Viola Shipman, the pen name of writer Wade Rouse, is the author of the new novel The Recipe Box. Rouse's other books include The Charm Bracelet and The Hope Chest, and his work has appeared in a variety of publications, including People and Coastal Living. He lives in Saugatuck, Michigan, and Palm Springs, California.
Q: You note that your grandmother's kitchen helped inspire this novel. How did you create your character Sam and her family?
A: Yes, I grew up in her kitchen, asking questions as I tugged at the hem of her crisp white aprons embroidered with bright strawberries or pretty flowers.
My tiny grandma and her little kitchen seemed larger than life to me as a child: A vintage oven anchored one side, while sparkly countertops were engulfed by a bread box that held Little Debbies and Wonder Bread slices.
But the most prized possession in her kitchen was her recipe box. After my grandma died, my mom inherited my grandmother’s recipes. After my mom passed, I became the keeper of those recipes and memories.
Her original recipe box – which my grandfather, a woodworker, made for her – helped inspire the family in the novel because I learned about our family through the food my grandmother made. A brilliant baker, my grandma told stories as she cooked.
The character of Sam is based not only on myself but also on many of the daughters of dear friends: Young women who are defined by others and told who and what they should be before they’ve even had a chance to figure it out themselves.
Moreover, I grew up in a small town, and ran away from it because I felt like the big city would be the answer to all of my dreams. But I ended up returning to a small town once I defined who I was on my own terms. All of that is the basis for Sam.
Willo, Sam’s grandmother and the matriarch of the Mullins family and pie pantry-orchard, is based not only on my own grandmas but also on the mother of dear friends of mine who own Crane’s, a century-old pie pantry and orchard just a short bike ride from where I live in Michigan.
Bob and Lue Crane’s love story – including their struggles keeping a family business going even in the hardest of times – served as the foundation and heart of the novel. And my own mom is present in Deana, Sam’s mother, the quiet strength of the family.
I’m very proud of the three generations of women – and their individual stories, strengths and struggles – represented in The Recipe Box.
Q: The novel takes place mostly in northern Michigan. How important is setting to you in your work?
A: VERY important. I work to make the coast of Michigan a living, breathing character all its own in all of my novels. I want the setting to be as memorable a character as my protagonists. I want the place to play a large part in the narrative and even impact the decisions characters make.
And I do that because it’s done so in my own life. I moved to the resort town of Saugatuck, Michigan, at the age of 40 after quitting a stressful job in the city and starting over as an author.
The first time I set foot in Saugatuck, I was stunned by its natural beauty: The grandeur of Lake Michigan, the sweeping dunes, a town that seemed as if it came straight from a vintage postcard. The setting calls to me and inspires me, and it changed my life.
The Recipe Box is set in Suttons Bay, a gorgeous resort town in northern Michigan set on Lake Michigan and a stunning bay. It’s filled with farms, orchards and wineries, and the town is cute as a button. Dear friends live in Suttons Bay, and my aunt lives in a cute town close to there, so I’ve spent much time there.
In addition to The Recipe Box, each of my novels – The Charm Bracelet, The Hope Chest and my upcoming novel, The Summer Cottage – are all based in a coastal resort town of Michigan. I move the setting around from town to town in each novel.
My goal is to do for the Pure Michigan-Up North-Great Lakes area of the country I love and call home what some of my favorite authors – like Elin Hilderbrand, Nancy Thayer and Dot Frank – have done for Nantucket and Lowcountry South Carolina. I’m honored that The Charm Bracelet was chosen as a Michigan Notable Book last year.
Q: Why did you choose to write under the name Viola Shipman, your grandmother's name?
A: I like to say the pen name chose me. I chose my grandmother’s name, Viola Shipman, as a pen name for my fiction to honor the woman whose heirlooms, life, love and lessons inspire my writing and who inspired me to become a writer.
My Grandma Shipman – along with all of my grandparents – were working poor, but they made incredible sacrifices for my family, and I would not be where I am or doing what I am today without their support. And I’m honored that readers will be saying my grandma’s name forever. It’s the smallest thank-you I could give to her and all of my elders.
My novels are meant as a tribute to our elders, as well as the women in our lives whose voices were often overlooked but whose love and strength united us.
Q: How did you select the recipes to include in the book?
A: By gaining about five pounds, lol!
I actually thought this would be the easy part, but selecting just the right recipes for the novel turned out to be one of the most difficult parts. Each recipe not only had to fit the setting of northern Michigan (and its bounty) but also the novel’s narrative (and arc) as well as the backstories and evolution of each character.
I had my grandmothers’ recipe boxes and recipe cards and had SO many wonderful recipes from which to choose, but I had to narrow them to fit. When I had the location and specific setting (a family orchard and pie pantry), I knew I wanted to focus on desserts.
And by timing the novel for summer, I could focus on summer fruits; many of the backstories go back in time to show each of the characters, so I could fit in winter/fall desserts this way.
The majority of recipes in the book are my family’s and come directly from my family’s own recipe boxes, but there were a few that I asked friends to contribute.
There is a peach-blueberry slab pie that my friend who is an editor at Taste of Home magazine contributed (and it’s insanely good!), and dear friends who own the century-old orchard and pie pantry near where I live that inspired the setting and characters contributed their beloved cider donut recipe (people from all over the country head to this pie pantry to get their donuts and desserts)!
Q: What are you working on now?
A: My next novel is The Summer Cottage, and it will publish in May 2019 from Graydon House Books/HarperCollins. The novel follows a woman who, in the wake of her divorce, quits her job, abandons city life, and attempts to convert her parents’ aging lakeside vacation home into a bed and breakfast.
The renovation unearths a surprising history, and myriad guests make her doubt her sanity and decision. I just love this novel, its characters and story, and it is set in my hometown of Saugatuck, Michigan.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: My previous novels just released in new formats: The Charm Bracelet in mass market paperback, and The Hope Chest in trade paperback. Both are beautiful, heartfelt novels that are inspired by my grandma’s heirlooms and are a tribute to family, love and kindness, things we could all use more than ever in today’s world.
I also have a wonderful website and quarterly e-newsletter, and am insanely active on social media, both of which are chock-full of wonderful stories, information, recipes, home/gardening tips and giveaways. Thank you! Happy Reading & Baking!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb