Judson Merrill Researches his New Novel

My literary career is young but it’s never too early to begin painting the dilapidated façade 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.)

Dear Professor Wentworth,

My name is Judson Merrill and I’m a novelist. I am currently at work on a new book. It will be a deeply human story about human frailty and human relationships. It’s called Only Human and it centers on Kyle Bouziez and his dying mother. I want the book to be true to the medicine at its core, which is why I’m writing to ask for your expertise as a medical professional, pre-eminent in your field. Also, I want the mother to be dying of something very rare and exotic. I was hoping you could give me a list of some super bizarre diseases. Feel free to note if any of the diseases have particularly literary symptoms, e.g. losing the ability to speak or forgetting what an allusion is or aging backwards or anything like that.

Prof. Wentworth,

Thanks so much for your list. Your brief descriptions of the diseases were captivating and almost all of them appeal as candidates for the book. In the end, though, it’s a no-brainer. (Not literally. That one was interesting, but how could a woman with no brain have and raise a child?) Kyle’s mother will have Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva. You are totally right that in addition to being super rare, FOP is super literary. Imagine, muscles and ligaments turning into bones. (I’m thinking of changing the title to What Doesn’t Bend Breaks.) I feel like I just won the lottery! Can you introduce me to anyone who has the disease? Ideal, I guess, would be someone who might be on their last (stony) legs and if, God forbid, they died before I finished the book, I could dedicate it to them.

Prof. W.,

Thanks for sending your colleague’s paper on FOP. I read it with great interest. Alas, it’s pretty clinical and hardly the stuff of great literature. I’m having trouble using it as a springboard for 206 Bones and Counting. (New title. What do you think?) Would it be possible for you to summarize how a doctor might explain this disease to a patient, i.e. in plain English? And maybe write about yourself in the third person. As if you were an attractive female doctor treating an older woman with FOP and giving the diagnosis to her son. In fact, feel free to spend a few lines describing your physique as well as your intelligence. And your no-nonsense yet playful attitude. And your name should be Dr. Esmeralda Greene, for the purposes of this summary. And you have green eyes.


Got your description of Dr. Greene handing down her diagnosis. Some of your prose is a little purple (best to leave the metaphors to me), but the science is impressive and is helpful as I begin to really get to know these characters. I wonder if, from a scientific stance, you’d be willing to share your impressions of how Esmeralda might behave on a first date with Kyle. Perhaps with a special focus on the tension between the excitement of a new relationship and the cloud cast by Kyle’s slowly ossifying mother. Also, keep in mind my new working title, Medusa’s Children.


I certainly can tell you’re not a professional novelist, but thanks for sending along the date scene. It’s invaluable research as I develop characters and build the narrative of My Bony Mother. But I won’t bore you with the arcane details of my craft. Any idea what should happen next in the book? From a medical standpoint?


I have to say it was with some dismay that I received your latest pages. While your scene is sort of compelling, why has your prose taken on this hard-boiled, noir feel? If Esmeralda is a hard-drinking loner, how are things going to get started with Kyle? Or should I say, what have you done with Kyle? In my draft he’s about to take Esmeralda to his high school reunion but you’ve got him separated from his mother since he was a small boy and possibly now a former mobster in witness protection. Is that right? Well, then why is Esmeralda trying to track him down and warn him that he might have FOP? How could he even catch the disease if he hasn’t seen his mother in so many years? It just makes no sense. (And p.s., I think your title suggestion leaves a lot to be desired.) Again, let’s stick to our specialties. You provide the science and I’ll write the novel. Speaking of which, what’s your medical opinion of high school reunions?

Dear Professor Wentworth,

Congratulations on the release — and surprisingly strong sales — of your new novel, Double-Barreled Diagnosis. I read the book with great interest. Unfortunately I could not miss some disturbing similarities to the novel I’ve been working on for some time, parts of which I have shared with you. Please find enclosed the filing papers for my copyright infringement lawsuit. Also, seriously, please get back to me about high school reunions. That scene has me super stumped.

* * *


Judson Merrill sends Letters to his Editor, tucks copy of story under Editor’s daughter’s sheets.

Judson Merrill writes to his local Indie Bookstore.

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

More Like This

That Guy in Your MFA’s 10 Rules for Novelists

I have placed a short story in a very prominent literary journal that may or may not exist, so I know what I’m talking about

Nov 23 - Dana Schwartz
Thank You!