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 living at the library. In this episode, Senior Editor Roberta Hollymore writes from jail, where she’s been since a drunk-and-disorderly arrest in a cemetery.
Dear John Henry Fleming,
Why would I bother to write to you? As usual, it’s because you’re a nobody who reminds me of a somebody, so I have the comfortable impression of talking to my past.
I no longer want to be in jail. I’ve done it, and now it’s time to move on. Too bad the DA and the judge don’t agree with me.
My jailhouse editing gig didn’t pan out. The ladies of the county lock-up wouldn’t cooperate. They didn’t like me changing their stories for dramatic effect. They didn’t like me compressing and conflating. They wanted every goddamned event of their lives presented on the page exactly as it happened.
“You change anything and I swear to God I will sue you,” they said. “And if I can’t sue you, I will kick your ass.”
“There’s a reason you’re in jail,” I said.
“The reason is to kick your ass,” they said.
Full disclosure: I’m conflating.
Then the guards got into it. They told me stories about their lives. They promised me special privileges for writing them down. Somehow I trust them less than I do the prisoners. I could overlook the lies if the stories were good. But no, the guards have been telling me TV re-runs. Either that or people’s lives are now exactly the same as TV shows, and I might as well leave the planet before a laugh track strikes me down. In any case, I string them along. That’s how I get to use their phones, like this one.
And now I want to come clean about my relationship with Reid Markham.
It was a long time ago. I was young then and fell in love too easily. I wish I had the same problem now. I wanted to live a life in which everything was Reid Markham. I wanted to lie on a bed of Reid Markham’s words and feel their whispers over my skin. I wanted to eat food prepared by or in the presence of Reid Markham. I wanted to sit at Reid Markham’s desk, run my fingers over his typewriter, feel his lingering warmth. I wanted to wrap myself in his clothes, his sheets, his scent. If I could, I’d have bathed in the effluvium of his toothpaste spit.
All this is true. What I’m no longer sure of is Reid Markham’s feelings for me. We seemed so in love back then, but who ever knows?
Everything’s a story, and it’s no longer possible to say what’s true. How can I know anything? Do I even bother to try?
Yes, and I need your help. Why should you help me? Because I might still help you find a publisher if you ever write a novel. Also, I won’t prosecute you for stealing my dog. I’ve come to know people who can put you in jail for a thing like that. The system can be gamed, and I know how.
Track down Reid Markham’s surviving family. Just one of them will do. Reid had a wife for a while. I heard she was dead. Maybe he has a surviving parent still clinging to life in an old-age home. Maybe he has a cousin, a nephew. It’s not hard to find people these days. Put me in touch with someone. I have questions.
The world as we know it may be over, but the past is never dead. Or so someone told me in jail.
For once I look forward to your reply.
Sent from my iPhone