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August 10, 2019 · 3:44 am

Known Alias: How Stephen King Was Outed as Richard Bachman

Steve Brown was working his shift at Olsson’s Bookstore in Washington, D.C. in the spring of 1985 when he heard his name come over the store intercom. There was a call waiting for him.

When Brown picked up the telephone, he heard a voice ask, “Steve Brown? This is Steve King. Okay, you know I’m Bachman, I know I’m Bachman, what are we going to do about it? Let’s talk.”

King was referring to Richard Bachman, the alias he had adopted eight years earlier and carried through four books (Rage, The Long Walk, Roadwork, and The Running Man). The titles had floated in and out of the market in relative obscurity, drawing only passing suspicion that their true author was one of the most well-known and successful writers of the 20th century. New American Library (NAL), Bachman’s publisher, refuted any suggestion that the author was fictional.

But Brown—a bookstore clerk, writer, and fanzine publisher—had read enough King novels to recognize that Bachman’s latest book, Thinner, was unequivocally a King work. After some additional investigation, Brown wrote a letter to King’s agent sharing his discovery and asked how they’d like to proceed. It marked the beginning of the end for Bachman, who would soon perish, King wrote, owing to “cancer of the pseudonym.”

***

By 1977, King had completed his transformation from nearly-destitute English teacher to cultural phenomenon. His first three books—Carrie, Salem’s Lot, and The Shining—were bestsellers, with The Stand nearing completion. Feature film and paperback rights for his work added to his newfound wealth.

King’s professional problem, if he could be said to have one, was that he secreted words like most people produce sweat. His novels were swelling in size—The Stand’s first publication saw it cut from 1152 to 752 pages—and he was eager to publish more than the industry standard of one book a year.

Editors balked: Multiple releases would glut the market, they insisted, undercutting the King brand and cannibalizing his sales.

Tired of arguing his point, King decided to submit one of his earlier manuscripts to his paperback publisher, New American Library, with the caveat that it would be distributed under a pen name. NAL editor Elaine Koster agreed to an impressive veil of secrecy, including keeping most NAL employees and even their CEO in the dark about their newly-signed author.

Beyond circumventing the antiquated thinking about being too prolific, King had an alternative motivation for pursuing a pseudonym. He had long wondered if his work could be successful outside of the notoriety he had developed over the years. Getting It On, a long-finished book about a student who takes his high school class hostage, would receive little publicity and would essentially be left to flourish or perish on its own merits. “I wanted it to go out there and either find an audience or just disappear quietly,” King told The Washington Post in 1985.

The first stumbling block was King’s preferred alias: Guy Pillsbury. Pillsbury was the name of King’s maternal grandfather, but when Getting It On began to circulate around the NAL offices, some people became aware of the connection to King. He pulled the manuscript, retitled it Rage, and had better luck flying under the radar.

When it was time for the book to go to press, King received a call asking about a pen name. According to King, a Bachman Turner Overdrive record was playing and a Richard Stark novel was on his desk. Stark was the pen name for writer Donald E. Westlake—hence “Richard Bachman.”

The publication of Rage in 1977 was followed by The Long Walk in 1979, Roadwork in 1981, and The Running Man in 1982. Sales were modest at best, and reader reaction was tepid: King recalled getting 50 or 60 fan letters a week for himself and perhaps two a month for Bachman. Still, he seemed to relish having an alter ego and delighted in inventing a morbid biography for him. In his mind, Bachman was a chicken farmer in New Hampshire who wrote novels at night, happily married but facially deformed owing to a past illness—hence, poor Bachman would be unavailable for interviews.

King’s cover endured for a surprisingly long period. But the 1985 release of Thinner would usher in fresh suspicion about Bachman. Unlike the other four novels, Thinner was contemporary King, a hardcover written with the knowledge it was a “Bachman book” and perhaps more self-conscious about its attempt at misdirection. And unlike early-period Bachman, which often featured nihilistic but grounded scenarios—a walking marathon that ends in death, or a game show where prisoners can earn their freedom—Thinner took on more of a horror trope, with a robust lawyer cursed to lose weight by a vengeful gypsy until he’s practically nothing but skin and bone.

When Stephen Brown obtained an advance copy at Olsson’s, he had an innate belief he was reading a King novel. To confirm his suspicions, he visited the Library of Congress to examine the copyrights for each Bachman title. All but one were registered to Kirby McCauley, King’s agent. The remaining title, Rage, was registered to King himself. It was the smoking gun.

