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The Book I Will Write #29

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 was recently living at the library. Now he’s been kidnapped by an organization known as The Zeppelin Society, who needs Fleming to write a letter to the FAA requesting permission to conduct a test flight of their experimental zeppelin. Here’s the latest email from the agent who wants to represent Fleming’s unwritten book.

SRI LANKAN TEA

Dear Mr. Fleming,

We corresponded a while ago about your engaging novel-in-progress, the tomato thriller involving Michael Jackson. You may have read about Ms. Hollymore’s recent troubles with the law, so you may have some concerns about my ability to sell the novel, given that Ms. Hollymore is the one editor who still takes my calls on occasion. Let me assure you that I still lie awake nights with great excitement at the prospect of representing this work.

Just yesterday, my ex-wife came over for tea (I mean to take it, not to drink it, because the tea was an expensive Sri Lankan variety she left behind in her rush to end our marriage, but I made her stay and drink anyway) and I told her about you. What a promising young writer, I said. Such talent. Such drive. The kind of writer who wants to destroy the world and remake it in his own image, I said.

She tsk-tsked me as usual. Have you seen this boy, she asks. Have you taken his pulse?

I haven’t, I say. Also I have not seen his work except for emails.

(I have learned, too late, how to be firm with her, my former wife.)

You haven’t changed, she says.

Yes I have, I say. I have more experience. I know the signs.

You know signs like a blind man knows signs, she says.

I saw the signs in Roberta’s eyes when she first told me about Reid Markham.

Agg, don’t speak to me of that woman. Plus that was a million years ago. Plus the man killed himself at a rest stop.

A train station, my dear!

Either way, the man’s dead. Your big cash cow never got milked. If you’d had a little sense, you’d have moved on and away from that woman.

Roberta?

She dragged you down. You had some promise to your career. You might have cashed in your lucky chips and taken a more stable job in the business. Now look at you.

I’m not the one in jail.

Aren’t you? she asks.

No, I’m not. I’m a man of hopes and dreams. I’ve got a young man’s sensibility and an older man’s experience.

You’ve got a young man’s foolishness and an old man’s stubbornness.

Finish your tea, I told her. (See how I’m firm?)

Why am I even telling you this, John Henry Fleming?

To show you how much I am willing to fight for you work. Even enough to fight with my ex-wife, which truth be told I still love and do not wish to anger. But I angered her for your sake. I hurried my one true love out the door for your sake. I stood up for you and your book by standing up for myself.

Ha! Now what do you think of that! Today I am proud of myself.

Also, one thing. I want to know if we can meet. It’s better to speak of some things in person, and I have some ideas for selling your book that I think you’ll be quite pleased to discuss.

I’ll be glad to come to you. I do get out. Just give me a time and address and I’ll be there.

Here’s a little teaser of an idea for you: I’m thinking a tie-in product, an organic tomato cookbook with recipes from Michael Jackson’s mother and lighthearted commentary from you. How’s that?!

Yours Most Sincerely,

Martin Shill
The Shill House Agency

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About John Henry Fleming

John Fleming's stories have appeared in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, The North American Review, Mississippi Review, Fourteen Hills, and Carve, among others. He is the author of The Legend of the Barefoot Mailman, a novel, and Fearsome Creatures of Florida, a literary bestiary. He teaches creative writing at the University of South Florida and is the founder and advisory editor for Saw Palm: florida literature and art. He blogs at johnhenryfleming.com.

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