Johannah Rodgers

“In the 17th century, Michigan belonged to Louis XIV.”

Bruce Catton, Michigan: A Bicentennial History





“A three alarm fire broke out at the Pioneer Hotel at the corner of Ann and Huron Streets Tuesday evening. One fireman was taken to the emergency room as a result of heat exhaustion. There were no other injuries. The manager of the hotel was unavailable for comment and a telephone call to the owner, a Mr. Davidson, was not returned. A police investigation into the causes of the fire is ongoing.”

The Ann Arbor Times

“Jean Nicolet was the first Frenchman to sail the straits of Lake Huron. He donned a mandarin’s robes when he went ashore at Green Bay, believing he was in China.” (Catton 3)





He wrote

He crossed the street

He was hungry





“Dante never dreamed of being a detective.” He didn’t particularly like that last sentence, but he needed to begin somewhere. There was nothing in the refrigerator.  He had eaten the last can of tuna for lunch the day before. The thought of going out frightened him. That was certainly not true.



Found text:

Birth certificates of characters









The thought of going out annoyed him. That was closer to the truth. His neighbor ate nothing but 8 oz. cans of Dinty Moore stew at each meal. Wouldn’t you get tired of it? But habits like that simplify things. He wished he had more of them. “Dante ate nothing but 8 oz. cans of Dinty Moore stew at each meal.” Did that include breakfast? Probably not.


“Some said Michilimacknac meant ‘great turtle’ in the Ottawa language. Others that it was the name of a small tribe, the Mishenemacinawgo.” (Catton 11)








Paris is the capital of France. Population:  ________. Situated in the _____ parallel and longitude ____. Although many people wonder whether there is a relationship between Paris the Trojan prince and the city, there is actually none. The city was named after a tribe, the Parisii.







Dear Keith,


I suspect that you must own this book because of the care that you have taken in fashioning your own bathroom and the fact that you have installed a wooden bathtub. What does it smell like when it is filled with water? I imagine it must have a sauna-like scent, or perhaps more like that of a woooden cup when it is filled with hot sake. That smell reminds me of wooden sandals, though I’ve never owned a pair. And the sound of water hitting the bottom of the tub? Is it hollow? Dull? In the evenings, after work, it must be very nice to sit in the wooden tub. I hope you will enjoy the book.


All best to you and Todd,












“Breakfast consisted of a cigarette and a strong cup of black coffee.”




Etienne Brulé “had many adventures, obscure and apparently pointless.  He lived with the Hurons and traveled throughout the upper midwest.  In Pennsylvania, he was captured by the Iroquois, who would have killed him had he not cursed them in the name of God and on that sunny day, in a cloudless sky, a thunderhead gathered and a huge clap sounded.  He survived and then was clubbed to death in 1632 by the Hurons, who, according to legend, also ate him.” (Catton 6–7)





In the middle of the night, I wake up. Texts overlapping. The rent for 2003 will total over $17,000. Enough to buy a valuable drawing (even one by Cezanne) or a really important photograph. Do you read for information or for the emotional connection to characters? What is your work about?





“Now those existentialists, they really knew something. People are completely self absorbed. No, people are completely self absorbed, emphasis on ARE, not PEOPLE. What else is there other than self-absorption? ‘L’enfer c’est les autres.’ How do you pronounce that? You may be able to pronounce it, but I think I really know what it means, I mean, assuming that anyone knows what it means.





My next book is written from the text I wrote on one page and then revised 200 times. Each word and its associations are explored. Any piece of text could therefore generate a book.







“What the hell does that mean anyway? I’d like to know what Sartre and de Beauvoir talked about at dinner. You’re laughing, but I really wonder.” But who is he talking to? The wall, the cat, himself, his wife? “When writing fiction the author must not pose questions. Rather, the author’s task is to answer questions. Questions do not further the project of verisimilitude though they may seem to.” This according to Henry A. Simmons, author of A Writer Writes, as well as a history of the state of Michigan published in celebration of the nation’s bicentennial, and The Long Way Home, a novel that “in scintillating prose chronicles the journey of a merchant marine as he travels around the world.” Which would explain the author’s obsession with sailing metaphors in, even, his nonfiction works. Why not just read Moby Dick? I should ask myself the same question.  













“Equinotical storms on Lake Michigan can be violent and one blew up just after the Griffon sailed, and that is all anyone knows about it, except that neither ship nor men were ever seen again.” (Catton 17)



“The Mayor looked up at the white wall, shook, replaced, zipped, and flushed. He watched the water swirl down the white bowl, it was headed to Milan, thirty miles southeast of town, part of the finest water system in the world. What was that guy’s name?  Some Italian. Wanted to start home delivery of donuts. Mechanized production, computer processed. A donut. He should focus on something people were less picky about. What flavor of donut? There must be at least a hundred. Fifty. A hundred with all of the frosted, unfrosted, sprinkles, fillings. The guy should focus on necessities. He wouldn’t have to worry about fancy marketing. Guns, for instance, did not require home delivery.”





