The Book I Will Write by John Henry Fleming is a serial novel-in-emails about a would-be writer named John Henry Fleming who is desperate to publish a book. The Book I Will Write is a work in progress; readers are invited to make comments and influence the outcome. In the first episode, Fleming wrote to a senior editor at Knopf for help with his book. Today’s episode continues their exchange.
RE: MISSING DOG
Ms. Roberta Hollymore
New York, New York
Dear Ms. Hollymore,
Did I have you at “not easily pigeonholed”?
When I consider all the things that you could have done with my email—delete it, delete it with extreme prejudice, ignore it completely, write code for a piece of software that generates a completely random reply—it’s obvious that the response I got was the best of all possible responses.
I imagine the moments you took to read my email, sitting at your desk with the midtown towers piercing the sky through your office window. And I imagine your eyes following the paths of my words across your screen. The concentration it took. The way you abandoned yourself to the task. Perhaps you paused to sip your coffee and ponder the wonders of long-distance connection. Perhaps you were distracted by a phone call and rushed through it to return to me. It may even have occurred to you that this moment might well be The Moment, in which case a sizzle of hyper-awareness passed through you on the way to the place of awe and beauty we often call Destiny when better words fail us.
But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. I am mindful that a certain small percentage of your limited time on earth has now been devoted to reading and understanding my words, and I owe it to you not to let that percentage go to waste.
I assure you that I am not one to give up on a project, even if on some level I recognize that it could ruin my life. For example, when I was very young, I had the idea to become a writer. That was years ago, and though I have passed through several stages of life, from long sideburns to short moustaches and even once a tiny ponytail, I have not given up on that idea, despite not having published anything except one letter to the editor of the local newspaper in support of a banned poet. Unfortunately, that letter was attributed to someone else, not even a person from my city. (Is it possible for another person to write a short letter using very nearly the exact words you used, allowing some leeway for editing? I don’t deny it. Somewhere out there I may have a literary doppelganger, which is why I no longer list that publication on my resume.)
In the case of my novel, on the other hand, I can guarantee you that I will be the actual author of the words your company publishes (with your ample contributions duly acknowledged on a separate page in the frontmatter). I intend to keep meticulous records, and in fact I have, at the time of this writing, begun a logbook that summarizes my communications vis-à-vis “the book” as well as several forward-looking lists such as the things I’d like to ask you, Ms. Hollymore, should we ever have the opportunity to speak at length in a casual forum such as in an internet chat room or while standing at the buffet line of a writers’ conference where, though I am just behind you, I will gladly and quickly reach for the metal serving spoon and offer to scoop your mashed potatoes for you, being careful not to bang your plate with the edge of the spoon or to touch your wool-jacketed elbow because I am, if anything, respectful of boundaries.
Enough; I know your time is valuable and I need to give you a moment to reply. In conclusion, please allow me to state plainly that I am a snow-capped mountain of literary potential in need of an experienced editorial guide to lead me to my summit.
I am also these things:
- A cloudburst of almost-formed ideas raining generally upon the earth.
- A pulsing blob of shifting energy gliding over the night sea, lit softly from within.
- A mad experiment in creative passion run amok.
Yours Ever Truly,
John Henry Fleming
P.S. Dear Ms. Lankowski (I imagine you may be reading this too, since you probably filter Ms. Hollymore’s email), I want to acknowledge your role in all these positive developments. I’d like to propose an Other Acknowledgments page in the Backmatter devoted to everyone besides Ms. Hollymore who helps shepherd my book into being. Immediately after I send this, I’m going to start a new list in my journal. When you have the opportunity, I’d like the names of every single person who works at Knopf, including those who no longer work there but who have helped shape the company into what it is today—ever receptive to new writers and new writing, especially writing such as the writing I’m on the verge of doing. I don’t know, maybe I can get some of those names from Wikipedia.