The Life, Death and Afterlife of Richard Bachman

A study of Richard Bachman, Stephen King’s dead alter-ego.

It is now fairly common knowledge that best-selling horror novelist Stephen King sometimes uses the pseudonym Richard Bachman for publishing his novels. So far, the novels Rage, Roadwork, The Long Walk, The Running Man, Thinner, and The Regulators have all been published by King as Richard Bachman. In 2007, Blaze, a new Richard Bachman novel was published.

Long before Stephen King’s “official” first novel, Carrie was published he had written two novels called Getting It On and The Long Walk, which he couldn’t quite manage to get published. After the successes of Carrie and Salem’s Lot, King (obviously in a stronger position) decided to resurrect what he considered were his other good books.

On the advice of his publishers, who cautioned King on the dangers of over-saturating the market, Getting It On (renamed Rage) was published under the pseudonym of Richard Bachman, and a new author was born.

According to King, choosing Richard Bachman’s name was a fairly straightforward, if somewhat expedient, process. “The name Richard Bachman actually came from when [the publisher] called me and said we”re ready to go to press with this novel [Rage], what name shall we put on it? They said they needed it right away and there was a novel by Richard Stark on my desk so I used the name Richard … and what was playing on the record player was “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” by Bachman Turner Overdrive, so I put the two of them together and came up with Richard Bachman.”

According to King, “Richard Bachman began his career not as a delusion but as a sheltered place where I could publish a few early books which I felt readers might like. Then he began to grow and come alive, as the creatures of a writer”s imagination so frequently do.”

“Richard Bachman… did develop a personality and a history to go along with the bogus author photo… and the bogus wife (Claudia Inez Bachman)… Bachman was a fairly unpleasant fellow who was born in New York and spent about ten years in the merchant marine after four years in the Coast Guard. He ultimately settled in rural central New Hampshire, where he wrote at night and tended to his medium-sized dairy farm during the day.”

“I began to imagine his life as a dairy farmer… his wife, the beautiful Claudia Inez Bachman… his solitary New Hampshire mornings, spent milking the cows, getting in the wood, and thinking about his stories… his evenings spent writing these stories, always with a glass of whiskey beside his Olivetti typewriter.”

Of course, being Stephen King, there were the almost mandatory gruesome incidents to accompany the biography. “The Bachmans had one child, a boy, who died in an unfortunate accident at the age of six (he fell through a well cover and drowned). Three years later a brain tumor was discovered near the base of Bachman”s brain; tricky surgery removed it. And he died suddenly in February of 1985.”

As King’s comments reveal, Richard Bachman is far more than just a mere pseudonym (he is a person, a persona, an alter-ego) created by King, complete with his own biography, family, life, death, and with a posthumous literary reputation based on seven published novels, two of which have been made into films. King notes: “Bachman [was] a fictional creation who became more real to me with each published book which bore his by-line.”

In many ways, Richard Bachman is the most successful character that Stephen King has created; primarily because Richard Bachman is an integral part of who Stephen King is. Consequently, Bachman has not only influenced the way King writes, but what he writes, and how and when he writes.

Recently, King has commented on the lifelike existence of Bachman: “Probably the most important thing I can say about Richard Bachman is that he became real. He took on his own reality, that”s all, and when his cover was blown, he died. I made light of this in the few interviews I felt required to give on the subject, saying that Richard Bachman had died of cancer of the pseudonym, but it was actually shock that killed him… Put another way, Bachman was the vampirish side of my existence, killed by the sunlight of disclosure.’

‘And then these news stories came out saying “Bachman is really King,” and there was no one (not even me) to defend the dead man, or to point out the obvious: that King was also really Bachman, at least some of the time.’

King has given a variety of reasons for his creating Richard Bachman. One reason is because he felt he needed another outlet for his writing due to his prolificacy; he was writing novels too quickly for his publisher, who was unable to keep up with his prolific output.

“I did that because back in the early days of my career there was a feeling in the publishing business that one book a year was all the public would accept, but I think that a number of writers have disproved that by now. I’m one of them and… I adopted Richard Bachman and that was what made it possible for me to do two books in one year.”

However, King also maintains that he became Bachman because it enabled him to write fiction that was not horror fiction. “One day it occurred to me that I ought to publish… under a pseudonym. It seemed like a good idea so I did it… Writing something that was not horror as Stephen King would be perfectly easy, but answering the questions about why I did it would be a pain in the ass. When I wrote straight fiction as Richard Bachman, no one asked the questions. In fact…hardly anyone read the books.”

