Writer's Digest Essay: Writing Women's Fiction As A Man

Thursday, April 13, 2017

I wrote the following essay for the May/June 2017 issue of Writer's Digest. The essay -- about writing women's fiction as a man -- is part of the magazine's "5-Minute Memoir" department. Truly hope you enjoy!


"For those of you expecting a woman tonight, you’re only partially correct!"

That's how I began book events for my debut novel, The Charm Bracelet. Many readers didn't know I was using a pen name and expected to see the female author whose name was featured on the cover, Viola Shipman, rather than the man, Wade Rouse, who wrote it.

But, as I told readers, the two are inextricably combined.

The number one question I receive from readers is how I, as a man, can write female characters and storylines so well.

"Who do you channel?" readers ask, hands flying into the air at the end of events. "Why do writing female characters and points of view interest you?" “Are you wearing a wig?” (I threw that last one in, although I do have great hair.)

I grew up in my mom’s and grandmas’ kitchens and sewing rooms. Like many Southern women, they were wonderful oral storytellers. Their sentences contained no periods, their stories a patchwork of beautiful memories, like the quilts they made.

My grandmothers dreamed of being fashion designers, but instead sewed in factories and church basements. My mother, a nurse, dreamed of being a doctor, but didn't have the means to make that happen in the 1950s. They inspired me to become a writer, to fulfill dreams they hadn't been able to fulfill. As I grew older, I realized I was in the presence of extraordinary women, whose voices few had really given the time or respect to hear.

And they stayed with me forever.

I’ve always been compelled to give voice to those not always heard in society. My first four books were memoirs, and I used my voice as a gay man – silenced for the first three decades of my life – to share the pain of coming out as well as issues such as workplace discrimination and being demonized in society. I used humor as a means to teach rather than preach.

A seminal moment in my life and writing career came as a child in the rural Ozarks, not the best place to grow up for a boy who had a fondness for ascots and headbands. I was heckled offstage during a middle school talent show while singing "Delta Dawn" – while holding a faded rose, no less –by an Ozarks crowd that made the fellas from Deliverance look like the Jonas Brothers.

I ran off that rickety plywood stage, furious my mother and grandmothers could let me humiliate myself. But they were already waiting with two gifts: A writing journal and a copy of Erma Bombeck’s book, The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank.

The title certainly seemed fitting at that moment: My life was crappy.

"You'll need both of these – laugher and writing – to make sense of your world," they said.

Inscribed inside was a quote from Bombeck: "Laughter rises out of tragedy, when you need it the most, and rewards you for your courage."

The women in might life taught me to laugh and be courageous, and their love and support helped me become a writer. As a result, I was called to give voice to them – to the women in all our lives – unsung heroes whose quiet sacrifices changed the course of our journeys. That’s why I chose my maternal grandmother’s name as pen name for my fiction: So readers would say her name forever.

I’ll admit it was daunting for a man to tackle three generations of women in The Charm Bracelet and the voices of a woman battling ALS and her female caregiver in The Hope Chest, but I imbued my work with the heirlooms and lessons the women in my life shared: That a charm bracelet isn’t just jewelry and a hope chest isn’t just furniture but holders of precious memories and dreams; that unconditional love sounds simple yet is so hard; that family can be redefined; that I must laugh – and write – when life gets hard.

Mostly, they taught me to be the person I am today. It was a privilege and honor to be their grandson and son. It is a privilege and honor to give them voice.

A Holiday Giveaway With Christmas Ornament King Christopher Radko!