Brown wrote McCauley with the evidence and requested his advice on what to do with the information he had gathered. He didn’t plan on “outing” King, but, by this time, the King-as-Bachman theory had been gathering steam, with both King and NAL getting more inquiries from journalists. That’s when King decided to phone Brown directly and offer him an exclusive interview revealing himself as Bachman.

***

With King’s permission, NAL began circulating Thinner with a credit that read, “Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman.” The following year, they reissued the previous Bachman titles in a volume titled The Bachman Books, with sales more in line with what publishers would expect from a King title. Film producers who had optioned The Running Man were ecstatic, since they had gotten a bargain Bachman price on the rights for a King product.

The only person unhappy with the reveal was the author himself. Bachman, King felt, was on the cusp of developing his own following and his own identity, and he had fully intended to continue publishing under the pen name. (King had planned on making Misery a Bachman tome.) But Thinner had been too much of a King book, and there is evidence King himself may been giving himself too much rope with which to hang his alias. One of the characters in Thinner muses that “You were starting to sound like a Stephen King novel for a while there.”

In his introduction to The Bachman Books, King hinted that more “undiscovered” Bachman manuscripts may be lurking. In 1996, he published The Regulators as a “posthumous” Bachman novel, and did the same with Blaze, a 2007 paperback that was originally written in the 1970s. King’s 1991 novel, The Dark Half, was dedicated to his pen name. It was about an author with a pseudonym who takes on a life of his own.

Ultimately, Bachman may have outlived his usefulness. In the 1980s, publishers seemed to relax on their shop-worn edicts over publication frequency, and King once published four titles (all under his own name) in a calendar year.

Whether Bachman could have one day rivaled King in popularity will have to remain a mystery. During his short time in publishing, he would sometimes get favorable notices that hinted at a bright future. “This is what Stephen King would write like if Stephen King could really write,” remarked one reviewer.

Jake Rossen is a writer, editor, and curator of fine comic strip art. (Except Garfield.) His byline can be found within the pages of The New York Times, ESPN.com, Wired.com and a slew of health and fitness-related publications.

Source: Known Alias: How Stephen King Was Outed as Richard Bachman

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Monday morning writing joke: “Barking vowels”

There once was a writer doggerel

Whose writing sounded as if you should gargle.

Rhymes and diphthongs

The words never got along

Sounding like the speech of a mongrel.

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cARtOONSdAY: “fINE tIME TO BE hERE”

Man facing hefty fine for overdue books
Cut off from the future.

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Monday morning writing joke: “Chef from Kent”

There once was a chef from Kent

who knew not how her evening was spent.

With her panties aside

had she hitched up for a ride?

Or was that dampness some other condiment?

Story of a two ladies out late.

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New words to live by: “Slug monkey”

Time, once again (though it has been a while), for New words to live by. This is a word or phrase not currently in use in the U.S. English lexicon, but might need to be considered. Other words, such as obsurd, crumpify, subsus, flib, congressed, tantrumony, and others, can be found by clicking on the tags below. Today’s New Word is created by taking two nouns and creating a new word. In this instance, the new word does not borrow from the names of the old words, but from their definitions. Without further waiting here is the new word: slug monkey.

OLD WORDS
Slug, n. Any one of various snaillike gastropods having no shell or only a rudimentary one. It feeds off plants and is often a pest to garden crops, often leaving a viscus trail.

v. Chiefly journalism. To furnish copy, article, story, with a slug.

Monkey, n. Any mammal of the order Primates, including guenons, langurs, capuchins, and macaques, but excluding humans and the anthropoid apes.

v. Informal. To play or trifle; sometimes to fool or screw up as in monkey with.

NEW WORD
Slug monkey, n. A sycophant, spokesperson, or follower repeating or defending the illogical ramblings, stupid pomposity, or uttered and written lies of a leader.

v. The act of uttering or repeating the illogical ramblings, stupid pomposity, or uttered and written lies.

Used in a sentence: Noun. The US Senator is nothing more than a slug monkey for the President.

Verb. The press conference was a chance for the President to slug monkey his position.

Most recent new word: clustrophobia.

Slug monkey

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My Summer Reading – Essays & Articles – Michael Connelly

My Summer Reading by Michael Connelly (2019)

We are well into summer at this point and I am well into my summer reading. I have an eclectic stack on my reading list. Here are a few of the highlights. Some you have had the chance to read for a while, some are new, and at least a couple are not out yet, but you can always pre-order them so you get them as soon as they are out.

