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. The character Fleming has been exchanging emails with an editorial assistant at Knopf, Mary Ann Lankowski, and her boss, Senior Editor Roberta Hollymore. Here is Fleming’s latest reply.
TAKING A STAND ON GARRET
Ms. Mary Ann Lankowski
New York, New York
Can I trade you my Madonna story for your Michael Jackson story?
Last night in bed I had a dream/vision of tomato plants bursting from the soil. Their stems shot skyward and their leaves unfolded in the manner of a robot dance or time-lapse photography. The camera pulled back to reveal a seemingly endless expanse of plowed and harrowed dirt. In the distance lay a dark sea visible between denuded mountain peaks. At the edge of the field a thin man in black pants and billowy white shirt raises his arms. His long dark locks are tossed by the wind.
I wrote this image in my dream/vision journal, along with the obvious questions, which I will now attempt to answer for you.
Q: Who is the man?
A: The man is Michael Jackson.
Q: Where is he?
A: Easter Island. The Moai statues aren’t visible in the dream/vision only because they are behind him and also on the opposite slopes of the denuded mountains, facing the sea.
Q: Why tomatoes?
A: When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade; when the secret international society that regulates performance standards arranges for you to get pelted with thousands of rotten tomatoes, you retire from the music industry, fake your own death, anonymously buy up tens of thousands of acres of land on Easter Island, and advance Plan B.
Q: Why time lapse photography?
A: Because the book must come in under a thousand pages. That’s a personal goal.
Q: Who plowed and harrowed the dirt?
A: Michael Jackson himself, with the help of a mule. He has a lot of time on his hands and has worked tirelessly. He may also have had the help of certain islanders who are sworn to secrecy and will be duly credited when Plan B goes public.
Q: Who is that small figure sitting on one of the distant mountains who stands out against the backdrop of the dark sea, and why is he taking notes as he watches the scene through a pair of binoculars?
A: That’s the unnamed narrator, a kind of Nick Carraway to Jackson’s Gatsby. His name may actually be Nick Carraway. I think it is. Anyway, someone must bear witness. Carraway feels guilty. He thinks his namesake may have contributed to Gatsby’s death, and even though both Gatsby and the original Carraway are fictional characters, Carraway the Younger has an outsized conscience that extends into the fictional world. We need more of that/him.
I hope this gives you a sense of what direction I’m going to take with the novel. I immediately went to the computer and considered writing a series of uplifting descriptions of the growth of tomato plants. Ideally, my book will feed the human spirit in the way that the tomatoes—and my fictionalized Michael Jackson—will feed the homeless.
Q: Is the human spirit hungry?
A: I’m going to say yes.
Q: Is it hungry for my book?
A: It’s important that I assume so.
You’re wondering about a villain, though. I’ll save that for another email. Right now it’s cold in my garret, and my fingers are numb. My landlady refuses to heat my room until I pay her the back rent. She claims I’ve never once paid her anything, but that’s only true if one’s view of rent payment is narrowly defined as the exchange of money. She also doesn’t like that I call my room a garret.
I’ll pay the rent eventually, but I’m taking a stand on garret.
I want to thank you for acting as if we are old lovers who still have fond feelings for each other. This might as well be true.
John Henry Fleming