Out author’s latest memoir was ‘like having a baby’
Wade Rouse is pregnant again — this time, with twins. He’s working on birthing two new books in the midst of releasing the fourth addition to his literary family.
“I’ll spend anywhere from probably a year to a year and a half on a book and obsess over every detail, and it’s like having a baby in many ways,” Rouse says, laughing. “It’s kind of the way I feel, because you’ve owned it for so long.”
Well, meet It’s All Relative: Two Families, Three Dogs, 34 Holidays and 50 Boxes of Wine, a riff on family that’s full of Wade Rouse DNA: the touching anecdotes, the cheeky tone and the long title. In the memoir, the nationally known Michigan author recalls a memorable New Year’s Eve night-in with his partner, Gary (his “stage mother;” think Dina Lohan, Rouse jokes), and Dad making his kids work for their Easter eggs — by burying them.
“That was one of the first things I wrote about,” says Rouse, who actually jotted down that Easter snapshot years before in a leather journal his mother had given him after he blew his big talent show moment in middle school. She also handed over a copy of Erma Bombeck’s book At Wit’s End, and told him he needed both to make sense of his world.
Even if he hasn’t made sense of the world, he tries to make sense of his family with It’s All Relative, which was conceived after he heard how much Americans spend around the holidays. It was so much that he was immediately sold on the idea of documenting the non-monetary milestones of family get-togethers.
David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs did Christmas, but Rouse was feeling ambitious — he wanted to tackle all the holidays (to further distinguish one gay writer’s holiday book from the other, the publisher changed Rouse’s original title, Why is Santa Taking Daddy’s Lipitor?). Rouse perused family memorabilia, and when he realized how many wonderful stories about his lovely, loony family were waiting to be told, the project came full-circle.
“One thing that I love about this book,” he says, “is that it mixes really funny holiday stories with more poignant pieces that really show the evolution and love and dysfunction of the family, and that’s really what I wanted to do.”
It’s done through stories about his in-laws, his partner’s past alcohol addiction and his mom, who “levitated” him one night in bed during his childhood. While writing It’s All Relative, Rouse laughed a lot, and he cried a lot, too — especially over one memory that made the book particularly hard to write: his mother’s death two years ago.
“I detail that at the end of the book, which I think has that really huge emotional wallop for people who’ve been laughing all the way through, especially at her and my dad,” he says. “It was very difficult going through these, but one of the things that I did in the last year and a half of her life was spend time with her. And she shared even more of these stories in greater detail and really encouraged me to share them, no matter how dysfunctional or embarrassing they were, because she loved the holidays so much.”
Sometimes he’d be visibly upset, “broken down” and “bawling.” “But then,” he says, “there would be other days when I would be laughing so hard that it was almost like she was here with me again.”
There was also the close call with his dad, who was rushed to the hospital after having a heart attack but walked out just fine — except for the tick on his penis. That it’s in the book doesn’t bother Dad one bit: “Oh, I tell that story to everyone,” Rouse remembers him saying.
“All of these stories that I tell, he kind of tells willingly and openly to everybody, so nothing is embarrassing to him. There’s no shame to my dad, which makes it much easier. But I really made sure people were tuned into what I was doing.”
For Rouse’s next book, he won’t have to. It’s about dogs, the other great loves of his life. In fact, just as I called, Rouse was taking them outside to do their business in the snow.
“It wasn’t happening,” he informs. “They’re like, ‘What the hell is he trying to make me do? Would you pee out here?’”
The book of comical canine stories, called I’m Not the Biggest Bitch in This Relationship and out in November (and also benefiting The Humane Society), should give Rouse’s name an extra boost with Chelsea Handler writing the forward, and gay literary legend Rita Mae Brown contributing a piece.
Of Handler, Rouse says, “I worked with her and her writers, and here’s my new theory: Anybody who’s kind of established and has had to work hard is great to work with, and anybody who kind of burst onto the scene is a pain in the ass.”
Handler, he says, writes in her dog’s voice about what would’ve been best: being saved, or being put down. “It’s the funniest damn story,” Rouse says.
Brown was tapped after a relationship bloomed between the two authors during a writers’ conference a couple years ago. “She really took me under her wing and said she’d read my first book, America’s Boy, and loved it,” he says. “She said that I was one of the first of a wave of gay writers who she thought was really going to change literature because I was funny but also incredibly personal,” he recalls. “It meant the world to me, because Rubyfruit Jungle was one of the books that I read that really changed me.”
After the conference wrapped, Brown invited him to her Virginia farm. Rouse didn’t take her seriously. He says, “You always think, ‘This bitch is crazy.’”
But she wasn’t, and she made it official — not by Facebook, but by fax. “She lives by fax; she’s very 1970’s businessman,” he says.
He and Gary, along with two friends, spent four days horseback riding and dining with Brown. Oh, and sharing sex stories. “I’m sure she wouldn’t mind, since she tells them,” he says, “but she’s bedded every famous woman, I think, in America. I mean, she willingly talks about it. She’s just a hoot, and a literary Madonna — always reinventing herself.”
Besides sex, the two are considering co-authoring a book after the release of his dog anthology, and presumably once he finishes his next memoir about hair, that examines gay relationships from different eras.
“We disagree greatly on many things,” he says, remarking that her disinterest in dating is just a front. “It’s her defense mechanism. I’m not buying her crap at all.”
Should make for one bipolar baby.