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 is now living at the library following a kidnapping episode with The Zeppelin Society. Now he’s being stalked by the murderous son of Reid Markham, the author of The Devil’s Good Graces, a book Fleming is trying to track down and read as an influence to his own, still unwritten, novel.
WHY WRITE LIKE A DEAD PERSON?
Mr. Henry F,
I know you haven’t stopped, and I know where you are. Don’t make me come get you.
I’ll come get you. And kill you.
The thing is, why bother with Pop’s book if you’re going to write your own? Don’t you have your own ideas? Why write like a dead person?
If I were going to write something, I would do my best not to write like dead people.
Sometimes, when I drive past a cemetery, I roll down my window and shoot my middle finger. F.U., suckers, you’re dead and I’m alive.
It makes me feel good.
I could do that to you one day, if you don’t stop.
Here’s something you should know. I was on medication for a while. I stopped taking it. And not because I don’t need it. Ha ha ha!
I have a memory of Pop giving a reading once. It was in a big lecture hall, maybe at a college. I think he liked visiting colleges because the college girls would sleep with him. Pop had a loose gun in his pants.
Why was I there? Maybe he took me with him for once. He sat me in the front row. I heard the glowing introduction. I saw him step up onto the stage like a rock star in a sport coat, slumming at a prom. Pop’s hair was long then.
He read from his book. He got a standing ovation. He received an award, some kind of plaque.
Later, on the way home, he pulled over. Mom wasn’t there. Maybe she was modeling at an auto show. Dad put his plaque down on the side of the highway. He broke his Bic lighter and poured its butane over the plaque. Then he realized he needed the Bic lighter to light the butane. He found a scrap of paper and used the car lighter instead. They don’t have car lighters anymore.
He lit the plaque on fire. I watched him. Then Pop turned to me as we watched it burn. “I don’t know what matters,” he said, “but it’s definitely not this.”
When we drove away, I turned my head and looked out the back window at the little fire his plaque made. I thought, To you, maybe.
Now I think, He might as well already have been dead.
Now, if I drove by his cemetery (and I don’t even know where he’s buried, so maybe I’ve already shot him a bird by mistake), I’d probably make a little fire on his headstone. Then I’d think, How about this one, Pop? Matters or not?
Pop is still dead. Don’t dig him out of his grave. No one wants to see him. If I see him—in a newspaper article or on a book jacket or mentioned in some online interview you give about your “influences”—I’ll know that someone has to take his place. In the grave, I mean.
That someone will be you.