Friday, December 16, 2016

I am thrilled to share with you today a Q&A with the renowned and iconic name in American home decor, Christopher Radko. For over 30 years, Christopher’s handcrafted holiday ornaments and decor have graced the homes of royalty, Hollywood celebrities and families world over. Christopher has been on TODAY and OPRAH, and he’s been called the “Ralph Lauren of Holiday Home decor,” and “the Czar of Christmas Present” by the New York Times.  Having sold his Christmas company, he has taken a break for a while from ornament making. In the meanwhile, Christopher spends his time gardening and organic farming, which gives him the chance to enjoy the great outdoors. Christopher has had a passion for gardening ever since he was a child growing up in the Bronx, where his parents introduced him to a more delightful playground — the Victorian Bronx Botanical Gardens. It was in these lush gardens he first discovered the beauty and heady scent of wild lavender flowers, and this lead to his creating a spa lavender company under his name.  He is also working the event organizer for the 50th Anniversary in 2018 of the filming of Hello, Dolly! (starring Barbra Streisand) in the Hudson Highlands.
I’m so excited to announce that FIVE lucky people will win copies of the The Charm Bracelet in paperback as well as the eBook of Christmas Angels. How’s that for an amazing early holiday present? All you have to do is visit my Facebook page starting Friday December 16, 2016 and post a comment below the post to enter for a chance to win by sharing with us your favorite holiday ornament/decoration and the reason why it’s so meaningful. The giveaway will remain open until Saturday, December 17, 2016 at 7 p.m. ET, and I will choose winners by randomly picking numbers from the total number of entrants and from the order in which you responded. This giveaway is open to U.S. residents only. Facebook is not responsible for this giveaway.
Wade, tell us about what inspires your writing. And tell us about your holiday story Christmas Angels and what you hope readers will take away from it.
My fiction is inspired by my grandmothers’ and family’s heirlooms, lives and lessons. The stories I write are a tribute to family — about bad things that happen to good people, to all of us — and how we soldier through the hardships in our lives with love, faith, hope and each other. My fiction is also a tribute to all of our elders, whose stories and sacrifices helped shape us and make us the people we are today. My debut novel, The Charm Bracelet, was inspired by my grandmothers’ charm bracelets. It was through the charms on their bracelets that I got to know my grandmothers not just as my grandmas but as incredible women who lived extraordinary lives filled beauty, hope and tragedy. They taught me that the simplest things in life — family, friends, faith, fun, love and a passion for life and what you do — are truly the grandest gifts. The Hope Chest was inspired by my family hope chests — and the special keepsakes that were held inside — and is about finding hope when you think all is lost. It is also a tribute to my uncle, who waged a long, courageous battle with ALS and taught me the meaning of grace, as well as to the caregivers who loved and cared for my father in his final years, angels who walk this earth and redefined the meaning of family to me. And angels play a special role in Christmas Angels: Not only angels in the form of heirloom holiday ornaments, tree toppers, cookie cutters and pins, but also angels in the form of Christmas and guardian angels that surround us, if only we choose to see them. I wrote the novella because I love the holidays. In our home, we typically decorate at least six trees, all with special themes and decorations: Heirloom/vintage, garden, cabin, modern, kitchen, and I always have a Charlie Brown tree in my office. The holidays have taken on even more meaning since the loss of my parents. I wrote Christmas Angels to remind readers of the meaning and magic of Christmas as well as to show them that life (and love) must go on somehow in even the hardest of times. Rich with the spirit of Christmas and all its traditions, Christmas Angels is a delightful love story about Kate, a single woman in her 30s, who works as a holiday designer/decorator bedecking and bedazzling the city for the holidays (sound familiar, Christopher?). Her work keeps her from spending the holidays with her family and masks the loneliness and pain after a nasty breakup just before Christmas. Known as “The Christmas Angel” for providing holiday beauty to the city’s offices, homes, and malls, Kate’s world changes when she decorates the home of a widowed single dad and his lonely young son.
Christopher, tell us about what inspired your ornament company.
It all started with my loving, as a wee kid, to sneak under the lowest branches of the tree and look up  through the branches at the shiny ornaments and colorful lights. Everything was so sparkly and full of fantasy: Santas on spaceships,  shooting stars,  skating snowmen….  The walls were awash in rainbow colors, and the scent of the tree transported me to another, more magical world. Andy Williams’s “The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year,” played on the record player, and I wanted those moments to last forever.
