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 been exchanging emails with an editorial assistant and a senior editor at Knopf, as well as with an agent. He’s been kicked out of his apartment and is living in the library, where he’s being harassed by a zeppelin fanatic. Here’s his latest email to the editorial assistant.
Mary Ann “Annie” Lankowski
I sought out Zeppelin Man at his table in the northwest corner of the library, in an area I call Beyond Nonfiction. He stations himself each morning with his back to the windows that look out on the fire station. He makes forays into the stacks. He confirms his theories. He hunts for converts as a lion hunts for prey, culling the weak and lonely from the herds. He’s usually by himself beneath the fluorescent light that has flickered continually since I began sleeping here. Most library patrons avoid this area. There’s a smell.
I watched him through the gardening books before I made my move. He sat at the empty table, his hands folded, his rheumy eyes agape, meditating before his morning rounds.
I have not yet found The Devil’s Good Graces, and I blame Zeppelin Man. His archaic airships ignite in my brain, day and night, fire-breathers of the sky. I suffer concussions. My skull burns from the inside.
I let my indignation grow. Finally I made for the Zeppelin Man’s smelly little workstation. I planned to step up boldly and place both hands on his table, lean in and confront him. How did you get my email address?! What gives you the right to spy on me?! What gives you the right to disturb my research in a public library?!
That’s not what happened. As I emerged from the stacks, I felt a powerful hand grasp me above the elbow and yank me back. The redheaded biker woman.
“He’s the wrong one,” she whispered, a little too close in my ear.
Her hot breath was calming. She let go. She’s almost as tall as I am, and twice as thick. Her leather jacket hangs open like a rigid hardcover with exactly two pages, while her breasts press full-bleed against her white cotton tube top.
“I’m your sponsor,” she said. “Me, not him. I looked over your shoulder. I saw your email address. You think the old man can see that good?”
“That’s not right,” I complained.
“You want to know what’s not right? The FAA won’t let us try out our test zeppelins.”
“Well there’s a history,” I reminded her. “They explode.”
“They’re six six-foot models. No time bombs on them, like they did with the Hindenburg.”
“Are you saying—?”
“It’s all in the museum. What you’re looking for. Everything.”
Her pale skin caught the fluorescent flickers. She shined in black, white, and red, the proud flag of a country of one.
How could I have been so careless about who saw my emails? Now my young and impressionable novel feels jeopardized by the cold scrutiny of strangers. And what did she mean by “everything you’re looking for?” Does she know about The Devil’s Good Graces? Is there a copy in her zeppelin museum?
I agreed to go visit. “Is it far?”
“My hog has a sidecar,” she offered.
We’ll leave after she makes a call. I feel I’m being set up. Just in case, I’m forwarding you the email from The Zeppelin Society that shows the address of their headquarters. If you don’t hear from me soon, you’ll know what to do.
John Henry Fleming