Robert Anton Wilson once described A Certain Flair For Death as “The best psychological science-fiction novel since The Demolished Man… the tension mounts and mounts… I couldn’t put it down… it might do your head as much good as an Encounter Group with the Marx Brothers!”
I recently contacted John to get some background about how and when the Crying Clown series were written, and he was kind of enough to share the following response.
THE CRYING CLOWN STORY
by John F. Carr
Camden and I started working on the Crying Clown series (or Clown Cycle) back in 1976. We spent several years working up the background for the series; in fact, we continued working on the details up until Camden’s death in 1999.
The basic story is a series of events and revelations leading up to the unveiling of the new Messiah, Fitzgerald Baker, the illegitimate great-grandson of John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe. The book, as we envisioned it at that time, was to be a novel which would be comprised of eight parts (like the books of the Bible), each one by a different disciple who tells his or her story about how they met Fitz and the events that they participated in his life and what they observed and learned during their time with him, leading up to his Revelation.
In 1978 we wrote a short story (introduction) called “A Legacy of Sex, Death and Charisma.” (This was not the book opening, but the Book of Brother Ball.) We presented this as the opening book of The Crying Clown Celebration, along with a short outline of the other 7 books (each written by a different disciple of Fitzgerald Baker’s), as a book proposal for our then agent. At some point, we realized that to do justice to our grand idea we would have to do an octet, rather than a thousand page novel.
Unfortunately, our agent (I believe his name was Don Benson and he was a former editor of Pyramid Books) was unable to sell an 8-book series by two pretty much unknown authors. I’ll give him credit, though; he beat on the doors of Publisher’s Row for almost two years before giving up. We started writing the first book in 1978. After years of being told we were over our heads, we decided to write the first novel, which we named A Certain Flair for Death, on spec. It was a work-in-progress for several years. When we approached our next agent, Adele Leone former editor of Pocket Books, we pitched it as a trilogy, titled The Crying Clown Celebration, rather than an octet, figuring it would be easier to sell a trilogy.
Meanwhile, Camden asked me to write-up the Crying Clown Rites so he could describe them in the first draft of A Certain Flair for Death. So, I wrote a novella titled “The Crying Clown Rites” (the title later was changed to “The Masque of the Blue Clown” for Carnifex Mardi Gras) which described the rites in great detail. Adele was completely sold on the project and damn near ruined herself (brow-beating other editors she knew) trying to sell the Crying Clown trilogy.
Camden had a massive heart attack in 1978 and this put the book on hold for over a year.
In 1979, I attended a Westercon panel featuring Ted White (then Editor of Amazing Stories) who said he was looking for stories that broke multiple-taboos. I stood up and said I had one that broke at least three. He told me to see him after the panel; I did and we had a nice talk. He asked to see “The Masque of the Blue Clown” and I sent it to him; he wrote back saying he loved it and wanted to run it in Amazing. At about the same time, Adele sold one of my Clown Cycle novelettes (“Eisenhower in Wonderland”) to Heavy Metal Magazine (it was new at the time and the hottest market around) and it was to be heavily illustrated.
A month later, Adele called almost in tears to tell me, that the publisher of Heavy Metal had decided not to run any more graphic short stories. They paid a kill-fee of $800.00, but I didn’t care. Having that story in Heavy Metal would have been a career-maker. To add insult to injury, the publisher announced that Ted White would be the new Editor of Heavy Metal. Ted wrote me an apologetic letter saying that he was leaving Amazing and they would not be publishing “The Masque of the Blue Clown.”
In 1980 my brother Steven, who has always been my biggest fan and supporter, told me he would give me the seed money to start my own small press so that I could publish some of these novels I was working on. I decided to name the press Pequod Press and was going to publish the first book of the Crying Clown Celebration, A Certain Flair for Death, as our first novel. Camden got back to work on the book (during this period he was still recovering from his heart attack and was supported by his wife June).
Camden wrote a few more chapters, then suddenly was unable to work. June called me and said that the stress from all the rejections that Adele was getting from the major houses was amplifying his depression. (At this time he was working as a tech writer for Hydraulic Research a job he despised.) Shortly after this, Camden had a complete breakdown and ended up as an in-patient at the psychiatric ward of the V.A. Hospital in Mission Hills for about 6 months. June asked me to halt work on the book before it killed him. Suddenly, I had a new press with no book….
At one point I was going to publish a Norman Spinrad novel, Children of Hamelin, but—when book pre-sales proved dismal—I decided to publish a prequel to the Crying Clown Celebration. Hell, if I was going to have a garage full of books; better my own, than someone else’s.
