April 20 2011 12:00 AM

Author Wade Rouse shares twisted holiday tales


For author Wade Rouse, Easter was not so much a time for dressing up as it was a day for getting down and dirty.

As the Saugatuck-based author notes in his latest book
“It’s All Relative,” his father was an engineer with some unusual ideas
about Easter egg hunts: Instead of being scattered around the lawn or
tucked beneath the leaves of flowers in the garden, eggs at the Rouse
house were buried in the ground.

“I think I was in middle school the first time I wrote
about the buried eggs,” Rouse recalled during a phone interview from
Chicago, midway through his promotional tour. “I think that was when I
realized that that wasn’t normal, and that other kids were waking up on
Easter morning with beautiful Easter baskets at the foot of their beds.”

“Relative,” which chronicles Rouse’s most memorable
experiences related to most of the major holidays, was compiled in bits
and pieces over many years. “I guess it was decades in the making,” he
said. “I was always writing, always capturing the holidays, but I didn’t
know what to do with it.

“Then I heard a story on National Public Radio one day
about how people are obsessed with the holidays and how much they spend
on holidays. Suddenly, it seemed like the time was right.”

It’s Rouse’s fourth memoir. In “American Boy,” he wrote
about struggling with his sexual identity while he was growing up in the
Ozarks. “Confessions of a Prep School Mommy Handler” detailed his
turbulent tenure dealing with the often demanding parents, students and
administrators at an upscale private school. “At Least in the City
Someone Would Hear Me Scream” described his life-changing decision to
forsake the comforts of metropolitan life for a rural home on the
Michigan lakeshore. The transition was not easy for Rouse and his
partner, Gary Edwards, but they have adjusted over the last three years:
Their home, nestled in the woods outside of Saugatuck, is a showplace,
complete with a burgeoning garden and a former carriage house that they
remodeled into a pair of home offices. At Rouse’s desk, you’ll find a
picture of the late humorist Erma Bombeck, who was first an idol of
Rouse’s mother and later became a major source of inspiration for Rouse.

“She cranked out so many columns in her life,” he said.
“When they were compiled into her books (such as “The Grass is Always
Greener Over the Septic Tank” and “I Lost Everything in the Post-Natal
Depression”) the culminating effect of those stories about marriage and
family were pretty amazing when they’re taken together. One at a time,
they’re like little chunks of humor, but taken together … ”

Rouse sighed.

“When she was originally writing them, her family agreed
they would never read them,” Rouse said. But he has talked with
Bombeck’s children, who have since read her work. “They said, ‘When we
went back and read her, we were blown away by how much she captured in
those tiny moments.’”

Bombeck would love “It’s All Relative,” which mixes
sometimes jaw-droppingly candid humor with moving observations about the
difficulty of relationships, dealing with parental health crises,
Edwards’ battle to stop drinking and being ridiculed for being
“different” in grade school.  

“I can be brutal with my humor, but I try never to be mean
just to be mean,” Rouse said. “I think the beauty of people is in their
love, in their foibles. Everyone has faults — that’s what unites us,
that were all whacked out of our minds.”

Some of his most cutting comments are reserved for the
dreaded Christmas letters some well-meaning people send out,
mass-mailed, resolutely upbeat yearly recaps that reflect what Rouse
calls “our obsession with perfection.”

“I have a meltdown anymore when I see those things. They drive me out of my mind.

"Tell the truth for a change: My husband’s a jackass who
forgot my birthday, the kids’ braces cost three times as much as we
thought they would, little Jenny has scoliosis. Just be honest!”

Telling the truth can occasionally be tricky, even for
Rouse. One case in point involves an overnight stay at Edwards’
childhood home. Rouse recalls Edwards getting aroused by the noise from
the HVAC unit because of adolescent memories connected to that rumbling

“I did a reading of that story in Milwaukee, and people
gasped,” Rouse admitted. He called to Edwards, who was standing nearby:
“You were kind of mortified, too, weren’t you, Gary?

“He turned red the first couple of times, but it gets one
of the biggest reactions, so I have to stick with it — and it’s totally

Rouse is hosting a weekend-long writing seminar in
Saugatuck at the Twin Gables Inn May 12 through 15. Topics to be covered
include “Facing Your Fear & Finding Your Voice,” crafting query
letters, self-marketing and working with editors and literary agents.

His next project, scheduled for publication in September,
is “I’m Not the Biggest Bitch in This Relationship,” a collection of
essays he commissioned from various writers, including Rita Mae Brown,
Caprice Crane, Annabelle Gurwitch, W. Bruce Cameron and Jeff Marx. The
foreword was penned by Chelsea Handler’s dog, Chunk.

“They’re all hilarious stories,” said Rouse, a life-long
admirer of all things canine. “I didn’t want any ‘Marley and Me’
soapiness going on.”

Wade Rouse
Author of "It’s All Relative"
Writing workshop
May 12-15
Twin Gables Inn
900 Lake St., Saugatuck
For registration information, rates
and details, visit www.wadeswriters.com