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 was recently living at the library. Now he’s been kidnapped by an organization known as The Zeppelin Society, who needs Fleming to write a letter to the FAA requesting permission to conduct a test flight of their experimental zeppelin. Here’s the latest email from the editorial assistant.
WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT LOVE?
Dear John Henry,
I hope you’re okay. I know you don’t want me to send the police, but what else can I do if I don’t hear back soon? I’m very worried. I’m chewing on pen caps.
There’s trouble here at Knopf, too. Last night, Ms. Hollymore was arrested for trespassing at a cemetery in Brooklyn. She’d been drinking. I think that goes without saying these days. They found her curled up around a headstone, and I’ll bet you anything it’s Reid Markham’s.
Anyway, she got belligerent. She threatened to tear off her clothes. She threatened to pee on the officers. “What do you know about love?!” she kept yelling.
Apparently, one officer wanted to hug her and the other wanted to taser her. They compromised by doing both, which may have something to do with her fulfilling her vow to pee on them.
She spent the night in jail. It made the papers. Right now, the Board of Directors is having a meeting about her. I’m worried they’re going to fire her, and I’m worried if they fire her, they’ll let me go, too. Where will I work? There aren’t any jobs. If I have to go back and live with my parents, I’ll die—either of claustrophobia or of the coronary I’m sure to have from lying around the couch eating grilled cheese sandwiches all day.
I kind of want to go in there and speak on her behalf. Yes, I could tell them, she’s a drunk. She comes in late and hung over if she comes in at all. She’s belligerent to authors, to agents, to employees, including me. Some days she locks herself in her office and sleeps. Other days she locks herself in her office and cries. She’s a wreck.
But when she finds a novel she loves, she loves it more than anyone I’ve ever met. She loves to read it. She loves to edit it. She lets it consume her whole and become her sole reason for existence. She loves to be its champion. She loves the author for writing it.
Her only sin is to love too much. And if there’s something wrong with that, I’d tell them, then there’s something wrong with publishing today, and something wrong with this storied company.
I picture myself saying these things standing beside the conference table stabbing the air with my finger while the ladies and gents of the board, all 2-3 times my age, stare first in shock, and then amazement, and finally with the realization that I’m right, that they’ve lost their way somewhere and what the company needs is more people like Ms. Hollymore. They need to give her more freedom to make decisions about manuscripts. They need to give her her own imprint. They need to stand back and let her do her job.
Or maybe I’d work in a phrase like, “I submit to you, ladies and gentlemen of the Board…” like I’m Jimmy Stewart saying it on the floor of Congress or to a gathering of town elders.
Or how about, “I warrant you this, ladies and gentlemen…”?
How about, “The cock is crowing, ladies and gentlemen. Will you wake up and greet the new day?”
Ha ha! Who wouldn’t want to say something like that?! It might just be the one movieworthy moment of my life!
Except, too bad I can’t bring myself to burst through the doors of the boardroom and stab the air with my way-too-small fingers. Too bad I’m a lowly editorial assistant with the self-esteem of a hairless rabbit.
Maybe I’ll write an email. That’s something I can do.
Please, please, please send word when you can.