R.L. Stine: The Lost Interview

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R.L. Stine, wondering why this piece took so long.
Sometimes in the nonstop world of blogging you do something that takes a little more time, and which you're very excited about. But because of the nonstop world of blogging, and because you want to do it right, and because it takes more time to do that, the idea or scoop or interview you were so excited about gets pushed to the side, to do at night or on weekends, or in the rare blogging breaks. And sometimes by the time you get around to it, the peg -- and occasionally, the enthusiasm -- has been lost. Such pieces have been sacrificed for the greater good of "feeding the beast." They never get their day in the sun, and that is sad.

Today is my last day at the Voice (thank you, readers, coworkers, Tony Ortega, who hired me and set the last two crazy/wonderful years in motion, and everyone who supported and/or stayed friends with me throughout). And thank you to everyone I ever spoke to whose words didn't make it onto the published page. This one is for you.

On Thursday, January 13, 2011, I left my blog-shackles and my computer and trekked from Voice HQ to the Upper West Side to meet R.L. Stine at a Mexican restaurant for lunch and, presumably, what would become a published interview. He had been the inspiration, on the basis of a tweet, for my first viral blog post, "50 Reasons to Be Pretty Damn Euphoric You Live in New York City." I wanted to thank him for that (I think/hope I picked up the tab!), and also, I mean, it's R.L. Stine, a name I'd seen on bookshelves since childhood, a writing success story, an inspiration. He had a cranberry juice and his usual choice from the lunch menu; I drank Diet Coke and then coffee and, too nervous to eat, picked at whatever lunch I ordered. Three hours later we parted ways, me with a signed copy of one of his books from the Goosebumps stories; him with my promise to send him the link to the piece, "as soon as it was up."

That promise comes due today. Here is the lost (and, now, found) interview with R.L. Stine.

I should admit that I follow you on Twitter. You're very tech-savvy.
R.L.: It's a great time waster. There are no kids on Twitter, only twentysomethings who grew up on Goosebumps. It's great for my ego because they say things like "you were my childhood," "I learned to read/write because of you," "Yours were the first books that I ever read." That's really fun for me -- up to a point. Every once in a while I have to say, "Please do not call me a 'blast from the past.'"

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It is funny, though; when I do a book signing, I get 7-year-olds, and 10-year-olds, and 20-year-olds, and 25-year-olds, and 30-year-olds bringing their kids. I was speaking at a college in Pennsylvania and there were seven babies in the audience. I thought, "What the hell? Seven babies." It doesn't make you feel young, but I can't really complain about that.

People are actually being born into your audience -- that's a good thing!
The thing about writing for kids is there's a new generation about every two weeks.

How do you keep up with that?
I have to spy on them! I do a lot of school visits to see where they are, what they're talking about, what games they're playing, what they're doing. I also do a lot of book festivals where I get to talk to kids.

Tell me about starting out in New York City.
Every university had a humor magazine when I was in college, and that's all I did; I was the editor of the humor magazine, for three years...I never went to class! [Laughs.] It actually paid my way to New York.

When I graduated from Ohio State, I thought, if you wanted to be a writer, you had to live in Greenwich Village. I didn't know a single person. I lived alone on Waverly Place at the bottom of a shaft. I'd have to call out to get the weather forecast because I couldn't see out the window. My parents would send me news clippings of bad things that happened in New York -- "3 killed in bars" -- and say, "How can you live in that jungle?"

Did you always want to be a writer?
I always knew I could make a living as a writer; it's only thing that I'm really competent at. I wanted to be a cartoonist but I really can't draw at all. I started bringing in comics I made to school and kids would say, "This stinks!" and it did! So I had to write.

My first job in New York was a magazine job. This woman had 6 movie magazines, fan magazines, and my job was to make up interviews with the stars. She never left her apartment and dressed in a brown robe. That's what I thought being a freelancer was like. I was terrified. She never went to the movies and she had six movie magazines! She was nuts.

I'd come in in the morning and she'd say, do a [made up] interview with Diana Ross. I'd say okay and type type type. She'd then say, do an interview with The Beatles. They were sold as real interviews. No one ever complained in those days. You learned to write really fast. I had to write 5 or 6 interviews a day.

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Then I worked for a trade magazine called "Soft Drink Industry." I wrote about bottles and bottle caps and flip-top cans. I had to cover bottlers' conventions. I was living in New York and getting paid to write, making $125 a week riding around in taxis and going out to dinner. Also, right across from us were candy industry journals. It was '69.

Then I answered this ad in the Times for Scholastic. I started doing Junior Scholastic, writing history and geography, and after four years they gave me my own humor magazine, Bananas, and after 10 years of that they fired me. And that was that. My wife, Jane, left to form her own publishing company, and I went home.

How did you meet your wife?
I'd been in New York for two years when I met her, at a party in Brooklyn that I didn't want to go to because it was raining and I thought How am I gonna get back from Brooklyn? I got a ride back and I was so happy. Anyway, that's where I met Jane, and she wasn't going to go to this party because she had a horrible cold. And, actually, my friend Chuck and I went to this party, and this woman [who hosted it] was guest editor at Mademoiselle or something, and had this party in Brooklyn. She actually was my art editor in college and then she was editor at Mademoiselle and it was amazing, it was a great party. The only thing I remember is that they were passing joints around on this silver tray. Jane was there with a friend, Lori, and I was there with my friend Chuck. Jane went off somewhere to blow her nose and Lori saw that Chuck and I were the only unattached guys at the party, so she came over. And since Chuck was shorter, Lori went over to him. Otherwise I could be married to Lori for 40 years!

You and Jane hit it off right away?
It turned out that she had a summer job copy editing some magazine, a block away from the soft drink magazine where I was working. So I said, "Oh, whoa! We should have lunch sometime." Not an amazing story but...we were so young. When we got married, I was 25 and Jane was 22 years old. I don't know what the hell she was doing. In those days, you got out of college and you got married.

What was New York like then?
Not as clean, not as nice. But it was exciting! Like, as a kid from Ohio, it was a little scarier and dangerous. Our first apartment when we got married was on 75th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam. You wouldn't go to Amsterdam, because it was too dangerous. The neighborhood has really changed.

I couldn't imagine living anywhere else! Could you? [I shake my head vehemently; he continues.]

The city's endlessly entertaining. I do go to Sag Harbor for seven weeks in the summer. We have a water park in our backyard that looks like Disney World. It's an enormous swimming pool that's shaped like a pond, with a waterfall and a 60-foot slide. The neighborhood kids come over and pretend to be interested in me but really just want to use the pool. They say, "Wow, you must have a lot of kids." But we only have one; he's grown up and lives in the city.

Did your son like your books?
He never read them. A lot of authors I know have kids that never read their stuff just to drive them nuts. Now he does my website.

I've done a lot of teen stuff. I did about 100 Fear Street books. I killed a lot of teenagers and I wondered why I liked it so much. Then I realized it's because I had one at home.


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