May 2009 Issue
Ohioana Book Festival honors our state’s best writers.
It’s immediately apparent that R.L. Stine was born to write. His conversation is peppered with pun-riddled anecdotes, and the enthusiasm he exudes for his craft is contagious. Since age 9, the Ohio State University graduate behind the best-selling “Fear Street” and “Goosebumps” children’s series has been penning tales of humor and horror at breakneck speed.
“Writing is the only thing in life that’s easy for me — just ask my wife!” Stine jokes. “I’ve never once had writer’s block.”
Now living in New York City, Stine will return home on May 9 for the third-annual Ohioana Book Festival, a commemoration of Ohio authors that honors the importance of interaction between writer and reader.
As a kid growing up in the Columbus suburb of Bexley, Stine found his niche quickly. “My mother would yell at me to go outside and play, and I would say ‘It’s boring out there,’ ” he recalls, opting instead to shut himself in his bedroom with his trusty typewriter for company. It was this childhood that inspired much of Stine’s later work.
“I really think about Bexley when I describe the settings in my books,” Stine says. “These stories do not take place in unusual places, but instead in your normal, suburban neighborhood, much like that of my youth.”
Between the 87-volume “Goosebumps” series and the 100-book “Fear Street” series, Stine has sold more than 300 million novels. His tales of absurdity and teen terror have been translated into 32 languages, and he proudly wears the mantle of being one of the most celebrated children’s authors of all time.
“It was the exhilaration of success that kept me going,” he explains of his approach to his craft. “I had been writing for 25 years, and no one had really noticed. Blind Date was my first scary book, and it was an immediate best-seller. I realized I had struck a chord there.”
He had indeed found a willing audience for his tales, which provided the perfect mix of horror and humor — always scary enough to pull readers in, but never too frightening for his young audience. By the mid-1990s, Stine was writing a novel every two weeks.
“Kids are the best audience,” he says. “I get to reach them during the last time in their lives when they will be enthusiastic about authors. I feel very lucky for this success.”
Established in 1929, the Ohioana Library is dedicated to collecting, preserving and promoting the written work of Ohio’s writers, artists and musicians. Linda Hengst, the Ohioana Library Association’s executive director, believes the festival offers the ideal venue for authors and their audience.
The event “makes it possible to bring these people together, in one place, to celebrate the art of writing,” she says. As one of the event’s featured authors, Stine will participate in community programming and panel discussions, allowing readers to fulfill their curiosity and satisfy their hunger for favorite literature.
Stine agrees. “I love meeting my readers,” he says. “It’s actually quite helpful to do so — I get to see what they look like, what they wear. It’s nice to see these people in person, since I’m at home writing for them all of the time.”
The festival, which is free to the public and held at the Ohioana Library in Columbus, spotlights the talents of Buckeye State writers, including poets, essayists, historians and novelists.
Peter Mansoor, author of Baghdad at Sunrise: A Brigade Commander’s War in Iraq, is looking forward to the discussions the day will bring.
“I’m excited about this,” he says. “I think it’s a great opportunity for the people of Ohio to see authors in person and to ask questions.”
Mansoor — who’s the General Raymond Mason, Jr., Chair of Military History at The Ohio State University and an OSU graduate — served in the army for 26 years. He will lead discussions on his novel, which he describes as a cross between memoir and a historical account — “the voice,” he says, “of the man in the middle.
“The book [serves as] a lens to look at the wider issues of the war,” he adds. “There has been a lot written by reporters and by high-ranked officials, but there hasn’t been much published between those two accounts. I was able to show what happens on the streets, but also what happens in the headquarters above them.”
The book, which took about 18 months to write, was compiled from the journals Mansoor meticulously kept while serving. “I didn’t initially intend to write a book. I simply wanted to keep a journal for my kids,” Mansoor says. “Eventually, I decided that I had a story that the American people should hear — the story of what went wrong and why it went wrong in that first year in Iraq.”
Mansoor credits OSU for providing inspiration for his work.
“I had great mentors at OSU,” Mansoor adds. “Were it not for my time at Ohio State, this book would not have been written. I will always be grateful for the opportunity to come here, and then to come back.”
Other featured writers include children’s authors Jaime Adoff and Margaret Peterson Haddix, essayist Phil Brady, fiction writers Ann Hagedorn, Erin McCarthy and Thrity Umrigar, graphic novel author Jeff Smith and science fiction writer John Scalzi.