Showing posts with label Richard Bachman. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Richard Bachman. Show all posts

10 March 2015

Double Identity


by Jim Winter

It's a brave new world, publishing is. Self-publishing doesn't quite have the stench it once had. If a writer does not go traditional, he or she can write anything they want. But the gatekeepers aren't gone. If anything, there are more of them. They're called readers, and they still have rules no matter what the JA Konraths and John Lockes of the world try to tell you.

Most of the rules are common sense. Write a good story. (I like to think I do.) Don't look like an amateur. (Probably need to work harder on this one.) Stick with your genre. On that one, readers are far less forgiving than Barnes & Noble, indie bookstores, and even the Big Five publishers. So what to do?

What any writer would do, traditional or independent. Write under two names. I started doing this in the last couple of years. While I was in a groove with an ambitious police novel I describe as "The Wire meets 87th Precinct," I felt that this thing had time to fail. It might not find an agent. It might not get a deal even if it did. I'm talking with an agent now, but it still has time to fail. I had to start looking beyond.

So I started a science fiction novel under a different name. I referred to this name as "Dick Bachman," though that's not what I really use. It is, of course, a Stephen King reference to the novel The Dark Half, wherein an author's pen name comes to life to stalk him for doing away with him. Early on, I made the decision not to make any public connection between the two names. Why?

In 2005, Northcoast Shakedown sold reasonably well for a release by an unknown from a micropress that had trouble paying its Lightning Source bill. Had I made some different decisions, I'd have probably wrapped up the Kepler series a few years ago and moved onto thrillers or even finished the police novel sooner. So it could be done. I wanted to see if I could do it again.

A handful of people know the details. A couple think it's silly to keep the identities separate. One suggested I just stop being Jim, use the new name, and find another name for the science fiction. But I've already gone pretty far down the rabbit hole not to see this through. The new name has a lot invested in branding as science fiction, and I don't want to lose the ability to resell and repackage Nick Kepler.

And besides, it's fun. I'm not doing stupid things like having Twitter wars with myself (though I often joke about that). Sooner or later, the charade is going to collapse in on itself. I'd rather that be part of a game I and the readers can play. It's a lot of work to have two independent identities as a writer, but it lets me experiment a little with each.

Who knows? Evan Hunter and Ed McBain collaborated on a book once. Why can't "Dick" and I do that at some point?

13 August 2013

Who Was That Masked Writer?


by Dale C. Andrews 
In 1968 or 1969 Paul McCartney said a wistful and startling thing in an interview. He said the Beatles had discussed the idea of going out on the road as a bar-band named Randy and the Rockets. They would wear hokey capes and masks à la Count Five, he said, so no one would recognize them, and they would just have a rave-up, like in the old days.
When the interviewer suggested they would be recognized by their voices, Paul seemed at first startled … and then a bit appalled. 
                                                                   Stephen King
                                                                   Why I Was Bachman 

      In The Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck ended a famous soliloquy with the conclusion “we can’t start over.” This may be true, but that has not stopped some writers from trying. 

       Writing as someone else, that is, under a pseudonym, has always enjoyed a subversive and at times roguish popularity among writers. Over the years there have been many motivations for hiding one’s name -- Mary Ann Evans, author of Silas Marner, for example, wrote under the pseudonym of George Eliot because she believed that to be taken seriously in the mid-1800s an author really ought to be male. Thankfully, we are well past such “necessities,” but, for a host of reasons, authors still, at times, give in to a temptation to write as someone else. 

       Mysteries, which are all about secrets, have always been a particularly fertile ground for cultivating new identities. Ellery Queen, a pseudonym on his (or their) own, also wrote pseudonymously as Barnaby Ross. Earl Stanley Gardner wrote the Perry Mason mysteries under his own name, but wrote his D.A. Doug Selby mysteries under the name of A.A. Fair. Ruth Rendell writes not only as herself, but also as Barbara Vine. The reasons these writers,and many others, decided to write as someone else are varied, but among particularly popular novelists, such as those who have staked out claims to the top spots on The New York Times list, there is a particularly tantalizing temptation to coin a new name. They want to prove John Steinbeck wrong. 

