Tag Archives: Richard Bachman

Roadwork Revisited by J.D. Barker

Okay Mr. King, Id like you to count backward for me, down from one hundred. Relax. Focus on the sound of my voice. Nothing can hurt you here. This is a safe place. Tell me about the Richard Bachman fellow. Is he here right now? In the room with us?

I purposely havent read the essays by the other authors in this book. I wanted to approach this with a clean slate, no preconceived notions, no roadmap. Most likely, that means Im doing it all wrong. If I am, I apologize for that. Ive never been good at following directions. After (God, has it really been) forty-plus years of reading King and Bachman, I get the distinct feeling that King tends to follow most directions in life while Bachman is more likely to scoff when someone tells him what to do, take their suggestions under advisement, then do whatever the hell he wanted to do before that someone rudely interrupted him.

We all have that inner voice, the devil camped out on our shoulder whispering in our ear. The difference here is King made a conscious decision to grant his life, set him free. He handed him a Black Beauty pencil and pad, pointed at an armchair across the room, and said, You do your thing, and Ill be over here doing mine. Curious to see what you come up with.

The weekend psychologist in me has often wondered how exactly that worked, but it did. And the odd thing is, there are distinct differences between the two. Voice, cadence, sentence structurethe stories themselves. Bachman will say things King wouldnt dare. Those differences grew over the years. In many ways, this is a testament to Kings ability to tell a story, to create a character. Bachman started as an idea on the page and eventually became someone else living in the house. I can see the two of them fighting over the remote, because they wouldnt want to watch the same thing. Tabitha is probably the real hero of the story. She somehow managed to keep them both in line.

As an author, I get it. The moment you write a book, everyone wants to tag you with a label and stuff you into the appropriate genre box. Heaven forbid you write fast and gum up the publishers production line with too many titles. Using a pseudonym granted King the ability to skirt both those problems. Hes also used John Swithen and Beryl Evans. Although the two of them were more like passing acquaintances, while Bachman was akin to that old friend who popped up every few years, crashed on the couch for a bit, then vanished again after leaving a note on the coffee table with a few bucks to cover groceries.

Just as the members of a successful band sometimes do side projects, Bachman, I imagine, was also a much-needed outlet. Kings books were successful right out of the gate. Bachmans got relegated to the back of the rack, and that kind of anonymity offers a lot of freedom.

Ive had Roadwork up on the shelf for some time. Ive got a first edition paperback with Bachman on the cover, no mention of King. I do remember knowing King wrote it when I bought it, so I imagine I picked it up sometime around 1985, most likely at the long defunct used bookstore in Englewood, Florida. I would have been fourteen at the time, having just moved to the sunshine state from Illinois. I finished reading it on 2/10/1986, again on 10/19/2009, and most recently on 3/20/2020. I know this, because anytime I read a book, I sign and date it in the back—a habit I started back when I was ten after finding a copy of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes at a garage sale with signatures and dates on the last page going back almost a hundred years. When I first saw that, it made me realize how books live a quiet life of their own—read, borrowed, sold, given—most will outlive us. The book youre reading right now is only visiting. Where will it go when youre done? Up on a shelf? Off into the world? Or will it vanish with the flick of a power switch? I guess thats up to you, but if its a physical copy and someone picks it up a century from now, wouldnt it be cool if they saw your signature and date?

Roadwork is about a man named Barton George Dawes, who learns a highway extension is about to be built in his backyard, literally. His house will be demolished. His neighbors’ homes. Even the laundromat where he works is on the chopping block. Someone elses idea of progress is set to dismantle his life. Bart doesnt take the news well. Hes compensated financially for the house but doesnt buy a replacement. Hes tasked with finding a new location for the laundromat but lets the deal fall apart. When his wife learns about the numerous balls hes dropped, she leaves him. Bart is not in a good place, and led by his anger, begins exploring ways to put an end to the construction project, with very little consideration of what that means for him.

