Tuesday June 14th, 2011

An Author By Any Other Name…

On Monday, July 11, I’ll have the distinct pleasure of appearing at Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood for the store’s Blogger/Author Pairings series. I’ll be speaking with Carmela Ciuraru, whose book, Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms, hits shelves today. Its title gives you the gist, but you have to dive in to get a sense of its intelligence and spark. A series of biographical essays about 16 writers, including George Eliot, Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain, George Orwell, and Sylvia Plath, the book is a great conversation starter, so I’m really looking forward to the 11th. Please join us if you can. (Full details here.)

In the meantime, Salon recently published an abridged version of the book’s introduction. Here’s a taste:

A new work by Stephen King, whose books have sold more than 500 million copies worldwide, is a reassuring promise of success to his publisher. It’s also critic-proof. Yet in the late 1970s, feeling hemmed in by his phenomenally prolific output, King introduced the pen name Richard Bachman. As he later said, it was easy to add someone to his interior staff:

The name Richard Bachman actually came from when they called me and said we’re ready to go to press with this novel, what name shall we put on it? And I hadn’t really thought about that. Well, I had, but the original name — Gus Pillsbury — had gotten out on the grapevine and I really didn’t like it that much anyway, so 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 that’s kind of funny because Richard Stark is in itself a pen name for Donald Westlake, 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.

King’s practical measure to avoid saturating the market (and avoid openly competing with himself for sales) was a success. But in 1985, a bookstore clerk in Washington, D.C., did some detective work and exposed King’s secret. The author subsequently issued a press release announcing Bachman’s death from “cancer of the pseudonym.” King dedicated his 1989 novel The Dark Half (about a pen name that assumes a sinister life of its own) to “the late Richard Bachman.”