The Literary Spotlight with Ellen O'Clover
Embarking on a journey through the realms of literature, I have the pleasure of introducing an author whose life has been interwoven with the written word, Ellen O'Clover. Hailing from the heart of Columbus, Ohio, her narrative passion was ignited within the walls of the Thurber House Young Writer’s Studio. A pivotal year, 2018 marked the moment when her dedication to the craft evolved into a serious pursuit of publication. The culmination of Ellen's efforts manifested in the form of her debut novel, "SEVEN PERCENT OF RO DEVEREUX," a literary endeavor that not only marked her arrival as an author but also showcased her unique narrative voice. Published under the distinguished HarperCollins banner in January 2023, the novel served as a testament to their literary journey thus far. With Ellen's creative momentum soaring, she is poised to grace the literary stage once again with the impending release of their second novel, "THE SOMEDAY DAUGHTER," scheduled for February 2024. As I prepare to delve into the depths of their imagination and creative process, I invite you to join me on an exploration of her world, where words are the vessels of emotion, stories are the tapestries of dreams, and every page is an invitation to embark on an unforgettable adventure.
C.A: Could you please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your writing background? What inspired you to become a writer, and how did your writing journey begin?
Ellen: I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember! I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, where I attended the Thurber House Young Writer’s Studio, and then went to college in Baltimore, Maryland to study creative writing. I started seriously pursuing publication in 2018, and my debut novel, SEVEN PERCENT OF RO DEVEREUX, came out in January 2023 with HarperCollins. My second novel, THE SOMEDAY DAUGHTER, will publish in February 2024.
C.A: Could you share a glimpse into your creative process? How do you approach developing ideas and turning them into stories? Do you have any specific rituals or habits that help you get into the writing zone?
Ellen: Developing ideas is the hardest part of the process for me. I love drafting, and I’d even take revising over coming up with pitches. I think it’s because I’m a very character-driven writer, so it’s easier for me to think about characters than it is for me to think about the plot. I use a simple beat sheet to map out the main arc and key beats of every story before I sit down to write it, and that helps me make sure I have a strong plot before I dive in.
C.A: Who are some of your favorite authors or literary influences, and how have they shaped your own writing style? Are there any books or works that have had a profound impact on your writing career?
Ellen: When I was a teenager I loved Sarah Dessen (still do!) and I’m always trying to capture some of her magic in my own writing—the enormous, aching experience of being a young person. But I have too many favorite authors, honestly, to name them all here (the list would be a novel of its own!). Some all-time favorites are Madeline Miller and Karen Russell, and in YA lately, I’m loving Julia Drake, Betty Culley, Samantha Markum, and Harper Glenn.
C.A: What challenges have you faced as a writer, and how did you overcome them?
Ellen: Publishing can be a heartbreaking business; there’s a lot of rejection built in. For me, self-doubt is just part of it. But I always remind myself that the only guarantee you won’t get something is if you stop
showing up for it. So even though I do take breaks to recharge, or recover from disappointments, I’m
committed to showing up for my stories—and that always brings me back to my computer eventually.
C.A: How do you approach developing compelling and relatable characters in your stories? Are there any strategies or exercises you use to ensure your characters feel authentic and three-dimensional?
Ellen: This is a great question! I love crafting characters, and for me, they usually come to life in a few key ways: through their unique voice (does their dialogue sound like only they could say it?), their core
wound (what’s their past trauma, or the biggest lie they believe about themselves?), and their goal
(what do they want more than anything else?). Their goal should always be tied in some way to their
C.A: Where do you find inspiration for your stories? Are there any specific themes or topics you enjoy exploring in your writing?
Ellen: Choosing a favorite book feels like choosing a favorite child—impossible! I love all of my projects for different reasons. But I will say I’m incredibly proud of THE SOMEDAY DAUGHTER, which releases
February 20, 2024 with HarperTeen. It’s about an anxious, over-achieving girl fighting a lot of the same
demons that I fought at her age, so it feels a bit more personal to me than SEVEN PERCENT OF RO
DEVEREUX. And the most rewarding aspect of being a writer is absolutely hearing from readers who’ve
connected with my stories. It’s such a gift!
C.A: What is the most rewarding aspect of being a writer for you?
Ellen: I absolutely love when a reader says they can see themselves in my work. What you read as a child affects you in a way that nothing else does. I love the thought that I’m expanding people’s understanding of the world in some small way.
Editing and Revision:
C.A: How important do you think the editing and revision process is for a writer? Could you share your approach to editing your own work? Do you have any suggestions for writers on how to improve their editing skills?
Ellen: Writing is rewriting. Every project is different: some manuscripts I’ve nearly completely rewritten in revision, some hardly change at all. I tend to do most of my big revisions in the plotting stage—it takes a lot for me to nail down the story at first. This stage is so labor-intensive (and, honestly, terrible) for me. But once I have a solid outline, I tend not to do massive revisions. All the hemming and hawing that goes into my outlines saves me time on the back end, and I tend to draft pretty cleanly! So my top advice for improving editing skills is to set yourself up for success from the jump with a rock-solid outline.
Publishing and Marketing:
C.A: What has been your experience with the publishing industry? Any advice for aspiring authors on finding agents or publishers? How do you navigate the world of book marketing and promotion? Any tips for authors looking to build their audience?
Ellen: Writing is the art, and publishing is the business. I think the more you can keep those buckets separate in your brain, the happier you’ll be. Nothing in publishing or marketing is going to fill you up creatively the way that having a good writing day fills you up creatively—at least, nothing has for me. And there will be challenges and disappointments and rejections that come from the inherent nature of the capitalist system that publishers exist within. Publishing houses are full of kind, book-loving, generous people—but they’re also corporations that exist to make money. The more you can remind yourself of that fact, the better: you might have a beautiful story idea, and if it’s rejected, that doesn’t mean it isn’t beautiful or worthy. It might just mean that there isn’t a clear spot for it in the current business landscape. That’s a harsh reality, but the more you can separate those realities from your sense of worth as a creator, the healthier and happier you’ll be.
Advice for Budding Writers:
C.A: What advice would you give to aspiring authors who are just starting their writing journey? How do you handle rejection and criticism in the publishing world?
Ellen: I sort of got at this in the last question, but: hold onto your magic. That’s my top advice for writers. Don’t let the business side of the equation rob you of something that fills you up. Rejection and criticism are part of it—no one gets out unscathed. But if you write the stories you believe in, you’ll always have that to hold onto: work that you’re proud of. No book is for every reader; no piece of art is for everyone. But if you keep writing your stories, eventually they’ll find their readers.
C.A: What’s your favorite quote that keeps you going in life?
Ellen: There’s a James Baldwin quote I love, that so well captures what writing and books mean to me: “You think your pain and heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive." - James Baldwin
C.A: Could you give us a sneak peek into any upcoming projects or books you're currently working on? Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers and aspiring writers? Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers and aspiring writers?
Ellen: I’ve mentioned it a couple of times now, but my second book, THE SOMEDAY DAUGHTER, comes out in February 2024! It’s about a type-A, overachieving, anxious girl who has to spend the summer before college on a book tour with her famous self-help-guru mother—hiding their fraught relationship from the media, and maybe falling in love with the tour’s goofy videography intern along the way. You can add it on Goodreads or preorder a copy now!