First off, I just finished If She Wakes by Michael Koryta. A couple of disclaimers first. Those of you who have read my recommendations before will know he is a perennial favorite of mine. This started at least because I love the way he tells a story. Therefore, I love his books. But, of course, we are a friendly bunch in the crime fiction genre and get the chance to meet and greet each other at conventions, books signings and so forth. I met Koryta at a book convention and he’s a friend. His books led to that friendship. So, yes, the caveat here is that I am recommending a friend’s book but it’s a damn good book. The other disclaimer is that this one I listened to instead of reading the printed page. Thanks to this book I increased my stats on my pedometer because I walked more because I wanted to listen more. Every day I put in the buds and went out for my paces, only to go further and last longer so I could get more story in. This book may have helped me lose weight – what better recommendation than that! Told in multiple points of view – including through the point of view of a woman locked but alert in a coma. Ingenious stuff to go with an ingenious story with a lot of switchbacks.

The thing with me is that I can be writing when most people are reading; on a plane, lounging by a pool, even while in bed. So, I listen to a lot of books so I can get to these stories while walking or driving – believe me, in L.A. there is a lot of driving. My next suggestion is also a book I listened to, but of course is readily available in print. Bloodshed by Michael Lister. (what’s with all the Michaels?) I am particularly fond of the John Jordan series set in the panhandle of Florida and this is the 19th book in that amazing run. Lister has really mastered the art of the crime novel and this one – no spoilers – really draws from issues very important in the world today. I hate the cliché “Torn from the Headlines!” and this story is not, but it is certainly inspired by the news of the day and worth the read.

This next recommendation has a couple caveats too. It’s not available yet and I am not even finished it before recommending it. I’m lucky. I get to read it now because I have a galley. You won’t get to read it until October. I write about L.A. and so I am always looking for L.A. voices. It’s not about competition. It’s about getting other takes on this great and flawed city and its vast expanse. In the past I have told you about Joe Ide’s books and Ivy Pochoda’s book Wonder Valley. Many years back I worked with a newspaperman named Al Martinez who wrote a book about L.A. called City of Angles. One of the few titles I was ever jealous of. But he was right about this place and every writer has his or her own angle of view on it. That’s what makes their books so interesting to me. I am right in the middle of reading Steph Cha’s book Your House Will Pay coming out October 15th. I don’t know how it will end yet but to say it is so far so good is a big understatement. I am marveling at what is going on here and where it is going on. Cha has new angles on a city that has been the focus of myriad stories and films. But this one is unique and totally gripping. And her prose at times are pretty stunning. Check out this line I came across this morning:
“Smoke rose in a pillar like something from the Bible, dark and alive and climbing, becoming one with the gray sky. Shawn felt a pinprick of heat on his forehead. Touched it and gazed at his finger. Ash. It was everywhere. Flakes of it landing like snowfall.”
All I can say is, you want to know about that fire. You want to read this book.

Okay, so I told you where I have been and where I am at the moment. Now the future. The next book I’ll read is Cari Mora by Thomas Harris. It’s been out a couple of months and so far the word is that its Thomas Harris light. That’s okay. It’s been over a decade waiting for something from Harris and I’ll take anything. I am pretty sure I would not be doing what I am doing today if I had not gone to school on Thomas Harris books. Red Dragon will always be top five for me. So I am looking forward to this new lesson from the teacher.

After that, I’m reading Gone Too Long by Lori Roy. Roy doesn’t have a lot of work out there but everything she has published has been fantastic. She brings a literary sensibility to the crime genre and this book uses the lens of the past to give us a view on what is happening in our world right now. I can’t wait to dig in to this one.

Then it will be back to L.A. Robert Crais has a new one coming out in August called A Dangerous Man and that is on the schedule with me. Do you know that purely by coincidence, Harry Bosch and Elvis Cole have lived on the same street in L.A.? Yep, good ol’ Woodrow Wilson Drive. It’s actually a long street and they are not exactly neighbors, but it underlines how Elvis and Harry have trod some of the same streets for many, many years and I always want to see what Elvis and Joe Pike are up to.

Lastly, a few books on my stack that I ordered because I got excited by a review or by the words of a bookseller. I got the books and just haven’t gotten to them yet. American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson is a debut spy thriller that got raves. I want to read Bearskin by James A. McLaughlin because it won the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar award for best first novel. I read all of those. Next week I am also going to get a copy of Colson Whitehead’s novel The Nickel Boys. I seem to favor, at least on this list, Los Angeles and Florida stories. I grew up in Florida and am always drawn to stories about it. So, many on this list are Florida writers or their stories are set in Florida or both. The Nickel Boys is set in Florida and about a hellish reform school for boys. It sounds like it was inspired by a true and horrible story I know of through local newspaper stories. I look forward to reading this book as well before the summer ends.

-Michael Connelly

Source: My Summer Reading – Essays & Articles – Michael Connelly

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