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The Short Career Of Richard Bachman, The Pulp Writer Alter Ego Of Stephen King

Updated November 21, 2018 5.8k views15 items

Stephen King is the undisputed master of horror fiction, having written dozens of novels and sold hundreds of millions of copies worldwide. With his massive success, it might surprise some to learn that King didn't technically author all his books - at least, he wasn't credited as the author. In the early days of his meteoric rise, King partook in a kind of literary experiment, in an attempt to prove it was talent and not luck that led to his success. He created an alter ego for himself and wrote books under a pseudonym, Richard Bachman, a character as rich and detailed as the ones in King's novels.

Bachman was an invention of King's, created for both artistic and practical reasons. He was also a secret, one that King worked hard to preserve. While most King fans today are familiar with the works of Richard Bachman, the fictional author was once at the center of many a conspiracy theory. It took years before his true identity was revealed, despite King's best efforts to keep the truth hidden from the public. While Bachman may be "dead," he remains a cult figure of near-mythic status.   

  • King Originally Invented Bachman As A Way To Publish More

    King is known for pumping out novels at an exceptional pace. While many novelists struggle with finishing their projects on time, King can and does publish multiple books in a single year. When King was first finding success, this was considered problematic by his publishers.

    Authors didn't typically release more than one work a year, and King's publishers were worried that too many releases would oversaturate the market. To get around this, King decided to create a pseudonym, and Richard Bachman was born. 

  • The Name 'Richard Bachman' Was Not King's First Choice

    By his admittance, King didn't put a lot of thought into the name "Richard Bachman." In fact, it wasn't even his first choice. He was initially planning on releasing the Bachman books under the name Gus Pillsbury, but he had to change course when rumors started to spread connecting King to Pillsbury.

     King has stated that he wasn't even that fond of the name Gus Pillsbury, and wasn't too upset that he had to change it.

  • 'Richard Bachman' Is A Mashup Of An Author And A Band

    After word got out about Gus Pillsbury, King had to search for a new pseudonym. As a last minute decision, King chose the name "Richard Bachman" based on random influences he saw in the room at the time. He picked up the first name from a book that happened to be on his desk, which was written by Richard Stark. King also picked the surname "Bachman" because he happened to be listening to a record by the band Bachman Turner Overdrive

    As an additional twist, "Richard Stark" was the pseudonym of author Donald Westlake. 

  • Bachman's Author Photo Was A Picture Of A Friend Of King's Agent

    Bachman's Author Photo Was A Picture Of A Friend Of King's Agent
    Photo: CyberGhostface / Wikipedia / Fair Use

    King didn't go to extreme lengths to keep his secret, but he did try. As the theories started to crop up and news agencies began hounding King for answers, he was forced to lie time and again about the true identity of Bachman.

    Perhaps King's greatest ploy was the author photo he used in the Bachman books. The man in the picture obviously isn't King, but a man named Richard Manuel. Manuel was a close friend of King's literary agent, Kirby McCauley, and McCauley asked him if he would be willing to pose as Bachman.

    Manuel was in no way an author; instead, his profession was building and designing energy-efficient houses. "I was sworn to secrecy," Manuel said. "Some friends called and said 'Hey, Dick, there's a guy that looks like you who's writing books in New Hampshire.' Even my sister called and said that." Manuel never revealed King's secret.