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, and he just recently received a solicitation from an agent. Here is Fleming’s reply.
NOTHING POSITIVE CAN COME FROM BUT
Dear Mr. Shill,
I’m thrilled by your interest in my manuscript, which is really coming along now, thanks to all the kind encouragement from you and from the good people at Knopf. I’m energized and hard at work.
It would be difficult for me to send you a sample at the moment. In an effort to liberate myself from the tyranny of “Story,” I’ve decided to work on this book without regard to narrative chronology. This technique extends all the way down to the level of sentences, meaning that I’m writing the words and punctuation out of order. I began with a thick empty journal, the kind you can find in the dumpster behind any Kmart, where the pages are somewhat damp with cat pee but can be refreshed with a shower of Lysol, also available in the Kmart dumpster. When a word strikes me as important to the story, I write it in the journal on the approximate page and the approximate position on that page where I think it will be most effective. A noun here, a verb there, and before you know it, a new kind of manuscript rises from the sea in Godzillian fashion—terrifying, yes, but also absolutely essential to save our cities from the even more terrifying monsters of ignorance and decay.
I’m saving the articles for last. I am, however, already making extensive use of coordinating conjunctions, notably and. I want this book to be a positive statement of Where We Are Now and Where We Might Ought To Go, and and, as you might imagine, fits the bill perfectly for building my ideas.
On the other hand, while but coordinates just fine, it also negates. But is a negator. Nothing positive can come from but.
As it stands now, the pages of my journal are sprinkled with ands like tears of joy, or in my case like random tears awaiting the actual joy to cause them. I can hardly wait to uncover all the novelistic ideas those ands will positively connect.
Please note: In the same spirit of complete honesty that you displayed in your email, I should mention that the journal isn’t really a physical journal but rather a mental one. A clear image of it congeals in my head, especially as I write this.
I do have the dedication written, and I would be glad to send it to you if you think it would be helpful.
Now, back to work! I’ll be in touch. I’m more excited than ever!
John Henry Fleming