Nghi Vo was halfway through writing a novel about “a young woman who was raised by the dead” when her agent suggested that she start working on what would become the novel “The Chosen One and the Beautiful” .
The book she was writing is still on her computer. “I haven’t been back yet,” says the Milwaukee-based author, whose previous work includes the novels “When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain” and “The Empress of Salt and Fortune.”
With “The Chosen and the Beautiful”, which will be released on June 1 on Tor, Vo reinvents “The Great Gatsby” from the point of view of Jordan Baker, who in this version is a young queer woman born in Vietnam and raised in White, the American high society. Vo also incorporates fantastic elements into the story, with the aim of making the story true even if it ventures into the unreal.
“Which means that absolutely could never happen in the real world. It defies physics. It defies logic, but somehow it’s still true, ”she said on a recent phone call. “It’s the holy grail for me when it comes to writing.”
His early influences include Neil Gaiman, British fantasy writer Angela Carter, author of “The Talented Mr. Ripley” Patricia Highsmith, and the popular “Welcome to Night Vale” podcast series. Most recently, she drew on the work of Bryan Fuller, the screenwriter and television producer behind shows like “Pushing Daisies” and “Hannibal”.
“I want things that seem true. But apparently I can take it or leave it, ”she said.
Vo, who grew up in Illinois and moved to Milwaukee over a decade ago, had, like many people, first read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel as a teenager. Even then, she had noticed that there was a lot in “The Great Gatsby” left to interpretation. A fan fiction writer – that is, the creative remix of existing books – she has since had versions of what would become “The Chosen One” in her head. “For someone who’s more or less a natural fanficcer, like me, you take all the seeds and run with it,” she says.
“I wrote fan fiction before I really knew what it was,” Vo says, adding that it was something she had done for herself. “I have oars and oars and oars just hidden in my files. It wasn’t until recently that I started sharing it. “
The practice has clearly had an impact on the career of this award-winning writer. With “The Chosen and Beautiful” he allowed Vo to explore the possibilities of a book that entered the public domain this year from a 21st century perspective. Much of that comes from his choice to cross Jordan Baker.
“Jordan, I think, resonates a lot, especially for queer women,” Vo explains. She cites descriptions of her by Nick Carraway, the narrator in the original text, as an example.
“He doesn’t describe her like he describes Daisy. Daisy is portrayed in a way that I find very conventionally beautiful and conventionally attractive to me. Nick spends more time exploring the differences that make Jordan attractive: her car, the emphasis on her as an athlete, the fact that she is mean and a little bit pungent, ”she says. “Although Nick was drawn to Jordan, so am I.”
Vo adds: “ In the original ‘Gatsby’ it was really like Jordan was coded to something and Fitzgerald actually wanted her to be a queer woman or if he was just hinting at something in a vacuum. that he understood and I as the moderator didn’t, there was something there and I just took it apart a bit and then added a whole bunch of other things.
By identifying Jordan as an American of Vietnamese descent, Vo also amplifies a lesser-known piece of American immigration history. “Most people think of the fact that the greatest immigration of Vietnamese to the United States took place after the American-Vietnamese war,” she says. “However, the Vietnamese have always been in the United States, both as wealthy tourists and as people working on steamboats.”
Her goal, she says, was to reshape Jordan to be both a reflection of the 1920s and today, which influenced her research for the book. “I read a lot of stories from queer women. I read a lot of stories from Asian women, ”she says. “I added a lot of what I knew about queer history and what I learned and also what I took away from the character in the book.”
While putting his own stamp on the classic, Vo’s admiration for the source material is evident in his work. “Honestly, I really like the novel,” she says. “I don’t think I could have written ‘The Chosen One and the Beautiful’ if I hadn’t.”