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The Book I Will Write #44

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 now living at the library following a kidnapping episode with The Zeppelin Society. Now he’s being stalked by the murderous son of Reid Markham, the author of The Devil’s Good Graces, a book Fleming is trying to track down and read as an influence to his own, still unwritten, novel. In this episode, he hears from Martin Shill, the literary agent interested in Fleming’s celebrity vegetarian eco-thriller.

A DIFFERENT KIND OF HONESTY THAN THE LITERAL ONE

Dear Mr. Fleming,

Good news!  I’ve been in touch with Michael Jackson’s mother, and she has agreed in principle to my organic tomato cookbook idea as a tie-in to your novel. It seems Katherine is a big fan of tomatoes, particularly organic ones. This, according to her agent.

“Agreed” may be too strong a word. I didn’t actually speak to Mrs. Jackson. But I wasn’t hung up on.

You see how I am straight with you? That bodes well for our business relationship. Sometimes my ex-wife tells me I’m too honest for this business. Actually, what she tells me is that I’m a habitual self-defeatist too afraid of success to ever make anything of myself.

I can sort through the chaff of her longstanding grudges to reveal the kernel of truth.

So do I wait for Mrs. Jackson to forward me her recipes? No, I do not. Even a good cook isn’t likely to have a book’s worth of tomato recipes. So I have begun collecting them myself, beginning with the dessert section. Did you know you can make a sweet tomato pie? Did you know you can make tomato ice cream? Candied tomatoes? Tomato syrup? Tomato flan? There is nothing you can’t do with a tomato, it seems.

And so I am encouraged. Once again, I’m not sleeping. Most of my life I haven’t slept well, but now it’s for a good cause. I begin to think how you’ll connect this with your novel. I begin to think how your lighthearted commentary about the tomatoes will reveal new insights on characters and events.

The other night my ex calls me at three in the morning. Three!

She says, Marty, what are you doing up?

I’m working, I tell her. No one can say I don’t work hard.

I’ve always said you did, Marty.

So I tell her about the recipe book. I tell her about Katherine Jackson. I’m not quite as honest with her as I just was with you. We have a relationship based on a different kind of honesty than the literal one.

She listens. She makes certain sounds that tell me she’s interested and agreeable. Sounds I haven’t heard in years.

I say, And you, dear? What are you doing up?

Oh, thinking of you, she says. It’s lonely here. Why don’t you bring a couple of those sweet tomato recipes over to my place so we can try them out, she says.

I don’t know what she’s been reading to put these thoughts in her head. But who am I to question such a thing?

I go to her. That’s all I have to say about it.

I trust the book is coming along. We can discuss your progress if it helps. Or not if it doesn’t. Either way. On my end, I can say that things are ripe.

Yours,

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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