Chloe Gong, a 23-year-old University of Pennsylvania graduate, was on BookTok — a literature-focused subsection of TikTok — in her early days. Although she joined just to talk with other avid readers, she soon realized that this would be a great place for her to announce her debut novel ‘These Violent Delights’, a tale of Romeo and Juliet. set in Shanghai in the 1920s.
But what started as an intimate space for readers to share their thoughts and ideas has grown into a powerful enough force to affect book trends, boosting sales of books that are several years old. More than one author has spoken of being confused when one of his oldest books skyrocketed the rankings, seemingly out of nowhere. Most bookstores you enter now have a “BookTok” table.
The app has allowed her to connect with readers and promote her book, things the pandemic has made difficult, especially with the cancellation of book tours. The book made the New York Times bestseller list. She has since released a sequel called “Our Violent Ends” and will soon release a spin-off duology based on those two books.
Gong was born in Shanghai and raised in New Zealand; Growing up, she spent most of her winter holidays in Shanghai, both because she had family there and because her father often went there for work. But much of her depiction of the landscape for her book is based on her relatives’ memories of growing up in Shanghai in the 1950s and 60s, she tells me.
Gong now resides in New York, Astoria, Queens. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? When did you start writing?
I started writing seriously when I was 13, because I just wanted to tell stories. I read a lot, and when I ran out of books to read, I started writing them.
How’s your family ? Did they play a role in getting you to write?
My family played a part in making me a really big reader, which I think kind of contributed to how I became a writer, even though they hadn’t known about my writing for a very long time. long time. And it was more about me because I was doing a very Hannah Montana thing, like a life as a secret writer.
When in your life did you come up with the idea for “These Violent Delights”?
Just before first year of college. Before “These Violent Delights”, I had written eight or nine manuscripts, but they were generally early drafts. I kind of wrote the whole book and then put it aside. And it was more for the experience of writing it than getting the final product. It wasn’t until I had the idea for “These Violent Delights” that I really enjoyed the final product, because for the first time, it was an idea that wasn’t on the shelves yet.
What were you writing before that?
I used to write paranormals, dystopians, just stuff that was basically very mainstream – I knew it wouldn’t stand out in the market or whatever. And then for “These Violent Delights” I thought, it’s a Romeo and Juliet tale set in 1920 Shanghai, and that’s something that I found so interesting, where I was, I think other people might also be interested.
A new book comes out in September. Can you tell us what readers can expect from the book?
It takes place four years after the events we left in “Our Violent Ends”. It follows Rosalind, who we already met as Juliet’s cousin in the original duology, except that in 1931 she was experimented on so that she could no longer age, sleep, or harm herself. So she’s sort of become this national spy who uses her abilities to figure out what’s going on right now when a series of serial murders start happening in Shanghai.
You talked about the importance of portraying Asian and LGBT characters. Did you feel like you had someone to look up to when you were reading all those books growing up?
I felt like not much was going on. Looking at the statistics now, young adult fiction in particular was very monolithic. But I think the only author I saw before I started doing my own thing was Jenny Han – she’s best known now for the “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” series. But before that, she wrote this trilogy called “Burn for Burn”, co-written with Siobhan Vivian. They had three main characters on the covers and one of them was from East Asia. And I think that was the first book I picked up where it was a real East Asian author writing the main East Asian character, and that main character was allowed to be mean and just kind of a bad person, and I loved it.
The majority of your public journey as an author has been during the pandemic. How has this affected you?
Being an author in a pandemic is really all I know, which is crazy because I can’t even imagine what a normal author experience would have been like. So the way I even view being an author is entirely online. But that’s all I know; virtual events, virtual marketing, virtual advertising, all of that. In terms of my writing process, it’s more of a thing where I kind of have to draw boundaries between my personal life online, like using the internet to be social, talking to friends, and then my professional life online , because now so many things have blurred together.
How did you start creating TikToks, and how did it go?
I didn’t even think about getting into it as an author at first – I was there as a reader. This was during the first lockdown, so March 2020. And because I had nothing better to do, but no login to most of your classes, I was on TikTok watching bookish videos, and I just started talking about what I was reading or doing book memes and jokes. And finally I realized that it’s actually a really cool platform to talk about what I do and what I want other people to see. I didn’t start out thinking of it as a commercial spot because I think it never works if you do that.
Do you feel like there’s a pressure to be a role model for so many young writers when you’re also so young?
It’s both an honor and a big responsibility, because I never want to mislead people into thinking it’s easy, because then they’ll say, “Oh, well, if it doesn’t doesn’t happen easily for me, so I’m doing something wrong. “I never want them to think that. I want them to know that it’s something you have to keep persevering with and it’s okay if you don’t get it at a young age.
And then on the other hand, it’s also an honor, because I want them to know that it’s possible. Because so often, I think for young creators, there will be older people in the industry telling you that you’re too young for that, you can’t achieve what you think you want to achieve because you don’t. don’t have enough life experience or need a day job. It is true that we have a lot to learn; every young person has a lot to learn. But if it’s something they feel ready for, I want young writers to know it’s something they can do.
Do you have any advice that you usually give to young authors or that you would give to young authors?
The thing I tell young writers the most is that it’s all about practice. Because I think that comes as both the reason you’re able to achieve it at a younger age and the reason you shouldn’t worry if you don’t because writing doesn’t Not about how much life experience you’ve gathered, or how long you’ve been alive in the world, it’s about how much you’ve worked on your craft and your skills and sharpened your voice.
What is your favorite thing about being a writer?
I love the act of creation. I think that’s why I really like writing first drafts, even if it’s just you and the blank page. And I love that moment of the characters coming to life in a setting, like, visualizing themselves, because I put in a few lines and just that moment of oh, look, I’m creating a world by putting in words.
What are you reading right now?
I instantly dump every book I’ve read as soon as I get this question, but I’m not reading anything right now. The last book I read was called “The Girl Who Fell Under the Sea” by Axie Oh, and it’s this fantasy inspired by Korean folklore, about this girl who sacrifices herself to the god of the sea to stop the series of disasters in our village, and she eventually finds this kingdom under the sea, and it’s so good.
In one of your recent TikToks, you tease the manuscript for “Immortal Longings” – what can you tell me?
“Immortal Longings” is a trilogy inspired by Antony and Cleopatra. And that’s actually my first real fantasy. Because “These Violent Delights” is actually more historically speculative, since it actually takes place in an actual location in history. But “Immortal Longings” takes place in the fictional town called San-Er. It is mostly based on the actual Kowloon Walled City which was in Hong Kong from around the 60s to the 90s until it was torn down. It was a completely anarchic slum.
Writing “Immortal Longings” was quite different from all the other books because it’s like adult fantasy, and there’s a lot more that goes into the world-building – I think darker. And it’s quite different when I end up writing just to target an adult audience versus when I write for myself as a teenager like I do when I write my young adult books, because I started” These Violent Delights” when I was 19. as long as I’m in the world, I’m constantly writing for this 19-year-old as “Immortal Longings” grows with him as they grow.