As I grew older, the tree had to get larger, too.  Finally, we had a 12-foot tree in my parents’ living room. It was my job to clean out the tree stand each year, a task I never enjoyed to do. So, finally, I bought a shiny aluminum stand that was supposed to hold large trees.  Alas, it didn’t!   One of the legs cracked, sending the entire decorated tree, with all the ornaments on it, smashing to the ground. My grandmother came into the room and saw what happened. Our tree was like a family diary. All her favorite ornaments, including some she had received as a child back in 1905, were shattered. “Oh, Christopher,” she moaned, “you’ve ruined Christmas forever!!”
I felt terrible!  I hadn’t personally stomped on our family’s ornaments, but I sure felt as though I had. And the thing was, you couldn’t find ornaments like those in the stores anymore.  No one was making them. What a depressing Christmas that was. Well, a little bit of guilt goes a long way. I was inspired to find European glassblowers to make recreations of some of our family favorites. So I had some made for me, and what I found is that friends wanted to buy them too! They’d tell me they had ornaments like these from their grandparent’s time just like I did. So I contacted my glassblowers and ordered new samples, this time in different sizes, and colors, too. And thus, a Christmas business was born.
Christopher, that’s so ironic because your back story is a huge back story in my upcoming novel, The Hope Chest: The lead characters’ tree crashes just after the death of her parents, and their beloved heirloom ornaments smash. They end up starting anew and piece together a tree topper from the broken bits, something that also happened with me and my family. What impact did that have on you? And do you have a particular ornament that meant a great deal to you growing up or that has stayed with you through the years?
I am a huge fan of Christmas artistry, and have a lot of respect for the glassblowing artisans I have worked with and taught. In some cases, I was training the grandchildren of artisans from the 1920’s,  young adults who otherwise would be having office jobs behind computers each day. At one point, my ornament orders kept over 3,000 craftsmen and women busy in Poland, Germany, Italy, and the Czech Republic. I encouraged them to expand their repertoire, use better glass and scientific techniques and create more intricate ornaments than their forbears had ever made. They, in turn, were pleased to know that their family’s traditions could find life again today.
My own family tree falling over was not an ending, but a beginning. It was a doorway of opportunity into an entirely new world, one in which I could share my love of Christmas and human heart connection with others. Sometimes people will ask if I have a favorite ornament, and I always say, the one that brings a smile to your face, that’s a favorite one. It could even be that little cotton ball snowman your kid made in 3rd grade art class. It’s about the memories and heart connection they contain. That’s what make them priceless.
Wade, same question to you: Do you have a particular ornament or holiday tradition that meant a great deal to you growing up or that has stayed with you through the years?
My favorite Christmas decoration is probably the antique tree skirt my grandmother made so long ago. It features hand-sewn, hand-decorated and hand-painted figures and appliques of an angel, the Virgin Mary, bells, Santa, Rudolph, the North Star as well as hundreds of shiny stars. It reminds me of my grandma and all of our Christmases together … it is so beautiful.
Now for a Lightning Round:
Christmas tree lights – White, All One-Color, or Multi-color?
Christopher: I am a vintage Christmas fan, so I love the GE c-7’s and c-9’s of the 1960’s and 70’s.  They came in jewel-toned colors,  rich cobalts, golds, rubies, and emerald green, and if you were lucky, sometime you’d find pink and purple ones too!   Some even blinked, and that created a sense of life on the tree.  I also love bubble lights.  For the most part, I prefer the warm glow of incandescent lights to the new glaring cold LED’s.
Wade: White or Multi-Color … and I love bubble lights, too! (I grew up with one-color trees my dad loved.)
Tree topper – Angel vs. Star? 
Christopher:  How about an Angel surrounded by stars?  That’s what I’d do.
Wade: Both (Have both of my mothers’ tree toppers, an angel as well a vintage aqua blue glass topper in the shape of a star with a beautiful cut starburst in the middle)
Christmas tree – Real vs. Fake?
Christopher:  I alternate.   There’s a lot of maintenance with real trees, but they connect you to the way families decorated for the past two centuries, and I do love the scent of fresh pine. I especially love Noble Firs, which I think are the finest shaped out there.   There are some incredible life-like artificial trees as well, and I love the flocked ones that look like a winter wonderland forest.   For kitchy fun,  I get a kick out of a good aluminum tree from the 60’s. I remember saving my allowance when I was 11 to buy one for my bedroom from Woolworth’s.
Wade: Both (but nothing beats the smell of real).
Secret to a perfectly decorated home at the holidays?
Christopher:  A bit of sparkle, a dash of music, a good holiday cocktail, and a whole lotta’ heart!!
Wade: Love
Thank you, Christopher, for sharing, and for being part of this fun holiday giveaway. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a Good Night (and Good Luck)!

