Denver author Ellen O’Clover launched her debut novel, Seven Percent of Ro Devereux, with HarperTeen (HarperCollins) on January 17. The contemporary young adult novel, perfect for fans of Emma Lord and Rachel Lynn Solomon, follows the titular character over the course of her senior year of high school as she’s forced to choose between pursuing her dreams and preserving her relationships—including a budding romance with her ex-best friend—when the app she created goes viral.
Ro Devereux’s senior project—an app based on the classic game Mansion Apartment Shack House (MASH)—can predict details about your life with ninety-three percent accuracy, like where you’ll live and what your career will be. It can even match you with your soulmate. When MASH goes viral and a Silicon Valley app developer swoops in to partner with Ro, she’s pressured into finding her own match and horrified when the app selects Miller: her ex-best friend. Though Ro and Miller haven’t spoken in three years, Ro will do anything for MASH to succeed, including fake-dating the person who hates her most in the world. But as MASH takes on a life of its own, Ro realizes her app is affecting people more than she ever expected. And that if she can’t regain control, MASH might take her—and everything she believes in—down with it.
“O’Clover’s prose, brimming with dry wit, pensively ponders existential questions regarding free will and the “gray area” of human behavior that no computer can measure,” writes Publisher’s Weekly. “A nuanced cast navigating evolving interpersonal struggles….and natural-feeling dialogue elevate this tech-driven debut about love, fate, and change.”
We just cracked open Ellen’s debut novel, Seven Percent of Ro Devereux and yes, we’re totally hooked and can’t wait to find out where the characters will find themselves. In the meantime, we were grateful for the opportunity to meet Ellen and chat about her journey as a writer.
When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know that I wanted this. I was always a reader and writer—I’d drive my parents crazy by tapping away at stories on my laptop during family movie nights. I was lucky to grow up in Columbus, Ohio, and attend teen writing workshops at The Thurber House Young Writers Studio before moving to Baltimore to study creative writing at Johns Hopkins.
Looking back, is it difficult to re-read the angsty love poems of your youth?
I literally winced when I read this question, so YES. I have an automatic, visceral response when I see my old writing—but once I’ve gotten that lizard-brain shame reaction out of the way, I also feel proud. And protective! That teenage version of me was doing her best to process the world, and her experience of it, through her creativity. And writing all those angsty words prepared me to write professionally as an adult.
Some people are afraid to admit they love Young Adult novels after a certain age, but the genre appeals to a wide audience, closeted or not. Is it that we’re all still young at heart, or do we seek it out as an escape? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
This question made me smile, because I see my own writing journey in it. When I studied creative writing in college, we always wrote these kind of grim, minimalist, “literary” stories. It seemed like that was the only option if you wanted to be a Serious Writer. It took me years after graduating to realize that what I really wanted to write—the stories my heart tugged me toward—were about growing up, and falling in love for the first time, and figuring out what it means to be a person in the world. Young adult!
No matter what kind of fiction you’re reading, I think there’s an element of seeking escape. For YA specifically, such a big portion of the readership is adults. Growing up is the most formative experience of our lives, and one that never leaves us. Whether you’re eighteen or thirty-eight, the process of figuring yourself out—and the hugeness of how it felt to do it for the first time as a teen—is something you can relate to. I think tapping back into that head-space with the benefit of age can be both exciting and healing.
As a GenXer I grew up playing MASH with my friends. We love your modern take on this game, that still holds weight today, according to our daughter. Why do you think this game continues to stand the test of time?
In Seven Percent of Ro Devereux, Ro creates an app based on MASH that predicts the future—partly for fun, but mostly because she’s desperate for control over the next part of her life. It’s scary to be eighteen, standing on the precipice of adulthood, wondering what’s waiting for you there. In reality, we don’t get to have much control over what comes next—life is a messy, incalculable surprise. But MASH creates this space for us to suspend our disbelief and dream of who we’ll be one day. It’s irresistible! It’s a version of manifesting that makes the intangible seem tangible.
You grew up in Ohio, but landed in Denver. What was that journey like for you?
After graduating from high school, I moved to Baltimore for college, then Chicago for work. My husband and I landed in Denver in 2017 with his job—and though I knew nothing about Colorado, now I can’t imagine my life happening anywhere else. (See above: incalculable surprises!) I’ve never felt more at home than I do in Denver; whether I’m writing at Stella’s on Pearl Street, seeing a concert at Red Rocks, or getting into the mountains for hiking and skiing.
When you’re not writing, how do you spend your free time?
I love to read (a shock, I’m sure!), cook, and snuggle with my French bulldogs, Puffin and Lilly. My husband and I try to get outside as often as we can—skiing and snowshoeing this time of year, hiking in the warmer months. There’s so much to explore in Colorado, and I don’t think I’ll ever get my fill! Being outdoors always inspires me to write.
Thank you so much, Ellen, for taking the time to tell us a bit about your journey and offering a sneak peek into your new novel. We encourage you to read this book and keep an eye out for upcoming book tour dates. Seven Percent of Ro Devereux is available now anywhere books are sold. Signed copies can be ordered online through The Wandering Jellyfish Bookshop in Niwot, Colorado.