“Basically fanfiction” is how Chloe Gong (C ‘21) describes the early novels she wrote as a 13 year–old in New Zealand. Like most kids who try to “copy everything they love”, Chloe would take the plot of her favorite books and make up her own characters.
When Twilight dominated the scene, she wrote two paranormals. During the Divergent and The Hunger Games era, she wrote a dystopian novel. Then she moved onto a murder mystery trilogy during her “edgy phase.”
However, it wasn’t until she decided to “experiment” with fantasy that she finally got an idea that “didn’t resemble anything currently on the market.” For the first time, Chloe saw writing as more than just a hobby. She wrote with the possibility in the back of her mind that her books could be published.
Now a junior double majoring in English and International Relations, Chloe has seen that dream through. These Violent Delights, set to come out in Fall 2020, is a “young adult historical fantasy” about two rival gangs that are being forced to work together by a monster in the city. She adds, “it's pitched as a Romeo and Juliet retelling by way of The Godfather in 1920s Shanghai”.
The idea for the book came to her “relatively quickly” before freshman year, and she wrote the whole manuscript the following summer. Because she wanted to make the novel as historically accurate as possible, that often meant “writing with a textbook open” in front of her. She jokes that she was so invested in the historical aspect that it sometimes distracted from the plot.
“I had to cut giant chunks of the very end and make sure I wasn’t being like: ‘now we briefly pause to recount all the strikes happening in the Communist Revolution,’” she quips.
With her parents and “literally everyone who came before” her being from Shanghai, Chloe definitely took some inspiration for her novel from the city. But she says that most of the setting actually came from outside research or she “made it up.” But from her family, she did “get more of the cultural and social undertones” and also parts of the language.
“I’ll randomly ring up my mom and ask, ‘so how do you say this in Chinese?’ Sometimes she’ll be like, ‘Why would you need that?’” Chloe says with a laugh.
After writing, Chloe got an agent and revised for a couple months before going on submission, which is “when the agent sends it to publishing houses and they decide if they want to publish it.” Simon Pulse, the teen division of Simon & Schuster, picked it up.
Getting to this point was no easy feat for the young author. Located in New Zealand when she started the process, she was “very isolated from the whole American writing scene,” which also meant fewer opportunities to attend writing conferences or workshops.
“The US very much has dominance over book publishing, with all the big companies in New York and all the American literary agents,” she says.
Her lifesaver? Google. To find an agent, she says, “just reading other people's experiences on the internet helped me piece together what I was supposed to do.”
Her biggest challenges, though, were the aspects she couldn’t control.
“Honestly, writing query letters and sending cold emails to agents wasn’t as difficult for me because I could research what I was doing and I could confirm for myself that I was on the right path,” Chloe says.
On the other hand, waiting on submission was “agonizing” for Chloe because she didn’t have control over it—“I think waiting is the hardest part of everything because everything moves so much slower than if you could be doing it by yourself.”
Now that she's signed with a publisher, her writing process has changed quite a bit. Instead of pumping out all her writing during breaks from school, she has to work on the publisher’s timeline. Finding the balance between classes and writing hasn’t been easy, but no matter how stressful, Chloe insists on remaining in school instead of focusing on writing full time.
“I think the thing about being a writer is that it's not a stable career at all. I can't treat it as my plan A,” Chloe says. “The number one piece of advice they say to people just starting out in professional writing is to not leave your day job. And I guess college is my day job. I can't leave it.”
Whether it’s a “Monsters and Literature” class that inspired her to add some new symbolism, an East Asian diplomacy class that covered how China interacted with various countries in the 20s, or a Russian literature class that helped her write some Russian characters in her book, Chloe has found that many of her classes relate to and have inspired These Violent Delights in various ways.
As for the possibility of pursuing writing as her full time career after graduation, Chloe has her reservations.
“I think even after graduation I’ll need some sort of day job so I can constantly have pumping brain juices. I know that if I was a full time writer I would just sit in my bed all day and I'd probably run out of things to think about,” Chloe says.
When asked if she has anything else in the works, Chloe reveals that she is writing a sequel to this book because she left it on a “cliffhanger,” she pauses.
She laughs. “I actually haven’t said that yet. This is exclusive information.”