Cottage Charm: The Six Things That Inspire This Author about Living in a Cottage (And One That Doesn’t)! by Viola Shipman


[Note from Frolic: We are so excited to have author Viola Shipman guest post on the site today. Take it away Viola!]

What is it about a cottage that speaks so deeply to authors? And why do books about cottages resonate with so many readers?

Some of my all-time favorite books—Folly Beach by Dorothea Benton Frank and The Guest Cottage by Nancy Thayer, for instance—are centered around cottages. And my latest novel, The Summer Cottage, is as well.

Since so many of us dream of living in cottages by the water, or retreating to one in the summer, I thought I’d share what it is about actually living in a cottage that inspires me as a writer as well as calls to our collective souls.

#1: Cottages Are Characters


A majority of my life has been spent living in quirky cottages that creak and speak, whose screens sigh when the wind blows and whose roofs moan in the winter wind.

Growing up, I spent summers with my grandparents at their old log cabin, which didn’t have a TV, microwave, telephone or indoor bathroom. We bathed in the ice-cold creek. The cabin had a stone fireplace that smelled of smoke, and a tiny upstairs crammed with 10 cots to hold all the visiting grandchildren and relatives. But while that cabin may have been short on luxuries it was long on memories. My grandparents used to say that the only things we needed were innertubes, fishing poles, books and each other.

But the best thing about that cabin on the water is that I got to know my grandparents not only as my grandparents, but as real people. I could always feel the love my grandpa had for my grandma reverberate in every log, chink and mossy stepping stone in and around that cabin. My grandparents taught me that even the tiniest of cottages could feel like mansions if they were only filled with love.

Those summers on the water in that cabin so influenced me that I moved from the city as an adult and bought a knotty pine cottage in the Lake Michigan resort town of Saugatuck (where The Summer Cottage is set!). It’s a kooky cottage on six acres in the woods, near the lake, with warped floors, soaring ceilings, farmhouse sinks, turquoise appliances, acres of gardens and trails, and a tree-top carriage house where I write. This is where I now re-create in prose the summers of my childhood with family and friends. And every summer day I celebrate the lessons my grandparents taught me: that the best gifts in life are truly the simplest and that all we really need is each other to be happy.

Cozy Cottage, the ramshackle family cottage in The Summer Cottage, is a beautiful amalgam of my family cottages, and I think its history, memories and future will speak to you as they did to me.

#2: Cottages Are Kindred Spirits

The sense of place is important not only in my books but also in my life; home is heartbeat to writers and readers. It’s where I am best and most creative, be it in my knotty pine cottage in the woods or tucked into my midcentury home in the mountains of Palm Springs. Home reflects who I am and who we truly are; it’s the place that creatively celebrates our spirits but also comforts our souls. My homes inspire me, call to me. Location and home are as important in my novels as my characters. Moreover, home, I think, has a deep meaning to all of us. Think of your childhood home, or your family’s summer cottage, or the vacation place you used to rent growing up. That’s where we dreamed, where we considered who we might become.    

#3: Cottages Are Family

My cottages are imbued with memories. My homes are filled with my grandmother’s McCoy vases, tea towels, dishes and quilts. My screened porch is decorated with my parents’ vintage lamps and tables. And although my parents and grandparents are gone, they are still with me, every time I look around.

#4: Cottages Are Not Cookie-Cutter

In today’s world of strip malls, fast-food chains and new developments where every home looks the same, cottages are one of a kind, and remind us of a simpler time when homes were art and reflections of who we were.

#5: Cottages Are Kindred Spirits

My cottages have always been like best friends to me; they seem to understand my every emotion without me having to say a single word. They comfort and caress, soothe and celebrate who I am. And when I listen to them, they inspire me. A creaky floorboard will often bring back a memory of long ago, which will become a thread in a novel. Or a story I discover about the history of the cottage in which I live will inspire a chapter. Often, a quiet Sunday on my screened porch will flood my head with memories of my family, and I will set off to write.   

#6: Cottages Have Rules

My cottages have always been guided by the fun, family cottage rules I learned growing up. During our summers together, my grandparents’ only rule was that we all have fun. Together. I believe that the journey to finding happiness of Adie Lou, the main character in The Summer Cottage—a woman in her 40s who learns her husband is leaving her for a younger woman and who realizes she’s played by the wrong rules for much too long—will resonate deeply with you, especially considering that as we age we too often realize we have lost our childhood joy and that playing by adult rules is not always the best path to happiness. That’s why each chapter of the novel is centered around a beloved “Cottage Rule” of my family and my friends, such as: “Leave Your Troubles at the Door!”, “Soak Up the Sun!”, “Wake Up Smiling!”, “Go Rock Hunting!”, “Ice Cream Is Required!” and “Go Jump in the Lake!”, simple rules that center us, remind us of what’s most important and to be a kid again.

#7: And Yet, Cottages Are Not Convenient

I’ve spent an IRA (or three) renovating my cottages. Instead of fun things—furniture, new appliances, or a master bedroom/bath addition—a great deal of the money has gone into new pipes (since tree roots and clay are not friends), supporting basement walls and water abatement. I’ve battled bats, rats, scorpions and even had a raccoon attack me. Was it worth it? Yes. (Although the rabies shots were not fun.) Adie Lou renovates her beloved cottage and turns it into an inn, and it’s anything but the easy home renos we see on TV. Let this serve as inspiration or warning!

Mostly, The Summer Cottage is about the importance of home—and coming home—and rediscovering our own strength, history and joy by rediscovering the beauty of our family memories and history. Like a summer cottage, the novel should be shared among generations.

About the Author:

WADE ROUSE is the internationally bestselling author of nine books, which have been translated into nearly 20 languages. Wade chose his grandmother’s name, Viola Shipman, as a pen name to honor the woman whose heirlooms and family stories inspire his fiction.

Wade’s novels include The Charm Bracelet, a 2017 Michigan Notable Book of the Year; The Hope Chest; and The Recipe BoxNYTbestselling author Dorothea Benton Frank says of Wade and his latest novel, The Summer Cottage: “Every now and then a new voice in fiction arrives to completely charm, entertain and remind us what matters.  Viola Shipman is that voice and The Summer Cottage is that novel.” Find out more here:

The Summer Cottage by Viola Shipman out now!

Adie Lou Kruger’s ex never understood her affection for what her parents called their Cozy Cottage, the charming, ramshackle summer home—complete with its own set of rules for relaxing—that she’s inherited on Lake Michigan. But despite the fact she’s facing a broken marriage and empty nest, and middle age is looming in the distance, memories of happy childhoods on the beach give her reason for hope. She’s determined not to let her husband’s affair with a grad student reduce her to a cliché, or to waste one more minute in a career she doesn’t love, so it becomes clear what Adie Lou must do: rebuild her life and restore her cottage shingle by shingle, on her terms.

But converting the beloved, weather-beaten structure into a bed-and-breakfast isn’t quite the efficient home-reno experience she’s seen on TV. Pushback from Saugatuck’s contentious preservation society, costly surprises and demanding guests were not part of the plan. But as the cottage comes back to life, Adie Lou does, too, finding support in unexpected places and a new love story on the horizon. One cottage rule at a time, Adie Lou reclaims her own strength, history and joy by rediscovering the magic in every sunset and sandcastle.


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