Five days before Halloween this year, the hip kids came out in Austin, with LitCrawl brochures folded in Owl-shaped purses and the back pockets of their skinny jeans. The crowd gathered around Goosebumps author R.L. Stine as he told true ghost stories at the Texas State Cemetery, surrounded by the graves of Texas luminaries such as Stephen F. Austin. With several Texas flags blowing in a spooky autumn breeze, Stine began.
“Most people don’t go to the cemetery voluntarily, so I’m surprised to see you all,” he said to the crowd of more than four hundred people, who looked like adult kindergartners gathered around him in a circle on the grass below the dais where he spoke. Stine explained that he wasn’t having a great week so far – earlier in the day during another portion of the Texas Book Festival, a reader had told him “no offense, but you look a lot like R.L. Stine.”
The week was looking up, though. Stine is restarting his Fear Street teen fiction series again, which he first began in 1989, but hasn’t written in many years. “I get to kill real teenagers. I always wondered why I want to kill them so much, and then I realized I have teenagers at home.”
It would have been better with the lights off, but Stine held the audience captive with stories of spooking his brother Stanley, who played the trombone but had short arms so he could never get to the low notes. After twenty minutes, the reading ended and there was a chaotic rush to take photos with R.L. Stine himself.
The second part of the evening, I attended “Drunk (Literary) History” at Cheer Up Charlie’s, a small bar on Austin’s east side drag. The event was like trying to fit a stadium full of book nerds into a dive bar – some of whom practiced drinking and dressing up for Halloween. Derek Waters, who created the popular series of YouTube videos and now Comedy Central show Drunk History, helped drunk audience members recite The Giving Tree and poetry by Jewel.
“This is so exciting because I didn’t know this many people could read,” Waters told the crowd. “The Giving Tree is like Sixth Sense, so if you don’t want me to spoil the ending you should leave right now.”
Nobody moved. Instead, they got to watch a tipsy couple act out the part of the tree and the boy and a girl actually make Jewel poetry sound like spoken word. It wasn’t supposed to be as thrilling as R.L. Stine reading in the cemetery, but the last part did produce a few visible shivers.