NEW BLOOD On Nov. 25, Chloe Gong tweeted, “My heart is going so fast I can’t even type!! THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS is a New York Times Best Seller!!! THANK YOU FOR READING AND PICKING UP THIS BOOK I NEED TO LIE DOWN.” It’s not every day that a 21-year-old debut author lands near the top of the young adult hardcover list, even for a week; if there was ever an occasion that called for abundant exclamation points, this was the one.
Gong, a Shanghai native who grew up in Auckland, New Zealand, is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, where she is double-majoring in English and international relations. She says she was in her “tiny college apartment” in Philadelphia, working on “something that was due very soon,” when she heard the “surreal but amazing” news: “My editor called me, and my agent was already on the line, and I was trembling. I’m still trembling. The New York Times best-seller list is. … Whoa. Big thing.”
“These Violent Delights” — a reimagining of “Romeo and Juliet” set in 1920s Shanghai — is Gong’s first published novel, and the ninth one she’s written. She started tapping out stories on the Notes app on her iPad when she was 13. Gong explains: “New Zealand has a much more chill atmosphere than what I imagine American high schools are like. I watch American TV and everyone has extracurriculars and all that. That’s less of a norm in New Zealand. I would have so much free time, and I would be like, ‘Hmm. I might work on my book.’ I would crank out a manuscript every year.”
Gong wrote the first draft of “These Violent Delights” during the summer after her first year of college. Up until that point, she had been under the impression that she couldn’t get published because she was from New Zealand. “But that was completely untrue,” Gong laughs. “The major American publishers are open to everyone.” She learned the ropes by “hesitantly Googling ‘how do you publish a book.’” She says, “I had no starting place or way to even know how to begin. But there are so many resources that people just put online for free and they all popped up, one after the other. It was the world at my fingertips, telling me how to do it.”
Normally it would seem inappropriate to inquire about the feelings of an author’s family, but in Gong’s case the discussion feels germane. She says, “My parents were definitely proud but they were also confused. They were like, ‘Publishing books? Is that a thing?’ Now they know. Now they understand.”
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