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. Fleming has begun exchanging emails with an editorial assistant at Knopf, Mary Ann Lankowski, under the nose of her boss, Senior Editor Roberta Hollymore. Here is Fleming’s latest reply.
CRUMBS OF GENIUS FROM THE SHAG CARPETS OF MY MIND
Ms. Mary Ann Lankowski
New York, New York
To Annie, Who Believed
Once I made the decision to dedicate this novel to you, the writing came easy. The dedication part, I mean.
It occurred to me that by way of dedication I could simply cut and paste our complete email exchange, and then I wouldn’t have to summarize our relationship or reduce it to a catchy phrase. The email exchange would be pretty much an exact representation of our relationship in its shining totality, without filter or interpretation, as if we had turned a camera on ourselves and captured every last second of our interactions—good times and bad, exciting and dull. Or not really a camera, I guess, but a computer, in which case I can just cut out the “as if.”
You could call that an example of Extreme Realism, which is a term I just invented for realism taken to the extreme.
Anyway, I settled on the catchy phrase, hoping (believing?) that our relationship will continue well beyond an electronic exchange that can be contained in a book—or a single volume, anyway. I’m a total optimist like that.
Once I’d finished the dedication, I felt a surge of momentum. I was on a high. I pressed Ctrl-Enter and found myself on page 2 (which I’ll actually have to renumber as page 1 once I locate the page numbering controls). I was off the blocks. Afloat. Diving through space. I was all the usual metaphors of racing, diving, and charging into battle. Even the infinitely white emptiness of Page 2/1 felt in that moment like a vacuum to draw crumbs of genius from the shag carpets of my mind. The keyboard was a Ouija board, my fingers awaiting the spirit. I closed my eyes.
And I wrote the first words of my novel.
To be honest, I can’t say for sure they were intended to be the first words. I didn’t open my eyes to see them and wasn’t 100% aware of what I wrote, gripped as I was by the spirits and the surging, diving, and racing metaphors.
I did sense that they were words, though. There was meaning to them. They had purpose.
And then I surprised myself with my boldest creative act yet.
I deleted them.
Am I crazy?
They say the best books insist on their own aesthetic. Could my aesthetic be silence?
Also, I wonder: Is a thing deleted the same as nothing at all? Or does one feel the absence of the deleted thing, the way one feels a cookie after it is eaten and ceases to exist in the world in a form that resembles anything one might call “cookie.”
I didn’t do it out of disgust or frustration. It was a reasoned choice, or whatever you’d call stabbing and holding the delete key for several seconds with your eyes closed.
For those several seconds, and for several seconds after, I felt at the height of my creative powers and in complete control of the novel. I had full awareness of my artistic strengths and how to use them. I was a novelist.
Yesterday I made my mark. And then I erased my mark. In so doing, I believe I made an even bigger mark.
Do you feel its absence/presence?
I’m pretty sure I do.
Now I’ll go back to making more marks. Thank you, as always, for believing.