I am beyond thrilled to be posting this. Today, I have the wonderful and all kinds of amazing Chloe Gong, the author of These Violent Delights, here for an interview! These Violent Delights is a Romeo & Juliet retelling set in 1926 Shanghai. It’s a gripping read, with monsters, BUGS, a blood feud, and complete dorks of characters. I loved it a whole lot (I have screamed on both Twitter and IG a bunch about it haha), so I was, and am, very excited for the chance to talk to Chloe more about this book!
The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery.
A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.
But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.
It’s no secret that you’re a fan of Shakespeare, especially Romeo & Juliet! What were some of the struggles of writing a retelling of something you love so much? Of being true to the original, but also putting your own Chloe spin on it?
I am indeed always and forever a member of the Romeo & Juliet Defense Squad. I think a wonderful thing that lessened my pressure was that I grew to see Romeo & Juliet as a favorite while I was writing this book! I loved Shakespeare through high school since we studied a few of his plays and I had an amazing English teacher who really delved into the symbolism and literary techniques, but I only got the idea for These Violent Delights the summer before college. It was once I started classes in college that I picked up a lot of critical theory as I was writing the book, so in doing a retelling, I definitely needed to find the limits between unloading all that I was learning about adaptation and thematic analysis, versus just telling a good story! In many of the former iterations before I worked with my agent and my editor, I was stepping too closely to the skeleton of the play or running too strictly to the original source without stopping and thinking why. The more I revised, the more I really found the beating heart of what Romeo & Juliet is trying to say, and then I could adapt it so it was a retelling in the truest sense!
This book has amazing characters and intense relationships, but it also has a mystery running through it. What was your strategy in developing each individual character storyline and weaving the world of the gangs, while also dropping clues to the overarching mystery? Was it difficult to pull so many threads together?
First, THANK YOU, I’m so pleased that you think so! The characters for These Violent Delights are interesting because I was working with pre-existing templates from the original play. There are some core attributes that I wanted: Juliette has Juliet’s whimsy, Roma has Romeo’s fall-fast-fall-hard attitude, Marshall has Mercutio’s boisterous personality, and etc. Of course, because I was adapting a play into a novel, it wouldn’t be enough to just let them have a core trait. I needed to go deeper to have them feel well-rounded, and that’s when the debauched gang setting really played a part in strengthening their personalities to feel like living, breathing people who must react to an ever-changing, dangerous world. While I was writing, it definitely felt like a lot of threads to work with at once, but the good thing is that when it clicks, it really clicks, because character and world and plot become entwined and one couldn’t exist without the other! The overarching mystery almost came easiest to me because I wrote so much in the mystery genre before this book: I had a whole mystery trilogy I wrote just for fun before pivoting to These Violent Delights, so the timing on when to drop appearances from the Big Bad and when to reveal my hand all came first in the planning stages, before I stitched in character and setting!
Every single character is wonderful (I loved them all), though they each have their own struggles and pains. Was it painful for you to put them through hard situations or was it just like writing any other scene?
Again, my heart is throbbing with warmth. It definitely was painful! My characters are all near and dear to me. I wouldn’t be able to pick out one that’s most like me because I chopped up parts of my own personality and dropped them selectively into each character, so when they go through rough patches and experience anything hard within the story, I pull as much from my own experience as possible; I’ve always said that if I’m not wincing, how can I expect the reader to wince? If I’m not sobbing at any sad part, I can’t expect anyone reading to sob. (Not… not that this guarantees any sobbing, oops.) So for sure, I think that having myself react was a critical first step to making sure the character moments were landing as I intended.
Debuting can certainly be an experience! What has been your favorite part of it? Seeing your book slowly make its way into the world, your book finding readers, something else?
All of it! This is totally a cop-out answer, I know, but truly all of it has been so special. I grew up putting my writing online because I’ve always wanted to share my stories and find readers who are willing to join me in the worlds I’ve created. Now that I’m being traditionally published, it’s the same concept but blown up bigger by a thousand times, because it’s not just a small circle on an orange website, it’s wherever there are bookstores. People can wander in, see my book hanging out, and pick it up, and that’s wild to me but so, so cool.
Writing can be hard (and make you want to bang your head against a wall), but what part do you have the most fun with?
So much head-banging. Writing is just constantly pressing one’s forehead to the wall, this is true. But! I love writing the setting and the world. A sense of atmosphere is one of the coolest things about books that I think we don’t talk about often enough. It’s usually plot and characters that get the focus, which makes a lot of sense because those are easiest to dissect and discuss, but beneath those two components, I feel that having a functioning and bustling world really pushes plot and character further to their full potential. When the world finally just settles onto the page and suddenly a single readthrough can draw out a visual, that’s when I’m having the most fun with a project!
Bonus question for fun: What is a meme you think Juliette, Roma, Marshall, Benedikt, Kathleen, and Rosalind would all find funny?
I really, really thought about this. Like… literally sat here for a full hour thinking. Memes are very, very important to my sense of identity, and I will not mess up this critical question. These six characters have very different senses of humor though, so it needed to be something broad. Juliette and Marshall would absolutely laugh at those surrealistic memes that just say like… “stonk,” while Roma and Kathleen would laugh at memes making fun of fancy philosophy concepts. Benedikt probably needs someone to explain a meme to him and Rosalind would secretly enjoy all of them but absolutely refuse to laugh or admit they’re funny on sheer principle.
With all that in mind, here’s what I have:
Chloe Gong is an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, double-majoring in English and international relations. Born in Shanghai and raised in Auckland, New Zealand, she now lives at the top of a crumbling, ivory tower in Philadelphia (also known as student housing).
After devouring the entire YA section of her local library, she started writing her own novels at age 13 to keep herself entertained, and has been highly entertained ever since. Chloe has been known to mysteriously appear by chanting “Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s best plays and doesn’t deserve its slander in pop culture” into a mirror three times. These Violent Delights is her debut novel. You can find her on Twitter @TheChloeGong or check out her website at TheChloeGong.com.
Thank you again to Chloe for coming onto my blog today! I had a blast coming up with the questions (the meme one still cracks me up). I hope you’re all ready for These Violent Delights. Sure, it’s going to break your heart, but it’s going to break your heart in the best way possible! It’s out November 17th, which is SO SOON! Enough time to enter the pre-order campaign and prepare for a whole lot of amazing.