The story struck home with me for a silly reason. Several years before, back in Illinois, my friends and I considered a real-life plot similar to the one in the book. My parents had bought a forest and built our family home in the middle when I was still in diapers. That forest was our childhood playground for the years that followed—riding ATVs, playing capture the flag, hide and seek—everything we did took place in those woods. Around the time I was thirteen, my friends and I learned that someone bought the sod farm next door to our forest and planned to build a shopping mall there. That night at dinner, my parents told my sister and me the same company made them an offer on the forest, and they planned to accept. Our world came apart. For the weeks that followed, every kid in the neighborhood had a singular thought—how do we stop this from happening? There were talks of dynamite, sabotage. We even considered telling people the forest was built on an old Indian graveyard, land that had to be preserved. That was probably our best idea. None of it played out, though. Kids dont have access to dynamite. Sabotage is scary. And when children tell stories of old, haunted burial grounds, adults shrug it off and refer back to these crazy things called town recordsthat held no mention of such a thing.

The sod farm sold.

My parents’ land sold.

Our house sold, and we made the move to Florida.

They broke ground on the shopping mall about the same time I found Roadwork in that old bookstore and read the jacket copy. So the first time I met Barton George Dawes, I think I related to him in a roundabout way. I understood his frustration and anger. My shopping mall was his road, and my teenage brain wanted to see him succeed. This was a time when Stallone and Schwarzenegger ruled the box office and the A-Team dominated television. Problems were solved with explosions and gunshots. Shouldnt Bart be allowed his revenge? Damn right, he should.

W.W.R.D.

What would Rambo do?

Ah, the eighties.

Ive always liked the way books take on different meanings if you read them at different times in your life. Thats all I really remember from that early read. Barts drive, the action stuff. I remember him being horribly pissed off, trying to do something about it, and failing miserably.

I wouldnt pluck it down off the bookshelf again until I was thirty-eight and fast approaching my first midlife crisis (yes, you can have more than one). I was trapped in a job I hated (I really wanted to be a writer), a marriage slowly moving toward the finish line (she didnt understand why I wanted to write when I had a real job), and my father had recently passed away with cancer.

Ive always read a lot, and a handful of books had made my shortlist of repeat-worthy:

All the classics—Dickens, Golding, Orwell, Brontë, Stoker, Twain, Austen, Vonnegut, Bradbury

Anything by Thomas Harris.

Anything by Stephen King.

Lifes too short to read a bad book, but theres certainly enough time to go back and revisit the good ones a couple times. For every three or four new books I read, Ill go back and pull one of the above down and give it another look. In October 2009, Roadwork was back on deck, and I nearly missed it. Its a small paperback and was tucked in with the Bs rather than the several shelves of King books Id accumulated at that point. Id completely forgotten about it. Its not one of his bestsellers. Im not sure it was even a mediocre seller. I barely remembered the story, and I think thats what compelled me to give it another go.

About twenty pages in, I remember thinking, This is King, but it isnt. His innate ability to develop a character in only a handful of sentences was there. The inner thoughts and structure that completely hooked me in Gerald’s Game were there, too. But this didnt feel like a King book. There was no supernatural element. He used the phrase a long second,the bastard cousin of a long moment,something hes complained about on Twitter when found in other books. There was horror, but this particular horror had a strange sense of realness to it. One I found unnerving. Unlike most King books, this story could happen. Easily. I personally find that far more frightening than some of the other night-bumpers hes created over the years. Bart was a monster. Bart could be living right across the street. Bart might be ahead of you in line at the supermarket. Behind you at the gas pump. This world is filled with Barts—weve seen them in the headlines on the regular.

When my younger self read this book the first time, it was the action that grabbed me. This time, twenty-some years later, it was that human element. Bart was in a bad place. He went dark, and then he only got worse. His high school yearbook said he was the class clown, but life had thrown one horrible event at him after another, and this rapid fire of suffering changed him, beat him down. You can feel the pain in his thoughts, his every action. Again, I related to Bart, not because of what he wanted to do but because of what he had been through.

