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 at Knopf, Mary Ann Lankowski, and her boss, Senior Editor Roberta Hollymore. Here is Ms. Lankowski’s latest reply.
DEATH DOES DOUBLE DUTY
Dear John Henry,
It’s 10:00 and Ms. Hollymore hasn’t shown up. Maybe she’s sleeping one off. I’ve run out of things to do until she gets here. Agents keep calling. There’s this one in particular, Martin Shill of Shill House Agency, who’s got this weird sort of passive-aggressive approach to selling his clients’ books. He’s like, “I don’t know, I thought it was a good mystery novel, but maybe you don’t like it.”
“It’s not that,” I tell him. “It’s just that Ms. Hollymore hasn’t gotten around to it yet.”
“I can take rejection, you know. Just tell me straight and let me deal with the pain on my own.”
“She’s just been busy, I promise.”
“Yeah, okay. But if she were excited about it, she’d probably want to read it right away, don’t you think?”
“It really has nothing to do with the quality of the manuscript, Mr. Shill.”
“Then it’s me. She’s wised up to me.”
“I’ve always had a good relationship with Roberta. We go way back.”
“Something’s changed, I guess. Or is it the character of the detective? Maybe he’s too macho for Roberta’s sensibilities.”
“I’m sure the detective is a good strong character, Mr. Shill.”
“You’re just saying that to give me something positive to tell my client. You’re a gem, Kathy.”
“Actually I go by Mary Ann or Annie. But thanks.”
“Anyway, have Roberta call me as soon as she’s in. Death Does Double Duty won’t last much longer.”
“I thought you were giving us an exclusive.”
“Of course, of course! But still.”
You get the picture. This is what I have to deal with, even when Ms. Hollymore’s here, because she’s stopped taking calls from people she doesn’t like. “Life’s too short to put shit in your ear,” is what she says a lot lately. So she loads it up on me instead. Ms. Hollymore hasn’t been doing much of anything lately. I can’t tell if it’s because she’s all into her new boyfriend or because she hates her new boyfriend’s guts. Ms. Hollymore is the only person I know where there’s no way to tell the difference.
So here I am. How’s writing? I haven’t heard from you in a few days, so I hope that means you’re busy with your novel. Have you heard anything from Ms. Hollymore? Probably not, but I wouldn’t know. She got smart and changed her privacy settings. Bummer!
That Madonna story you told me in your last email was really funny. I repeated it to some friends over the weekend. I didn’t say where it came from. I just said I’d met someone who had this cool idea for a story where a guy sits in a car and has to listen to Madonna, thinking that’s going to lead to something with his girlfriend. I hope you don’t think badly of me for appropriating a piece of your life history. I didn’t want to give anything away and have someone find out I’ve been exchanging emails with you under Ms. Hollymore’s nose. That could get me fired.
My friends agreed it was a good idea for a story. But of course if anyone has first dibs on it, it’s you.
I’m bored, can you tell?
I know I have a good job, but it’s not turning out the way I want. I also thought life in the city would be exciting. Well it is, for the most part–I’m never short of things to do when I’m not at work.
So why am I bored? I don’t know. I keep expecting something else, and I don’t know what it is. Do you ever feel that way? You seem to know exactly what you want. Even if your thoughts jump around, the big picture stays the same. I don’t think I could ever write a novel. I get bored too quickly. I’d get thirty pages into it and then quit writing out of boredom. Then I’d sulk for a while about not writing and being bored.
Cue the violins, I know.
I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately. It’s almost like you’re an old lover that I return to in my thoughts when I’m feeling lonely or bored. Which is so funny I could cry.
We weren’t ever lovers, were we?
No. I’d remember you, I promise.
The phone’s ringing. Bye for now!