I blocked out the buzz of the rest of my third-grade class. I waited with wide eyes for the school day to start while I read another chapter of a book.
I jumped. I had missed almost a whole math lesson. Busted.
"Put the book away."
A little embarrassed, I sulked and stuck the book inside my desk. But the next day, I did it again, gladly. The risk of going red in the face always seemed worth it for a few extra minutes enthralled by a Goosebumps book.
Back then, almost any kid my age had a stack of Goosebumps, books in a horror series for children. We also had flashlights so we could read them in bed, and night-lights so we wouldn't be scared when we finished. The brain behind the books belongs to author R.L. Stine, who never expected what he wrote would have so big a following.
"It was a total surprise," said Stine, who says he's as old as Dracula, lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and goes by Bob. "I had been writing for kids for years and no one really noticed. I made a living and had a lot of fun, but it was just nothing compared to the scary stuff."
Before Goosebumps, Stine wrote about a hundred joke books for kids. He created a children's magazine called Bananas and wrote and edited for it from 1973 to 1983. When Fear Street, his horror series for teens, became a bookshelf staple, Stine got an idea. Maybe he could write scary books for younger kids, too.
"No one had ever done it," he said. "Everyone thought you can't do horror for that age group."
So Stine took a risk when he pitched the idea to Scholastic in the early 1990s. "They said, 'We'll try three or four,' " he said.
Then, five or six more. Kids couldn't put them down. Through the year 2000, Stine had written 87 in the series. I read lots of them. So did kids all over the world. The books had so many fans that Stine is in the 2003 Guinness Book of World Records for being author of the No. 1 bestselling children's book series.
"I think J.K. Rowling (who wrote the Harry Potter series) passed me by," Stine said. But he has no hard feelings. "To be the second bestselling children's author in history? Unbelievable. That's a thrill for me."
And his books are still a thrill for young readers.
"I wrote them easy to read, very short chapters, cliffhanger chapter endings," Stine said. He hoped to "show kids it's fun to read, and it can be just as entertaining as watching a movie."
That goes for the Goosebumps books I read as a kid, and for a series Stine is working on now: Goosebumps Horrorland. The new series has villains from original Goosebumps books, like Slappy from Night of the Living Dummy and the evil camera from Say Cheese and Die. Goosebumps Horrorland books also have new villains, like the ones readers meet in Little Shop of Hamsters.
"It was very hard to make hamsters scary," said Stine. "Believe me."
He writes the books, he said, to motivate kids to read. But as my generation grows up, Stine is learning his books are having a lasting impact. "I'm on Twitter and I hear from a lot of people in their mid and late 20s," Stine said — young adults who grew up reading Goosebumps.
"Most of them are just starting out their careers," he said. "Romance writers, horror writers." And staff writers for the St. Petersburg Times.
Getting notes from us never gets old, he said. He likes to hear our stories.
I'm just glad I got to read his.
Arleen Spenceley can be reached at (727) 869-6235 or [email protected]