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Q&A with Jade Song - Chlorine

By Megan Coote

We are thrilled to welcome Jade Song to The Reading Corner to talk about her new release, Chlorine,  released on the 4th July 2024.

Ren Yu is a swimmer. Her daily life starts and ends with the pool. Her teammates are her only friends. Her coach, her guiding light. If she swims well enough, she will be scouted, get a scholarship, go to a good school. Her parents will love her. Her coach will be kind to her. She will have a good life.

But these are human concerns. These are the concerns of those confined to land, those with legs. Ren grew up on stories of creatures of the deep, of the oceans and the rivers. Ones that called sailors to their doom. Ones that dragged them down and drowned them. Ones that feasted on their flesh. Ones of the creature that she's always longed to become: mermaid.

Ren aches to be in the water. She dreams of the scent of chlorine--the feel of it on her skin. And she will do anything she can to make a life for herself where she can be free. No matter the pain. No matter what anyone else thinks. No matter how much blood she has to spill.

First of all, congratulations on your debut release! I found Ren’s story so captivating to read and loved that you changed up the classic mermaid imagery often seen in media. Where did your interest in mermaid folklore originate and what was the research process like for this element of the book?

Thank you so much! The interest actually didn’t originate until after I had the idea to write Chlorine—I began to research mermaid folklore because I knew the story needed it. I’m very thankful to Cristina Bacchilega and Marie Alohalani Brown for their book The Penguin Book of


Is Chlorine a novel you have wanted to write for a while and what was the publishing experience like for the book, particularly with this being your debut novel?

I actually didn’t start writing until 2020, then I started writing Chlorine that summer, so the process felt quite fast. The publishing process felt very exposing and raw, but I learned so much about myself, the industry, and art-making. I’m grateful to my team and to those who believe in me, and I’m excited for more books to come.

In an interview you said that your writing tends to come to you in images first rather than

sentences. Can you expand on this and your planning process for Chlorine further? How does your experience as an artist influence your writing process?

My writing process is the same as my artistic process because my writing is part of my art—to me, being an artist and being a writer is the same thing. For me, it is an instinct to know whether an idea is best as a painting, a film, or a book, but I know an idea fulfils me when it could be good as all three.

I think being an artist means paying attention. To people, to the world, to stories. To connection. And that’s where the art—and the writing—comes from. From your heart.

Water represents both confinement and liberation for Ren. I read you were also a swimmer so

wondered what your relationship with water and swimming is today?

I love swimming and being in the water. It’s very freeing for me. I do have a preference for

swimming outdoors in freshwater, especially when the sun is shining. There’s no better feeling.

The narrative alternates between Ren’s perspective and Cathy’s letters to Ren. Is this a structure you had in mind from the start or an idea which evolved whilst writing? Is there a particular characteristic/trait you see mirrored in Cathy or Ren from yourself?

The format of Cathy’s letters evolved whilst writing—I think the epistolary in fiction can effectively show yearning, loss, and desire. I hope everyone sees a bit of Cathy and/or Ren in themselves.

Creative expression in all its forms can allow us to uncover things about ourselves. Is there

anything you learnt about yourself whilst writing Chlorine and what’s one thing you would love your readers to take away from the book?

I learned that to make art is to be free. I learned that I love my friends. I learned that, as Kaveh Akbar says, “I have sold my life to the abyss, but in return, the abyss gave me art.”

I hope readers take away from the book that the journey of transcendence—of being true to your real self, and not whatever selves other people think you are or should be—is worthwhile, real, and ever-evolving.

Your writing is beautiful and I tabbed so many quotes whilst reading including this one as it’s so powerful: “I guess hearts are slippery because they’re covered in blood. I wish I could bleed mine dry. Then I’d miss you less”. Can you share a quote from the book that you are particularly fond of which has stuck with you and why?

I think I’m fondest of the first two sentences of the novel, actually. “You are not here of your own free will. You are here because I desired you first.” I like how it speaks to and challenges the reader. I like how it immediately establishes Ren’s power. I like how it gives Ren agency.

What is your current or most recent read, and who are some authors that inspire you?

I’m on a big Percival Everett kick—I finished both James and The Trees recently and enjoyed them both. I’m inspired by Hanif Abdurraqib, Clarice Lispector, Han Kang, Jackie Wang, Yu Hua, and Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Do you have another book in the works and can you share anything about it? If so, how does the writing process differ from your process of writing Chlorine?

Yes, I have two books in the works. Chlorine came from a place of anger, while the new novel and story collection come from a place of love. Love for community, art, my people—the stories we tell, the art we make, the food we share—New York City, friend-love, queer love, love… I could go on. There’s just so much love. Like Toni Morrison says, “I am all the things I have ever loved.” I’m flooded with love, for and from myself and the people around me. All of this love has to go somewhere. So, I write.

Jade Song is a writer, art director, and artist. Her debut novel Chlorine was published by William Morrow/HarperCollins (US) and Footnote Press (UK) in 2023 and will be translated into Chinese and French. Chlorine was selected as a New York Times Editor’s Choice, lauded as "visionary and disturbing," and listed as a must read book by Buzzfeed, Cosmopolitan, Vanity Fair, and other outlets. Their art direction work has been awarded by and featured in Campaign US, The Shortys, Bustle, and AdAge, among others. She lives in New York City.


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