Interview with Jade Song (CHLORINE)
Jade Song is an art director, artist, and author of CHLORINE (William Morrow/HarperCollins, 2023), their debut novel about a swimmer-turned-mermaid, lauded by Publishers Weekly as “visionary and disturbing.” Other writing is published in Teen Vogue, The Missouri Review, and various literary magazines.
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Welcome to the Hive, Jade. Firstly, congratulations on your debut, Chlorine! Firstly, how does it feel to have your book out there in the wild?
I grew up an avid reader and still find immense solace in stories—books are my best friends. It’s just an honor to be able to publish one. And I’m very grateful to any reader who takes the time to read Chlorine, whether they hate it or love it or feel nothing at all. All the reader reviews and notes and messages about how much they loved or felt seen by Chlorine are so kind and heart-warming.
Can you tell our readers a bit about it? What can they expect?
Chlorine is about a competitive swimmer named Ren Yu, who is driven to extremes by the pressures of living up to her family’s expectations, her coach’s demands, and the envy of her peers until she decides that to achieve her dreams she must become a mermaid, by any means necessary, no matter the blood she’ll spill, or the cost she’ll pay. It features codependent friendship, menstruation pains, shaving parties, and queer transcendence, with a side of body horror, which is personally my favorite genre, because nothing is more horrible than having a body! In addition, Chlorine pays homage to Faye Wong and Wong Kar-wai, weaving in the film Chungking Express throughout the plot.
Chlorine is about the reclamation of tender monstrosity. It’s about athletic discipline/delusion. But most of all, Chlorine is about the longing to be free.
Had you always planned on writing Chlorine as a contemporary horror or was this something that naturally evolved as you began writing?
I didn’t intend for Chlorine to be horror because many of the horrors in the novel—for example, blood pouring out of a body because of menstruation; body horror because of self-harm; stalkerish shadows because of abuses of power—already exist in real life. These horrors are real! I suppose Chlorine is contemporary horror because the novel is gory and creepy and disturbing, but I think reality is gory and creepy and disturbing. I’m not sure how to sugar-coat these experiences or pretend it doesn’t happen. People bleed, people self-harm, people are abusive. People hurt others even when they’re trying to love. So, to me, Chlorine is both contemporary horror and contemporary literary fiction. To be honest, it kinda makes me giggle when people are like, oh, this was really hard to read, because in my head, I’m just like, well, many of my friends and I, we lived it. Sometimes it’s really hard to live. Life is the horror genre.
You excellently explore themes of identity, peer pressure, body dysmorphia and sapphic longing. How important was it to you to represent these issues that a lot of young people face?
I wanted to be honest about how difficult it can be to grow up. To simply exist when your body and your desires and your self rebels against rigid expectations. So it was less about representation, and more just about honesty. Books mirror truth—and that is why we love art.
I loved your exploration of mermaids from different media and cultures. Can you tell us about your research? What was the most interesting mythology about mermaids you came across?
I’m very thankful to Cristina Bacchilega and Marie Alohalani Brown for their book The Penguin Book of Mermaids! I loved the story of the Chinese mermaid whose body was covered with fine hair of many beautiful colors—I like to imagine it’s the mermaid version of rainbow armor.
If you were to transcend into a mermaid, which kind would you be and why?
I think I would transcend into the mermaid with rainbow armor. Or maybe I’d be a goth cyborg mermaid. Or maybe I’d be one of the cute mermaids illustrated on this valentine my friend sent me, which said “we ‘mer-maid’ to be friends”—basically, I change my mind all the time, which is part of the fun and freedom of queer transcendence. I guess I’d be the kind of mermaid who transcends into whoever they want to be on each different day.
Now let’s discuss your splashingly eye-catching cover! (Sorry, I had to add at least one swimming pun!) How involved in the process were you? Was there a particular aesthetic you hoped the artist would portray?
I wasn’t too involved in the actual process, but I was lucky enough to be able to recommend my brilliant illustrator-friend Kenn Lam to my publisher, who reached out to him for the glorious tail art on the front cover. Yeon Kim, the art director at HarperCollins, worked the rest of the magic!
Ok, this is just for fun and is one of our favourite questions here on the Fantasy Hive: which fantastical or mythical creature would you ride into battle and why?
I don’t think I’m a violent warrior, but I can definitely be a tender careworker, so I imagine if I was a mermaid and this battle was under the sea, I’d be tucking my loved ones into a nap between battles as they cuddle with blobfish, which look very soft. Like they’d be great pillows.
So Jade, what can we expect from you next? Any teasers you can share?
Yes! I have a themed speculative short story collection finished, with some of the stories published already in various literary magazines like The Missouri Review and Salamander Magazine. I’m currently revising a new novel manuscript centered around grief and friend-love and work and precarity in New York City. Chlorine came from a place of anger, while this new novel comes from a place of love. I’m excited to grow as an artist and try something new.
Finally, what is the one thing you hope readers take away from your writing?
I hope any lonely reader who has ever dreamed of transcendence reads Ren Yu’s story and knows they are not alone. Chlorine might focus on one girl, one athlete, at one point of time, but this novel is for anyone dreaming of freedom. Which is what we all long for, right? To be true and to be free to ourselves, our real selves, not whatever selves other people think we are or should be. Like Ren Yu, craving mermaidhood, so she can swim away from all the petty human standards that plague her.
Thank you so much for joining us today!
Thank you so much to the readers, and to you, Fantasy Hive, for having me!
Chlorine is out today from William Morrow. You can order your copy from independent bookstores here