This is a guest article by Brandon Engel
Not only did Stephen King establish himself as a successful commercial author at a young age, but he also helped to elevate the general public’s appreciation for horror literature — which was historically thought of as a vehicle for low-brough material. And while it would be enough for most people to become famous once, King just wasn’t satisfied.
It’s been suggested that, during the early stages of King’s career, publishers were apprehensive to release more than one title from an author in a year, fearing that the public would not be receptive. They didn’t want writers to over-saturate their own market. King saw this as an opportunity to increase his artistic output and confront his fear that his commercial success was attributable to luck more so than his ability as a writer. And thus, Richard Bachman was “born.”
King released a series of novels under the pseudonym Richard Bachman: Rage (1977), The Long Walk (1979), Roadwork (1981),The Running Man (1982) and Thinner (1984).
The first name came from Donald E. Westlake’s pen name Richard Stark, and the last name came from Randy Bachman of the classic-rock band Bachman-Turner Overdrive.
King wanted to really stack the odds against Bachman: the books weren’t marketed very aggressively, and he even went as far as to have a fake photograph printed on the dust jacket of his books. King wanted to see if he could replicate his earlier success, and confirm that he had achieved his professional stature because of the artistic merits of his work. Unfortunately though, King’s experiment was halted prematurely, and all because of the sleuth work of a bookstore clerk in Washington D.C. named Steve Brown.
Brown had been reading his copy of Thinner, and noticed uncanny similarities between the “voices” of Bachman and King. Brown paid a visit to the Library of Congress and found the copyright documents for all of Bachman’s books. One of the earliest copies was made out to Kirby McCauley, who was King’s agent. This was hardly conclusive though, as McCauley worked for several other clients. It took a little more digging, but the copyright information retrieved from the first published Bachman book named King as the copyright holder.
Brown copied all of the documents, and mailed a letter to King explaining his research, and inquired if he could write an article about his findings. Brown was insistent that if King didn’t want the information disclosed, he would keep quiet.
A few weeks later, King called Steve Brown at the bookstore where he worked, and agreed to do an exclusive interview with him. Brown interviewed King by telephone over the course of three evenings, and the article was ultimately published by the Washington Post. While the Bachman penned Thinner had been performing reasonably well in the marketplace, it performed 10 times as well once the secret was out that King had written it.
There was a press release issued, which stated that Bachman had died. What was the cause? Reportedly, "cancer of the pseudonym."
King was disheartened to have had his secret spoiled, especially because he had intended to release the novel Misery as a Bachman novel. He had believed that novel would establish Bachman as an enormous success unto “himself.” It was hopefully some consolation to the writer that Misery was an enormous success, and inspired the critically acclaimed 1990 film directed by Rob Reiner.
King referenced the whole double-identity incident in his 1989 book The Dark Half, about a troubled writer’s splintering ego, with the sinister pseudonym taking over. The book was sardonically dedicated to "the deceased Richard Bachman." In 1996, King attributed his book The Regulators, which was the companion novel to Desperation, to Bachman, and in 2007, Bachman also received writing “credit” for the novel Blaze, which was a revised manuscript of King’s from decades ago.
About the author:
Brandon Engel is an entertainment blogger for DirectTVcomparison.com whose chief interests include gothic horror literature and vintage horror films.
Among his favorite writers are H.P. Lovecraft, William Peter Blatty and, of course, Mr. King.