September 17, 2019

Benzie brings the man behind Michigan Notable Book author Viola Shipman

Author Wade Rouse
By Ross Boissoneau | July 22, 2017

Wade Rouse didn’t set out to be a novelist. Trained as a journalist, he worked as a reporter and then in public relations. Along the way, he wrote four best-selling humorous memoirs, contributed to People, Good Housekeeping, and Coastal Living magazines, among others, as well as National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.”

But the memoirs stirred other memories of his childhood, leading to the novels “The Charm Bracelet” and “The Hope Chest.” Because they were inspired by heirlooms of his grandmothers’, he wrote them under the pen name Viola Shipman, his maternal grandmother’s name.

Rouse will appear at the Darcy Library Tuesday, July 18, part of the Off the Page series of lectures and book-signings at the Benzonia Library and Darcy Library of Beulah.

“I felt a calling to write books (about) what’s most important,” he said from his home in Saugatuck. “I wanted to do something that harkens back to a more sentimental, feel-good time.”

Rouse said his desire to write is a lifelong ambition. “As far back as I can remember I wanted to be a writer,” he said. He earned his undergraduate degree from Drury University and his MA in journalism from Northwestern. “My favorite author was Erma Bombeck,” Rouse said, noting that she captured the “simple moments that unite us all. She was not only a great humorist but fought for her career.”

Rouse wrote “The Charm Bracelet” with his grandmothers’ actual charm bracelets in mind. He said both of his grandmothers wore them and told stories about the charms. The Library of Michigan named the novel a 2017 Michigan Notable Book. The list features 20 books published the previous calendar year that are about or set in Michigan or are written by a Michigan author. “The Charm Bracelet” qualifies on both counts: It’s set in a small town on the coast of Lake Michigan, and Rouse moved to Michigan about a dozen years ago, though he spends part of the year in Palm Springs, California.

This year, Rouse’s follow-up, “The Hope Chest,” was published once again to acclaim. Next March will see the third entry, “The Recipe Box.” Both also are derived in part from his childhood. 

So why write under a female pseudonym? “It is a totally Victor/Victoria thing,” Rouse said with a laugh, “the opposite of JK Rowling. I write women’s novels under my grandma’s name.” From the moment he laid down the first words of “The Charm Bracelet,” he said that he used the pen name Viola Shipman, “and I never changed it. My literary agent was always supportive. For me there was no greater way to say thank you.”

Rouse said he enjoys meeting readers and fans at events such as Off the Page.

“I love the events at bookstores and libraries. It’s amazing that readers show up and share pieces of their own lives.

“That was part of the Michigan Notable Books tour, visiting smaller communities that wouldn’t naturally be hosts. I was in Montague [in Michigan] a couple weeks ago. There was a huge thunderstorm, and they still kept putting out chairs. People were coming in droves.”

He also feels a connection to Up North. “My aunt and uncle had a cottage in Leland since the ’70s. My uncle was the inspiration behind ‘The Hope Chest.’ He had ALS (as does one of the characters in the novel), yet he’d still take his wheelchair to his garden. That was one of the most inspiring things.”

The Off the Pages talks by authors began last week with Travis Mulhauser, a 2017 Michigan Notable Book Award winner. It continues this week with Tom Stanton, whose most recent book is “Terror in the City of Champions.” Both Off the Page programs begin at 7pm and are free of charge. Seating opens 30 minutes before the presentations. For more information, contact the Benzonia Library at (231) 882-4111 or the Darcy Library at (231) 882-4037.

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