Interview with Chloe Gong (IMMORTAL LONGINGS)
Chloe Gong is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the critically acclaimed Secret Shanghai novels, as well as the Flesh and False Gods trilogy. Her books have been published in over twenty countries and have been featured in the New York Times, PEOPLE, Forbes and more. She is a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where she double-majored in English and International Relations. Born in Shanghai and raised in Auckland, New Zealand, Chloe is now located in New York City, pretending to be a real adult.
You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok under @thechloegong
Welcome to the Hive, Chloe. Firstly congratulations on your adult fantasy debut, Immortal Longings – can you tell us what readers can expect?
Thank you for having me! I’m so excited for Immortal Longings to be in the world because it felt like a super ambitious mash-up while I was writing it and I hope readers go in expecting something that feels a little different from the fantasy genre’s usual archetypes. I pitch it as the Kowloon Walled City of 1990s Hong Kong meets the rise of the Roman Empire, and it very much takes its atmosphere from both.
Give us an insight into your characters, Calla and Anton? In what ways are they similar or different to each other?
Calla and Anton are, at once, incredibly similar and yet incredibly different. The two of them are the likeliest winners of these death games they’ve entered, which is why it’s so enticing for them to join forces and work their way up to the top faster. But while they’re both headstrong and confident and powerful, they have very different motivations. Calla believes in a greater good; Anton is self-serving. Calla is slowly tempted by power as she grapples with what her title means, while Anton has always been using his nobility to his advantage. At the end of it, no matter how much they may depend on the other, they want very different things, and that may mean sacrificing each other.
Who else can we expect to meet?
Other than Calla and Anton, the third main character in Immortal Longings is August, the adopted crown prince. He was the most fun to write because he believes himself to be righteous and salvation for the kingdom, but his actions may say otherwise. I’m very interested in the idea of monarchy in fantasy and whether there can ever be a “good” ruler, so August is a constant interrogation of this idea.
Immortal Longings is inspired by Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, can you tell us more about this? Which parts of the tragedy inspired you the most?
When I pitch Immortal Longings as Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, it is more Antony and Cleopatra the characters rather than Antony and Cleopatra the play. I’m so fascinated by the obsessive, co-dependent relationship that gets drawn out from two conflicting sides, and at the heart of it I think Immortal Longings is about the constant back-and-forth between Calla and Anton. When I read the tragedy, I think: “Well, it’s not love. But it’s not not love either.” This sentiment very much gets transposed into the book.
Can you tell us a bit about your magic system? What kind of magical abilities are present in your world?
In the world of Immortal Longings, people can swap bodies as easily as clothes by “jumping” into another. I didn’t want it to feel exactly like magic but more as a commonplace fact, where it’s a function of the body just as sweating and crying is. However, there’s a lot about their own history that has been lost in this kingdom. Where they used to worship old gods, hardly anyone believes they’re real now—until our characters start to witness people in this city “jumping” in ways they’ve never seen before. The beauty of a trilogy is that I get so much more time to explore the abilities I’ve invented, and what we believe in Book 1 may not be the reality…
If you were transported into your own fictional world, how do you think you would fare?
Oh, I’d die so quickly. Unless I was in the palace, in which case I might live a little longer, but I don’t think people in the palace historically have long lives either.
We see such varying opinions from authors when it comes to the time of editing their books. How have you found the editing process? Enjoyable, stressful or satisfying?
Can I say all of the above? I really adore the act of writing and editing—that’s why I have so much fun doing this full-time. There’s something so incredibly fulfilling about pulling and pulling at each plot thread until they finally come together and make a finished product. It is sometimes incredibly painful to keep chipping away at something though, especially when it often takes multiple re-writes to get something right, but then the end result is always worth it.
How did you find the transition from writing YA fantasy to writing Adult fantasy? What do you feel the main differences are?
I’ve found that my writing style itself doesn’t really change. There’s often a common misconception that YA needs to be “simpler” and Adult fantasy is more dense, but I don’t think that’s the case. My YA books are actually longer than Immortal Longings; my YA books are more political and historically informed while Immortal Longings is more concerned about interpersonal grappling. I think the main difference is theme and tone. There are certain questions that YA books ask, usually concerned about coming-of-age and your place in the world, while Adult feels messier, freer, and less concerned with a linear path. I loved getting the chance to transition into Adult fantasy, because I’m exploring questions that I think are inherently more adult and for an adult audience.
We always appreciate a beautiful book cover and your UK has such stunning artwork, Chloe! How involved in the process were you? Was there a particular aesthetic you hoped the artist would portray?
I LOVE my UK cover. I was only involved early on to issue some general vibes, and the rest was totally on my artist and my cover designer! I think the aesthetic of Immortal Longings is very Wong Kar-wai, so I sent over images of his movies, and they took it from there. The cover absolutely nails it.
Can you tell us anything about any upcoming projects? Or can you tell us a few teasers for your sequel?
I’m hard at work on the sequel to Immortal Longings so that’s completely overtaken my brain now as my next upcoming project. Where Book 1 was about the city and the dense, overpowering death games there, Book 2 is about the palace and the games played at the top… I’m so excited for it to take shape.
Who are the most significant women in SFF who have shaped and influenced your work?
The name I always go to first is Mary Shelley, because she not only invented science fiction, but she did so as a teenage girl in a time where it was unprecedented. As for contemporaries, I grew up on SFF franchises/series by Cassandra Clare, Laini Taylor, and Maggie Stiefvater, who have shaped my love for reading and inspired me to write.
Finally, what is the one thing you hope readers take away from your writing?
I hope that readers walk away having experienced something strong—whether that be an emotional reaction or thoughts about the world. I never really set out with a certain message they have to take away because I think art is subjective and stories tend to be multi-layered with interpretations, so I’d be pleased just knowing I made an impact of some sort.
Thank you so much for joining us for Women in SFF!
Thank you for such wonderful questions!!
Immortal Longings is out today! You can order your copy on Bookshop.org