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Growing Up Goosebumps

All this month, we’ll be helping Children’s Hospital Los AngelesMake March Matter campaign, which aims to raise over a million dollars in March alone for CHLA through the efforts of its corporate partners, among which we are proud to be numbered.  Children’s Hospital Los Angeles sees over 528,000 patient visits annually, and is the top ranked pediatric hospital in California by US News & World Report. You can help Make March Matter by simply attending one of the many events or participating in one of the many initiatives being offered by CHLA’s partners (including our event on Saturday, March 25), all listed at www.makemarchmatter.org.

To help remind us all to Make March Matter to support children’s health, we’ve asked all our contributors here at the website to focus on books and comics for kids, or the books or comics that meant the most to them as kids, because we firmly believe that escaping into literature is just as important in keeping children healthy and happy.

Today’s piece is from novelist and comic-book writer Pat Shand:

I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up by the time I was seven years old. I had forgone the popular choice of firefighter, police officer, teacher, and veterinarian for perhaps the most specific career choice a second grader had ever aspired toward.

I wanted to take over as writer for the Goosebumps series when R. L. Stine died.

In retrospect, it was appropriately morbid for a horror-obsessed young boy, but I didn’t ever think about it in that way – it seemed, to me, like the natural way of things. I was, after all, R. L. Stine’s biggest fan and was sure that, eventually, I’d prove myself to him as a worthy successor. My résumé was admittedly feeble, consisting of no job experience to be heard of, but an impressive selection of special skills, including: recently learned to read, can recite the book number of every Goosebumps title by heart, and owns enough Monster Blood (the ever-expanding green slime that was the villain of my then and now favorite Goosebumps books) to clog the sink.

Now, I’m approaching my thirtieth birthday, and I haven’t quite achieved that goal. Thankfully, R. L. Stine is still alive, and – this makes me happier than I can fathom – still writing Goosebumps books. (Jury’s still out on who takes the reigns when he stops… just saying.) I do, however, make my living writing books and comics, and so much of my lifelong passion for stories and storytelling comes from those early days, tearing through Stine’s books, scaring myself silly as I did so. When I think back to those times, Goosebumps wasn’t just an element of my life, but rather the defining aspect of my childhood. I didn’t have many friends in those years (those would come later, when I ventured down the street to discover a group of kids to whom I’d introduce the concept of a scary story club where we talked about – you guessed it – Goosebumps), but I don’t remember being lonely. I do remember, though, the excitement of walking into my favorite bookstores and running toward the kids section in the back where the Goosebumps were shelved, their colorful spines standing out among the other books. Every month, there was a new story, and a new group of friends for me to cherish.

It started when my Aunt Christine gave me The Barking Ghost, the 32nd Goosebumps book, for my birthday. I had just turned seven, and the idea of a book that was over one hundred pages long was intimidating, considering my first-grade classes were still teaching us how to spell “cat” and “horse.” Instead of reading it alone, I sat in my parents’ bed with my mother and, together, we read the book. It was thrilling, scarier than I’d feared, and silly. When we finished it, though, the fear didn’t linger but the fullness of having completed the story did. It was satisfaction beyond anything I’d experienced so far, and I needed more. My parents bought me Goosebumps #30: It Came from Beneath the Sink… and my mom and I set out for our second book together. This time, though, after we finished our first section, I picked up the book and quietly continued reading. The next day, when my mom asked if I wanted to pick up where we’d left off, I confessed to her that I’d finished the book on my own, worried that she’d be mad. She wasn’t, though. She was proud.

I devoured the rest of the series until I caught up, and the began branching out in search of more. I bought books that were similar, horror novels attempting to capitalize on the Goosebumps craze with varying success: there were the fun Bone-Chillers books, the captivating but inconsistent Strange Matter and Spinetinglers series, and, best of all, Christopher Pike’s thrilling small-town saga, Spooksville. Even though I routinely found books I loved, nothing quite made me feel like Goosebumps did. It was a long time before I would understand the concept of “fandom,” which seems ubiquitous now, but what I did understand was the way I felt a sort of ownership over Goosebumps. The series itself may not have been mine, but as I met other fans at events and shared books with friends, there was something deep within me, something that I never vocalized but felt with all of my being: no one loves Goosebumps like I do.

What I’ve come to learn since then, in writing for a living and becoming an adult that understands one doesn’t simply inherit the right to write another author’s series just because they really like it, is that no one loves anything like I do. And I don’t love anything like anyone else does. Truly great stories, the ones that reach into you and uproot an undiscovered part of your soul, showing you a piece of who you are, are individual experiences. Goosebumps is not just R. L. Stine’s. It’s mine, and my mom’s, and it’s many other’s as well. It belongs to everyone who has ever loved it, and that relationship is different for each person. For me? It pushed me to create, and to think in terms of storytelling. It led me down a path that would lead to me writing enough comics to be a guest at Calgary Comic Expo, where I would walk up to R. L. Stine’s booth and tell him exactly why I was at that show, and what his role in leading me there had been. Also, it led be down the path that would lead to me, at that same convention, sitting down for a pizza in the green room and being joined by the quiet, humble Stine after we’d shared words earlier.

My seven-year-old self might have to come to terms with the fact that he won’t be taking over Goosebumps, but something tells me he’d blown away by what actually happened.

Also, it’s worth noting, while I told R. L. Stine about how his books made me aspire to become a writer, I did not tell him that my original childhood goal was to become his successor. Like I said, that’d morbid, and I didn’t want to freak the man out. It had been his job to freak me out since I was seven, and you know what? He’s damn good at what he does.

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