Do you know who Steve Brown is? Probably not, but you should. A very inquisitive Washington DC bookstore clerk uncovered one of the biggest secrets in the publishing world in 1985. The closest thing to a modern day secret would be J.K. Rowling’s decision to publish “The Cuckoo's Calling” as Robert Galbraith.
Stephen King’s major concern in 1977 was that the movie Carrie had more to do with his early success than his actual talent," so he envisioned Richard Bachman as a test: would readers still care about Stephen King books if they no longer had the King name attached to them? And, he wondered: was his success due to real talent, or merely a product of the hype Carrie had produced? King went so far as to "load the dice against" Bachman by poorly marketing the books.
According to Steve Brown: “When I read an advance copy of "Thinner", I was no more than two pages into it when I said, this is either Stephen King or the world's best imitator." I began to ponder that maybe this *was* King. More or less as a kind of game, not real seriously, I took the subway over to the Library of Congress to look up the copyright documents. All but the oldest were copyrighted in Kirby McCauley's name—a big clue, as KM was King's agent, but not conclusive. McCauley had many clients. I almost gave up at this point, as the oldest book was copyrighted before the LC changed to an easy computer system. But, just to be anal about it, I insisted the clerk go off and manually hunt up the document. She came back and handed it to me, and there it was: Stephen King, Bangor, Maine. I xeroxed all documents and went home.
Brown was more reserved with his discovery. Instead of going public, he wrote to the author, explaining his discovery and expressing interest in writing an article about it but promising to "keep quiet" if King preferred. Two weeks later (remember—this was the 1980s), he received a phone call:
I heard a page over the intercom at the big bookstore I worked in. "Steve Brown. Call for Steve Brown on line 5." I picked it up and a voice said, "Steve Brown? This is Steve King. All right. You know I'm Bachman. I know I'm Bachman. What are we going to do about it? Let's talk."
It hadn't occurred to me he'd call, so I hadn't bothered to give him my number or even the name of the bookstore. He had spent a whole afternoon calling every bookstore in DC trying to find me!
Anyway, we chatted for a while and he gave me his unlisted home phone and told me to call him in the evening. I ran out and got a tape recorder with a telephone attachment and interviewed him for three nights straight over the phone. He was very relaxed and very funny throughout. He didn't seem at all upset that I had found him out. He was extremely gracious and said that he wouldn't talk to anyone else but me (outside of simply admitting it), that mine would be the only lengthy interview on the subject.
King, in typically morbid fashion, subsequently announced that Bachman had "died of cancer of the pseudonym". But he later exhumed the pseudonym, in 1996 for "The Regulators", and then in 2007 for "Blaze", a novel that had originally been drafted more than 30 years earlier.