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The Book I Will Write #37

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 living at the library before being kidnapped by an organization known as The Zeppelin Society. He was rescued by a mysterious figure on a motorcycle. This latest email comes from Robert Hollymore, the senior editor. Arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct in a cemetery, she’s been incarcerated at a jail in Brooklyn.

MAYBE IT’S JUST A WAY TO PASS THE TIME

Dear John Henry,

Where are you? Why aren’t you answering my emails even though I told you not to? Are you turning over a new leaf and heeding my polite requests?

For some ridiculous reason that I blame on jail food, I feel compelled to write you an update.

I’ve let Seamus go. I didn’t see any reason not to. He reminded me too much of everything that’s wrong with my life. With my old life. I have a new life here, and it doesn’t include getting so drunk I can ignore a man’s hairy ears. I couldn’t get drunk here if I wanted to. The only time I act drunk is when they threaten to release me. I hired an attorney and got my three-day sentence extended to 30, and if I act up again I might get another 60.

I’m a jailhouse editor now. A Columbia graduate student showed up here with a grant to create a prison stories anthology. She had a lot of half-baked ideas slathered in academic jargon. I laughed at her. I told her to shut up and let me handle it. I said, Do you want a book that no one reads published by an academic vanity press, or do you want a bestseller with critical acclaim? Something about my tone made her cry. I think she’s not from around here.

Anyway, I felt sorry for her. I said, Do you really want something to cry about? Leave it to me. Come back in a few weeks, and I’ll give you stories to make the executioner weep.

She left me her notes and ran away. I trashed the notes.

So that’s my new project. I’m getting all these jailbirds to write down their stories. Honestly, most of them can’t write a simple sentence without my help, so I end up transcribing. I’m amazed. Their lives are heartbreaking and real. But not so heartbreaking and real that I don’t have to take creative liberties.

Maybe it’s just a way to pass the time. Still, I’m going to do it.

Please keep this a secret. I don’t want anyone to think I’ve changed.

Seamus keeps showing up wanting to talk to me, and I will see him only to use my iPhone and type out a few messages, including this one. I don’t speak to him. Three board members from Knopf came, too. I sent word that I’m not ready to come back.

I’m going to send this, and then delete it from my files. I’m sure Seamus snoops.

I hope this finds you productive and well and thoroughly unchanged in your unreasonable hopes.

Sincerely,

Roberta Hollymore

Sent from my iPhone

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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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