J. K. Rowlings and friend
       Apropos of all of this, on April 30 Mullholand Books published a new mystery, The Cuckoo’s Calling, by “first time author” Robert Galbraith, described on the book jacket as an ex-military officer making his first foray into fiction writing. Although a debut novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling attracted the attention of a number of reviewers, including The New York Times, which had this to say about the book: 
Robert Galbraith has written a highly entertaining book... Even better, he has introduced an appealing protagonist in Strike, who's sure to be the star of many sequels to come.... its narrative moves forward with propulsive suspense. More important, Strike and his . . . assistant, Robin (playing Nora to his Nick, Salander to his Blomkvist), have become a team - a team whose further adventures the reader cannot help eagerly awaiting.
There was also a shared theme in the reviews of the book -- it seemed too good, too polished, for a first time work. The reviewers began to wonder, and to speculate. 

       In any event, buoyed by similarly favorable reviews The Cuckoo’s Calling was doing passably well for a first novel, selling 8,500 copies within a few weeks of publication and garnering two inquiries concerning possible film adaptations. It was then that the wife of a lawyer in the London law firm that had done legal work for the book, revealed on Twitter, contrary to the terms of a secrecy agreement, that the author was none other than J. K. Rowlings. Rowlings has now admitted authorship, settled with the law firm, which has committed to making a large donation to the same soldiers’ charity that is also receiving the royalties from the book. 

       When asked why she elected to begin a new series using a pseudonym, and writing as a man, Ms. Rowlings had this to say: 
I was yearning to go back to the beginning of a writing career in this new genre, to work without hype or expectation and to receive totally unvarnished feedback. It was a fantastic experience and I only wish it could have gone on a little longer.  
I [also] wanted to take my writing persona as far away as possible from me, so a male pseudonym seemed a good idea. I am proud to say, though, that when I “unmasked” myself to my editor David Shelley who had read and enjoyed The Cuckoo’s Calling without realizing I wrote it, one of the first things he said was “I never would have thought a woman wrote that.” Apparently I had successfully channeled my inner bloke! 
George Eliot could not have said or done it better! 

"Richard Bachman" from the
Thinner book cover  (Actually Stephen King's
agent's insurance broker)
       J. K. Rowling was not the first best selling author to succumb to the temptation to begin again. Stephen King attempted the same feat in the 1980s when, writing as Richard Bachman, he published five novels before being outed in 1985 just about the time that the fifth Bachman book, Thinner, was beginning to do well in the bookstores. Stephen King reportedly had several reasons for inventing Bachman. First, King is remarkably prolific and his publisher, early on, feared that publishing at the rate King wrote -- more than a book a year -- would flood the market. So a pseudonym created a new outlet. 

       But part of it was, in King’s words, the same hunger that tempted J. K. Rowling’s to invent Galbraith. Here is what King said in Why I Was Bachman, the essay that accompanies the 1985 omnibus volume The Bachman Books collecting the first four of Richard Bachman’s novels: 
You try to make sense of your life. Everybody tries to do that, I think, and part of making sense of things is trying to find reasons . . . or constants . . . things that don’t fluctuate. Eveyone does it, but perhaps people who have extraordinarily lucky or unlucky lives do it a little more. . . . Part of you wants to think that you must have been one hardworking S.O.B. or a real prince or maybe even one of the Sainted Multitude if you end up riding high in a world where people are starving, shooting each other, burning out, bumming out, getting loaded, getting ‘Luded.  
But there’s another part that suggests it’s all a lottery, a real-life game-show not much different from “Wheel of Fortune” or “The New Price is Right” . . . . 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. 
       King’s experiment was also cut short. The next Bachman book was to be Misery, and, in King’s words, “I think that one might have taken 'Dicky' onto the best-seller list.” Rowling’s experiment was cut way short, even though her next Cormoran Striker mystery will still be published under Galbraith’s name in 2014. 

Robert Galbraith and Richard Bachman sharing a stage
       It is interesting to compare Galbraith and Bachman with, respectively, Rowlings and King. Galbraith's mystery is much grittier than any of the Harry Potter books.  The Cuckoo's Calling is prone toward the use of idle profanity, darkly modern themes and urban settings.  And Bachman is also darker than King.  Bachman’s The Long Walk is sort of like The Hunger Games but without the love story -- just children dying in a televised contest. And Rage, centering on a young gunman taking over a school room, has been withdrawn from the market out of concern as to what it might prompt or might already have prompted. 

