From BookTok to Bestseller: A Conversation with Chloe Gong

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When author Chloe Gong burst into the literary scene, she was in her final year of college — in the middle of a pandemic. It was with the help of BookTok that her debut novel, These Violent Delights, became a bestseller. 

The novel, inspired by Romeo & Juliet, is set in the 1920s in Shanghai, China. Juliette Cai and Roma Motagov are star-crossed lovers from two feuding families. They battle not only their feelings for each other but also a monster that lurks in their city.

The story, full of adventure with a mix of fantasy and historical elements, was one that made readers race to grab a copy of its sequel, These Violent Ends. The same fire and passion that made the first two installments so successful ignited Chloe Gong’s career as a writer, with many more books to come.

Next up, Gong’s novel Last Violent Call (Margaret K. McElderry Books) will release on February 28. This novella tells a spinoff story inspired by her series, Foul Lady Fortune, and stars the characters readers grew to know and love in the These Violent Delights duology. 

We spoke with Chloe Gong about how her writing is inspired by her background, what it takes to create compelling settings and characters, and some exciting upcoming releases.

These Violent Delights and Our Violent Ends is a bold and unique fantasy adaptation of a classic, with two characters inspired by Romeo and Juliet. What inspired the setting and the way the characters interact in these books?

Firstly, thank you! That makes me extremely happy to hear because I love doing cross-genre blends. When I set out to write These Violent Delights and Our Violent Ends, I wanted the story to carry the atmosphere rather than sticking too closely with the conventions of a fantasy.

As much as I wanted to keep it fast-paced and fantastical, I also wanted to focus on this collision of 1920s Shanghai and Shakespeare. The duology’s concept had come to me fully-formed as “Romeo and Juliet in 1920s Shanghai with rival gangs,” so no element of that could be removed without fundamentally changing what the books were about.

The setting follows true history—and although there are liberties taken such as the insertion of a rampaging monster, I wanted to capture the air of that historical period during a decade of lawlessness and political tension. Even though I adapted Shakespeare to take the heart of Romeo and Juliet’s characters, they start to change and mutate depending on the setting. 

Foul Lady Fortune is part of a duology that is tied into the Secret Shanghai novels. How did you decide to write this story, and what can readers expect from the next book in this series?

The idea for Foul Lady Fortune came to life after I had finished the first draft of These Violent Delights and realized: “Oh wow. Almost every major character will finish this duology with some sort of resolution except Rosalind. She’s left to suffer the carnage of her mistakes, and isn’t that so sad to offer her no redemption? She trusted the wrong person and was stomped down for daring to want to be special… and isn’t that one of the most relatable things to a teenage girl?”

As the duology for These Violent Delights and Our Violent Ends went on, I always hoped for a spin-off at the back of my head, and I’m so happy that I got to do it! In Foul Heart Huntsman, the second installment to Foul Lady Fortune, Rosalind’s character journey is one of the critical components: learning to trust, and learning that the people who truly care about you are going to stick around. 

You were born in Shanghai. How did your background and culture inspire your stories and add to the fantasy world of the characters? 

My parents always told me so many stories about Shanghai while growing up that even though I didn’t spend most of my time there, I regard it as a second home. I think my familiarity with Shanghai makes my stories more real; it’s not only about doing research and reading textbooks in order to portray the historical era, it’s about the feeling of the sidewalk under your feet and the smell of the air in certain parts of the city center. I adore all my readers, of course, but there’s that extra special treat when I get readers also from the Shanghainese diaspora who pick up on the language terms and customs I throw in there, because it’s so familiar to what they know. 

Your newest release is Last Violent Call. The collection is made up of two novellas that are set during the events of Foul Lady Fortune and connect with the events of These Violent Delights. How do these two stories connect with your world and characters? What can readers expect from them? 

Last Violent Call is my passion project. It was the idea I had where I just started writing it for my own happiness and then, two chapters in, I thought, “Oh, you know, I think my readers might actually enjoy seeing this too, let me go pitch it to my agent.” The two novellas follow Roma and Juliette in A Foul Thing and Benedikt and Marshall in This Foul Murder, taking a glimpse into what life is like four years after the events of Our Violent Ends (i.e. domestic bliss).

Of course, because nothing is ever easy, they come back into the picture because Rosalind’s in trouble now, and these stories explain how they learn about what’s going on in Foul Lady Fortune and how they’ll play a certain role in the upcoming Foul Heart Huntsman. I am SO ready for readers’ reactions with this collision of character casts. 

Lastly, is there anything coming up that you are excited to share with us when it comes to your craft and the literary world? 

I’m very excited for my adult debut in July with Immortal Longings, which is the first in a trilogy inspired by Antony and Cleopatra set in a 90s-esque, low-tech noir city. I usually pitch it as The Hunger Games if Clove and Cato were the aged-up, rebellion-hungry protagonists and Wong Kar-Wai had directed the franchise instead. Take from that what you will! On the YA side, after Foul Heart Huntsman is in the world, I’m also excited to venture into a new genre, and I hope that my readers will be along for the ride too.

About Chloe Gong:

Chloe Gong is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the critically acclaimed Secret Shanghai novels, as well as the Flesh and False Gods trilogy. Her books have been published in over twenty countries and have been featured in the New York TimesPEOPLEForbes and more. She is a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where she double-majored in English and International Relations. Born in Shanghai and raised in Auckland, New Zealand, Chloe is now located in New York City, pretending to be a real adult.

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