MoAA Interviews #23: Ellen Oh

I met Ellen Oh through a local YA writers/readers/bloggers group on Facebook, though I’d been hearing her name in certain circles (doesn’t that sound ominous?) before then. When I dropped her a line, turns out she’d been hearing my name too…she’s a fan of Enchanted!

So, obviously, we were meant to be best friends. *grin*

Ellen is speaking at the Library of Congress tomorrow at noon–I’ll definitely be there! Admission is free…if you’re in the DC area and have a lunch hour to spare, I hope you’ll come join us!

Without further ado, MoAA presents…Ellen Oh!


Alethea Kontis: What’s the best thing about writing?

Ellen OhEllen Oh: Being able to keep my sanity. I finally get to release all the stories and characters that have been floating around in my head for years. They can make you crazy if you don’t let them out, you know. You end up walking around talking to yourself all the time, wearing your clothes inside out and putting your wallet in the refrigerator. Oh gosh, I think it’s too late for me…

AK: What’s the worst thing about writing?

EO: Waiting. I’m like Inigo Montoya. I hate waiting. This business is filled with constant waiting. Waiting to hear back from your beta reader, waiting to hear back from your agent, waiting to hear back from editors, so much waiting. I hate waiting.

AK: Finish this sentence: “Writing is like…”

EO: Taking a test. Sometimes it’s easy and you think you aced it and then you find out you didn’t.  And sometimes it’s really hard and you think you’re dying and you know you just failed it, but it turns out you actually did quite well. And sometimes you get stumped on a question, like this one, and then you just bullshit an answer but then you realize that it might actually be the right answer in the first place and you are so pleased with yourself and think you are so smart, until you take the next test and the agony starts all over again.

AK: If you could write anywhere in the world, where would it be?

EO: In a fancy 5 star hotel bungalow on the beach with room service and maid service and lots of activities to keep my kids active and out of my hair. Or it could be at my house as long as I had a chef, a housekeeper and someone to keep my kids out of my hair. See? I’m not picky.

AK: Pick five words to describe your latest work.

EO: I think it is great.

AK: Pick five words to describe you.

EO: Stubborn, antisocial, loyal, funny, hungry.

WarriorAK: What’s your favorite type of tree?

EO: I love cherry blossoms. When they bloom in my neighborhood it really is a magical and beautiful time. It also is a great reminder to me to start taking my allergy medicine everyday or die for the rest of the spring.

AK: What were you like in high school?

EO: Sullen, angry, mean, bored, and tired (I worked all through high school). I didn’t really like my high school self.

AK: If you could give one piece of advice (writing or otherwise), what would it be?

EO: My biggest piece of advice to anyone is not to let the haters get you down. Everyone has haters in their lives. The most important thing is to never let them win because they want to see you fail. Don’t give them that satisfaction.

When I was trying to break into publishing, I came up against so much resistance. I had people tell me that no one would be interested in reading a book about ancient Korea. I had people tell me that I was wasting my time. They said my story was stupid and boring. That my writing was awful. But I never gave up. The more people told me I couldn’t do it, the more I was determined to prove them wrong. Hate can be a great motivator.

AK: The Colin Harvey Memorial Question: What are 3 things you’d like to do before you die?

EO: 1. I really would love to travel all over the world.

2. I would love to eat at as many of the world’s best restaurants as I can. And not just the best, as in 5 star Michelin ranked places, but like regional favorites that are usually the little hole in the wall places that a city might be known for. I would love to taste the world.

3. I hope that one day I’ll have the time to take some serious cooking classes. I’m a good but limited cook. I don’t really enjoy it because I mostly do it just to feed the family. I think this is because I’m limited and have never learned about how all these different combinations of things can make wonderful flavor profiles. So one day I’d love to take some master cooking classes and learn the joy of cooking which would then match my joy of eating.


Ellen Oh is an adjunct college instructor and former entertainment lawyer who one day picked up a Genghis Khan biography and was never quite the same again. It was the start of an obsessive fascination with ancient Asian history that led to years of researching, culminating in writing “Prophecy,” her first novel. Ellen also loves martial arts films, K-pop, K-dramas and cooking shows, and she thinks the “Last Airbender” series was the best animated show ever created. Originally from New York City, Ellen lives in Bethesda, Md., with her husband and three daughters and is always on the hunt for a decent bagel.