Writer in Residence
World-renowned author Viola Shipman, pen name for Wade Rouse, calls Saugatuck/Douglas home in the summer months. Discover why the magic of this lakeshore community draws him back each year and even inspired the setting of his latest novel, The Edge of Summer.
In the summer, you might see Saugatuck/Douglas resident Wade Rouse grabbing a cup of coffee at Uncommon Grounds or bounding up the stairs at Mt. Baldhead on an afternoon run. He might be out on the water, parked just a mile offshore. Here, with a perfect view of land, sea, and sky, Wade slips into Viola Shipman mode.
Viola was Wade’s beloved grandmother. As a child, he spent time in her sewing room and kitchen, watching her work, absorbing her wisdom. And now, this author of fifteen bestselling books with four more in the works, honors his working poor grandmother with every novel he publishes. Each book is a testament to the importance of family, friendship, our elders, and the heirlooms that connect generations—all set in small towns along Michigan’s beautiful lakeshore.
What can you tell us about your newest novel, The Edge of Summer, set in Saugatuck/Douglas?
It centers on fashion designer Sutton Douglas, who loses her secretive seamstress mother—Miss Mabel—to COVID. The only possessions left to Sutton are her mother’s buttons, button jars, and sewing notions. Devastated by her mother’s sudden loss and entranced by the beauty and mystery of those buttons, she searches for who her mother really was, which leads her to our towns of Saugatuck/Douglas.
Sutton buys a collection of buttons at an estate sale from Bonnie Lyons, the imposing matriarch of the lakeside community. Propelled by a handful of trinkets left behind by her mother, Sutton becomes tantalized by the possibility that Bonnie is the grandmother she never knew.
As Sutton cautiously befriends Bonnie, she uncovers the secrets about her family that Miss Mabel so carefully hid. She starts to understand how her mother became the woman she was and helped shape who Sutton became.
The story was inspired by my grandma’s buttons and love of sewing and is a reminder that the simplest things in life are the most important. The novel is really about finding that our true worth and value lies before and within us.
Are there some familiar names and places in Saugatuck that pop up in the book?
The novel has a full history of the area, including Michigan’s and the Great Lakes’ fascinating past in the pearl button industry. This area and industry were actually one of the largest employers in the U.S. at the turn of the century. Clammers would fish mussels from our local lakes and rivers and use their shells to fashion the handmade buttons that wound up in sewing baskets all over the world.
The novel also celebrates the beauty and history of Saugatuck and Douglas. It talks about the Chain Ferry (on the Kalamazoo River in Saugatuck), has an important chapter on the history of Ox-Bow (a local art school and artist residency), and a pivotal story about the Saugatuck Center for the Arts. People may also recognize certain restaurants that I’ve renamed (The Bayou is Everyday People Café!), and I mention the Uncommon Grounds coffee shop because I love it so much!
Why do you think people around the world are so drawn to Viola Shipman novels?
I think there’s an appreciation of family, legacy, our elders, and heirlooms, especially in other countries where there are incredibly long family histories. My novels have been bestsellers in Germany, Spain, Italy, Norway, Israel, and the Czech Republic. I believe people have been reminded these past few years—as my grandma taught me—of what actually matters most in this world: Each other. I also think people need to escape, and we haven’t been able to travel a lot lately. When you pick up a Viola Shipman novel, you can take a mini-vacation to a place you’ve never been. And I’m not exaggerating when I say I receive countless emails a month from readers all across the US and the world wanting to visit Saugatuck and Douglas. It fills my heart.
Are there certain spots in Saugatuck/Douglas that you recommend to people?
I tell people to go on the Star of Saugatuck, so they can get a history of the town and see a sunset. Once you see Michigan from the water, you gain a new appreciation of its beauty.
I tell them to shop downtown Douglas and find things they’ve never seen before. And while they are there, eat at Everyday People Café. I also tell them to visit the James Brandess Studios & Gallery in Saugatuck because his art, like my writing, encompasses the area's beauty.
Maybe the most important thing I say to people is to unwind and just be for a moment. I tell them that our shoreline is largely undeveloped and unspoiled. You look down the coastline, and you see sand, water, and trees. What we have here is truly special.
Will we be able to see you in West Michigan for your book tour this summer?
I’ll be doing events all over Michigan for The Edge of Summer. And I’m holding a very special event and fundraiser with the Saugatuck Center for the Arts on Thursday, September 15, entitled “Two Books, Two Voices, One Author, One Night!” which encompasses my two new releases (fiction and nonfiction) this summer: The Edge of Summer and Magic Season, a memoir of my relationship with my Ozarks father. And we are planning a special event with the Saugatuck/Douglas District Library next June.
To learn more about Viola Shipman’s latest novel, The Edge of Summer, available July 12, or to pre-order a copy now, visit https://violashipman.com/violas-books/the-edge-of-summer/. Want to support a local shop? Check out It Is What It Is in Saugatuck, where you can shop in-store or online for Viola Shipman novels and gifts.
Banner image credit: Kim Schneider