A Michigan Christmas Story

Mitten State transplant Wade Rouse assumed his grandmother’s name to pen a holiday-themed novel.
The cover of A Wish for Winter. // Photograph courtesy of Graydon House.

Looking for a literary stocking stuffer? You’re in luck. Michigan-based author Wade
Rouse — who writes fiction intended for women readers under his maternal grandmother’s name, Viola Shipman, as well as memoirs under his own name — has just released (as Shipman) his most recent Christmas-themed novel, A Wish for Winter.

Wish (published by HarperCollins) tells the story of Susan, a 40-year-old bookstore owner who lives in a tight-knit Michigan lakeside community. Having been raised by loving grandparents after her parents were killed in an accident, Susan is also heir to a unique family history, which causes the townspeople around her to believe she’s destined to meet and marry a man dressed as Santa.

“It’s the funniest novel I’ve written,” says Rouse, whose work has been translated into 20 languages. “It’s also the most diverse novel I’ve written, because it has this incredibly quirky cast of characters from all walks of life. But it also talks a lot about loss in our lives and how we’re too often unable to forgive ourselves and move on. … [That’s] inspired by my own life and having lost my brother when I was young. It’s about what grief and loss do to us.”

Though Wish is Rouse’s ninth Shipman novel, it’s only his second holiday-themed one (following last year’s The Secret of Snow).This fact might surprise you if you were to drive by the home Rouse shares with his husband outside of Saugatuck.

“We’re the Griswolds,” says Rouse, referencing the over-the-top family featured in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. “We put up seven themed trees. We’re those people who put inflatables out, and neighbors are like, ‘Stop.’”

Yes, Rouse and spouse now flee to Palm Springs, California, for a couple of months after the holidays each year — they initially stayed in Michigan year-round when they moved from St. Louis in 2006 — but Rouse nonetheless loves enjoying a white Christmas in Michigan.

“I have to say that my first winters here, despite the darkness, I loved,” Rouse says. “I loved all of the goofy things I got to do that I’d never done as a kid, like build snowmen and make snow angels and snow forts and all the stupid things that you love as a kid and forget or don’t allow yourself to do as an adult. That reignited my joy for the holiday season.”

Another recent Rouse release with great gifting potential is Magic Season: A Son’s Story. This moving memoir centers around Rouse’s complicated relationship with his flinty, Ozarks-bred father, who desperately needed, in his last years, the help of his surviving son.

But this came after Rouse’s father had said and done a number of hurtful things, such as secretly circumventing Rouse’s acceptance into Northwestern University’s graduate journalism program.

“There were years after that — and once I came out to my father — when I didn’t speak to him, and I thought that might be the end chapter,” Rouse says. “I always saw in my father a man who had no idea how to deal with me and swept everything under the rug. That’s how he was raised, and that’s what he knew.”

One of the only easy points of connection between the two men involved watching and rooting for the St. Louis Cardinals, and the last baseball game the pair watched together provides the memoir’s narrative scaffolding.

“I try to write books that seek to understand and not blame,” Rouse says. “I think sometimes writing helps us. It’s how I make sense of my life.”

Meanwhile, Rouse’s adopted home state consistently plays a starring role in his fiction.

“A few years ago, we went to Italy, and I was like, ‘Michigan is as gorgeous as the Amalfi Coast,’” Rouse says. “I mean, every town that I feature in my books is not only stunningly beautiful but also has this quirky kind of resort history that just makes for a perfect setting. And I’ve been heavily influenced by a lot of writers … who make the environments and settings in their books as much a character as the people. And that’s what I try to do with Michigan.”

This past year, there’s been talk of possible film adaptations of Rouse’s work (“We’re nudging very, very close to having something happen,” Rouse says). It might make you wonder what Rouse’s grandmother — a poor, hardworking seamstress who didn’t get the chance to finish high school — would think of seeing her name on so many books and, perhaps one day, on a big screen.

“Oh, that’ll make me cry,” Rouse says. “I’m sure she’d be embarrassed in one way. Her face would flush. … But I think she would be incredibly proud, especially because she used to push books into my hands. … And those are the same kinds of books that I write now.”

This story is from the December 2022 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more in our digital edition.