This interview was originally published in the October 2014 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine.
Writer Kate Bassett, regular contributor to Traverse and news editor of Harbor Springs’ Harbor Light newspaper, just released her first book—a contemporary young adult novel, Words and Their Meanings. In this month’s Up North interview, Kate shares how both Northern Michigan and singer-songwriter Patti Smith played a role in the story’s creation, and why the book is for more than just the teen market.
Tell us what Words and Their Meanings is about.
It’s about a girl named Anna and she’s 17 and she’s dealing with the death of her uncle, who she was very close to. The book picks up a year after that death, and in that year she’s sort of let go of writing, which was her passion. And she’s trying to embody Patti Smith—she discovered this ’70s poet-rocker and has sort of taken her over as a way to deal with not dealing. It’s a quiet novel, there’s nothing big—no explosions, no vampires, no werewolves. It’s really just an internal story about Anna’s family and her friends and reconnecting with herself. It’s a book about the different faces of grief.
What inspired you to write this story?
The character Anna just sort of popped up in my head. I think she’s someone I’d been dreaming up for a while. I had just read Just Kids by Patti Smith, and I was really taken with her honesty and hopefulness in the wake of a lot of tragedy. And it just sort of clicked, that Anna would have this connection to this woman who had seen so much in her life and still managed to come out on the other side, hopeful and grateful to be here.
Did you have a personal connection to Patti Smith as a teenager?
Music was very important to me in my childhood. I had this crappy old convertible Volkswagen Rabbit, and that was the kind of music—that sort of angst-y, long-ing, yelling-at-the-world stuff—that we listened to when we were driving around the cornfields. So I channeled a lot of that.
Are there any pieces of Northern Michigan in this book?
Maybe the heart of some of the friendships—you know, that sense of community. Until I moved here I didn’t understand “community” more than that buzzword that gets tossed around.
Did you set out to write a young adult novel?
No, I think that my fictional voice just comes out as a 17 year old! I’m not sure what that says about me or what I’m working through, but I just finished my second manuscript and it’s about 17- and 18-year-olds as well, so clearly that’s the place where I like hanging out in my brain.
Who will enjoy this book?
Anybody who likes a good, contem- porary, more literary read would enjoy it. In young adult literature there’s really a great shift happening: People aren’t quite putting it down as “less than” anymore. People of all ages are starting to connect to it—because it’s easier to access, I think. The pace is quicker, so it makes for an easier read. It’ll find its home with any- body who just likes a story that’s qui- eter and hopefully has some truth to it.
Kate Bassett is currently touring Michigan and the Midwest to promote Words and Their Meanings. Find dates and learn more at katebassettbooks.com.