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Riverhead writer takes home two awards for 2020 novel

The plan for Ellen Hoil was not to become a writer. The plan, she said, was to tell a story. 

Ms. Hoil, an attorney and Riverhead resident, recently claimed best in both drama and fiction from the Lesfic Bard Awards, a blind-judged competition for lesbian fiction, for her book “Traumatic Love,” which explores a relationship between two survivors of domestic violence. The competition was established in response to complaints from writers about other awards apparently “skewed in favor of big name authors and publishing houses” to recognize “deserving finalists and winners, then market them to ensure they receive the acknowledgment they are due.”

“I didn’t know what category it fit into, so I inserted it into multiple categories,” she said. “I was a bit shocked when it won not once, but twice.” The novel follows two main characters, police officer Jo Powers and trauma doctor Nydia Rogers, who both grew up with an abusive parent. One made it out sooner than the other.

“When it comes down to it, you know … which one of them is functioning in life better? And the answer is, the person who got out in this instance is the one who’s functioning a little bit better,” she said.

The book wasn’t necessarily inspired by anything in particular; Ms. Hoil said she likes to explore relationship dynamics. 

“I know a lot of people who have survived domestic violence and they each survived differently,” she explained. “Some people come out of it okay, some people come out of it worse than others. So what if you took two of those people and you put them together? Would they really understand each other?” 

Writing was never something Ms. Hoil seriously considered. It wasn’t until she started reading fan fiction based on the “Xena: Warrior Princess” television series that she thought it was something she could do.

“That’s when fan fiction took off, lesbian fan fiction especially,” she said. “I read that for years, and then eventually at one point I decided to try my hand at it.”

She entered an October challenge to write a Halloween-themed story in 30 days. Although she missed the deadline by a single day, she posted the story online anyway — a difficult jump for someone who identifies as a “severe introvert.” 

“Then I decided I had another story to tell after that,” she said. That was her first book, “Safe Haven,” published in 2019 by Desert Palm Press. After “Safe Haven,” her publisher told her they wanted “Traumatic Love” — the first half of which was already posted online. She had stopped writing it for a while, but she picked it up again after joining a writer’s group.

She won’t know until she gets a report from her publisher in mid-July whether her readership increased after winning the awards. She’s currently working on another novel exploring the relationship dynamic between an introvert and extrovert.