Happy Friday Everyone!
Getting to speak with so many writers and authors I admire is always a treat. Everyone has a unique story and path and what I’ve learned is that the more we share the things we learn along the way, the less alone we feel in an industry that can sometimes feel a bit lonely. This week, I’m so excited to talk with an author who had me hooked as soon as I saw the premise of her debut novel (coming out later this year). In addition to being a great writer, she’s hilarious. Please welcome, the lovely (and sometimes knife-y), Chloe Gong.
Hi Chloe! My first question for you: where are you at in your writing journey, and how did you get there?
Hello and thank you so much for having me! I’m currently almost finished with edits on my debut THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS, which is coming out Fall 2020 from Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster, and I’m also slowly outlining its sequel! My writing journey has been a long, long ride. I started writing almost eight years ago, and I wrote eight different manuscripts of vastly different stories before I decided to query my ninth, which is my forthcoming debut. Relatively speaking, I’ve been quite a lone wolf throughout my writing journey, and I guess it’s because I was so young throughout most of it that I treated writing as this fun thing I did when I finished my homework, which definitely lifted a lot of pressure off my shoulders to get published. I love being in the writing community social circles, but maintaining an online presence also comes with the pressure to seem like you’re constantly moving forward in your career, and I’m pretty grateful that I learned to write, work on my craft, and query without those external factors. (Of course, now, I wouldn’t give up my circle of writerly friends for the world!)
Wow, eight years in the making--I so commend your determination and drive! I happen to know a little about your writing, but can you pitch your current project for us?
Since my current project is Book 2, I’ll pitch my debut! THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS is a Romeo & Juliet retelling by way of The Godfather, by which I mean if you plonked a Russian Romeo and a Chinese Juliet in 1920s gangster-ruled Shanghai and made them angry exes forced to work together to kill a monster and save their city from total annihilation, then you have my book.
I’m familiar with this pitch, but I still get so excited every time I see Romet & Juliet, The Godfather, and gangster-ruled Shanghai in one sentence. This sounds AMAZING. Of course, since I haven’t gotten to read your debut just yet, I’m curious: how would you describe your writing style?
To delve a bit deeper into your thoughts on craft, when it comes to the books you love to read (and write) what’s most important to you — plot, characters, theme, setting — and why?
Would it be cheating if I said all of the above? It’s so hard to choose!
I really think it comes down to what individual books are trying to do, both in the ones I love to read and the ones I love to write. As a reader, I’m far less picky and things just work for me. I gravitate towards the books with extremely memorable characters but a heart-wrenching theme or a rare setting is also something that will keep me thinking for days. In the books I write, atmosphere is super important to me, so I think that setting is something I have to know first before I do anything else!
I, too, love a story with atmosphere. As I think about it, it’s probably the make or break for me as a reader. Now, Chloe, you’ve talked briefly on social media about the intersect between identity and writing, can you tell us how identity plays into your writing, if at all?
Identity is always at the very heart of my writing! I don’t think I’ll ever stop writing books that explore what it means to belong (especially somewhere that doesn’t necessarily welcome you), what it means to be diaspora, so on and so forth, because that’s a huge part of how I see the world and naturally, it carries over to the characters I create. My writing is constantly trying to reclaim parts of my identity that have been previously spoken over, and also trying to reach out to others who might share my identities to find connection and incite discussion.
As a product of a Diaspora, this speaks to me, and I know books like yours will mean a lot to other who’ve had to traverse similar challenges with their identity. Okay! Switching gears to talk about you as a writer: You’re a debut author, a student, and of course a person with a life outside books. How do you manage life and other responsibilities alongside your writing?
So. Many. To-Do Lists. I would be a mess without a constant checklist to keep me in order. I’m a junior in college, so academia gets incredibly rough at certain times of the semester, but just because I have three exams in one week doesn’t mean I can neglect my writing deadlines, so I make sure I always know what’s coming up and that I’ve allocated enough time in advance to get all my priorities sorted.
Ah, I do love a nice To-Do List! I think you have a good point about setting reasonable deadlines and planning things in advance to avoid stress. Of course, there are something we can’t plan for, and one of them can be the harder parts of writing. How do you combat writer’s block and/or tough critiques of your writing?
For me personally, getting hit with writer’s block is my number one indication that something in the story isn’t working. I’ll usually return to my outline, try to figure out what it is plot-wise that my brain doesn’t like, and if I tweak some things around, I can usually get moving again. I’m a relatively fast writer and a clean drafter, so that’s always my go-to! Sometimes though, I get writer’s block because I’m just too stressed to be writing, and then I try not to be too hard on myself and I take a break. As with tough critiques, the good thing about starting out so young and having done a ton of manuscripts already is that I’ve really internalized the idea that: all critique is on the story, not on you as a person. No matter how harsh a piece of feedback is from a CP, agent, or editor, it’s directed at the work you’ve produced in an attempt to make this work even better than it already is. I think it’s really easy to view your book and yourself as one and the same, so that criticism on the book hits as hard as if someone had insulted you, but learning to disentangle the two has helped me tremendously with growing thick skin.
That’s a really interesting approach, and I’m incredibly envious that you get write fast (hello, I do NOT). Okay, Chloe, a fun question for you. If you could borrow a power from any book or movie, which would you want?
Telekinesis! I honor the aesthetic first and foremost, and the sheer coolness of raising your hand and summoning something right to you takes the cake. Also, I am so lazy, and if I could bring my laptop to me from across the room without moving, that would be amazing.
Haha! The many, many times I’ve wished for the same thing! One thing I so appreciate about you is how truly relatable you are Chloe. I know many writers will be looking to you for advice, so my next question for you: what advice do you have for aspiring writers, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds?
Be open to learning, but trust your gut.
Especially for underrepresented writers, drawing from your underrepresented culture often means you’re disrupting a norm, and it’s hard to tell what is and isn’t typical if all the advice you get/find is from people closer to the norm. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with advice that comes from the status quo! In fact, I’d highly recommend reading up on other people’s experiences as much as possible, because you can gain so much and avoid so many mistakes. But what holds up as a universal truth in the world of publishing for one person does not necessarily mean it will be a universal truth for you. My advice for all aspiring writers is to remember that at the end of the day, you do know your own work the best, and if you allow too many cooks into the kitchen, then you’re going to end up with a dish no one particularly wants to lay claim too. In simpler terms: make sure you agree with the feedback you get before you make any changes, and only listen to writing advice people are offering if you think it’s something applicable to you. Sometimes feedback is subjective; sometimes, for marginalized writers, feedback can be harmful due to a lack of cultural context. Sometimes advice from strangers on the internet is great; sometimes they have absolutely no clue what they’re talking about, they’re just shouting into the void in hopes for some retweets. Expose yourself to as much information as possible, but be smart about what you take in!
I loved so much of that that I can’t even pick out one thing I want to reemphasize, so I’ll just co-sign all of it. What great advice. Another fun question for you: what’s your “anthem,” the song that would play if your life was a music video?
I just browsed YouTube for like a whole hour trying to come up with an answer for this question.
I’m leaning towards Halsey’s Control, because I listen to that on repeat when I’m trying to rile myself up to wreak chaos.
Ooh, Halsey is always solid. And, last but not least: Bonus Question! You have a tree in your backyard that grows anything. What would you want on your tree?
Diamonds. Did y’all think I’d give a less shallow answer? Jokes on everyone else but me, I’m about to be rich and extremely shiny.
This is such a pure answer. Also, how gorgeous would a Diamond Tree be??? Want to know more about Chloe and her writing? There are several ways to connect with her.
Check out her website!
Add THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS on GoodReads!
Thanks again, Chloe!