I later learned King lost his mother to cancer around the same time he wrote this book, and while my younger self wouldnt have noticed the influence of something like that in an authors work, there was no denying it here. Bart bled for him. When I closed the cover on that second read, I thought about the loss of my father a lot. I missed him. On that second read, I found myself wondering about Olivia, too. The young girl who spends a night with Bart before thumbing her way to Nevada in search of something better. I didnt remember her from my first read, but by this time in my life, I had known my share of Olivias. Id seen girls just like her get on a bus all bright-eyed, only to return years later with the sheen gone. I cant help but wonder if she ever came back and learned just what Bart did.

Fast-forward to 2020. I received an e-mail from Brian Freeman of Cemetery Dance, asking if Id like to read Roadwork and contribute an essay to Stephen King Revisited. For the third time in my life, I reached for that tattered paperback and settled into a comfortable chair. Much had changed in my own life since my last read—I met and married the most incredible woman. I write full time now. And we have a little girl. Again, I had changed. While the book itself was comfortingly familiar, one particular scene jumped out at me, one I didnt recall from my first two visits with Barton George Dawes. He goes up into the attic of his soon-to-be demolished home and opens a box of his sons clothing, sifts through the contents. His son, Charlie, had died of a brain tumor.

I nearly closed the book at that point and put it away.

I could hear my own little girl laughing with her mother in the other room, and just the thought of losing a child was too much. It wasnt something I wanted in my head. Not ever.

My younger (non-parent) self had glossed right over this scene, not once but twice.

That is the magic of a good book.

While the words dont change, the meaning, their impact, might. Its one of the main reasons I revisit the good ones.

Roadwork is dark. Its unforgiving.

Its one of the good ones.

If your reading of King has been limited to the big hitters, pick this one up and give it a shot. Youll find hints of the author hed later become, but more importantly, youll see where he came from. This is Springsteen before the Nebraska album, and every note hits home.


The complete list of the books to be read can be found on the Stephen King Books In Chronological Order For Stephen King Revisited Reading Lists page. To be notified of new posts and updates via email, please sign-up using the box on the right side or the bottom of this site.


J.D. Barker is an international bestselling American author whose work has been broadly described as suspense thrillers, often incorporating elements of horror, crime, mystery, science fiction, and the supernatural. Find him on the web at jdbarker.com

Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall by Bev Vincent

Different Seasons is a collection that contains only four tales and, with the exception of “The Breathing Method,” there is nothing remotely supernatural in them. None of the stories had been previously published. That may not seem unusual now, but at the time it was something of a departure for King.

Different SeasonsThe publishing landscape was different in 1982. In his lengthy afterword to Different Seasons, King bemoans the sad state of the novella, that peculiar form of fiction that falls between longer short stories and shorter novels, tales in the 25-30,000 word range. This is a territory King called “an anarchy-ridden literary banana republic.” Nowadays, there are more opportunities to publish novellas, especially in the small press. Even “The Mist,” a later novella, was published as a standalone book from one of the big houses as a movie tie-in.

He calls the stories in this collection his bedtime stories. The ideas came to him while he writing other novels. He couldn’t stop those books to tackle these ideas, so he got into the habit of telling the stories to himself while he was going to sleep at night instead of counting sheep. He says that he often has six or seven of these ideas going on at the same time and many of them never pan out. Either that or he ended up telling the entire story to himself, so there was no point in writing it down. In a later interview, King says he originally submitted only three novellas to his then-editor John Williams but, since he called them “seasons,” Williams felt there should be a fourth, so he wrote “The Breathing Method.” » Read more

Revisiting The Running Man by Richard Chizmar

THAT WAS THEN…

The Running ManI first read The Running Man in the fall of 1985, when the Plume omnibus edition of The Bachman Books was published. I was nineteen years old and laid up with torn ligaments in my ankle, an unfortunate lacrosse injury. I read a lot of books that autumn.

I remember The Running Man because I tore through it in a single day sitting outside in my parents’ screened-in back porch, a November breeze sighing in the trees that bordered our yard, falling leaves dancing just out of my reach.

