Kathryn Ormsbee is the author behind the books Lucky Few and Tash Hearts Tolstoy, books that are both equally charming and humorous. With a witty and sophisticated style, Ormsbee writes young adult fiction that tackles subjects untouched by other authors, such as teen homeschoolers and teens who identify as asexual. With an important voice in the genre and two books that are sure to engage even the most reluctant of readers, Ormsbee writes stories that are completely unique and impossible to put down. Check out the highlights of our conversation below and read more about the publishing process, her inspirations, and a glimpse into her latest release, Tash Hearts Tolstoy.
What first inspired you to tell Natasha’s story, specifically the account of a vlogger who identifies as romantic asexual?
In 2013, I made a super low budget web series along with my good friend Destiny Soria (who is also a YA author, and everyone should read her debut Iron Cast *ahem*). The show is a mashup of three Shakespearean plays—Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing, and Hamlet—set in a modern small town, and, yes, it’s just as nerdy as it sounds. Destiny and I had a thrilling/stressful/glorious time making the series. Two years later, she and I rewatched the show together on a big screen television. I expected to cringe a lot, but instead I was reminded of how fun the production process had been, and Destiny and I were proud of the work we’d done. That night, I sat down and mapped out the entire plot of Tash Hearts Tolstoy.
I also knew that night that I wanted Tash to ID as ace. I love that there is ever-growing sex positivity in YA literature, but I think there is also a need for ace rep. Growing up, I watched shows and read books where teens were either obsessed with or having sex, and I felt like a bit of a freak for not wanting the same thing. No teen should ever feel that way, and a huge part of my motivation for writing Tash as a romantic asexual MC was to help normalize her experience for teen readers. I wanted to write a story that wasn’t wholly defined by Tash’s asexuality, either. She’s just a 17-year-old girl with complicated relationships and fascinating hobbies, figuring out herself and the world around her. That’s a book I needed as a teen.
Tash Hearts Tolstoy obviously has plenty of references to Leo Tolstoy and Anna Karenina. Why did you choose Tolstoy, and were you a fan of his as a teenager?
I was indeed a teenage Tolstoy fan! Tash’s first “meeting” with Tolstoy is ripped straight from my own life. When I was sixteen, I pulled Anna Karenina off the shelf and decided I was going to finish the novel by my senior year. By gum, I did, and I’ve loved Anna Karenina ever since. (Though, shh, don’t tell Tolstoy, I totally like Dostoevsky more.)
Do you have a favorite scene or line from the book that you would be willing to share with readers?
Oh gosh. If I had to pick a favorite scene, it’d be Tash’s heart-to-heart conversation with George, one of the actors in her web series. I won’t go into detail since the scene is a good three-fourths into the book and packed with spoilers, but that conversation deals with a lot of discoveries I made as an artist during my teens.
How did writing Tash Hearts Tolstoy compare to writing your previous novel, Lucky Few?
I wrote Lucky Few when I had no agent and nothing to lose. It was my first time writing YA contemporary, and I loved the change in pace from my most recent project, a MG fantasy. I injected the book with a ton of things near and dear to me: homeschooling, a plot tribute to Harold and Maude, and Austin, TX. I wrote Tash Hearts Tolstoy after I’d found my Super Agent and Lucky Few was already published. I’d had a few false starts with other YA projects and was nervous about creating a book that my agent and editor would like—stressors that hadn’t existed before. But then I thought back to what got me so excited about Lucky Few, and I injected Tash with an entirely new set of things that were near and dear to me: web series, self-discovery, and my hometown of Lexington, KY.
How long did it take you to write Tash Hearts Tolstoy? How would you describe the writing process?
I’ve written eight books now, and Tash was my shortest drafting period ever: a month. I now describe that time as a possession; I puked out words onto the page and had little memory of how they got there. My literary muse was ever-present, and I was fueled by a ton of tea and the music of Chvrches. That said, the revision process is where my stories really take shape, and that took about a year.
If Natasha could make another web series, which book would she make the series based on?
War and Peace. Too ambitious? Haha. Seriously, though, I can see Tash picking another sweeping, epic novel, like John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. Or maybe I’m just saying that because I want to see a web series adaptation of East of Eden…. Or another film adaptation of East of Eden. Can you tell I like East of Eden?
What were your biggest sources of inspiration while writing the novel?
Like I mentioned before, I was inspired by my own experience creating a web series, but that experience was inspired by the much-beloved The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. I watched TLBD in real-time and was so excited by all the possibilities opened by this new form of media. I fell in love with several other literary-inspired web series, like Nothing Much to Do, Classic Alice, and The Autobiography of Jane Eyre. The web series community rocks socks, and I wanted to capture a small part of that awesomeness in Tash. The story takes place in Lexington, KY, where I grew up and spent my high school years. Tash and her friends also take a road trip down to Nashville, which I frequently visited growing up and where I currently live.
How similar are you to Natasha in Tash Hearts Tolstoy? Are any of her experiences based on your own?
Tash and I certainly do have our similarities. Like me, Tash is a web series creator and grew up in Lexington. I don’t personally ID as romantic asexual, but a lot of Tash’s feelings and self-discovery mirror my own experiences as a teen. And, of course, Tash and I both heart Tolstoy. But we’re extremely different in other ways. Tash’s personality is very different from my own. Though she and I both have one older sister, her relationship with Klaudie is nothing like my sister relationship. Her home, school, and friend life don’t resemble my own, and, alas, I never achieved Internet fame at seventeen (or even now at twenty-seven, ha!).
Are you currently working on another novel? If so, what details, if any, can you share with readers?
I am, in fact, working on several new novels! There are some more Young Adult books in the works, but unfortunately, I can’t share much about them yet. I can, however, tell you about my upcoming Middle Grade standalone, The House in Poplar Wood, which is slated for a Fall 2018 release. It’s about twin brothers who work as apprentices to Death and Memory and pair up with a local girl to solve a murder mystery. The story is set in rural Tennessee and takes place during October and November; I like to call it my love letter to autumn.
If you could give teen writers advice on publication and writing in general, what would you advise them to do in order to be better prepared for the world of publication?
1) Know your genre. The more you familiarize yourself with the genre you intend to write—its classics, new releases, bestsellers, award-winners—the better equipped you’ll be to plot and subsequently pitch your books.
2) Reject age snubbers. I got into the publishing world early, at nineteen, so don’t pay attention to anyone who discourages or disparages you because of your age.
3) Set up standards for what you want in this process and don’t lower them. This is so important when searching for an agent and publisher. It’s tempting to jump at the first offer that comes your way, but be sure it’s an offer you want.
4) Don’t give up. Rejection is a given in the publishing industry. Be open to critique, revise, get better, and keep trying. I heard a lot of “no”s before I got those few important “yes”es.