THANK YOU!: An Essay In Honor of National Library Week

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

            The theme for this year's National Library Week, observed April 10-16, is – simply enough – "Libraries Transform."
            As an author, there are endless op-eds I could write on the plight of our state and national libraries. They continue to endure – much like the world of publishing – a stunning sea change in terms of technology and its impact on readers as well as massive budget cuts. Instead, I wanted to focus on the theme of "Libraries Transform" and why – in its simplicity – it's so profound.

One of my earliest and fondest memories from childhood is going to the library – hand in hand with my Ozarks grandmother – who used to volunteer there. The library was one of our neighboring town's oldest buildings, and it sat under ancient, arched trees. The steps were always a bit mossy in spring and leaf-strewn in the fall, but walking inside was akin to entering heaven. It smelled like another world, a magical world, a world filled with secrets I needed to know.
My grandmother was a voracious reader, and she and my mother helped make me one as well. My grandmother's two favorite books were The Bible and Walden, and she jokingly said that in the Ozarks, where I grew up, it was heresy to read anything but the Bible or to put any book on a similar level. But she felt reading was a key to understanding the world and those who were different than she was.          
"We live in a small town," my grandma would say, "but the world is big. That's how your mind must be, too."
I spent hours in that library, reading, talking to the librarians about their favorite books. It was there I read Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys, Where the Red Fern Grows and Call of the Wild. I read newspapers. I read magazines. I read Erma Bombeck, a Midwestern humorist who would become my inspiration.
Every summer was spent with my grandparents at their log cabin on a crystal clear, ice-cold creek in the middle of nowhere. We had nothing but each other and books: No microwave, no TV, no phone. When my grandma would head up for groceries, she would also return with a trunk load of library books. She would read to me as we rocked on a barn red glider that sat on a bluff overlooking the water; I would read in tree swings as well as on innertubes as I floated in circles.
I read, and I read, and that's when I started to write.
I often didn't fit in at school, and the local library served as my refuge. I was encouraged not only to read, but to be smart, think critically, think beyond the small world in which I lived. More than anything, I was encouraged to dream, and let me tell you this: Once that seed is planted, it immediately takes root in a child's soul.
There is nothing bigger, or more special, than a child's dream.
Erma Bombeck once wrote: "As a child, my number one best friend was the librarian in my grade school. I actually believed all those books belonged to her."
And despite the stunning sea change in our library system today – as well as publishing – that core has remain unchanged. Reading changes lives. Books change lives. Libraries change lives. And they remain the centers of our communities and our lives. I'm here to restate the obvious: What libraries do changes lives. I know because they changed mine.
And they continue to do so:  I've traveled the U.S. speaking at libraries – including all over the state I love and now call home – and have been stunned at their enduring power. I've spoken to grade school children and nonagenarians. Libraries have made me feel – more than anywhere, else save our nation's independent booksellers – that what I do is vitally important and what they do transforms lives and fuels dreams.

So, I simply want to say this week what I'm sure too few people say to our libraries and those who support them: Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

BE FEARLESS! A Writing (& Life) Lesson on Fear & Voice

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

An inspirational quote from my debut novel, THE CHARM BRACELET

Of the endless things I could teach and preach to writers, learning to overcome fear to channel your true voice tops the list.

Fear is devastating to all of us in life, but especially an author. Too often in our world today, we let fear consume us: It drives our daily lives typically more so than passion. We worry about money. Time. Health. Aging. Our Parents. Our Children. The future.

The same typically holds true in writing. In the beginning stages, we worry about all the things over which we have no control: Whether our writing is good enough, whether we'll make money at it, whether those we love and know – and even those we don't – will like our work.

Awful things happen from head to hands, from brain to fingers to laptop, when we let fear consume us as writers. When emerging authors begin a book, they are drive by that unique voice that runs in their heads – the one only they can hear, the one which drives all of us to tell our story. But before we fully channel that voice, it begins to be drowned out by the call of fear. Too often, we bow down to fear, and that voice becomes diluted, a faint echo of the one that originally sang to us.

I know because it's happened to me. I began my first book, America's Boy – a memoir about growing up different in the Missouri Ozarks but buoyed by the love of family – as a novel. I actually started it as a memoir but grew fearful of pretty much everything, including what my family and hometown would think. I spent a year writing it as fiction, until someone I loved accidentally read it (a nightmare for writers).

When I asked what they thought, the reply was, "If you had dropped this on the street, and I had picked it up, I would never have known you had written it. It sounds nothing like you."