The problem was all I had was one novelette (“The Masque of the Blue Clown”). I got inspired and wrote the “actual” screenplay for the head thread (The Crying Clown Rites), which Valan was writing based on his experiences as depicted in “The Masque of the Blue Clown.” The title was, of course, “The Crying Clown Rites.” I had invented the talk-show host Allen Heart for “The Masque of the Blue Clown” and came up with a story about him and the Dwarf King, which also included an interview with Roald Vallen. For an ending I wrote “Siren’s Song,” which introduced Fitzgerald Baker in a piece that occurs near the end of the Crying Clown Celebration. Carnifex Mardi Gras is the most surreal book I’ve ever written and was heavily influenced by Jerzy Kosinski’s novel, The Painted Bird, which at that time I had recently read for the first time.
Carnifex Mardi Gras was published with moderate fanfare in 1982. It did get a decent review from Analog Magazine. I ran a full page ad in Locus Magazine and sold around a hundred copies, which was nowhere near break even on my expenses. This was the last book published by Pequod until I revived it in 1999 with the publication of Kalvan Kingmaker.
After his recovery in 1984, Camden and June departed for the Inland Empire area where June’s daughter Buffy owned several apartments and rental properties that needed managing. We stopped work on all our collaborative efforts for about a decade. In the late eighties, June and Camden returned to Los Angeles; Camden was sick of the Inland Empire and wanted to return to LA. June went back to her aerospace job at Boeing, while Camden managed several different apartment buildings. We started seeing each other again regularly, but did not write together.
Finally in the early nineties they were able to purchase a home in West Los Angeles on Pickford Street. During this period Camden returned to writing non-fiction, the area of his greatest success. He wrote and found a publisher for Common Sense Tarot. It took him several years to find a publisher for A Handful of Zen. Meanwhile, he wrote several other works including Riding Buddha’s Bicycle which he was never able to sell. After a disastrous collaboration with Hank Stine in 1993 (who while writing the book decided to undergo surgery to become Jean Stine, with all the obvious mood swings that change involves), Camden ended up writing most of the book, It’s All in Your Head, with very little editorial direction.
In 1995 after Camden’s agent sold A Handful of Zen, he told me he’d written all the non-fiction he was going to write. It was time to return to some of the science-fiction collaborations that we had abandoned ten years before. Since Rainbow Run was almost half done, we decided to work on that project to see if we still had our great working relationship.
We worked on it for about a year and it was as if no time had passed since we started it in the late seventies. Unfortunately, June died of a sudden illness in 1996 and Camden fell into a deep, deep depression. We didn’t start writing again until after he’d moved into an apartment in Westwood in early 1997. We quickly finished the final chapters of Rainbow Run and decided to finish as many of the Crying Clown novels as time permitted. During this period, Camden’s health (never good since his heart attack) went into a gradual decline. I was using the ploy of writing more books together as a way of keeping my best friend alive. I would come over one night a week (after working at Coast Federal Bank), take him shopping for food, have dinner and in the late evening we would plot the new book. At some point, I came up with the idea of adapting his old unfinished novel, Another Howling Eighties Conspiracy written in 1973, into the next Crying Clown book. He had about 100 pages of draft and it was fun working his old characters and events into the Clown Cycle. For the first time since June’s death Camden started looking forward to something other than his own demise.
We used the same title, Another Howling Eighties Conspiracy, and went to work. It took us about a year to finish it, and when we were done (sometime in early 1998) we started the next volume, The Kennedy Who Wouldn’t Be King (working title). This book featured Phillip Wendall (Camden’s alter ego) and was almost a direct sequel to A Certain Flair for Death. Camden had more problems with his health and was hospitalized several times during this period. We didn’t finish the third volume until early 1999. At that point, I was beginning to feel like Sharazad and suggested we do The Book of Pauline (working title), the next book we had briefly plotted in 1978. Unfortunately, Camden died before we wrote more 80 pages and they were lost in the turmoil following his death.
At this point in time, I have published A Certain Flair For Death (2013) and have plans to publish Another Howling Eighties Conspiracy in 2015 with The Kennedy Who Wouldn’t Be King following in 2017. I have about 30 written pages of The Book of Lucas (working title), but have no plans to write it without my best friend and writing partner Camden at this time. I do have around 8 or 9 completed short stories and novelettes, some by Camden’s hand and others by my own, that take place in the Clown Cycle. After the three novels are published, I plan to put them together in chronological order and publish them as The Crying Clown Companion.