Book Reviews, Non-fiction, YA

R.L. Stine’s It Came from Ohio!: My Life as a Writer (1997)

co-written with Joe Arthur and Susan Lurie

R.L. Stine’s life has not been very exciting, but I think that’s something to appreciate. He’s lived a very normal life up to a point. He’s always been a writer, and that’s all he’s ever tried to be. He grew up drawing his own humor magazines and recording mock radio shows with his childhood friends; later, he wrote for Ohio State University’s Sundial and did plenty of gutter-work (like writing exclusively about soda…). Eventually, he was offered a lucky job with Scholastic and his life was set.

He’s also proud to have been an at-home dad, which is pretty awesome.

Despite being written entirely in first person, It Came From Ohio! was not written by R.L. Stine. The original 1997 edition was written by R.L. Stine’s close friend Joe Arthur (although somewhat confusingly marketed as written “in Stine’s own words”). In 2015, R.L. Stine’s long-time editor Susan Lurie stepped in to update the ‘memoir’ in preparation for the Goosebumps film starring Jack Black. She updated the original text to reflect more recent events (although dated references to things like TV Guide might still confuse younger readers…), and added about 20 pages of new content. I was personally bothered by the memoir not actually being written by R.L. Stine, but younger readers probably won’t care. The writing style attempts to copy the Goosebumps format (expect lots of cliffhangers and punchlines) and reading level, making it suitable for younger readers.

At the height of the Goosebumps craze, Stine found himself facing crowds of thousands (L) and contributing to a TV show of adaptations (R)

I was most interested in Stine’s life as a writer, and how he created his famous series. It turns out he had a lot of luck. Before becoming the YA horror icon, Stine had writing credits for Scholastic’s teenage humor magazine Bananas, Zero Heroes bubblegum trading cards; computer magazines (despite not owning a computer); some choose-your-own-adventure Indiana Jones and James Bond books; G.I. Joe adventures; Mighty Mouse and Bullwinkle coloring books; novels based on the Madballs toy line; the Spaceballs novelization; a variety of joke books; and, most notably, lead writing credits for the classic children’s show Eureeka’s Castle. (Batly the klutzy bat was inspired by Stine’s son, with his “I meant to do that!” tagline taken directly from Matt Stine!)

Stine was asked somewhat out of the blue by Scholastic to write a few horror YA novels starting with Blind Date in the ’80s, which eventually led to his famous Fear Street series. Goosebumps was later born from trying to translate that horror formula for younger readers, intentionally structuring them to be scary, but ultimately safe and humorous. We also get a look at his Mostly Ghostly, Rotten School, and numerous Goosebumps / Fear Street revivals he’s released since Joe Arthur’s original biography came out in 1997 (this includes some behind-the-scenes meetings with Jack Black & co. for the 2015 movie). The newer material tends to read more like advertisements rather than a look into R.L. Stine’s creative process, and that hurts the quality a bit. We also get a chapter devoted to R.L. Stine’s 20 most-asked questions, like where specific book ideas came from, and what his favorites are, etc.

The two Stines on the set of the 2015 movie. Jack Black played the writer R.L. Stine for the movie.

It Came from Ohio! is an interesting look at R.L. Stine’s life and the inspirations for his work, but it’s also lacking in some regards. The newer material isn’t as interesting as it could be, and the sense of humor can be overbearing at times — there are far too many punchlines in far too many sentences. And It’s too brief! I wish there was more behind-the-scenes info on his more famous books.


It Came from Ohio! contains quite a number of interesting explanations for where Stine’s ideas come from. For example, did you know…

  • Why I’m Afraid of Bees is heavily based on Robert Sheckley’s Mindswap (1966) novel.
  • Calling All Creeps! is based on a college prank Stine played on Ohio State University’s student senate, in which he gave their office number as the home phone of a pin-up girl in the college’s humor magazine.
  • A Night in Terror Tower was based on Stine’s visit to the real-life Tower of London. It was also one of the only books to get substantial rewrites to the plot.
  • The Girl Who Cried Monster was originally much gorier than what we read today: The monster of the title ate children rather than turtles and snails.
  • Monster Blood‘s inspiration was — not surprisingly — pretty mundane: Stine’s son stuck a wad of that green slime that comes in plastic containers on the wall, and they couldn’t get it off. Boom. Horror novel.
  • The Haunted Mask was based on a brief moment when his son’s Halloween mask wouldn’t come off. It was also the first Goosebumps story to get adapted for the television show.

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