to explain the nuts and bolts of holography, his eyes light up (they do that a lot, actually). "Well grasshopper…" he starts, and from there, you just do your best to keep up. In brief, "a hologram is a recording in light waves of the surface of an object," but the process of capturing that impression is, of course, a bit more complicated. Luckily, he’s up to the task: "I wanna trip people out," he says.

The studio itself is pretty much exactly what you’d hope for when seeking out a holographic hotspot—it feels a bit like a real-life wonder emporium, and Laser’s larger-than-life persona only adds to the effect. The walls are lined with various holograms—some from his work with clients like Goodyear, Tag Heuer, and IBM, along with portraits (the one of Andy Warhol, made in 1977, is his favorite) and other holography miscellanea. In the next room, a wall bears the signatures of former visitors like Isaac Asimov and Cher. Downstairs, a cluttered subterranean workspace leads into a dark lab where lasers and light shows abound. If you’re lucky, Dr. Laser might even queue up the Flock of Seagulls music video he was in, which—fun fact—was also the first music video on MTV to use screen credits.

Holographic Studios is open Monday through Friday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., and tours are available if you want the full, personal experience. And if a trip to New York isn’t in the cards, fear not: you can secure a hologram of your very own in their online store.

All photos by Tony Wilson.

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Showtime
Surprise, Motherf@#&er: Erik King on 10 Years of Dexter
Showtime
Showtime

At first, Erik King wasn’t sure he liked being a meme. As the relentless Sergeant James Doakes, who was immediately suspicious of co-worker and closeted serial killer Dexter Morgan on Showtime’s Dexter, King’s boiling-point performance arrived just as the internet was discovering new ways to capture bits and pieces of film and television.

“It was weird,” King tells mental_floss. “I had never had a performance taken out of context before, so it took some getting used to. But I found it flattering.”

As Dexter celebrates its 10th anniversary, King took some time to talk with us about Doakes’s untimely death, how his father inspired the character, and the art of surprising serial killers with tirades of profanity.

Was the intensity of Doakes on the page from the beginning?

I think it was clear who Doakes was. The intensity was there, but the disdain came later. The more Dexter eluded Doakes, the more he got pissed off. My father was in federal law enforcement and I have a lot of family and friends who are cops, so I knew a lot of them.

Was there any of your dad in the character?

There’s a lot of him in Doakes. He passed away in 2011, but I used to joke with him all the time. “You know, this guy is you.” It’s exaggerated, but he didn’t suffer fools. If someone parked in front of his house, there might be a colorful word or two coming out of him. And it was a public street. [Laughs]

Doakes and Dexter were usually playing a pretty cerebral cat and mouse game, but it occasionally got physical. Michael C. Hall once said he was taken aback by how strong you were while shooting a fight scene. Do you remember that?

I’m surprised he would say that, actually. If he thought that, he never let on. Michael is taller than me, you know. I had to bring my A-game. Doakes had to come at him like a bowling ball, had to hold his own, because I knew what was gonna happen in the end. As an actor, he always brought it.

The great flaw of Doakes is that he was suspicious of Dexter from the outset, which probably didn’t help his chances of survival. When did you know he would be dying at the end of season two?

It was either four or six episodes in out of the 12. One of the producers very kindly called me, which doesn’t always happen. He said, “I’ve got some good news and some bad news. The good news is, we’re writing some great stuff for you. The bad news is, you won’t be around much longer.” [Laughs] My first thought was how the rest of the cast would react, because I was and am good friends with them. I know the energy Erik King brings to the set and the energy Doakes brings, and I didn’t want to have it become, “Oh, what a shame.” So I kept it a secret for as long as I could.

Were you happy with the way he went out?

In order to maintain the integrity of who he was, he had to find out something [about Dexter]. It couldn’t have been eight or nine seasons of, “I’m watching you, motherf*cker.” That’s not going to work. Even though I wanted the character to hang around longer, I totally understood the choice.

Was there ever any discussion of Doakes surviving the cabin explosion?

Not with me. Once the cabin blew up and pieces were flying through the air, there was never a doubt in my mind.

Doakes had a way with words. How did you find out some of his choice profanity had become a meme?

I was at a gym in North Carolina trying to put some size back on when I was asked to return for season seven [in a flashback]. This guy comes up to me and says, “Did you see this website? They put Doakes in all these other movies.” You know, like Ghost—“surprise, motherf*cker.” Just little scenes. Someone would turn around and Doakes would be there.

As an actor, it was arresting to me, and kind of weird that Doakes had taken on a life of his own. Now it’s flattering. “French fries, motherf*cker,” all of that. I’ve seen it. [Laughs]

If that was weird, the Doakes bobblehead must have thrown you, too.

I have a couple of them. They have to send it to you for approval. “Does it look like you?” “Yeah, I guess it looks like me, kind of.”

What do you think would have happened to Doakes if he hadn’t crossed paths with Dexter?

Probably a police captain. The guy was really driven. He had a dogged determination. He and Dexter both. I always said they were like two pitbulls sniffing each other out. He keeps going until he finds what he’s looking for. And you see where it got him.

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