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 following a kidnapping episode with The Zeppelin Society. He’s recently joined a memoir group that meets in the library. Someone seems to be trying to lure Fleming out of the library to kill him, and the memoir group has agreed to confront the threat with him.
TO: Grandmoirs Distribution List #7
FROM: Harry Ellicott, Secretary
SUBJECT: Narrative of the Recent Code Green Events, part I
This past Tuesday, per mutual agreement, Bill, Margene, Walter, Jerry, Ellen, Ferris, Kate, and myself met outside the library and were joined by Probationary Member John Henry Fleming, who has relinquished the rights to this story in exchange for our assistance.
P.M. John Henry Fleming at that time attempted to back out of our arrangement, claiming that the planned meeting was “too dangerous” and that he was “wrong” to put our lives “at risk.”
While the assembled Grandmoirs discussed this new development and prepared to take a vote, P.M. Fleming attempted to slip away. The assembled Grandmoirs shouted after him and followed, which one can take as a unanimous vote to honor our previous agreement.
Weather and setting: An unseasonably warm spring day. Ample sunlight, moderate breeze. The usual distribution of birds and cars for the season. Scattering of pedestrians and street people about right for the time. Smell of exhaust fumes from passing diesel trucks. Dried worms on the sidewalk caught out after the early morning shower. That is all.
Action: We followed Fleming down Main Street. The street in a state of disrepair typical of the times. Cheap fashions and discount electronics. For Rent signs. Additional details may be filled in after a separate research outing.
Character Development: Ellen fell behind, and Jerry and I slowed to help her while Margene called to Fleming, who continued to argue against our agreement. This agreement, it should be noted, was voted on and approved by all. We hold him to an oral contract.
By previous arrangement, Grandmoir members will write their own character expositions to supplement this document.
The group caught up with P.M. Fleming when he stopped to peer in the frosted window of a closed store. Impossible to make out anything. Fleming continued and turned into an alley between a pair of two-story buildings.
Suspense: the alley is dim even in daylight. A nervous look on Margene’s face.
Fleming ascends metal stairs and tries to open a blue door. We wait below to conserve energy. The blue door won’t open. Fleming descends.
“I’m calling the police,” Margene says.
“You call the police and you break the agreement. Then you’re out of the green,” I warn her.
Margene drops it. Mix of worry and annoyance on her face. Detail: in the narrow alley, Margene’s perfume is redolent of methane.
Through the alley, a tiny parking lot between buildings. Fleming pauses at the dumpster, listening for something. Only wind. Leaves and wrappers blown around. Traffic sounds. Full dumpster reeks of rot. Good detail: Margene’s perfume now not the only game in town.
Suspense: a green door slams in the breeze. Several of us jump.
Internal monologue: Why are we doing this? Is it worth it to get ourselves killed? If we suffer for art, must we by extension die for it? And if we die for it, who gets the rights? Answer: in the event of mass death, both story and contract are vacated.
Fleming steps slowly to the slammed green door. Pauses. Reaches for the knob. Suspense builds. Insert details for strategic delay: a car horn from the street, a tumbling wrapper, etc. Then a door opens behind us and a man’s voice calls out.
Heads turn. The door is propped open.
“The bookshop works better,” comes a voice from the shadows.
Character detail: The man is thin, in his thirties. Black hair. Black jeans. Black t-shirt reads “Rob Zombie” with a picture of an angry longhair evidently by the name of Rob.
The man backs into the darkness.
“This would be the right time for the police,” Margene says.
“For all you know he is the police,” I say.
“He does them in different voices,” Fleming adds cryptically.
Suspense. Quiet. P.M. Fleming enters first. Expected gun shots don’t materialize. We are lulled into a false sense of safety. We enter the back of what turns out to be the store with the frosted glass window.
Break. New chapter: Flashback. How did we get here? The story of the Grandmoirs, individually and as a group. The story of Fleming. Our fateful meeting. An investigation of the willingness of all parties to march to their possible deaths. What drives them? Thrill? Resignation? Determination to publish?
Questions left hanging. Story to be continued.