Judson Merrill Goes to Career Day

My literary career is young, but it’s never too early to begin hoarding canned food in the panic room of posterity. For the benefit of scholars and fans alike, I will use this space on The Outlet, on a semi-regular basis, to release a selection of my correspondence and other papers. Enjoy. (Universities interested in acquiring the complete Judson Merrill archive should contact me through my web site.)

Miss Audrey Penniwether,

Bianca recently informed me that you’re having a career week at her school and some of the parents will be coming in to talk to the kids about their line of work. As you likely know, I am a novelist and, despite working in a very challenging professional landscape, I’ve had some success. I think it’s important that, in addition to accountants and firemen, the children hear from someone in a creative industry. So I am volunteering my time to come in and speak with your students. Also, I’m writing a pretty hard-hitting novel about a first grade teacher and would love to pick your brain. Thursday is the only day that works for me.

Miss Penniwether,

Thanks so much for getting back to me. Please find attached a copy of my non-disclosure agreement. It’s pretty standard stuff, I just don’t want any of the ideas or projects I discuss to leave the room. I’d be grateful if you and all your students could sign it and fax or scan it back to me by tomorrow.

Miss P.,

I’d really rather not. Question and answer sessions are so often just an excuse for audience members to hear their own voices amplified. Their “questions” are usually only statements or their own ill-considered opinions. My feeling is, the audience showed up to hear the speakers, not the crowd.


I think the kids will get the most out of my presentation if they’re not coming into it blind. As such, I’ve attached the first chapter of my latest novel, Inciteful. It’s the story of a traffic cop who begins giving out tickets for moral offenses: wearing a hat indoors, texting on a date, murder. My memory of first grade is that it was a capricious kind of hell where rules were handed down by fiat and conformity was the highest aim, so I think the kids will really relate to this text. Please read the chapter with your students the day before I come in.

Miss P.,

Will lunch be served to the presenters? I’ll need a dairy-free option. I can’t eat dairy while I’m writing. It blocks my creative chi.


As I mentioned, I am currently writing about a first grade teacher. She’s a complex character. Originally from Peoria, but raised in Rangoon by wealthy textile merchants, she returned to the states for college and settled in Chicago, where she now teaches and works nights as a dominatrix to support her costly gambling addiction. But I can’t figure out why on earth anyone would want to be a first grade teacher. Would you be willing to speak with me while the children are completing their speaker response forms? It shouldn’t take long. I just need you to think of an anecdote from childhood or adolescence that explains how you chose your line of work. Preferably something I could write up in a few hundred words. Also, if you have any insight into what kind of a dominatrix you’d be, I’d love to hear that.

Miss P.,

Brainstorm: I should show the kids how research fuels my craft! So: I’m preparing a little focus group, during which Bianca and her peers can share with me their thoughts on first grade. In turn, I’ll use what I learn in my new book. I particularly want to get their impression of you, their teacher. Since I want them to feel they can speak candidly, please get me their email addresses so I can directly send them the pre-class questionnaire I’ve made up to get their thoughts flowing.

Miss Penniwether,

I’m a little confused. My ex-wife just mentioned that she was going to be speaking during Bianca’s career week. She claimed you scheduled her for one on Thursday. But I’m scheduled for 11:30. I would really rather not rush my presentation. Please reschedule or cancel my ex-wife’s appearance.

Miss Penniwether,

Ten or fifteen minutes for what? Our informal confab? My presentation? Or the research focus group? Or my reading? You can’t possibly mean ten or fifteen minutes for each of those things. Right? That would cap me at an hour. Do these kids want to learn what it takes to be a professional novelist or not?

–Judson Merrill
lives and writes in Brooklyn. Some of his work, including his e-novella The Pool, can be found at judsonmerrill.com.

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