In case you guys didn’t know, a very hyped up book is awaiting its publication day in November and we absolutely loved it! Set in 1920s Shanghai, These Violent Delights is a Romeo & Juliet retelling with a gangster twist and is a debut novel that’s not one to miss.
In anticipation for its publication, we got the chance to chat to Chloe Gong, the young author herself, about her experience publishing her first book and what inspired this immersive novel filled with rival gangs and a deadly monster. Read on to find out!
Hi Chloe! Congratulations on your debut novel!! Can you describe in 3 words how it feels to have your debut novel about to be published?
Exhilarating, thrilling, humbling.
Other than your love for Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, what inspired you to write this book?
Before I decided that this book would be a reimagining of Romeo & Juliet, I had the first sparks of an idea about a blood feud, and two people caught on opposing sides who hated each other so completely that it almost felt like love. I’m also a very visual-oriented writer where I need to see everything in my head before I can put it onto the page, so when I tried visualizing the concept of two enemies working together—and all the tension that occurs as a result—what came to me was a blood-soaked, glittering city. Since I already had some interest with 1920s Shanghai, I gravitated toward it immediately, and was inspired to tell this story in that setting, and then this book came to be!
The 1920’s Shanghai setting is certainly fresh and unique in the YA scene, were there any particular places that inspired the locations in the book?
Yes! The Bund and Great World are two locations that appear in the book that are still around as tourist destinations today. They have certainly changed a lot since the 1920s, but the Art Deco aesthetic is still preserved in a lot of modern day Shanghai, which made my job easier when I visited to get a feeling for the 1920s vibe. Chenghuangmiao is another place in the book that’s around today, and probably the one with the closest resemblance to how it was back then because it’s still just as crowded with food stalls and entertainment booths!
As with Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, there are many themes other than love that we learn about in the play. What themes or takeaways are you hoping readers interpret in These Violent Delights?
Like its source material, These Violent Delights definitely circles around love too—love in its biggest sense, not just romantic love—and everything related to that idea. The book is very interested in prodding at the question of hatred as a result: where it comes from, why it persists. Of course, since there are multiple parallel storylines going on, there’s the hatred between rival gangs and then the hatred between political parties, which then touches at themes of colonialism and imperialism, and questions of who is allowed to claim a home they love, and who is responsible for the destruction of a place they claim to appreciate. I hope readers read all these themes in the way that resonates with them most!
The cover of this book is absolutely beautiful! It is great to be seeing Asian culture represented there, front and centre. Were you involved in the process? How did this cover come about?
The cover was very much an effort of my team, which I’m so grateful for! I sent along a few moodboards and color schemes quite early on in the process, but I knew authors don’t get much say in traditional publishing anyway (and rightfully so, because I know nothing about art) so I was content just to wave around a few ideas. The art was done by Billelis, who also did the covers for eyecatchers in YA like Leigh Bardugo’s King of Scars and Ibi Zoboi’s Pride, and I loved it at first sight. It’s so wonderful to have a detail like the “Cai” engraved on the dagger because I would have loved to spot something like that in the library when I was a teen reader.
I’m a bit of a sucker for gangster stories, so for a fun question; if you could make another gangster family not influenced by Romeo & Juliet, what would you call it and what would be unique about it?
Oooh, good question! Assuming this is still within the world of These Violent Delights, they would have to be violent to survive, but they would also have to be lowkey to avoid competing with the Scarlet Gang and White Flowers who already hold monopoly in the criminal underworld. They would probably be a gangster family of assassins, but quiet assassins. The poison in your tea type rather than the knife to the throat type. Which means their signature colors should be black or silver, to blend in with the shadows and moonlight when they come out to handle business with merchants or make strikes on their enemies. As for their name… The Crescents. Because crescent moon insignias would look so cool.
A huge talking point across social media has been that you’re still at University/in college! How were you able to manage your time to write this book while studying in another country? Were there any specific difficulties you managed to overcome?
SO much planning! When I’m in school, I have my whole day scheduled out in bullet points, with every hour accounted for to keep myself on track. Which isn’t to say I don’t procrastinate… I definitely waste too much time just staring at my screen or scrolling TikTok. But I’ll usually have a checklist of things I want done in one day, like making progress on an essay or finishing a chapter draft, and I don’t go to sleep until I’ve either finished those tasks or reshuffled them more leniently across the coming week. The difficulties come when I need to make sacrifices in prioritization, because juggling full-time undergraduate study with being an author means I need to choose between whether I want to make my deadline or if I want to do my extracurriculars/hang out with friends/be a regular college student!
What is your typical writing routine, and do you have any tips for aspiring writers out there?
My typical writing routine is very irregular. Mostly because being in school means I have to jam in whatever time I find to write, so the only process I really follow is that I outline very extensively and when I do sit down for “writing time,” not a second is wasted for “thinking time”. (All the thinking time is already done when I’ve zoned out while I’m supposed to be doing my laundry.) So I guess my best tip for aspiring writers is that outlining is so helpful. Everyone’s process is different though, so some authors genuinely love playing it by ear more, but for me, having an outline helps direct where a story is going so I can see it through right to the end.
The ending of this book…kinda tore us [the readers] apart a little. So when can we expect the sequel and/or what can we expect from you next?
Truly nothing fuels me more than tearing readers apart. It is my life’s sustenance. The sequel is releasing in the fall of 2021!
Lastly, do you have any book recommendations for us?
Absolutely. For top-tier YA fantasy, Roseanne A. Brown’s A Song of Wraiths and Ruin; for luscious YA historical fantasy, E.M. Castellan’s In The Shadow of the Sun; for kickass YA sci-fi, Amy Tintera’s All These Monsters; and for mind-blowing YA contemporary, Shannon Takaoka’s Everything I Thought I Knew.