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 living at the library following a kidnapping episode with The Zeppelin Society. He’s recently joined a memoir group that meets in the library.
Mary Ann “Annie” Lankowski
Interim Senior Editor
The Grandmoirs were so interested in my (fake) life and memoir that they called a special meeting. This irked Harry, the member I told you about, who’s been waiting to get a critique of the opening pages of his submariner memoir titled “My Generation was Pretty Great, Too.” I insisted that Harry be allowed to go first. Also, that would allow me to come up with more fake personal details for my own memoir, which is actually going to be my novel. Looks like this first draft will be talked out in the writing group.
Harry read aloud his first three pages, written in all caps with no paragraph indents. He gave me a copy afterward, said it might help me. He started, I WAS LUCKY TO BE BORN IN AN ERA WHEN PEOPLE STILL CARED ABOUT THINGS. SOME PEOPLE CARED ABOUT THEIR COUNTRY AND THEY GOT CALLED THE “GREATEST GENERATION.” I DIDN’T FIGHT IN THE WAR, BUT I WISHED I COULD HAVE. I WASN’T OLD ENOUGH, SO ALL I COULD DO IS PRETEND. LATER, AFTER THE WAR, I JOINED THE NAVY AND BECAME A SUBMARINER. SUBMARINING IS SOMETHING I CARED A LOT ABOUT. STILL DO. And then he goes on to talk about the “Code of the Submariners,” which includes, WALK SOFTLY AND TRY TO CARRY NOTHING and DON’T SNORE, OR YOU’LL WAKE UP WITH A RAG IN YOUR MOUTH, and ALWAYS REMEMBER THAT THE SEA WANTS IN.
When he finished, he received light applause from the group.
“That’s really interesting,” said the long-handed man who leads the Grandmoirs. His name is Bill, I found out.
“Sounds like it’s over,” said Margene, the perfume woman.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, that’s it. Where do you go from here? Is this supposed to be a book?”
“It’s the beginning of a book! My whole damn life is going into it!”
“Did you spend your life on a submarine?”
“My formative years.”
“On a submarine?”
“That’s what I said.”
“I liked the submarine part,” said another woman. A man nodded.
“I want more details,” said a different man. “I want to know what it feels like to be on a submarine.”
“You wouldn’t understand,” said Harry.
“Then why write a book about it?”
“Someone needs to. It’s my life!”
“Whenever I run out of things to say, I imagine I’m writing a letter to my grandchildren,” Bill said. “Do you have grandchildren?”
“They’re on drugs,” Harry said.
“If I had to live in a submarine, I’d be on drugs, too,” said Margene.
“You don’t make any sense,” Harry said. “My grandkids aren’t submariners. If they were, they would’ve avoided the drugs.”
“I was speaking figuratively,” Margene said.
“I like the way it started,” said another woman, “with people caring about things. So sweet.”
“Thank you. It’s the truth.”
“Can you show people caring about things? People need to know what that’s like.”
“I’m getting to it,” Harry said. “That’s the whole theme of the book. I can’t just spill it all out first thing.”
“Right. You’ve got to hint at it for a while.”
“I don’t want this to be too literary,” Harry said. “Everyone should read it. People don’t know enough about my era. They’re only interested in the war.”
“The war was a big deal, Harry.”
“Everyone already knows that!”
“We were alive then, too, you know,” said Margene. “I think you’ve got a complex.”
“I’m sorry if I hit a nerve.”
Harry smacked the table. “While you were relaxing by a pool somewhere, I was playing cat-and-mouse with Soviet subs!”
“I was having babies,” Margene said. “You think that’s relaxing?”
“Calm down, everyone,” Bill interrupted. “I think our allotted discussion time for this piece is just about over. Let’s take a bathroom break and talk about our new member’s work when we come back.”
So here I am.
The break’s almost over. I’d better head to the conference room. I hope you’re reading this. I hope you forgive me for being accused by Seamus of having an affair with Ms. Hollymore. I hope your memories of our might-have-been relationship are still as strong as ever. I have so much more I want to tell you.
John Henry Fleming