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 trying to establish a dialogue with a publisher to help him write his book. In this episode, he replies to the private email sent by Mary Ann Lankowski, the assistant to Senior Editor Roberta Hollymore at Knopf. Ms. Lankowski sent the email without her boss’s approval.
Ms. Mary Ann Lankowski
New York, New York
THE ABYSS AWAITS
Dear Ms. Lankowski,
You’re amazing to risk your job and write back to me. I thought about you a lot last night. I sat there at my computer, staring at the screen, on the verge of starting my novel, of finally putting my good ideas into action, and feeling the importance of the moment with some trepidation because I know when I tip myself into the great abyss of light and heat that is humanity’s collective imagination, I will swim a thousand miles and drown myself a hundred times, lost to friends and family until at last I emerge miraculously on the far shore like the answer to a forgotten problem. Or something along those lines.
Anyway, I stared into this abyss, re-read your email, stared some more, read your email again, read Ms. Hollymore’s first and then yours, reversed the order, did a little more staring, read yours again and imagined you sitting at home in your own apartment or out with friends in the city, thinking of me, or at the very least thinking of the email you sent me. Did you mention it/me to your friends? Did they give you advice on how to handle the dilemma of strongly disagreeing with your boss about a potential author’s potential?
Don’t tell me what you look like. Don’t tell me the clothes you wear. I want to form a picture based solely on your words. Does your secretive email suggest you prefer muted tones? Does your candor describe a quiet, unenhanced beauty? When you brush your teeth (in pajamas, I imagine), do you lean over the sink, knowing that if your thoughts overtake you, a fluoridated tear might leak from the corner of your mouth unannounced? Don’t tell me! Or rather, tell me without meaning to.
“How much are you willing to risk your job for this guy?” your friends probably asked you.
“Let’s be clear,” you said. “I don’t know the guy. I only know his words.”
“That’s easy then,” they said, laughing before they saw the look on your face and sipped their drinks uncomfortably.
Because they don’t understand. They don’t love language as you do. They don’t lose themselves in its worlds the way you do. Instead, they lose themselves as most people do—without knowing it.
A lover of language abandons herself to its pleasures, consciously and willingly. The knowing makes all the difference. As you know.
Still, for me the problem remains. The abyss awaits. I can’t ignore it forever, even though the consolation of thinking about you, and about you thinking about your email to me, tempts me almost beyond my ability to resist.
But okay. I mean, I’ve got to write this thing. I’ve got to have those pages for you to print out and slip onto Ms. Hollymore’s desk.
So I’ll close your email and write until dawn.
Already I feel the creative surge, that first word, that first sentence taking shape—or at least the mood of that sentence before it translates itself into actual words.
I will tip and fall. I will swim. If you don’t hear from me soon, you’ll know I’m happily drowning.
Thank you always for your inspiring courage.
John Henry Fleming