Just thank Stephen King's assistant, Marsha DeFilippo. Without her, the latest addition to the ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY columnist's Richard Bachman series never would have seen the light of day. ''I thought it was lost,'' says King of Blaze, which he originally penned in 1973, just before Carrie. DeFilippo discovered the original manuscript in a library where he kept old files. ''My memory of Blaze was that it wasn't very good. When I came back to it years later, I thought, 'This is actually okay.'''
In a departure from Thinner and other Bachman titles, Blaze is a soft-boiled crime drama: Clay Blaisdell Jr., a gentle, simpleminded petty criminal, kidnaps a baby for $1 million in ransom. ''He doesn't know he's doing evil,'' says King. Flashbacks to the dopey guy's childhood illuminate the root of his crooked ways. ''Without them,'' King adds, ''he's just an immoral figure who does a terrible thing. You're forced to see the reason.''
While Blaze is supposedly Bachman's final unpublished work, King isn't willing to put the last nail in his alter ego's coffin (Bachman ''died'' in 1985). ''Uhhh, well, there might always be something that gets found in a cellar somewhere,'' he says with a chuckle. ''You just never know.''