I am, yet again, blessed with another feature with Chloe Gong. Can you tell how obsessed I am with These Violent Delights yet? It is now my only Romeo and Juliet canon, okay? I don’t make the rules! Welcome to my utterly fabulous interview with Chloe Gong!
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.
What were your first experiences with Romeo and Juliet and what elements did you love and which ones were you like, GET OUT?
Funnily enough, I never studied Romeo and Juliet in high school, even though that seems to be the quintessential high school English class experience! I studied Othello and Hamlet, so I still had a lot of exposure to Shakespeare through my English teacher, and I ended up lightly reading Romeo and Juliet on my own time. I definitely only went in with an intensive reading when I decided to write These Violent Delights, so my eye was already skewed for things that I wanted to adapt and things that wouldn’t work as well! I love the language in Romeo and Juliet — I truly think it might be one of Shakespeare’s most quotable plays and just so many lines are *chefs kiss* perfect. I don’t know if there was anything that I strongly wanted to get out! I think so much of Romeo and Juliet that gets flack in pop culture — i.e, the insta-love, the deaths, and the youthful teens — really do make up the heart of the play and it’s just misunderstood, so while I did re-figure a lot, I was working with care. That being said, I never really liked Paris… but that’s just meeeee…
Who is your favorite, and least favorite, side character and why?
Favorite side character: Alisa! She’s the most amusing to write because she’s the one jamming into tight spaces to eavesdrop on people, and there’s no tight corner she can’t squirm out of.
Least favorite side character: Paul. Once everyone reads the book, they’ll see how irritating he is, though on a craft level, he was still fun to write!
If you had to pick a one line quote for Roma and Juliette which sums them up, what would you pick?
I really sat here and mulled about this, because there are so many deep, introspective quotes I could pick. But then, Roma and Juliette are so hard to sum up because they feel so many feelings about so many things, so I’m just going to go for the comedic route instead.
Juliette: “Oh, psh. I’ve threatened plenty of people in this city. You don’t see everyone running home crying.”
Roma: “I am Russian, not an alcoholic.”
How do you think readers should pass the time waiting for These Violen Delights 2?
By making memes and sending them to me 🙂 I also welcome screaming and tears, my DMs are always open.
Imperialism is a huge topic in TVD, can you talk about how you handled the research process for These Violent Delights, why you picked this time period, and how you wove these topics into the story?
I’ve always been super into the aesthetic of the 1920s, but I felt like a lot of popular media left out how tense that period was, especially given global colonial efforts and race relations. When I decided I wanted to write something set in Shanghai, I was also working with the fact that this was the city’s “golden era,” — a time when it was moving forward so fast in innovation and culture — but the advancement was tightly entwined with imperial efforts from foreigners who effectively had governmental power in parts of the city. It felt like such a tricky matter to me, and one that still feels relevant today. I had to ask so many questions while I flipped through written accounts and secondary sources of 1920s Shanghai, like: how did people of the time juggle the benefits they reaped from foreign imperialism with the simultaneous harm of giving away more and more of their claim to their own land? While imperialism and colonialism seem to be such big concepts, they almost wove into the story easily because I just couldn’t write about Shanghai without discussing and I couldn’t write about the 1920s without discussing — anything that didn’t show the city struggling with its constant conflict of interest would have felt artificial!
Juliette is amazing because she’s a BAMF, but also so vulnerable? Can you talk about how it was to write Juliette, her own conflicts and demons, as well as recommend other YA characters with whom you think she’d be best friends? I loved reading about how Juliette is constantly navigating her upbringing, family, and her time in the US – how it impacts her daily experiences and the person she is today.
Juliette would be so very pleased to hear this — the BAMF part, maybe not so much the vulnerable part, because she’s a drama queen.
While writing These Violent Delights, I was intentional in linking the themes of identity — especially from Juliette’s perspective — to what first- and second-generation immigrants or Asian diaspora experience today. Juliette grew up in New York City, and then she’s tugged right back to Shanghai, forced to acclimatize and be both the capable Chinese daughter but also the Western translator. She’s constantly pulled in two directions, but I didn’t want that to lessen her in any manner: it’s something she has to handle, and it’s something that I wanted other diaspora who have to navigate this on a different scale in their own household to relate to!
As for other YA characters she’d be best friends, Hesina from Descendant of the Crane comes to mind, but Hesina might be a bit too busy being queen ;). Juliette would probably also get on well with Jude from The Cruel Prince because they both seek to capture and hold power as a way to maintain safety.
The food scenes in TVD are mouth watering. I did a whole course on eating in literature and what it means to the characters and politics. Do you want to comment on your integration of which foods and when they come into play?
Food was so important in making sure that the setting of Shanghai felt real! With the few dinner table scenes, I wanted to write in the same dishes I’ve been surrounded with when I gather with my whole extended family in Shanghai. Just like my research to make sure landmarks of the city were correct, to make sure that buildings were described with the correct layout and material, it was the same with food: when I set a scene, the food came in to root the reader in Shanghai, among a culture that hasn’t been seen often in Western literature. Of course, then there’s the additional bonus for readers of the book’s very culture to perk up and recognize what’s being presented on the pages!
Find These Violent Delights on Goodreads, Amazon, Indiebound, Bookshop.org & The Book Depository.
About the Author
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. Her debut novel, THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS, is being published by Margaret K. McElderry/S&S in 2020 with a sequel to follow in 2021. She is represented by the wonderful Laura Crockett at TriadaUS Literary Agency.