I was stunned. But, in my heart, I knew they were right.

So I started anew. Fearless. I channeled my voice, the funny-sad-poignant-sentimental one that could make my ugly laugh and ugly cry in the course of one paragraph. I finished the book, I queried agents, I received three offers of representation, and that was five books ago.

"Your voice is one-of-a-kind," my literary agent said to me when I signed with her.

Voice is all we have as writers. If you ask any agent, editor, or publisher what he or she is looking for today in a writer or book, they typically will not say the next Harry Potter, Fault in Our Stars, Gone Girl, Jen Weiner or Stephen King: They will say the next great voice.

Voice is the only thing that sets a writer apart from another. I joke there is only so much that separates Sedaris from Shakespeare: We all utilize the same tool belt: Same words, same themes. We all tend to write about the same things, too: Love, faith, family, sex, work, pets, war, death, but it's how we tell those stories that makes us unique.

Anne Lamott is one of my favorite writers and teachers of writing. She explains voice this way to writers, and I do as well: If you were all a choir, and I gave you the lyrics to the same song, and stood up here and listened to you sing, from a distance, it would largely sound the same. You'd be singing the same words, hopefully together and in tune. But if I dropped a microphone over each of your heads, the song would sound totally different: The sound of your voice, the way you interpret those exact same words would be uniquely you. A writer must do just that, except silently, on paper.

But the drumbeat of fear silences too many emerging voices. I teach a number of writing workshops, where I help emerging and established authors on their craft and their manuscripts. I am proud to have helped numerous writers have their manuscripts published by major publishers. But I am more proud of the fact that I help souls overcome the fear that keeps them from not only pursuing their passion but also from channeling that unique voice that calls to them.

Write because you have to write, no matter what anyone else thinks. Tell that story in your head that yearns to be told, that begs to get out, no matter what anyone says or thinks.

Let your voice be heard, and I guarantee you'll be amazed at how many people will respond not only to your talent but also your fearlessness.


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Dear Friends:

I don't know how I got here. Literally. My debut novel, The Charm Bracelet, launches one week from today, March 22. ONE WEEK!

Many of you have asked what you can do to help since the first week of a book’s publication is as important as opening week for a Broadway show, movie or having the lead at halftime.  This is why I'm reaching out to you now.

I choose to write under my grandmother Viola Shipman’s name as a way to celebrate her and the bracelet that inspired The Charm Bracelet.  Writing my first novel wasn’t easy, but Viola would be thrilled to know her stories have meant so much.  This is why I am particularly hopeful that we can make The Charm Bracelet a big success in honor of her.

You’ve already done SO much to encourage me and I am humbled by all of your support, but here are some ideas that will make a difference:

1)   Buy The Charm Bracelet. Today!

I know many of you are waiting to attend one of my events, but early sales are the most effective way to get buzz going about The Charm Bracelet.  Here are links to places where you can find The Charm Bracelet in all formats:

2)   Social media the heck out of it!

Word-of-mouth is still the main way people discover books. Talk about it on Facebook. Tweet it. Put a photo on Instagram of you reading the book while wearing your charm bracelet. Be sure to link to my web site (www.violashipman.com) so I can share in the fun.  You can also include a link to buy the book as an extra boost.

3)   Attend my events and invite friends!

This not only supports me and the book but also your local bookseller. Here is a link to all my events:

4)   Review the book!

Readers who are not familiar with me, or my work, look to reviews from other readers to gauge whether they will buy a book or not. You can review The Charm Bracelet on Goodreads, Amazon and B&N.

5)   Pick me for your book club!

I would love to visit or call and chat with your group.  It’s one of my favorite things to do! Here is a link to a book club discussion guide and reading group questions, as well as how to contact me:

I would not be here without your ongoing support and friendship – in every way – and cannot thank you enough. Writers exist in isolation until their book is born, and then we celebrate with those we love.

I truly hope you're charmed (sorry, I couldn't resist) by The Charm Bracelet and look forward to hearing from you!

Wade Rouse

Holiday Heartache & Gifts: A Farewell to My Father

Saturday, December 5, 2015

My father passed away the end of October. As I navigate this first holiday season without him -- my first as an "orphan" now that all of my immediate family, brother, mother, father, are gone -- I often feel lost, empty and overwhelmed by emotion. I try to remind myself every day how loved I was, how blessed I am, and that I am who I am because of the influence of my father and my family. 

