As a 21-year-old senior at the University of Pennsylvania, Chloe Gong is one of PW’s youngest ever Flying Starts. But don’t mistake her youth for inexperience. “I started writing YA when I was 13,” she says.
Transitioning from books for younger readers, Gong immediately picked up City of Bones, the Fallen series, and Vampire Academy—“all of those really crunchy early-2010s kind of series.” When she decided to take on the writer’s mantle herself, she “never really had any other [category] that I could have entertained.”
Though her debut, These Violent Delights (S&S/McElderry), is historical fantasy, Gong, who is double-majoring in English and international relations, said she’s always been a “genre hopper,” penning her first novels merely to amuse herself. Early works included paranormal series à la Kelley Armstrong’s The Darkest Powers, dystopian mash-ups recalling Divergent and Reboot, and a murder mystery trilogy.
Since Gong came of age during the Wattpad era, she posted her work there as a teenager and gained traction on the platform. “That was my first taste at having readers,” she says.
When she was 17 or 18, Gong composed a high fantasy trilogy, through which she honed her world-development skills, and then, she says, she was prepared to write These Violent Delights, a fantastical take on Romeo and Juliet set in 1920s Shanghai. The resultant YA novel, which has crossover appeal, simultaneously reflects deep anti-colonialist sentiments and an agenda distinctly opposed to Western hegemony, alongside Gong’s fascination with rich worldbuilding and compelling characters.
Following the draft completion of These Violent Delights, Gong says the process of getting an agent was “relatively fast.” She refined her query letter and sent it out, then received an offer of representation from Laura Crockett at Triada US—the first agent she queried—a month later. After four months of revisions and submission, the book went to auction, where it was acquired by Tricia Lin at Simon Pulse (Pulse is now shuttered, and Lin is at Random House).
Gong says Lin helped her resolve pacing issues by suggesting that it become a duology. “Tricia could see right to the heart of it,” she marvels.
Born in Shanghai and raised in Auckland, New Zealand, Gong says her debut reflects greater influence from her Chinese identity than her Kiwi one. But as someone who moved to the U.S. for college in 2017 and found her agent around 2018, she is aware of the Americentrism of the publishing market. Since she didn’t start drafting the book until she moved here, she believes she “had all the access Americans have had,” but speculates that future contemporary fantasies set in New Zealand may draw a different response. While “American readers can relate to Juliette as an Asian American diaspora stand-in,” and though sending Juliette to New York City for education was “a logical decision anyway,” she acknowledges that the potential alienation of her audience is an element she considers when writing.
Building her audience, though, hasn’t posed an issue for Gong thus far. With more than 16,000 followers on TikTok and nearly 10,000 followers on Twitter, the Gen-Z author is a natural at self-marketing; she was featured in the New York Times Book Review after hitting the bestsellers list and has a group of fellow Gen-Z authors she is close with.
“Ultimately, I just want my work to occupy readers’ brain space,” Gong says, identifying fan interactions as one of her favorite parts of publishing.
While the duology closer releases next fall, Gong is already busy imagining new worlds: she is currently working on another YA manuscript, “with a marriage of convenience, annoyances-to-lovers” bent, as well as adult fantasy, with additional Shakespeare renditions and potentially noir forthcoming.
“I would love to do sci-fi one day,” Gong continues, “specifically cyberpunk.” A course on race and dystopia she took as a sophomore relayed “the origins of that subgenre in American fiction as a response to the rise of Japan, making it an inherently racist and Orientalist response.” She wants to “reclaim it with Asian characters—rethinking the stereotypes of the unthinking cyborg, the unfeeling Asian parallel, etc.,” but she doesn’t believe she’s quite there yet as a writer. Give her a few more years and a few more novels, she reflects, and she’ll be ready.
Asked what the future looks like postgraduation, Gong laughs. “I definitely won’t be a full-time author,” she says. “So much of writing to me feels like going out into the world and translating that into fiction.”
Gong adds that diplomacy and publishing are career paths she is considering. “I don’t think I’ll ever stop writing, but I don’t think I’ll ever only write.”