Kate Bassett – a Scrabble addict, reader, writer and part-time black thumb gardener who also admits to being a reformed vagabond and a ski/baseball/soccer/cross country runner mom who is (mostly) happy to be on the sidelines.
Kate’s debut Young Adult novel is Words and Their Meanings. She went to many colleges and studied many things before circling back to the degree with the least financial prospects: creative writing. She has worked as the Chuck E. Cheese mascot, a waitress, a mall sunglass kiosk clerk, a ski shop girl, substitute teacher, and finally, writer. For the last 14 years she’s been a journalist with the Harbor Light Newspaper, where she currently serves as editor. Her work has been featured in Traverse Magazine, Mackinac Journal, PB&J Magazine, Dear Teen Me, Lakeland Boating, and more.
Mostly, Kate’s a proud mom to one teenager, one nine year old, and a six year old (who may or may not be going on 16), plus the best young mutt on the planet. She lives with her family on the edge of 100 wild acres and splits time between woods walks and downtown Harbor Springs, where she gets out on the water whenever possible. If you ever want to find Kate, her ever-so-patient husband will tell you to check three places: the Harbor Light Newspaper, the coffee shop, or the downtown bookstore, Between the Covers, which is where she pretends to work on a regular basis.
How did you become a writer?
When I was five, I got in trouble for telling some whopper lies that ranged from having a money tree in my backyard to spending the summer in France, where I lived in an old house in Paris that was covered in vines, with 12 girls in two straight lines.
I soon figured out it might be beneficial to write stories, instead of tell them. My first “book” was about some nice neighbors who gave their sweet, red-headed young friend across the street their dog. This was also my first taste of rejection, since that Golden Retriever most definitely did not come to live with me, despite my offering up a signed first edition of the manuscript.
I tried to be a lot of other things. I wanted to be a veterinarian until I was nine and my Godfather allowed me to watch a Siberian Husky’s C-section. I wanted to be a teacher, until I realized I liked the subject more than actually instructing the kids (most of whom looked older than I did). I did a lot of hodgepodge jobs in between, but at the end of the day, I couldn’t settle down at anything but a keyboard.
The Harbor Light is a wonderful, family owned newspaper that believes in community and story telling, and never complains about my five-year run of forgetting lunch money on deadline Tuesdays. For the last 14 years I’ve covered everything from local politics to pet pig obituaries, with a whole lot of interesting interviews in between.
I started writing Words and Their Meanings on a cold winter night when my youngest was three and the rest of my family was skiing. For the rest of the year, I worked in fevered bursts, during which my husband was kind enough to feed our children, and me, whenever necessary.
How do you write? What is your process?
My agent is always talking to me about process, and how to be more efficient. The truth is, my writing life looks something like this: ………..!!!!!!!…..????…!?!?!?!?!
Walking in the woods or floating in the lake are important parts of my process, actually. And I solve a lot of problems while watching clouds go by in my hammock. Moleskine notebooks can always be found by my bed, in my car, and in my purse. This way, any ideas I have to fix whatever knotted mess I’m working on can get scribbled down as they float through my brain.
I do try and keep a schedule of three days a week for book work, but it can be seven days and it can be one…depending on where I am in a manuscript. I like to think I’m writing all the time in my head. I do have an awesome critique partner, Alison DeCamp (whose hilarious middle grade debut – set in in Upper Peninsula lumber camp – My Near Death Adventures (99% true!) is coming early 2015 with Random House. She reads and reads and rereads drafts and brainstorms with me when I get really stuck.
The biggest question I ask myself while writing is: am I telling the truth of this story? It seems lofty, but in reality, it keeps me grounded.
Who are your favorite authors?
In the Young Adult world, I love anything and everything by Sara Zarr, Rainbow Rowell, Nova Ren Suma, Cath Crowell and Melina Marchetta. I also reread Betty Smith’s classic, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn almost every year.
In terms of other authors who are “favorites” – it changes on a regular basis. A book will land in my lap at just the right moment – like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, and I’ll think I’ll never adore anything more. And then, something completely different– Nick Butler’s Shotgun Lovesongs (a must for every Midwesterner) – takes over as the book I could read a hundred times and still love every page.
And of course, I have Michigan authors I turn to again and again – Michael Delp, Jerry Dennis, Anne Marie Oomen, Mardi Jo Link, Skip Renker – all of whom occupy huge spots in my heart.
What authors have inspired you?
When I think of people whose careers I would love to emulate, I think of Nova Ren Suma and Sara Zarr. They may not be the biggest names in Young Adult literature, but they are successful while still staying true to the stories they want to tell. They are great mentors in making sure a writer is putting their best work out there – not just trying to make a deadline.
The author that has inspired me most though, is Michigan poet Skip Renker. Skip was my college professor and remains a dear friend to this day. His approach to language, storytelling and revision, made me the writer I am today.
What books are on your bedside table?
I’m glad I’m currently in a rented cottage in the North Channel, because my bedside table at home resembles the leaning tower of Pisa. Here, I only have a handful of books on a very small pine wood nightstand: Mary Karr’s Cherry, Nina LaCour’s Everything Leads to You, Still by Lauren Winner, Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaria, and Nancy Clancy Sees the Future by Jane O’Connor (my six year old’s current book of choice).
What writing projects do you have planned next?
Draft number three of a new manuscript is up on my computer screen right now. I’m in that place of “untangling” the last bits of story that need to be woven together, so I’m doing a lot of walking, sitting, lake swimming, with a dose of good wine. It’s another Young Adult novel, told in dual point of view and set in the mid-90s. One character lives in a place tied close to northern Michigan, the other follows a jam band around the country. It’s a story about belonging, identity, and waking up to a true sense of self. Or at least, that’s what I’m hoping it will be about when I finish it!
What advice do you have for young writers?
Read like book pages are oxygen. Read, read, read and read some more. Read widely– graphic novels and poetry and young adult and classic literature and everything in between. Read first for fun, but when a book – or a poem or a paragraph or even a sentence – strikes you, read it again like a writer. Learn what it is that moves you, and study the craft of each word.
And then, write. Write every day. Even if it’s terrible. 90 percent of what I write gets thrown away (even if, upon first reading, I think it’s brilliant). Write poems, write comics, write short stories and essays. Keep a journal. Use writing prompts. Writing is a craft as much as an art, and it takes practice.
Also, be part of the world. Every adventure, interaction, crappy job – it all provides leaves for the compost of your imagination.
About her latest book
The universal idea: grief (in all its beautiful, heartbreaking, unconventional forms), and that moment in life when we begin to discover the people we love will always be more and less than the stories we know about them.
The plot: Anna O’Mally doesn’t believe in the five stages of grief. Her way of dealing with death equates to daily bouts of coffin yoga and fake-tattooing Patti Smith quotes onto her arms. Once a talented writer, Anna no longer believes words matter, until shocking discoveries– in the form of origami cranes– force her to redefine family and love.
As Anna goes in search of the truth, she discovers that while every story, every human being, has a last line, it might still be possible to find the words for a new beginning
Speed dating round: Coffin yoga, Patti Smith, gourmet cooking, art, origami, and yes, a very cute boy.
Words and Their Meanings is a paperback original and just $10. It’s being published by Flux, the Young Adult imprint of Llewellyn Worldwide, and is available anywhere books are sold.