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 Fleming.
WHEN I GAZE INTO YOUR FRIEND’S MIRRORED SURFACE, HE LOOKS A LOT LIKE ME
Mary Ann “Annie” Lankowski
Just a quick update while I take another bathroom break.
Things are tense. For the first time since I’ve been brought here to the Zeppelin Society headquarters, I feared for my life today.
This morning, Hans brought in an old alarm clock, pale blue and spotted with rust. The clock has two bells on top and a little hammer in between to ring them. Hans wasn’t in a good mood. He slammed the clock down on the table, to one side of the computer I’m chained to.
“Enough!” he said.
Vik jumped. She’d been slouched in the corner chair, napping. I pulled my fingers off the keyboard in defiance.
Hans spoke as he wound the clock and set the alarm. “We are not asking you to write a novel!” he said, which came as a relief because if they’d insisted on a novel, my literary tomato eco-thriller is inevitably what I’d write because it’s practically written in my head, and it wants out. But then they’d have my novel on their computer, and they’d claim the rights to it, and who could prove them wrong?
Hans set the clock back down and unsnapped a leather sheath clipped onto his leather pants. He pulled out a hunting knife, polished to a mirror-shine.
“Writer, you must write the letter before the alarm goes off or you will meet my friend up close and personal.”
I kept my hands frozen six inches over the keyboard. “When I gaze into your friend’s mirrored surface,” I said, “he looks a lot like me.”
Hans’s weirdly tanned face turned a tanned shade of red. “Write!” he said. “Now!”
He lunged to my side of the table, and Vik made a startled noise. “Not one word!” he yelled. “Three days and not one word! Look, it’s not so hard!” He knocked my hands out of the way and jabbed his index finger at the keys. D-E-A-R. “You see! I got you started! I wrote more in this one minute than you in three days! Now finish it! The clock is ticking! We have important tests to make with the zeppelin! You cannot continue to delay us!”
I looked at him and set my jaw. I put my fingers on the keyboard. I don’t even know what word processing software he’d typed the word into. Maybe some ancient version of Wordperfect. The screen font looked stolen from a 1962 military techno-thriller.
“That’s all caps,” I said.
He didn’t seem to understand until Vik jumped up and whispered in his ear.
“What does it matter, writer?” he said. “The word is there. Anyone can read it. It’s better than any of your words, which no one can read.”
“All caps is like yelling,” I said. “Your letter won’t get read.”
“Then make the revision!”
I deleted the last three letters and retyped them in lower case.
“Can I have some coffee?” I asked.
Hans turned to Vik, and Vik poured some of yesterday’s coffee into a cup and sloshed it into the microwave. She saw me frown and didn’t care. When we’re alone, it’s a different story.
“This is no way to start,” I said.
“I already did the start. Continue now!”
“Do you really want to use ‘Dear’ like you’re trying to get all chummy with the FAA?”
“This clock is ticking!” Hans yelled.
“I’m going to change the salutation.” I deleted the Dear. The green cursor blinked on and off, a patient servant. “I’m going to consider my options,” I said.
“I need to use the bathroom.”
Which was true. Whatever else happens, I swear the truth of that fact.
I took the computer with me, as usual, the chains dragging behind me.
It’s true the clock is ticking, but I thought it important to keep you up to date. I suppose if you get this soon, you could supply me with a list of options for formal salutations in a letter to the government. The word “honorable” keeps popping into my head, but I don’t want to come across as a suck-up.
Okay, back to the task. I hope this finds you well.
John Henry Fleming