The Book I Will Write by John Henry Fleming is a serial novel-in-emails about a desperate would-be writer named John Henry Fleming who wants to write and publish a novel.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 editor, who’s been thrown in jail for drunk and disorderly conduct and assaulting a police officer by peeing on him.
THE SUITCASE OF GUILT
John Henry Fleming,
I’m writing to you from jail. They want me to leave here. I don’t want to go. Why should I go? There’s nothing for me outside. When Seamus brought me my phone and attempted to bail me out, I told him to go home and think about all the things he’ll never do again in his life, and then add me to the list.
As always, I wonder why I’m writing to you at all. There are two types of people in this world: those with a publishable manuscript, and those without. You are without. And yet you’re a handy nobody, a nobody-at-hand on which to unload my sorrows. Don’t reply to this. You’ll only ruin it.
One time when I was still young, Reid Markham said to me, “You are my heart’s jailor.” Actually, he whispered this to me after three hours of lovemaking in an Upper West Side apartment I’d arranged for him to caretake while its owners traveled to France for an unapproved drug to help their hospitalized terrier and his intestinal fungus. (More about dogs in a minute.) The owners returned with a suitcase full of morel mushrooms and decided to eat them all because Little Très seemed to be improving. When the dog died, they had a new suitcase, this one filled with guilt.
Why am I saying these things? Maybe because I’m avoiding talking about Reid Markham and the way things used to be. Maybe I’m burdened by my own suitcase of guilt. What could I have done to help him? What should I have done? I tried to love him, I did love him, but it wasn’t enough. Nothing was enough, and the fame was killing him. Only love can cure the ill effects of fame, but it takes a special person to give that much love. I am not that special person.
I wanted to be. For him.
There’s a particular passage from The Devil’s Good Graces that reminds me of you–or of who I think you might be. I’m going to have Seamus bring me a copy of the book if I can remember where it is, and then I’m going to look up that passage and email it to you because I think it will give me a fleeting thrill to publish some of Reid’s work after all these years, even if it’s only in an email.
Back to dogs. You’ve been strangely silent all this time about the whereabouts of my original dog (I’ve given Seamus the task of caring for his nincompoop replacement). Yet I’m more and more certain that you’re the one who stole him, or lost him, or God-forbid killed him. Can I ask you to come clean about this? I can’t promise to publish your novel; I may no longer have a job in publishing, for all I know. But I have many contacts, some of whom may still respect my opinion even if they don’t like me, and I can personally serve your manuscript to any number of them on a golden platter.
You might say that all I’m asking for is what’s called “closure.” I don’t have that with anything else in my life. I don’t even know for sure that closure exists. But I’d like to try it out, just once. You can give me this one small thing and I’ll be grateful. I’m in jail. My wants are few, and a little pathetic.
Sent from my iPhone
I have to admit, I have a soft spot for the delusional Fleming when he is the only one deluding reality. I want the sympathy and/or empathy he might arouse in others to be overridden by his unawareness/lunacy/oblivion. When I see other characters being as needy as clingy as orphan as Fleming is, his delusion becomes normalized and he loses essence. I want him to be the only one irrefutably off the wagon. Is it wrong? Am I the one off the wagon?
I’m happy to hear from Ms. Hollymore again and to get another glimpse at the mysterious Reid Markham. However, I must agree with Adriana that it was more fun when only Fleming (and to a lesser extent Annie) had a loose grip on reality. The Zeppelin Society feels like a tangent. I miss the novel. I miss the budding e-romance between John and Annie. I hope you’ll return to it soon.