Feeling sorry for myself was something I rarely did, but I remember my mindset that day, and if I wasn’t slipping into a dark hole of self-pity, I was pretty damn close. I was just coming off my sophomore year in college, a year that saw me earn All American status as a lacrosse midfielder and a scholarship to a Top 20 Division One university.

I had worked hard my first two college seasons to overcome a nagging knee injury, and now my ankle was a mess and I was hobbling around on crutches. It felt like I couldn’t catch a break.

Of course, I knew better, and it didn’t take long for common sense to make an appearance and kick me in the ass. A lot of things contributed to the quick rebound: my own stubborn nature, the support and encouragement of family and friends and teammates, and books like The Running Man.

As a lifelong fan of “man hunting man” stories such as “The Most Dangerous Game,” I knew that The Running Man was my kind of book just by glancing at the overly brief jacket copy:

Welcome to America in 2025 when the best men don’t run for President. They run for their lives…

Cheesy as hell, but that’s all I needed.  » Read more

Can You See Me Running? by Bev Vincent

One of the interesting things about researching these historical context essays is that they demonstrate how unreliable memory can be. Contradictions abound. For example, depending on which account you believe, The Running Man was written either before Stephen King started Carrie or immediately after he completed that book’s first draft, which would make it either his fourth or his fifth finished novel manuscript.

The Running ManThe Running Man was written in the “winter of 1971,” which some sources assign to the period between Christmas and New Year’s Day. King remembers writing it during February vacation, which would place it in February 1972.

Sources generally say that King wrote the novel in a weekend or, more specifically, over a period of 72 hours. In a 2013 interview in The Guardian[1], King says he wrote it in a week. “I was white hot, I was burning. That was quite a week, because Tabby was trying to get back and forth to Dunkin’ Donuts and I had the kids. I wrote when they napped or I would stick them in front of the TV. Joe was in a playpen. It seemed like it snowed the whole week, and I wrote the book.” As with the other novels from that time, King says it was written “by a young man who was angry, energetic, and infatuated with the art and the craft of writing” in a “Bachman state of mind: low rage and simmering despair.” » Read more

Revisiting Roadwork by Richard Chizmar

THAT WAS THEN…

This one is easy, folks.

Because, for ROADWORK, there simply wasn’t a “That Was Then…”

roadwork--smallThat’s right. ROADWORK is one of two Stephen King novels I had never read before. (And, nope, I’m not going to tell you the other one, but you are all welcome to guess, of course.)

So…why didn’t I read ROADWORK when news first hit many moons ago that Richard Bachman was actually Stephen King? After all, I gobbled up the other Bachman books — THE LONG WALK, RAGE, THE RUNNING MAN, THINNER — and enjoyed them all to varying degrees.

So, what was the deal with ROADWORK?

I promised myself I would remain honest at all times while taking this journey, so my answer here is a simple one: I tried to read ROADWORK. Several times. But it just didn’t take.

There was something about the book’s voice that failed to reach me. Something about the character of George Bart Dawes himself that failed to reach me. And I wasn’t crazy about the storyline of the book either — “A Novel of the First Energy Crisis”? No, thanks.

Was I simply too young or naive to connect with and enjoy the book? Perhaps. But then again King was only 25 years old himself when he wrote the darn thing.

Whatever the reasons, ROADWORK eventually slipped through the cracks for me and was largely forgotten. » Read more

The First Energy Crisis by Bev Vincent

We have to go back in time again to discuss the genesis of King’s tenth published novel, his third under the Richard Bachman pen name. In 1973, he finished the first draft of ‘Salem’s Lot (known as Second Coming at the time). Carrie was slated for publication the following spring. However, his mother, Ruth, died in December of that year after a long and painful illness. She knew her son would be published, but never got to see it happen.

