It’s time to meet your new YA obsession: These Violent Delights, the sensational debut novel by Chloe Gong.
Set in 1920s Shanghai, These Violent Delights follows rival gang heirs and ex-lovers, Juliette Cai and Roma Montagov, as they’re forced to push their blood feud aside and work together to take down the monster ravaging the city. Action packed and enthralling, These Violent Delights will transport you to a Shanghai infused with debauchery, secrets, violence and thrill you won’t want to leave.
These Violent Delights is one of United By Pop’s favourite books of 2020, so we couldn’t have been more honoured to have the chance to chat to Chloe all about her incredible debut.
Firstly, I want to say a HUGE congratulations on the release of your debut novel, These Violent Delights, which is utterly superb! How does it feel knowing your story is now out in the world and in the hands and minds of readers?
Thank you! That means so much to hear. It feels utterly surreal, but absolutely wonderful. I’ve been writing for so long, and I lived for those small moments when I would share my stories on small communities online and someone would leave a little comment, so to know that now I have a book on shelves worldwide, that anyone can wander into the bookstore and pick up, is the best feeling.
These Violent Delights is a 1920s Shanghai set Romeo & Juliet retelling ft. monsters. How, where and when did the inspiration for this wicked story hit you?
The initial seeds of the idea first started forming in that summer between graduating high school and starting university, when I was mostly sitting around at home and writing 24/7. I kept thinking about the concept of a blood feud, and how delicious it would be to pit two characters who are perfect together against each other, on entirely opposing sides. One thing led to another, and I meshed that idea with 1920s Shanghai because the setting was perfect for the story I was trying to tell, given its true history being run by gangsters in this time of domestic turmoil and foreign invasion. Somehow, monsters fell into the fray too, both because I’m always writing about the sort of stakes where people are dying everywhere, but also because the metaphorical implications of monstrosity in this era seemed particularly necessary. I didn’t actually get to write most of the book until I had finished my first year of university, but it was in that summer of lazing around when the idea smacked me right in the face.
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Romeo and Juliet is such a classic and well-known story. Did you find this made the process of retelling it more or less challenging?
A bit of both, depending on what aspect! Retelling Romeo and Juliet meant that there were so many resources available for me to draw upon, because for as long as there has been scholarship, there have probably been English students writing studies on R&J’s themes and ideas. As a student studying English literature myself, there was no absence of guidance to help me engage with the Shakespearean text and then completely pull it apart under the new context and lens I wanted to apply. That being said, at the end of the day, These Violent Delights is still a novel, not a doctoral thesis! Romeo and Juliet being a classic meant that there are so many differing opinions about it, and ultimately, I needed to only take in what would be helpful for the story I was trying to tell and shut out everything else. This included the play itself! In order to reimagine it into something new and not just rehash what Shakespeare did, I resolved to be only capturing the heart of Romeo and Juliet: everything else was fair game. So, at times when the story called for a new route, I would need to cut references to the play, or call-backs to the original text, even though that hurt my love for Shakespeare to exclude it!
These Violent Delights follows a wonderfully complex and exciting cast of characters but is there a particular character you most enjoyed creating and getting to know?
This question is always so hard to answer, because I enjoyed creating all of them! I also always take the easy route out and just answer Juliette, and of course I would love her because she’s the main character amongst the main cast, but she was truly so fun to write and mold into a living, breathing teenage girl. I grew up while YA was having its heyday in the commercial market, and I adored the Clary Frays, the Tris Priors, and the Katniss Everdeens that were taking the shelves by storm. What I had always wanted though, was a kickass fantasy heroine who not only had those characteristics, but also looked like me, and so Juliette was that gift to my younger self. She’s there to fill in a niche that’s still practically empty, to be the take-no-crap heroine archetype of YA, but East Asian, and so suddenly there are a thousand more nuances when you add in identity politics and cultural influences. Creating her was just super special not only to test the extent of my writing muscles, but also for the readers who need her.
The way you explored imperialism and colonialism throughout the novel was brilliantly echoed in the monster’s mode of invasion. What was it like interweaving these two seemingly opposite genres together?
I’ve always loved to genre-bend and genre-mash, so in my writing, I’ve leaned toward taking larger, more intangible themes like imperialism and colonialism and not only have it be discussed realistically within the text, but also make it into a physical threat that cannot be denied… like the monster. I think that’s the beauty of YA too—because it’s a category that allows so much flexibility in its stories and the conventions aren’t focused on certain genre elements, I had the freedom to mix and match as I pleased.
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As well as being a published author (congrats again!) you’re also a university student. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors trying to find a way to balance writing with work/study/all that other life stuff?
Time management! That’s always my number one piece of advice: once you conquer the organization of your day, your week, your month, nothing can catch you by surprise, and then you can make sure nothing is being neglected while trying to juggle a bunch of things at once. Being an author and trying to finish a degree at once means constantly playing a game of prioritization, because sometimes the writing will need to be set aside while exams are going on, and sometimes the schoolwork needs to be paused if there’s a looming deadline from your publisher. I think that so long as your time is blocked out sensibly, and you plan ahead to get a certain amount of something finished in time, balancing everything is totally do-able. Which isn’t to say it’s easy! It takes a lot of grit and some lost sleep, but in my opinion, it’s worth it.
With enemies-to-lovers angst, monster sightings, full-on blood and guts murder and much more, These Violent Delights features so many memorable scenes but was there one you had the most fun writing?
The Mantua scene. I love writing character angst above all, especially slow angst that is allowed to build and build all through the book, and when it finally has to come to an eventual confrontation? *Chef’s kiss*.
I’m just going to put it out there, These Violent Delights would make the most incredible TV series. If this were to happen (fingers crossed) do you have a dream casting for any of the characters?
Oh, I absolutely love this manifesting energy. Sadly, I don’t have a dream casting, and I’m the worst at trying to think up one! Even when I write, I tend not to pay as much attention to the characters’ physical characteristics because I’m always more interested in the attributes that say something about their personality. You know what Juliette is always wearing and you usually know about the state of Roma’s hair, whether it’s combed back or looking like he’s been running his fingers through it. But then people ask me what color Roma’s eyes are and I’m like… dark?
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During the writing process, did you feel as though writing for young adults as a young adult yourself to be a help or hindrance at all?
During the writing process itself, it was definitely a help. Who better to know how 18-year-olds think than an 18-year-old, right? I always knew that this was a story for young adults and this was a story that young adults wanted to read, because I myself wanted to read it, and I was never phased by adult gatekeepers who argued the opposite. I had a lot of faith in myself and in my close connection to my audience! There’s always debate about what makes a book YA and what makes it adult, and while I absolutely think These Violent Delights can appeal to both, I’m firmly opposed to people who think it’s not for teens just because they’re not “experiencing firsts”. Juliette’s internal conflicts—whether it’s about her identity, or about her having to re-adjust to the world she once thought she knew—are all pulled from what I know 18-year-olds today are going through, because I went through it literally as I was writing.
The ending for These Violent Delights was epic and is undoubtably going to leave readers desperate for book two. Can you give us any hints as to what we can expect?
Book Two will open on a bit of a time jump after the end of Book One, so our characters will be a little different since the last time we saw them. Some are angrier, some are more resentful… but when they all get drawn back together again, there will be more violence, more blood, and of course, more romance.
Finally, which one quote from These Violent Delights do you think best represents it?
“This was a city shrouded in blood. It was foolish to try changing it.”