In 1977, Stephen King’s career flourished. His first three books, Carrie, Salem’s Lot and The Shining, had become worldwide bestsellers, and the author was already creating another blockbuster – over a thousand pages of The Stand. In addition, he had a drawer full of previously unpublished novels. With a frantic pace of creation (the author supported himself with stimulants), the writer had more material than he could publish. In those days, most publishers were limited to one book a year by a given author. The idea was not to over-saturate the market, which could negatively affect sales. To get around the restriction, King came up with the idea of publishing his old works under a pen name.
The birth of Richard Bachman
The first was the novel Getting It On. King chose the nickname Guy Pillsbury for it – after his grandfather on his mother’s side. Unfortunately, it turned out that some employees of the publishing house associated facts. This meant that this nickname would quickly become an open secret. King withdrew the manuscript and changed the title to Rage. It remained to come up with a new nickname. When the publisher called about it, King had no idea, so he started looking around the room. The music of the band Bachman Turner Overdrive was playing from the stereo and a Richard Stark novel was lying on the desk. King quickly combined the two names and thus Richard Bachman was born.
Rage was published in 1977. It was followed by the publication of: The Long Walk in 1979, Roadwork in 1981 and The Running Man in 1982. Although reviews were good, sales were low compared to books published under King’s name. Bachman was also not inundated with hundreds of fan letters. However, King liked the whole situation. He was amused by the compliments paid by the same critics who considered him a poor writer.
In 1984, Bachman published his fifth novel, titled Thinner. It was King’s first novel written as a contemporary. Bachman’s previous novels were old King drafts lingering in a drawer from his college days. This made them different in style and subject matter. Thinner resembled King’s other books and was a typical horror story for the author. As if that were not enough, King made several allusions to himself in the book, which also could not fail to catch the attention of readers. One of them was a bookseller from Washington, D.C., Stephen Brown. Brown had already noticed some similarities in the previous ones, but Thinner was so close to King’s style that the bookseller decided to conduct his own investigation. It led him to the Library of Congress, where he found the ultimate proof. The copyright of Bachman’s novel was registered to Kirby McCauley – King’s agent. However, it turned out that Bachman’s first novel, Rage, was registered to King himself.
Brown wrote McCauley a letter detailing the result of his investigation. To his surprise, in response he got a call from Stephen King, who admitted the mystification and offered Brown an exclusive interview. The writer wasn’t entirely happy with the discovery of his secret, as he intended to write under a nickname for a long time to come, but in the face of unmasking and growing suspicion, he decided to end the masquerade. The author also revealed another secret. The photo appearing on the back cover depicted Richard Manuel – a friend of McCauley. Manuel was chosen because he lived in the provinces, so there was less chance that someone would recognize him on the street.
The Dark Half
The creators of movie The Running Man, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, benefited the most from the whole affair, as they managed to buy the copyright to a book by one of the most widely read writers for a penny. King also took advantage of the situation, writing the novel The Dark Half in 1989. It tells the story of a writer who creates under a nickname. When the writer reveals his secret to the world, his “dark half” comes to life and starts murdering people around him. The novel lived to see a movie adaptation and a game with the same title.
Despite the mystery’s revelation, Bachman published two more novels. In 1996, a novel titled Desperation was published under King’s name, and a novel titled The Regulators was published under Bachman’s nickname. The books told different stories, but featured the same characters. Another easter egg were the books’ covers, which when pressed together, formed a single unit. As Bachman was already officially dead at the time, the preface stated that this was a posthumously found novel. Bachman’s most recent novel is Blaze, published in 2007.
Bachman’s novels are regularly reissued, but with the notation “Stephen King’s literary nickname,” or “The Bachman books.” The only book that King does not want to reissue is Rage. However, the reason is not the low literary value, but the subject matter. The book is about a school shooting, so King is afraid of negative connotations with real events of this type.
The last time King used his pseudonym was during his appearance in the series Sons of Anarchy. In it, the author plays a grim mortician who disposes of corpses for criminal groups. The character’s name is actually Bachman.