The Book I Will Write 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, Martin Shill. Here is Fleming’s latest reply to the assistant.
ABUSING MY PRIVILEGE
Mary Ann “Annie” Lankowski
I’m writing to thank you for referring me to Mr. Shill. It’s not easy to land an agent these days, especially one of Mr. Shill’s formerly almost glorious but now somewhat degraded reputation.
I’m learning a lot from Mr. Shill and Ms. Hollymore about the meteoric life of Reid Markham. Do you know much about him? I admit I hadn’t heard of him before last week. Since then I’ve visited Wikipedia and some other sites and sifted through the stacks here at the library. (Yes, I’m writing at the library now. My power’s been turned off. Never mind that I don’t have internet—to sit comfortably at my desk requires six blankets and a thick pair of gloves that make it almost impossible to type. Here it’s warm. The same can’t be said for the librarians who threaten me with stern looks when my thirty minutes of computer usage nears its end.)
Anyway, did you know that Reid Markham began his professional life as an auto worker for General Motors? Did you know he may have had a child out of wedlock with a Swedish model who specialized in suggestive poses on car hoods? Did you know that, in the auto industry, such models are sometimes referred to as “aftermarket blowers”? Amazing what you can discover in thirty minutes on the internet.
In light of all this, I considered changing the character of Michael Jackson to Reid Markham. Then I realized I’d grown attached to Michael Jackson as a character in my novel, especially as seen through the eyes of Nick Carraway, my self-effacing narrator who, like MJ himself, arrived on Easter Island with an outsized burden of dreams and guilt. MJ has his tomatoes, and what does Carraway have? Carraway has MJ, of course. Everyone gets a shot at redemption.
And Reid Markham? His presence will be felt throughout but never mentioned. Reid Markham will be the book’s narrative spirit, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails. I cut-and-pasted that last part.
This really simplifies things for me. Now I only have to channel Reid Markham and let Reid Markham write the book for me. Fine. I’ll buy a Ouija board. But do you know what’s strange? Even though Markham’s book, The Devil’s Good Graces, is listed in the catalog, it’s not checked out and it’s not in the stacks. Does that mean someone’s reading it this very moment in the library?
My time is up. The librarian is giving me her stern look. According to her, internet usage is a privilege, not a right, and if I abuse my privilege, I can kiss it goodbye. Her words. When I told her I had no intention of abusing my privilege in a public library, let alone kissing it, her stern look shriveled my joie de vivre.
That won’t stop me from snooping on every other patron in the library until I track down The Devil’s Good Graces. I’ll send you a report.
John Henry Fleming