The relationship between my dad and I was not always easy -- we were often polar opposites in our views of the world, politics, life -- but we found common ground in the most important place: Each other's hearts and souls. My dad drove me crazy, and I drove him nuts as well, but we respected and loved one another deeply. 

The older I get, the more I realize what a beautiful gift it is to live without regret. I may have disagreed with my dad, but I told him every day I loved him, and he said, "I love you, too, son." That transparency was hard-fought and hard-earned, but it's allowed me to live without regret and in a place of peace. That is the gift I will receive from him this holiday season, even though he is no longer beside me. And that is the gift from both of us that I share with you and those you love this holiday season: Peace, happiness and relationships without regret. Tell those you love this year just that: I love you. You mean the world to me. I am blessed to have you in my life. You will never regret it. 
I wrote the following about my father, which was read by the minister at my father's funeral. I share his gifts with you this holiday season. 

This is a photo of my father as a child that sums him up perfectly. xoxo

I am heartbroken but remembering how blessed I have been and that he is now out of pain. I have been blessed to have many larger-than-life characters in my life. Perhaps that is why I’m a writer. My father was one of the largest. This photo of my dad as a child truly sums him up: Dimples, curls, a perpetual, "Life is sweet, let's get this party started" attitude. My dad loved life. He loved God. He loved his friends. He loved his family. He loved golf. He loved the St. Louis Cardinals. He loved the community in which he was born and raised. He was a chemical engineer, a logical man, and seemed the polar opposite of me. But he wasn't.
My father was a teacher. That’s what fathers do. And what my dad taught me influenced me greatly: He taught me to respect my elders. He taught me to relish the natural beauty of the area in which I was raised. He taught the value and importance of education. He taught me how to invest and save, and the value of a dollar.
But more than anything my father taught me never to quit. “You will never know what you’re capable of accomplishing if you stop,” he always told me. In my career, that has been of the utmost importance. My father was the stubbornest man I’ve ever known. People say the same thing of me. And I take it as a complement, for it is strength, toughness, resilience and a grand love of life that sets us apart, makes us strive to achieve something of importance in this short journey we’re given.
I loved my father. He and my mom were great characters in life and in my life. Now, they are together again. Fred and Ethel forever united. Prepare to be dipped, mom. And have the ice cream ready.

Where Writers Write

Monday, August 3, 2015

Most readers seem to have a fascination (if not semi-obsession) with where writers write. 

I think it's more of an interest in seeing and understanding the intimate space in which writers create, that world where writers go to leave this one behind. 

I have long held that fascination, too. As many of you know, Erma Bombeck remains an idol of mine, and I loved to read about how she locked herself away from her family to write undisturbed (save for the notes under the door). 

I have a plaque on the wall next to my desk of Margaret Mitchell which reads, "In a weak moment, I wrote a book." I love the saying, but I also love the photo on the plaque of her in her office sitting at her desk -- hands fluttering over her typewriter. 

I often love to sneak a peek into authors' writing spaces, both personally and electronically.  

One of the first things I wanted to see when Rita Mae Brown -- the legendary author of RUBYFRUIT JUNGLE and The Sneaky Pie Brown Series -- invited me to stay at her beautiful Virginia farm was her office. It was a bright room, with big windows, and a beautiful, old desk. On top? A typewriter. Rita Mae had nothing else in there: No lap top, no phone, no cell, no internet. She said she rose at dawn with the sun, and got her writing done, so she had most of the morning and all day to tend to her many animals. I think my agent and editor would murder me if I sent in a typewritten manuscript, but it is RMB after all. But, I did learn something: I rise early, too, like she does, and write. And I have learned to turn off social media when writing (and leave my cell behind, too). 

Though I have not visited their homes, I know many author-friends, like New York Times bestsellers Adriana Trigiani and Caroline Leavitt write from urban spaces while Nancy Thayer writes from her cottage in Nantucket (in an office with views of the water). I know authors that prefer to make their offices in a local coffeehouse or library.

