Meet the author who wrote a Shanghai-based novel “Romeo and Juliet” at the university

Author Chloe Gong said writing two young adult novels while still an undergraduate often felt like living in two separate worlds.

Gong first wrote what became the best-selling “These Violent Delights” in the summer of his freshman to sophomore year at the University of Pennsylvania and signed with a literary agent at age 19. But despite the fact that she was on track to publish a novel as a teenager, very few people knew about her writing career.

“I kind of kept my writing a secret. I didn’t really talk about it and it wasn’t covered in class or anything, ”Gong, 22, told NBC Asian America. “My friends kind of knew that, but it was kind of like having a double life.”

This secret became impossible to keep as the book’s release date approached last fall, and “These Violent Delights” became an instant New York Times bestseller – making Gong one of the youngest authors to date. have never made the list. As the title suggests, the book is inspired by Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and transports the setting in a fantastical alternate version of 1920s Shanghai, centered on Juliette Cai and Roma Montagov, two heiresses of rival gangs who are locked in a power battle over who should control the city.

“I couldn’t really keep it a secret anymore because articles started to come out. The school papers wrote about me, so the news got out, ”said Gong, who has since graduated from college and now lives in New York City. “Some of my teachers would talk about it like, ‘Guys, you know, this happened last week,’ and I was like, ‘Oh, my God. “”

Books by Margaret K. McElderry

The story of Juliet and Roma continues on Tuesday when Margaret K. McElderry Books released “Our Violent Ends”, the highly anticipated sequel to Gong. A surprising plot point in the two books that many fans have noted is that Juliet and Roma’s power struggle takes place in a city that is also battling a contagious plague while desperately seeking a vaccine.

“These Violent Delights” was written years before the pandemic, so Gong said she had no idea the relevance of this scenario.

“At one point, I was a little worried,” said Gong, who had submitted the final editions of the book in February 2020. She was particularly concerned about how the sections on the local Chinese population being particularly vulnerable to a disease that Westerners did not take seriously would be interpreted. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t want to be a modern day Cassandra in this one. “”

The fictitious plague and the race to vaccinate the population continue in “Our Violent Ends”. Gong, who was born in China and moved to New Zealand when she was 2, said she was drawn to creating a historical fantasy set in Shanghai because of the rich past and the pivotal role of the city in world relations in the 1920s and of its own link with the Region. She was particularly intrigued by the fact that the interwar period was considered by some to be the city’s golden age and that gangsters flourished during this time.

“I wanted to make it into a story that examined the good, the bad and the ugly,” she said. “Yes, aesthetics make a great story. But there is also everything related to colonization and these parallels, and I was like, “As a [international relations] major, I want to dig deeper into this.

Readers are also often surprised that Gong has only read Shakespeare’s play relatively recently.

“It wasn’t until I left high school and started thinking about writing this vendetta story that I read it,” she said. “I had some familiarity with ‘Romeo and Juliet’, but I hadn’t read or engaged it until I had the idea of ​​telling a very similar story.”

Gong also drew on global influences from Shanghai to create his version of Juliet. Both books feature Juliette torn between two worlds as a young woman who spent most of her teenage years in school in New York City. Her American upbringing and penchant for flapper dresses lead her to be viewed with suspicion by those around her.

“Juliet wants so much to be Western so that she can survive in this Western world she was thrown into. Then suddenly she changed so much of herself that she thought to herself, “Am I even Chinese?” “, Said Gong.

As a young writer of Asian descent, Gong said he was often asked what his parents thought of his books and his decision to pursue a creative career. Publishing a book early on helped.

“Because I started publishing very early on, they were like, ‘OK, well, that’s like the professional path,’ Gong said, adding that her family has always supported her stories. “And then, ever since my debut hit the bestseller list, like before I even graduated from college, after I graduated and said I was going to do it full time, they also had no reason to convince me not to. “

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