       But while the pseudonym authors differ markedly from their creators, behind the curtain, nonetheless similar narrative voices are discernible. Before being outed by a meticulous book store clerk who found an obscure reference to King in one of the Bachman copyright documents, there was rampant speculation that Bachman was King premised on the similarities of sentence structure, word usage, and plots. And today, 30 years after King’s Bachman experiment, apparently computerized digital comparisons between the Harry Potter books and The Cuckoo’s Calling were on the verge of outing Rowling when that tweet from the lawyer’s wife pulled the rug out from under her. 

     As noted, Galbraith and Bachman were doing respectably well before their identities were pierced. But sales in each case went ballistic when the pseudonym mystery was cracked. The Washington Post reported that “the news helped [The Cuckoo’s Calling to] climb straight to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list” the next week. And Richard Bachman’s Thinner was selling very well when King was outed. “But the fact,” King observes, “that Thinner did 28,000 copies when Bachman was the author and 280,000 copes when Steve King became the author, might tell you something, huh?” 

       Galbraith will continue to write mystery novels, but as a known pseudonym of Rowlings. Bachman, according to King, died of cancer of the pseudonym in 1985, although some “posthumous” Bachman works have been published since then. 

       In the end, what can we say of these experiments? Do they ultimately prove that hard work wins out or do they validate the lightning strike of luck? Both The Cuckoo’s Calling and the Bachman novel The Long Walk were rejected by publishers that would have jumped at the works if armed with a little foreknowledge. 

       Experiments cut short may ultimately yield no good answer. But on a side note, consider this. Amidst the confusion that attended the news that Rowlings was, in fact, Galbraith, and the ensuing rush to secure copies of her new book, Ron Charles of The Washington Post reported an item that can keep us pondering: 
The Cuckoo’s Calling isn’t the only Cuckoo title on The Post’s list this week. Cliff Stoll’s nonfiction story, The Cuckoo’s Egg: Tracking a Spy through the Maze of Computer Espionage is No. 4 on the nonfiction paperback list.  
Why would a book from 1989 pop up now? Are NSA employees buying copies in bulk? Are Rowling fans confused about her pseudonym? Or is it just wizardry?  
That lightning may have struck Cliff Stoll.  Assuming, of course, that he is Cliff Stoll.

18 February 2013

Fast Times


By Fran Rizer



In my youth (a hundred years ago), no young lady wanted to be labeled as "fast," and I wasn't.  Yet, looking back, I did seem to always be in a hurry.  I started school a year ahead, finished high school in three years and my first college degree in three years, which put me in a high school classroom teaching senior English at age nineteen.  The older I grow, the more I realize how truly little I knew back then.

For my newest "baby" to be delivered around October since it's a Christmas story, it needs to be completed by June.  This didn't scare me because books two and three were written and edited in six months each, but it did start me thinking about how long people spend writing a book.



Margaret Mitchell
Margaret Mitchell spent from 1926 to 1934 writing Gone With the Wind, working steadily except for brief periods of discouragement in 1927 and 1934.  Harper Lee devoted three years to producing To Kill a Mockingbird.  More recently, Heidi Durrow says she worked on The Girl Who Fell from the Sky for thirteen years.

Anthony Burgess
What's the other extreme?  Who are the writers who claim to have churned out best sellers in very little writing time? 





Anthony Burgess said that A Clockwork Orange was "knocked off for money in three weeks."  But more impressive than that is the backstory.

In 1959, Burgess was told that he had an inoperable brain turmor and would be dead within a year.  Hoping to provide for his wife after his death, Burgess wrote five novels in the next twelve months. A Clockwork Orange was published in 1962.  Burgess lived another thirty years (died in 1993) and left more than thirty novels.

Mickey Spillane wrote his best seller I the Jury in nine days.  It sold seven million copies in three years.

It's said that The Running Man  took Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman) only three nights.  There are some claims though that a lot of it was lifted from previous manucripts King wrote.
Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac's actual writing time for On the Road  is touted to have been three weeks, but he'd spent seven years traveling the USA and making notes.  Another interesting fact about On the Road is that Kerouac wrote it on a 119-foot long scroll of paper so that he didn't have to keep inserting sheets into his typewriter.  The scroll  has been exhibited in museums and libraries around the world.

On the end of the scroll is a note in Kerouac's handwriting.  He states that a cocker spaniel ate the last lines, so no one knows the original final words.  That sounds an awful lot like some Colonel Parker business to me, and if you believe it's the gospel truth, please let me know because I've got a bridge for sale in New York, and I'll give you a real deal on it!

Until we meet again, take care of . .  .you!