Kathryn Ormsbee: Writing, Reading, and the Other Side of Homeschooling

Image via Kathryn Ormsbee’s website

Kathryn Ormsbee is the author of the novel Lucky Few, which shines a more positive light on homeschooling. Told with plenty of humor and honesty, Ormsbee has written a novel that teens are sure to find completely hilarious and emotional. Lucky Few was released on June 7, 2016, and proves to be one of the most brilliant and fresh looks on teen life this year.


For starters, what inspired you to write a book that positively portrays homeschooling?

I was homeschooled K–12. Personally, I’m grateful my parents made that decision, and I had a fantastic homeschooling experience. But growing up, I never saw a homeschooled main character in a book, and if a homeschooler did show up, they were a stereotype or the butt of a joke.

I write the books I wanted to read as a teen, so it was only natural when I wrote Lucky Few, my debut YA, that I made Stevie Hart an average homeschooler. (I would say normal homeschooler, but come on, are any of us normal?)


What has been your best/funniest memory as an author?

My very favorite author memory is of when I met a young reader who bought my first novel, The Water and the Wild, at a book fair and brought it back the next day, along with her mom, to tell me she’d stayed up late reading it and that she could see herself in the main character. I LIVE for moments like that. Every letter I get, and every personal interaction I have with a reader—hands down, that’s my favorite part of this job.

My funniest memory? Lucky Few had just released and, spoiler alert, there’s a fair amount of cussing in it. I was a little nervous for my older relatives to get their hands on it, but the next time I saw my seventy-something great aunt, she pulled me into a giant bear hug and whispered, “I loved all the dirty words.” It was the best thing. I’m still laughing about it now.


What steps did you take to get Lucky Few published?

I took just about the most traditional route an author can take! I wrote the book, I sent it through revisions with critique partners, I queried agents, I got an agent, and then we put the book on submission to publishing houses. (This, by the way, really messes with one’s ability to sleep.) In the end, my fabulous editor Zareen Jaffery at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers made an offer on Lucky Few. And the rest, as they say, is history.


How did you come up with the list of “23 ways to fake [your] own death?”

One of my favorite movies, and a big inspiration for Lucky Few, is Harold and Maude. It’s about a death-obsessed teen named Harold who fakes his death in several ways (sound familiar?) and then meets a free-spirited older woman named Maude. Together, they go on all sorts of zany adventures to the tunes of Cat Stevens. It’s fabulous, and it’s a movie that got me out of a very dark period in my life as a teen.

So originally, I got my inspiration for the checklist from the various methods Harold used to fake his own death. I decided 23 was a good, random number (fun fact: there are 23 chapters in the book), and then I got very macabre to brainstorm the various ways a person can kick the bucket. My favorite is spontaneous combustion; I’ve been fascinated by the idea ever since I read Charles Dickens’ Bleak House.


Which character do you relate to the most? Why?

Oh man, that’s tough. I relate to different aspects of all three main characters (cop-out answer, I know). I modeled a lot of Stevie’s experience with and opinions of homeschooling after my own. But I can also relate to Max’s anxiety and preoccupation with death. And I made Sanger obsessed with Frank Capra films because I too was a huge Frank Capra fan in high school. So you could say there are little bits of me in every character. Kind of like horcruxes! Only, you know, minus the murdery, evil part.


What/who have been your biggest influences?

 In my personal life, my family means a ton to me. Since I was homeschooled, I’m very close to my parents and older sister, and they inspire me every day with their hard work and compassion and general awesomeness, but also in more. . . quirky ways. I definitely got my love of the macabre from my mom and my love of sci-fi from my dad. My mom and I marathon scary black and white films whenever we get the chance — Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and The Bad Seed are perennial favorites. And my dad built a life-size replica of the Apollo 11 command module in our basement. I am not even kidding.

If you want to know who got me into literature as a kid, that would be Roald Dahl and Louis Sachar. I DEVOURED their books. They got me hooked on reading and writing, and I will be forever grateful for the stories they created.

As for who got me specifically enthused about YA? That would be Stephen Chbosky, Rainbow Rowell, and Jandy Nelson — authors of three of my favorite books and all-around amazing individuals.


Which way would you choose to fake your own death?

Spontaneous combustion. Obviously. I’d use a lot of red Jell-O.


Are you currently working on another book? If so, what details can you share with readers?

I’m working on several books, in fact! My next YA, which comes out Summer 2017, is called Tash Hearts Tolstoy and is about a young filmmaker who identifies as asexual and whose web series goes viral overnight. It’s a story that’s very close to my heart and that I had a blast writing. I can’t wait until it’s out!

My second Middle Grade novel, the sequel in a portal fantasy series, just came out on October 4. It’s called The Doorway and the Deep, and it’s packed with all manner of magic and adventure.

I’ve got another Middle Grade coming out in 2018 that I’m super excited about, as well as several YA WIPs that are under wraps. In short, I’ve got a lot of stories to tell, and I feel so lucky to get the chance to share them.


Finally, what advice do you have for teen writers?

Read. Read a lot. Read good books, re-read your favorite books, read books you might not normally pick up. I firmly believe you can’t create good output if there’s no good input. When you read a book that makes you shout “Yes!” and fist-pump the air — pay attention to how that author writes. Study how they craft their words and draw you into their plot. Learn by observation.

Second, write. Write a lot. I know this sounds like no duh advice, but believe me, I know, it can be hard to write consistently. The tough part about reading good books is that, when you first start out writing, your work doesn’t remotely resemble those books. It’s easy to get discouraged and agonize over every little word choice. But my advice? Word vomit. Just get the words out, in all their messy glory. It will be awful. It will be no good. It might never see the light of day. But just get the words out there. Then, be willing to go back and revise again and again and again. Writing isn’t a pretty process, and you don’t become great overnight. But the rule is the same for writing as it is for any sport or skill: If you put in the hours and the effort, you’re going to see improvement. Don’t give up!

Lastly, don’t let anyone tell you you’re too young. I wrote my first book when I was eighteen and got an agent when I was nineteen. That little ol’ book is now published and on the shelves. Teen writers? You can do anything.

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