Pen and Ink and Writing His Mind

The Best Mislaid Manuscripts and Bellairs Becomes a Columnist

Teaching was still far from Bellairs's mind: he yearned to write and get published again. His second book, The Pedant and the Shuffly, was released back in February and work had already commenced during his stay in England on the third, Prospero, what was to become The Face in the Frost. Other attempted manuscripts included The Pouty King, an illustrated children’s book about gargoyles, and The Paranoid Sunglasses, a short story staring Sir Bertram Crabtree-Gore (last seen as the protagonist in Pedant) as the wearer of vomit-colored sunglasses that revealed and ridiculed the character's paranoid aberrations about leaving mayonnaise out in the sun, getting tetanus from rusty nails, and more – in reality, the same fancies Bellairs himself had.

He was also attempting to compose what he described as a Catholic-porno novel entitled Papa Peter's Seat. While little is known about the possible inspiration for such a work, Myers feels it would have been satirical in nature (similar to Terry Southern's Candy, published during the era) and that "fortunately" the publisher rejected the proposal. Marilyn Fitschen recalls Bellairs mentioning the book numerous times, although she feels it would probably not be considered pornographic by today's standards; it may have been only "a few lines of hyperbolic silly sex metaphors. Sustaining campy-ness for that length really wasn't for John and who'd want to read it anyway?"

Whether Bellairs attempted to pass off Papa Peter's Seat to Macmillan is unclear but because he was unable to get it published anywhere he found an outlet for his frustration in the National Catholic Reporter. Bellairs had written an article for the publication in March 1969 and over the next few month established contact with the NCR's managing editor, according to a letter written to friend Gerald Kadish that August. Bellairs says he wrote to the editor "bitching" about his inability to get published:

"The piece is a lot of nasty comments on Catholic tolerance for blasphemy, but it may serve its primary purpose, to get me in print one way or another. The editor to whom I talked on the phone is going to try to get me a publisher for the novel, which is complete. So in the future you may refer to me as 'my friend, the columnist.' Any subjects you want ranted about?
June 26, 1968
Terry Brock, former managing editor of the NCR, says that the managing editor Bellairs refers to was possibly James Andrews, who left NCR to found Universal Press Syndicate. Prior to resigning, "Jim was actively engaged in recruiting talent for his syndicate as well as writings for NCR." Brock notes that it is possible Andrews was in contact with Bellairs at some point, in regard to either NCR or the syndicate, and possibly recommended a publisher for the elusive manuscript.

Unfortunately unused manuscripts were usually returned to the authors, Brock adds, meaning it is quite possible the pornographic novel is lost forever, as Brad Strickland noted Bellairs was quite fond of burning stacks of old manuscripts and letters in his backyard incinerator. Who knows what is lost?

Bellairs was also attempting to get exposure, and end his "long night of unpublishment," by contributing to a new alternative newspaper that was opening its doors that autumn. The Phoenix was a product of the New England counterculture scene, discussing art and entertainment as well reporting on the political and social changes taking place both in Massachusetts and across the country. Bellairs was to write a weekly humor column, of which his first was published in the debut issue on October 9, 1969. "It will try hard to be a local Village Voice," Bellairs wrote to Kadish in the months preceding his first column, "but without a village that may be hard, but what the hell."

Officially known just as the Phoenix, it became known as the Cambridge Phoenix due to where it was published and to distinguish it from the later Boston Phoenix. "Like the city it was published in, the Phoenix represented more of a hippie/folky point of view," explains Alan Lewis, who co-authored an Internet site chronicling Boston-area music and entertainment history.

Cambridge's Phoenix would end its run in 1972, selling out to and merging with rival Boston After Dark, which in turn would evolve into today's well-known Boston Phoenix. Bellairs was long disassociated with the newspaper at this point: he had stuck around only for three issues. Reason? Money issues. Priscilla says John stopped writing because they stopped paying the $75 he'd been promised.