A man and woman meet and fall in love. He takes over her identity and ambitions, and she takes on his. For many years, they do not get along.








A man and a woman meet and do not fall in love. There is no reason that they meet, other than the fact that he would like to get laid. They develop a friendship based on the fact that she will not sleep with him. (They both like to talk). He is from one place. She is from another. As she gets older, he gets younger. At the end of the book, they are each the same age as the other when they first met.









People just needed them. Always needed guns. Recreation, public safety, peace of mind. Forget donuts. The Mayor walked back down the hall to his office. Three gun stores already and a fourth to be opened in the spring by the new subdivision.




“The story haunts the imagination: one frail ship, overborne by tempest on an uncharted sea where there were no other ships, no light-houses, no harbors of safe refuge, no rescuing Coast Guards—no possible chance of help for a ship that could not make it, nothing left.” (Catton 17)








A random occurrence, i.e., the meeting of two individuals, allows this story to be told. 

(A bit like a car accident.)






A young actress moves to New York and gets involved with a man who is 20 years older than she is but who claims he is only 12 years older than she is. She is in a play at the time about a relationship between an older man and a younger woman. Her roommate is writing a romance novel about a young woman who moves to Paris and gets involved with a man who is twenty years older than she is, but who claims he is only 12 years older.





She was having a nervous breakdown. Or at least she thought she was. The idea had occurred to her in the past, but more as a possibility rather than a diagnosis. What would that mean anyhow? That she stopped being able to manage her day to day life. And what did that entail? No longer going to the grocery store or to the bank or buying tea at the store down the street from her apartment. 











unhappy marriage

extramarital affair





alcoholic/drug addict






never married













Take the headlines from a newspaper from one day and re-write all of the articles and then write a novel based on those stories.







She would stop doing the laundry and the dishes. She would begin living with too many stuffed animals whom she slowly began to consider her children and whom she talked to in the evenings when she got back from whatever it was she did in the evenings. People having nervous breakdowns probably cancelled a lot of evening engagements. Was she wealthy enough to have a nervous breakdown? This seemed like one of the first criteria, gender being the second. She knew someone who people actually described as having had a nervous breakdown and he was wealthy, yes, but he was also male, which negated her attempts at generalizing. In novels, only women have





Take a newspaper from one day and write a novel using only the language, characters and plots contained in the newspaper.






artist   psychologist

professor   life guard

factory worker

teacher  mayor  priest

sea captain   photographer

writer   governor   heir

train conductor   dressmaker

lawyer  principal 

race car driver   pilot  

journalist   doctor   salesman

taxi driver  truck driver

actress   businessperson

police officer   athlete

hair dresser   scientist

nurse   fireman

secretary   musician

beekeeper   social worker

detective   tug boat operator

auto mechanic   farmer



farmer   arborist   jeweler

travel agent   gardener

store manager   tour guide

bookkeeper   stock broker

editor   accountant   engineer

director   administrator

cabinet maker   fisherman

hotel manager  landlord


nervous breakdowns. The male characters are alcoholic or depressed instead. What happened when generically middle class people had emotional breakdowns? She was barely middle class at this point, at least financially speaking, but she looked middle class. And what do nerves have to do with these things anyway?



The Mayor crossed the street.  He had just left City Hall, the second tallest building in town sited in the center of a parking lot. What happened to the original City Hall? The Mayor doesn’t usually go in for those historical preservationist issues. Only the professors’ wives, mainly transplants, care about things like that. And Mrs. Burns who claims to have some connection to the town’s founding families. But he doesn’t believe it.  Her family’s from Indiana, he’s pretty sure. The polite pretense of the town’s history had been added much later, after the hoity toity set needed some excuse for living in the middle of nowhere.  






He ran his tongue over his new false tooth. He wished they would all be replaced. He was sick of going to that Doctor Lowenthal’s office every other week for some toothache. Doctor Lowentooth. And how did that dentist know about the new jeweler in town, Davis what’s-his-name. A queer for sure. You can tell from his jewelry. The Mayor and his wife had politely declined that invitation. Who knew what he did in that big house of his.


“The real magnet that drew men here had been that it offered escape; here, at the last, a man was not forced into a mold, his life constricted by the nearness and the prejudices of innumerable neighbors, and if he wanted to he could move out to the realm of the wholly lawless and live as he chose—with, to be sure, the penalty of swift death if he chose unwisely.” (Catton 31)





Would you like to live in Japan?


What is your favorite color?


Where will this novel be set?



The epigraph, as well as the text in the left-hand column is quoted from Bruce Catton’s Michigan: A Bicentennial History (Norton, 1976).