Newly released to fantastic reviews, The Charm Bracelet tells the story of three generations of women on the Michigan shore reconnecting thanks to an heirloom bracelet's charms. Bestselling author, frequent Coastal Living contributor, and coastal dweller Wade Rouse reveals why he wrote The Charm Bracelet under a female pen name (Viola Shipman), where he comes up with his best writing ideas, and what he hopes to do for the Michigan coast.
You live in the idyllic coastal town of Saugatuck, MI. What drew you there, and what's it like?
Many things drew me to Saugatuck-Douglas. First is the unspoiled natural beauty of the Michigan coastline. The grandeur of unsalted Lake Michigan (as we like to call it), the towering dunes, the golden sand beaches, and the fact that the towns have worked tirelessly to protect the natural dunes and environment. It's just stunning, in every season. In addition, the towns have a Currier and Ives meets Mayberry beauty and charm. They are filled with stellar art galleries (the towns are an art haven and known as "The Art Coast"), terrific restaurants and local wineries, amazing farmer's markets, as well as America's last hand-cranked chain ferry (it's adorable!). The beaches are stunning (expansive, beautiful, often uncrowded).
More than anything, there is a spirit of community pride that is unrivaled—we love a parade, be it Halloween or the 4th of July!
How does the area factor into your book?
The fictitious coastal resort town of Scoops, Michigan – the setting in The Charm Bracelet – is an amalgam of many resort towns, from Saugatuck-Douglas to the northern resort towns like Traverse City, Leland, Sutton's Bay and Glen Arbor. Those familiar with coastal Michigan will recognize many familiar landmarks and natural wonders (from Lake Michigan to the Manitou Islands, and from the Northern Lights to lake-effect snow) as well as a quintessential fudge shop, log cabins and the wonder of a Michigan resort town in the summer. I purposely made Scoops fictitious because I wanted readers to feel an ownership of the setting, no matter where they live.
That said, I want the setting of the coast to be as big a character as any of the protagonists and do for Michigan what Elin Hilderbrand and Nancy Thayer have done for Nantucket, or Dottie Frank has for the Lowcountry of South Carolina.
Do you have a water view where you write?
I live in a knotty-pine cottage on four acres of woods filled with pines and sugar maples that is about a half-mile from the water. I often sit on our screen porch and write because I can hear Lake Michigan and the boats on the water. And I can zip over to the beach whenever I like!
Do you ever write at the beach? What's your routine?
Oh, my gosh, YES! I write A LOT at the beach. And also do some of my best thinking (or cogitating, as my grandmothers used to say) there. I also follow a very strict writing routine (as do most writers): I wake at dawn to write, and write uninterrupted until lunch. I have to write before the world intrudes too much upon my day. And I write in silence. No noise. No music. Nothing. Which is why a solitary spot on the beach is perfection. I mean, could there be a better office?
You wrote The Charm Bracelet under the pen name Viola Shipman. Why?
I like to say the pen name (which is my maternal grandmother's name) chose me, rather than I chose it. I also like to say that the jangling of my grandmothers' charm bracelets was the soundtrack to my childhood. My grandmothers' charm bracelets, stories, and lessons were the inspiration for The Charm Bracelet. My grandmothers encouraged me not only to become a writer but also the person I am today, and their lives and sacrifices changed the course of our family's history. My grandmothers taught me that the simple gifts in life (family, faith, friends, fun, love) are the grandest, and those are the themes of this book. I still have their charm bracelets, and when I hold them, and listen to them jangle, I know they are still with me.
You have a beautiful essay coming up in the May issue of Coastal Living about a key trip to the beach with your grandmother that became the inspiration behind your novel. Can you share in a nutshell what happened there?
It's one of the favorite things I've ever written. My grandparents didn't have a lot of money, and vacations were rare. But when I was about 12, we took a trip to Florida, and we walked the beach, collected shells, built sand castles. More than anything, I remember how the wind and waves seemed to wash the years away from my grandma, and she became a girl again, happy, relaxed and free. Of course, she collected charms for her bracelet and also taught me (as she always did) many important lessons about the real beauty and meaning of life.
"Always remember," she told me after buying a charm of a kite, "that we must have high-flying fun like a child, no matter how old we are."
That charm, and lesson, appear prominently in The Charm Bracelet.
Coastal Living's tagline starts, "If you have a passion for life on the water … " If you can't or don't live on the water, that's what coastal vacations do: They fill you with renewed passion, love and hope. And memories. And I will have those memories of my grandmother beside the ocean forever.
You already have another book in the works; what's it about?
Yes, I just finished the edits to my second "heirloom novel," this one about a hope chest. Based on the excitement surrounding The Charm Bracelet, I'm writing what are being called "heirloom novels," each revolving around a cherished antique heirloom that tells the poignant story, history, journey and bond of family. The novels are highly personal as well: All are inspired by my own family members and heirloom treasures. The next novel is tentatively titled The Hope Chest.
You've written essays for Coastal about sledding wildly down snow-covered sand dunes in Michigan winter, learning proper summer "beach etiquette," and your beloved dog Marge who traveled to beaches with you all over. What else would you like to write about for us?
The seagull a group of us at Oval Beach once rescued. It had a plastic beer ring wrapped around its leg, and it was injured. We took the ring off, wrapped the bird in a blanket, took it to a vet and then released it when it had healed. We were stunned to see the same bird (sporting a slight limp and same distinct markings) return to us the next year (and every year since) and stay by us all summer as if to say thank you.