Kathryn Ormsbee is most known for her moniker K.E. Ormsbee, which is used for her middle-grade novels, The Water and the Wild, and its sequel, The Doorway and the Deep. Her debut YA novel, Lucky Few, won fans’ hearts with homeschooled teens Stevie and her best friend, Sanger.
Her second YA novel, Tash Hearts Tolstoy, came out last month and has quickly become a favorite of the summer. The novel follows Tash Zelenka as she uses her love for Tolstoy to develop Anna Karenina into a web series called Unhappy Families, which catches the attention of thousands of subscribers, and throws her into the spotlight. When she’s nominated for a Golden Tuba award, so is her long time cyber-crush Thom Causer. Now she has a chance to meet him in real life, which means she has to figure out how to tell him she’s romantic asexual.
In recent years, YA novels have seen a rise in diverse characters. However, not many of them have asexual characters, which is what Kathryn Ormsbee wishes to change. She discusses how asexuality is often misunderstood as “cold, frigid, or lacking empathy,” and how people often think it’s impossible to have romantic attraction if there is no sexual attraction involved. She’s careful to separate asexuality and aromantic, which is experiencing little or no romantic feelings. When writing the novel, Ormsbee kept the issues of perception in mind: “I wanted to do everything in my power to not only avoid perpetuating these wrong ideas but to actively combat them in the narrative. I drew on personal experience writing Tash, but because I don’t identify as heteroromantic asexual like she does, I needed to take further steps to be sure I got the representation right.”
The research put into the novel involved Ormsbee working with a beta reader that identified like her protagonist, along with speaking to several others that identify as asexual. She’s aware that not everyone will see themselves in Tash, but her hope is that several will, and she hopes that this is the start of having more representation for the future. While publishing Tash Hearts Tolstoy, she has seen how great of a need there is for asexual representations.
A large part of the novel centers on Tash’s journey as she comes out to the various people in her life. Ormsbee knew from the beginning that the protagonist would be asexual, and shares, “She’s one of the few characters who came to me fully formed, from her appearance to personality to sexual identity. And that initial inspiration didn’t change throughout my drafting [process]. Tash’s character remained implacably true to herself – which was so very like her.”
“Throughout high school, I wasn’t interested in sex, and that was an oftentimes isolating experience – especially when there were no popular books or television shows that normalized the way I felt. Though I don’t personally identify like Tash does, I needed a story like hers when I was a teen, and I think there are teen readers who need her story now,” Ormsbee shares about her inspiration for the character. Tash Hearts Tolstoy comes from her heart and will impact several fans by giving them someone to relate to.
As for the specific choice of Anna Karenina for the web series centered in the novel, it was due to the author’s own love of the novel: “I thought there was so much great material in Anna Karenina for Tash to work with and for viewers to fangirl over.” She used her own experience for Tash’s web series based on the web series she created with YA author Destiny Soria called Shakes: “[The web series] was an all-consuming and often anxiety-inducing experience, but it was also mind-blowingly fun to make and so rewarding to share a finished creation with our (very) few but loyal viewers. I wanted to capture that wild, niche experience on the page, so the web series aspect of Tash Hearts Tolstoy mirrors much of my own web series process – save for the whole going viral thing, of course.”
Her advice to those looking to make their own web series is to “just start. Create. Don’t be afraid of imperfection,” and to learn from any mistakes for next time. She also shares, “Maybe that something great will fall flat. Maybe nobody will watch or read or listen. Maybe it will just be a draft – the prelude to something really great. Regardless, you will have created something out of nothing, and that is a priceless achievement.”
The advice she gives for those figuring out their sexuality: “You’re allowed to figure it out for as long as you need. You’re allowed to be confused. You’re allowed to grow older, to change, to evolve. And whatever you decide for yourself, whatever you discover – you are beautiful and infinitely valuable, and your experience is valid.”
The author has a few upcoming projects, including her standalone middle-grade novel, The House in Poplar Wood, and the third book to her The Water & the Wild series. Both are set for a 2018 release. She also has a new YA novel, The Great Unknowable End, which takes place in 1970’s Kansas, and is set for a summer 2018 release. She also has a true crime podcast with her sister that can be found on iTunes.
Check out her website for further information about her novels.
YouTube channel: jennaclarek
Featured image via Amazon