21 Bone-Chilling Secrets About R.L. Stine

David Livingston, Getty Images
David Livingston, Getty Images

As told to Jen Doll. 

The bestselling author of the Goosebumps and Fear Street book series terrified you as a kid. Now, on the occasion of his birthday, he shares 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 2000 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, which has been condensed and edited, originally ran in 2015.

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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