During its original publication run in the 1990s, there were several Goosebumps short story contests. The Goosebumps Wiki and archived news articles reported Braden Thomas Gardner of Lacona, Iowa, won the “Brain Juice Terrifying Title” contest in October 1998. R.L. Stine arrived at Southeast Warren Intermediate School and sat down with Braden in the school’s auditorium to create a short tale for Braden’s winning title, “Dead Dogs Still Fetch.” Braden and his classmates were all given “Brain Juice” t-shirts and helped construct the story together, followed by Stine reading a preview of “Brain Juice” before its release.
Fun Fact: Stine considers “Brain Juice” one of his personal favorites and views it as underrated among the Goosebumps tomes.
Related Post: Exclusive Interview: R.L. Stine Talks Monsterville, Goosebumps Movie, and Fear Street!
For two decades “Dead Dogs Still Fetch” was lost to the Goosebumps community. Other than the knowledge of its existence and Braden’s role as its creator, the actual story vanished from public knowledge.
Last year I contacted R.L. Stine, Scholastic, and General Mills directly for any information they might’ve had about “Dead Dogs Still Fetch.” Sadly those were dead ends. This previous December, I took a longshot and contacted Southeast Warren Intermediate School via Facebook for help. The person I spoke to offered to forward my contact information to Braden Thomas Gardner’s parents.
I eventually received an email from Braden, following up on my inquiry. Now a part of professional gaming group Assorted Meeples, Braden was willing to track down several leads on more information regarding “Dead Dogs Still Fetch.” Braden pulled out all the stops for this investigation and struck gold when he located a video tape with a recording of the story’s creation back in 1998.
My first order of business was to finish a recap of “Dead Dogs Still Fetch” for Point Horror as a gift to the site. “Dead Dogs Still Fetch” told the tale of two siblings and their beloved dog Seth being warned not to play fetch in the local graveyard, a warning they ignore until one day Seth retrieves a human skull.
To accompany the rediscovery of the actual story, I asked Braden a few questions. Read on for the full story.
WH: “Dead Dogs Still Fetch” was submitted to a title contest in 1998. How was the contest promoted, specifically, if you can recall?
Braden: I remember seeing the contest on TV during the cartoons I’d watch after school. My dad happened to catch one of the commercials too, and since I was an avid writer even at the age of 10, he encouraged me to brainstorm some title ideas after school the next day. “Dead Dogs Still Fetch” was the clear winner among them, so onto a 3×5 card it went, we mailed it from our mailbox in the middle of rural Iowa, and then I didn’t hear about it for a while.
October 19th came around, and I remember my folks really pushing for me to wear the Goosebumps shirt I had for the CD-ROM game to school. I liked the shirt, because Goosebumps was awesome, so it was a pretty easy sell. I got called to the Principal’s office during recess – no idea why at the time – and she started escorting me to the gym, which had been closed off all day. She cleared the tape away with a sweep of her arm (I complained, as I wanted to do that!), the door opened, and I was greeted by the roaring cheer of my whole school. Took me a moment to look over and see one of my heroes standing right next to me!
WH: What was it like getting to meet R.L. Stine in person at your school that day? Tell us a little about the experience you had as you guys worked to make a story to go with your title.
Braden: The planning that went into keeping this event a secret from me must have been extensive, as I was completely surprised to be face-to-face with the R.L. Stine, after stepping through the door to my school’s gym. I just didn’t think it was possible to meet someone that famous as a kid in the rural Midwest back then. As he was shaking my hand and introducing himself to me, it started sinking in that I was, in fact, realizing a dream.
Watching the story become reality was one of my favorite parts of the event. I mean, how often do you get the opportunity to see one of the pros work in a field you wish to pursue?
The big thing that surprised me then was how he didn’t start by writing anything at all – he started by asking some questions. As the contest winner, I was in the story, then he asked for a girl’s name (the audience went with Jessica). What kind of dog do they have? (black lab) How old is it? (3) What’s the dog’s name, we need a good name for the dog? (Seth). Once we got some of the core details pinned down, he confirmed this was a scary story, so we needed a scary location (we eventually wound up with a graveyard).
Going back over the footage now, I’m impressed by how inclusive he made the experience for everyone, and how in tune he was with how kids think. He knew I was a little nervous once my brain caught up with what was going on, and his presence was reassuring, allowing me to calm my nerves while collecting my thoughts. It was important there be both a boy and a girl as the protagonists of the story, and he made sure to get lots of people from the bleachers in on the finer details while doing the heavy lifting of weaving them together.
Little things like that didn’t stand out to me at the time, but really showcase the type of person he is and what made that day so special.
WH: By any chance, you don’t happen to still have the “Brain Juice” shirt do you?
Braden: Sadly, I do not – a house fire 5 years later claimed most of what we had. My mom still has one though, so the Brain Juice legacy lives on!
I do still have my autographed Fright Light book compilation I received in the contest prizes though.
WH: What were some of your favorite and least favorite Goosebumps stories as a kid?
Braden: I read all of the classic series several times as a kid, and most of Series 2000. The early “Monster Blood” books were my favorites – can’t say I remember reading a book from those series I didn’t enjoy though!
WH: And now you’re part of the professional gaming group Assorted Meeples. What’s that like?
Braden: I get to write about games for our website, tying two passions together in my spare hours during the day, periodically film and produce gaming content for YouTube, then stream video games and board games to Twitch with the rest of our team (Shane, Phil, and Callahan) several nights a week.
Add in the awesome Discord community and the friends we’ve made through it, and I’d have to say despite the hours, it’s nothing short of amazing. We’re excited for 2022, and have a lot of cool projects being planned. If you want the inside track on what we’re up to, we’d love to have you join our Patreon!
WH: Thank you again so much for everything, Braden.
Braden: The pleasure was mine. If you hadn’t reached out, this Goosebumps event could have easily been lost to time. I’m glad it won’t be, and that fans of the franchise around the world will get to enjoy the details of the experience with us.
You can find Braden’s gaming group, Assorted Meeples, at these links below.