King also states that he became Bachman in order to see if he could be a successful author under a different name – in a way, by starting again. “It is for some reason depressing to think it was all (or even mostly) an accident. So maybe you try to find out if you could do it again. Or in my case, if Bachman could do it again… Richard Bachman… died with that question – is it work that takes you to the top or is it all a lottery – still unanswered.”

King also claims there was an element of role-play and fun involved in being Bachman: “I think I did it… to do something other than Stephen King. I think all novelists are inveterate role-players and it was fun to be someone else for a while; in this case, Richard Bachman.”

King also maintains that being Bachman served a useful creative purpose: “The importance of being Bachman was always the importance of finding a good voice and a valid point of view that were a little different from my own.”

Despite this protestation, King has reservations about the Bachman alter-ego: “Richard Bachman isn’t a fellow I’d want to be all the time, even if he were still alive… but it’s good to have that option, good to have that way out, good to have that window on the world, polarized though it may be… Bachman had become a kind of id for me; he said the things I couldn’t, and [I] gave him leave to think in ways I could not think and speak in ways I could not speak… Bachman was never created as a short-term alias; he was supposed to be there for the long haul… I put Bachman aside, and although I was sorry that his cover had been blown and he had to die, I would be lying if I didn’t say I felt some relief as well.”

Despite “killing off” the Bachman alter-ego, King still publishes books using Richard Bachman’s name. When King comments on Bachman’s posthumous career, it is possible to see the amount of effort and energy King has invested in giving life to this imaginary character. King says: “Of course Bachman was dead, I had announced that myself, but death is actually a minor problem for a novelist… I didn”t actually bring Richard Bachman back from the dead… I just visualized a box of neglected manuscripts in the basement, with The Regulators on top. Then I transcribed the book Bachman had already written… It was wonderful to hear Bachman’s voice again.”

Being Bachman clearly causes King problems, and King’s own work sometimes attempts to explicate the relationship between a writer and his pseudonym. In Stephen King’s novel The Dark Half – which is dedicated to “the late Richard Bachman”, King has written about a battle of wills (and identity) between a writer, named Thad Beaumont and his pseudonym, George Stark. In the novel, the pseudonym is killed off, but returns to life and terrorizes the writer and his family. King states: “For Thad Beaumont, the dream of being a writer overwhelms the reality of being a man; delusive thinking overtakes rationality completely, with horrific consequences.”

Another variation on the Bachman alter-ego being in competition with King came about after Stephen King had written Desperation. He had the idea of using the same characters from that novel in a completely different plot; a dark mirror version of Desperation called The Regulators.

According to King, “the two books couldn”t sound exactly the same, and they couldn’t mean the same… How could I possibly create a different voice? At first I thought I couldn’t… Then it occurred to me that I had the answer, and had had it all along: Richard Bachman could write The Regulators. His voice sounded superficially the same as mine, simultaneously funnier and more cold-hearted…’

In order to prepare readers for The Regulators, Stephen King added further detail to the Richard Bachman mythology. He stated: “Bachman fans, who mourned the death of the author, received a bit of good news recently. In 1994, while preparing to move to a new house, the widow Bachman discovered a cardboard carton filled with manuscripts in the cellar. The carton contained a number of novels and stories, in varying degrees of completion. The most finished was a typescript of a novel entitled, The Regulators.The widow took the manuscript to Bachman”s former editor, Charles Verrill, who found it compared well with Bachman’s earlier works. After only a few minor changes, and with the approval of the author’s widow (now Claudia Eschelman), The Regulators was published posthumously in September of 1996 by Dutton.”

Charles Verrill also happens to edit the works of Stephen King… whose works have been compared to the late Richard Bachman’s. When asked his opinion of Bachman, King replied, “A nasty man…. I”m glad that he’s dead… Still, I have to wonder if there are any other good manuscripts, at or near completion, in that box found by the former Mrs. Bachman in the cellar of their New Hampshire farmhouse. Sometimes I wonder about that a lot…’

Of course there are. Consequently, Blaze is the seventh novel by the late Richard Bachman. Stephen King describes Blaze as Bachman’s “first-written but last-recovered” work. However, as King has “visualized a box of neglected manuscripts in the basement”, and because he has made Bachman’s widow discover “a cardboard carton filled with manuscripts in the cellar”, Blaze will probably not be the last book by Richard Bachman.

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