Kathryn Ormsbee is an American based demisexual author of both middle grade and young adult novels. Her latest novel “Tash hearts Tolstoy” features a demiromantic asexual protagonist whose identity and relationships play a prominent role in the novel. Kathryn was kind enough to answer some questions for us via email.
What inspired you to write this novel?
My friend Destiny Soria and I co-created a Shakespearean web series in 2013. It was an equally wonderful and stressful experience that was first inspired by The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. We created our project during a big boom of LIWs (literary-inspired web series), and I love so much about the LIW culture and fan-base. In the fall of 2015, Destiny and I re-watched Shakes (our web series) and reminisced over the filmmaking process. That’s what first inspired me to capture that experience in a book. I began to outline and write Tash that very night.
What kind of research did you do for this novel?
I knew from the very start that I wanted Tash to be an asexual protagonist. I identity as demi, but Tash identifies as heteromantic asexual, so it was very important to me to get that representation right. I had already filmed and produced a web series at that point, so I had quite a bit of personal experience/research under my belt for the filming aspect of the novel. But I spent a good deal of time researching asexuality, reading ace literature, and doing everything I could to organically weave in Tash’s journey of identity with the rest of her story.
Which parts of the characters/scenarios are like you? Which are like you would like to be?
A lot of Tash’s experiences with filming and social media come directly from my own work on a web series—especially her internal processing. That’s true for many aspects of her sexuality, too, though not all. And Tash Hearts Tolstoy takes place in my hometown of Lexington, so in all those ways it’s felt like my most autobiographical novel. That said, Tash’s personality and home life are very different from my own. Even her relationship with Klaudie, her older sister, is extremely different from my relationship with my own older sister. Ideally? I’d like to be a little more like the character Tony Davis, who is far more self-assured and confident than I was at eighteen.
Do you feel this was more difficult to get published than a non-ace book would have been? Did you ever have any pressure to have the ace plotlines removed/changed?
I was lucky to work with both a supportive agent and editor throughout this process. I’d already worked on a book (Lucky Few) with my editor (Zareen Jaffery), and she was very pro-asexual representation throughout the process. I never once felt pressured to remove anything “explicitly” ace.
What kind of involvement have you had with the ace community?
I’m a very private person when it comes to my sexuality and relationships, so writing Tash and talking about my demi experience has taken me out of comfort zone. That said, it’s been an amazing opportunity to connect with other members of the ace community, including ace writers. Like I mentioned, I don’t identify like Tash, so I closely consulted with a sensitivity reader during the writing process. And once the book neared final stages, I gave it to several ace readers for their invaluable feedback.
Did you have any concerns about how people would respond to the book?
Absolutely. Tash is the most personal book I’ve ever written, but at the same time, I was so concerned that I get the representation right. I didn’t in any way want to perpetuate the harmful ace stereotypes that are already so prevalent in other stories. I want Tash Hearts Tolstoy to be a book in which readers who feel like I did during my teens can find validation and encouragement.
Have you had any negative feedback?
That said, I know that Tash isn’t a book for everyone. The asexual experience is vast and nuanced, and not only is every ace reader unique, every ace reader has different tastes and reading preferences. Tash’s experience won’t resonate with many, and others might simply not like the arc or writing style. And that’s perfectly a-okay. I’m of the firm opinion that reviews are for readers, not writers, so I try to stay away from those. I haven’t received any negative feedback in person, but of course I’m open to hearing heartfelt concerns about rep; that’s a tremendously important issue for me.
Has there been any positive feedback that was particularly meaningful to you?
Every time I hear from a young reader who saw a part of themselves in Tash’s story—whether it be over Twitter, email, Insta, or in person—that means the world to me. I wrote this book to be a story that a younger Kathryn needed in her teens; I needed a book that told me it was okay to not be interested in sex or sexually attracted to other people. I needed a book that told me my experience and feelings were valid. I may not have had that ten years ago, but the thought that even one reader found validation in Tash’s story is priceless to me.