My space is very important to as both a writer and a person: Our home is a knotty-pine cottage we call "Turkey Run," for all the wild turkeys who treat our paths and yard as their personal woodland interstate. I love my cottage, its history and its feel. It grounds me, as does Gary's gorgeous gardens, from which I pick fresh flowers for my office two or three times a week. 

My writing studio is a carriage house attached to our house. It is private, quiet, and -- the nice thing is -- I can leave it when I'm done for the day: I can return to this world. 

A peek at our carriage house in the winter

One wall leading up the stairs to the office is filled with the framed covers of my five books. This is -- and isn't -- done from pure ego. A friend sent me the first two, and when I hung them, I realized they were an important and visceral reminder of all that I had accomplished and -- now -- all that I have to accomplish. (I mean, an entire wall is still EMPTY!)

My desk sits facing two giant windows overlooking our woods and -- in the distance -- our neighbor's blueberry fields. The view is constantly inspiring and ever-changing: Summer screams green, and the windows are constantly wide open. Fall is a wonder of color, the sugar maples and sassafras visual overload. Winter is quiet and white (before we leave for the desert). And spring is nothing to everything all at once, an unfurling of Mother Nature. 

A huge sugar maple sits outside the windows, and a squirrel I call Dorothy Parker visits me nearly every day, eating acorns, staring at me, squawking at me to keep going. 

On my desk, I have my Mac, fresh flowers, all of my published books on one side of a lamp and a collection of beloved Bombeck on the other. There are meaningful photos of family, friends and pets, an assortment of bobble head dolls and raccoons (from fans of AT LEAST IN THE CITY SOMEONE WOULD HEAR ME SCREAM), a calendar filled with deadlines, glass vases filled with rocks and shells collected from nearby Lake Michigan and our coastal vacations (as well as a turkey feather or two). Usually, there are a stack of galleys on a pullout drawer that authors and publishers have asked me to read and blurb. A plaque that my artist aunt gave my parents after they built our family home titled "The House that Rouse Built" sits nearby, too. I rotate two favorite coasters for my coffee and water (and, OK, wine on occasion): One that says, "Mama loves her some boxed wine" from a dear friend (and in reference to IT'S ALL RELATIVE) 
LOVE coffee! (literally!)
and one from Oscar Wilde that reads, "Be yourself, everyone else is already taken."


I have bookshelves filled with books, family heirlooms and photos, and my expansive Pez collection. A lamp with that looks like burnished wood sits by my desk. I have a couch behind my desk that serves as a comfy place for writers who take my writing workshops to sit (and sweat ... just joking) when they come to my retreats. (btw, I NEVER nap, so it's of no use to me). 

The walls around my desk are filled with framed accomplishments (my bachelor's and master's degrees, my first marathon medal with official time and photo at the finish line), some of my first published magazine articles, as well as a number of framed quotes.

The first quote is from Dr. Seuss and states: "The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go."

The next is: "Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail," from Emerson. It was a quote given to me by Gary that helped to inspire, both humorously and poignantly, my Michigan memoir, At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream.

The next up is from Dorothy Parker, which reads: “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can give them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

And, finally, from Erma Bombeck: "Great dreams... never even get out of the box. It takes an uncommon amount of guts to put your dreams on the line, to hold them up and say to the world, 'How good or how bad am I?' That's where courage comes in."

Always flowers!

At the top of the stairway are two leather chairs I call my Hemingway chairs and a leather ottoman that flank a fireplace (which gets a lot of use in the fall and winter). There is a pouf for our smaller mutt, Doris, that sits under my desk, and larger pouf for her sister, Mabel, right next to my chair. 

I have a stereo that I occasionally turn on to classical, jazz or Pink Martini (but I am noise-obsessed when I write, and must have complete quiet ... which is why Gary leaves every morning to go to yoga and coffee). 

I love my office. I love going to work. My commute is short -- a stop for coffee, a stroll in our walkway past our woods and then up 14 stairs -- but I love every step. 

Fab Fall!

A writer's space -- any artist's creative lair -- is a special place. I encourage aspiring and emerging writers to give themselves not only permission to call themselves writers but also to carve out a space that belongs to them -- be it at the dining room table, a desk in the laundry room, or in the sunroom (the place I first started in St. Louis). Claim it! Call it yours! Even over the shouts of your husbands, wives, children. Over time, it will call to you. Over time, you will return, and you will create. 

And, over time, your dream space and dream book will become reality.