Roadwork by Richard BachmanHer death left King grieving and shaken by the apparent senselessness of how cancer had tormented her. In an effort to work through his thoughts and feelings about this loss, he started writing Roadwork. The book has a number of autobiographical aspects. The protagonist, Barton George Dawes, has recently lost a family member to cancer. Like King, who memorialized the experience in his short story “The Mangler,” Dawes worked at an industrial laundry. In fact, the company has the same name in both stories: The Blue Ribbon Laundry, and the ironing machine in Roadwork is nicknamed “the mangler.” Anyone who suspected that Bachman was really King would have their smoking gun from these details alone[1].

Roadwork was also an effort to write a straight novel, i.e. one that would not be classified as horror or science fiction. In the essay “Why I was Bachman,” King says he was young enough at the time to worry about the “casual cocktail-party question” about when he was going to write something “serious.” » Read more

Revisiting The Long Walk by Richard Chizmar

THAT WAS THEN…

The Long WalkWhen I was a teenager, I spent several summer vacations working a government job at nearby Aberdeen Proving Grounds and Edgewood Arsenal. My duties ranged from laying asphalt to landscaping to pulling up old railroad tracks to shredding government documents.

The summer of paper shredding (as it would come to be known) was a memorable one for a variety of reasons. Firstly, I was assigned to work under a great guy. His name was Lonnie. If I ever knew his last name, it’s long forgotten now.

Lonnie was a hard worker and a good boss. At first, he was quiet and kept mostly to himself. But the more we got to know each other, the more we discovered we had a lot in common, despite our age difference.

Lonnie was a Vietnam veteran and I was (at the time) obsessed with military history, especially the Vietnam conflict. I had read dozens of books on the subject and watched every documentary I could lay my hands on. As Lonnie learned to trust me and respect my curiosity, he shared dozens of stories about his time in Vietnam that I still remember today.

Lonnie also loved fishing, as did I, and in the years following that summer, I would often share my catches with Lonnie and his family.

Finally, Lonnie was a reader. We would often read paperbacks during our lunch breaks. He tended to like science fiction and non-fiction, while my tastes ran more to the dark stuff. » Read more

Returning to The Long Walk by Ed Gorman

The Long Walk by Richard BachmanI couldn’t wait to read the Bachman books. By that time I was rereading the early Stephen King bestsellers simply because I needed a fix. I am of the age when realistic fiction was the standard form of the masters. In my top ten of novels is In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck. And the first trilogy I ever read was Studs Lonigan by James T. Farrell. Proletarian fiction if you will.

I’ve always maintained that Stephen King is the last of the working class novelists. I realize that the socio-economic background of his characters range up and down the scale. But I think his soul is with the folks he grew up with. He can break your heart with his take on the lives of average people.

And it is average people, teenage boys, King gives us in this spot on science fiction short novel about a militaristic government and a thrill-hungry populace drugged on spectacles of agony and violence.

So what we have here is a hundred teenage boys enduring a brutally competitive walk that ends only when all but the last one is eliminated. And by “eliminated” I generally mean has died from either sheer exhaustion or for violating the rules. An example of said rules: if you don’t keep moving at four miles per hour or better—and you are warned about this three times—you get shot by the soldiers tracking you on the sidelines. » Read more

Only Death Can Keep You From the Finish Line by Bev Vincent

thelongwalk-bookcoverIn an endnote in the chapter about The Stand in The Art of Darkness, Douglas E. Winter mentions a dystopian novel called The Long Walk “which owes much to Stephen King.” Was this an inside joke between King and Winter, who had interviewed King extensively for the book, or an astute observation on Winter’s part? Winter does talk about The Long Walk briefly in The Art of Darkness as one of King’s early novels, but without identifying the book by name.

King wrote The Long Walk in the fall of 1966 and the spring of 1967 when he was a freshman at the University of Maine. The story was inspired by a series of 50-mile hikes throughout the country that were sponsored by radio and TV stations. King didn’t have a car at the time and the idea for the story occurred to him while he was hitchhiking back home one night. “I was hitchhiking everywhere,” he says on his website. “I didn’t finish my 50-mile hike, though. I fell out after 20 miles.” » Read more

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