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.
EVEN SLAMMED, THE BELLS MAKE A NICE SOUND
Mary Ann “Annie” Lankowski
I had some tense moments. The clock ticked down to the alarm. The alarm chimed. I use the word “chimed” because those old bells had the purest sound I’d ever heard on an alarm clock. They made me want to return to the analog era.
Time froze. I hadn’t written anything. Vik looked at Hans. Hans looked at the clock, and at his mirrored hunting knife beside it. I looked at both of them out of the corner of my eye, pretending to stare at the screen with my fingertips resting calmly on the keyboard. I even bit my tongue a little like I was thinking and about to finally write the first word of the letter.
I also noticed a drop of sweat rolling down Hans’s cheek. I was winning, and I knew it. But there was the knife. The knife was the X-factor. Put in play, the knife could prove I wasn’t winning. Not in the least.
But Hans did not put the knife in play. I broke him. When he reached for something on the table, it was the clock, not the knife. He slammed it down and stood up.
Even slammed, the bells make a nice sound.
“I am going out!” he said.
He slammed the office door. His heavy boots pounded across the concrete. He slammed the outer door of the warehouse. He revved his Harley and peeled away.
Vik looked at me. She had bags under her eyes. She was near tears. She came to me and kneeled beside the desk.
“Bitte,” she pled. “Can you not write something? For Hans? For me? I’m afraid he’s going to kill you. I’m afraid for all of us.”
I listened to her. I felt sympathy for her. I even felt sympathy for Hans. On the one hand, they were well-meaning dirigible entrepreneurs, trying their best to get the cooperation of the U.S. government for their project. On the other hand, there was the knife. And the kidnapping. And the damaged clock.
Vik came closer and stood behind me. She kneaded my shoulders. “You are a good writer,” she said. “I have read your emails. You write like angels sing. How about you write one word for me, okay?”
Her new tactic has more appeal than Hans’s knife. I nodded. “I might be able to,” I said.
She leaned close, and I could feel her warmth and her breath against my ear. “You can do this for Vik, yeah?”
To be honest, I started to get some ideas. But not about the letter. About my novel. Something about a man who discovers what Michael Jackson is up to on Easter Island.
Like this: Enter the villain. MJ’s out there on the windy plateau plowing the field with his mule. He’s got high hopes for his tomato crop. He’s checked the Farmer’s Almanac, Easter Island Edition. Things look good. He’s been eating well. He’s not as thin as he used to be. The air on Easter Island is even better than the air in his hyperbaric oxygen chamber. The moai statues are visible now like an audience of ancients beaming down upon the start of his little plan to end world hunger.
Among them is this man. He’s wearing a suit. His tie’s flapping in the breeze. His face is obscured by shadow. He watches.
But also there is our narrator, Nick Carraway. And Nick Carraway is watching the man who is watching MJ, who is so focused on his tomato stew plan that he notices neither. (It helps that neither man is close.)
Anyway, this is the set-up for the first threat to MJ’s plan. Bad shit is going to go down, and that’s in addition to the manure MJ is spreading over his field.
So here I am making progress in my head while Vik is kneading my shoulders when her phone rings. She left the room to talk. I heard her muffled words. She must be talking to Hans. She’s sobbing into the phone. And then the outside door closes. Seconds later, she locks it.
Now I’m alone, and that gave me the opportunity to write you, Annie. Don’t worry, I’m fine.
Also, they left the hunting knife on the table!
John Henry Fleming