Monday, January 16, 2023

Ellen O'Clover

Ellen O’Clover writes stories about finding your people, falling in love, and figuring it all out (or trying to, anyway). She grew up in Ohio and studied creative writing at the Johns Hopkins University before moving west to Colorado. When she’s not writing, you can usually find her reading fiction about big feelings, trying new recipes with mixed results, or hiking in the Rockies.

O'Clover's new novel is Seven Percent of Ro Devereux.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Seven Percent of Ro Devereux’s original title was, simply, MASH — in homage to the classic game, Mansion Apartment Shack House, that Ro builds her future-predicting app around. But when it came down to it, my editor and I both felt that MASH wasn’t doing the work it could be doing as a title: Ro’s app is a major character in the book, but it’s not the heart of it.

This story is about discovering who you are, and grasping at control over what comes next, and figuring out whether the person you’ve been in the past will follow you into the future. Ro’s app, MASH, is predicated on a human behavioral theory that people are 93 percent predictable. So, in turn, her app’s predictions are 93 percent predictable. I won’t say any more than that, but I think readers can fill in the blanks! I love the book’s final title and how it captures the story's emotional core.

What's in a name?

Ro’s mom named her and then disappeared from her life, so it was important to me that she had a name that didn’t suit her, chosen by someone who never took the time to know her. Rose: something delicate and sweet. Ro’s more of a dandelion: tenacious and messy and beautiful in her own, unruly way.

And, truthfully, I just loved how Ro Devereux sounded — say it out loud! Rolls right off the tongue. I also had some fun playing with the fact that Ro’s a developer and has “Dev” in her last name. Her social media handle, for example, is @rodev.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Shocked, I think! I’ve always been a humanities kid, a reader and a writer through and through. Getting into the POV of a young tech genius—one who builds her own app at eighteen—isn’t something I’d have expected for myself. But I was working as a copywriter in the marketing department of a software startup when I wrote Seven Percent of Ro Devereux, and being in that world for the first time inspired me to set a novel there.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Can I say middles? Beginnings and endings are much easier for me; I tend to know where I want readers to meet my characters, and where I want them to say goodbye. Neither the beginning nor the ending of Seven Percent of Ro Devereux changed in revision. It’s always the murky middles that require my attention! To me, this is the hardest part: what challenges can you present your characters with that will shape them in ways that lead to the final resolution you have planned? How can you push them to grow in the right ways?

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

In some ways, Ro is just like me at eighteen: headstrong, sure her worldview is 100 percent accurate, confident in her skills to carry her where she wants to go. She has a lot of learning to do, just like I did! But in other ways, Ro is my opposite. A tech wizard, where I’ve always been a book person. Bold and brave, where I’ve always been shy. I’m a careful planner. Ro acts first and considers the consequences later!
Visit Ellen O'Clover's website.

--Marshal Zeringue