Meet writer Lindsay Wong. I’ve spent hours with Lindsay and her unbelievable, heart-felt, soul-full words – that is, reading her 316-page memoir entitled The Woo Woo How I Survived Ice Hockey, Drug Raids, Demons, and My Crazy Chinese Family (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2018). Memoirists are high up on my ‘amazing people’ list, if you must know. It’s one thing to experience a life unique, it’s a whole other thing to write about it. All writers are brave, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a special path a memoirist travels down that is extraordinary. Memoirists hold mirrors up to themselves – reflections travel back in time, galavant in the present, and shake a fist to the future.
It was not easy to read about Lindsay’s childhood or her teen years…her life story is powerful and heartbreaking, but her courage lights up each page, and I felt it carry me forward as I read. I’ve had her book on shelf for nearly two years…and like all magical books do, it called to me when this strange isolation began. I hope you’re paying attention to the magic on your bookshelves…
I tagged Lindsay in a social media post, and bless her heart, she responded. We had some back and forth communication, and she agreed to let me send her some questions for an email interview. THANK YOU, LINDSAY!
Full disclosure here: prior to tagging her, I totally googled her and watched her in several television interviews. I was happy to learn more about her, see her, hear her voice…as I’d been able to so intimately learn about her through her memoir. It was cool to put a face and voice to the face and voice I’d created in my head. And so, I hope you enjoy the Q & A! I hope you appreciate her wit and wisdom as much as I do! And, I hope you’re compelled to buy her book, read it, write a few words on Goodreads or Amazon or on your socials.
Oh, and be sure to eat cake at some point while you read her memoir. 🙂
Here we go!
VS: I think the question I’ve been thinking about the most is: what personal essay/story did you share first when you were in university? Did it make it into the book?
LW: I submitted a very rough, early version of the bridge jumper chapter for Andreas Shroeder’s nonfiction class at UBC. We were supposed to submit a personal narrative for workshop, and the incident with my aunt had just happened in the summer of 2008. After I wrote it, Andreas told me that he was actually stuck on the Second Narrows Bridge on Canada Day. He was like, “Now I know why I was there for 8 hours!” He looked quite shocked, but he was so encouraging about my writing and he was so kind to blurb my book.
VS: What motivated you to begin writing about your life – your childhood, your illness, your family, your friends – in the non-fiction genre?
LW: I always tell people that I “fell into it” because the sorting hat at UBC placed me in a nonfiction writing workshop. Nonfiction is a genre that chooses you. No one really sets out to write a memoir because it’s not a fun or remotely enjoyable process. But the memoir genre finds you and then you’re somehow addicted lol. Can you tell that I have a love-hate relationship with creative nonfiction? I keep saying that I’m going to quit but I can’t.
VS: Can you remember the feeling(s) you experienced as you were writing? This is both a writing process question but also a question about personal…release…what was the writing process like for you?
LW: The process was like getting a never-ending root-canal–numbing at first, but then the anesthesia wears off, and afterwards, you are reeling from a lot of physical and emotional pain. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling at all, but it was totally necessary to really understand myself as a person and to consider who I could possibly be. I think I have a fairly high tolerance for any type of pain, which is probably why I continued to revise the memoir. I was determined to have it published because the writing process had been so challenging and exhausting.
VS: When is the last time your read your book? Did you read your book after it came out? What was that like?
LW: I have only read short excerpts for readings, but I haven’t read my book from the beginning to end since it was published. I feel like I had spent enough time (years!) revising the manuscript, so it didn’t make sense to read it again, lol. The last time I read the whole book was right before I submitted it to Shirarose Wilensky, my wonderful editor at Arsenal Pulp Press. And even then, I was so excited to hit Send. I honestly thought only five people were going to read The Woo-Woo, including my agent and publisher.
VS: Canada Reads is a big deal for writers in Canada – can you tell us about how you found out your book was chosen to be a part of it? And, what was it like watching/hearing people ‘fight’ for your book to remain in the competition?
LW: Confession: I did not know what Canada Reads was before I was on it, and I had to Google it when the producer called lol. I was still in bed when my publisher, Brian Lam, emailed to tell me that a judge had selected the book and a producer wanted to chat. It turned out we had gotten the time wrong and there was a conference call in 20 minutes and I was still half-asleep, so I was trying not to sound too groggy and I pretended that I totally knew what Canada Reads was.
I think Canada Reads is fantastic for getting people invested in Canadian literature and promoting publishing and it’s really amazing that we get so many interested readers. It’s very much “a reality show” and you have to know that every book has subjective flaws going in–no book is “perfect” so you do expect that part of the competition. What’s terrifying is that so many people take it so seriously and they become upset and have to directly let you know how much they hated your book and demand to know why it was chosen. And then at the same time, you also have people “worry” that you are going to quit writing because you lost a competition. It’s definitely an unique experience–so many strangers DM-ing and emailing you. I was taken aback with all the attention.
VS: There were times when I was reading when I had to put the book down and take a breath. I had to tell myself that what I was reading, wasn’t, in fact, fiction – but very real. I honour you for your courage to be vulnerable and share your story. Do you feel like a courageous person?
LW: Haha,I do not. But I feel like I’m a very determined person and I will finish what I start.
VS: Mental illness – what it is, how it shows itself, how it affects families – is a very large part of your story. In interviews, you speak much about how important it is to deal with mental health. Are you continuing to have this conversation with friends, family, readers? Why is it important?
LW: We don’t talk about mental illness in my Chinese family, and unfortunately, we still don’t. As a culture and society, I do hope we will have open conversations about mental health, rather than ignoring, shaming or dismissing it. It’s more important than ever since the pandemic–we are sharing a collective trauma, and I hope people will seek help if they need to. There’s no shame in speaking about mental health, and I hope The Woo-Woo began to bring these issues to light.
VS: How is your health – physical/mental – these days? (This can include before ‘isolation’…and now with it as a ‘must’.)
LW: My one complaint is lack of sleep when I go on tour. I never sleep well on planes and the hotel beds are iffy so I’m like this cantankerous rhinoceros during out-of-town events. One time, I was wearing a tired, grumpy face and this poor woman thought she had offended me because she had gotten my surname wrong, and I was like, “No, No, it’s really not you, I just need 8 hours of sleep.” I felt so bad! Other than that, my health has been mostly good, except for three weeks of vertigo after working too hard in February. It’s honestly difficult to say “no” to extra work when you have to pay rent, and then I was bedridden after I exhausted myself.
VS: I very much could relate to eating for comfort…and experiencing a skewed relationship with food and my body as a child…and even into adulthood. How is your relationship with food now?
LW: I love food haha. During the pandemic, I have been obsessed with making homemade marshmallows and trays of gooey Twix bars. I always say that I became a writer so I could stay home in my pajamas and eat ridiculous amounts of junk food. 😉
VS: When did you begin your agent relationship with Carly Watters at PS Literary? Do you think having an agent has made a difference in your writing career? (This is for those of us who are hoping for representation!)
LW: I began working with Carly Watters in 2015. She is an amazing agent and a wonderful human being. I always think that having an advocate and someone who really gets the business is an asset. I trust her opinion on my work and career, and I think the more allies one can have in publishing, i.e. people who can share in your joys and disappointments, is crucial to your well-being as a functioning author and person.
VS: Your new book ‘My Summer of Love and Misfortune’ comes out in May…are you sooo excited! (I sure am!) Was any of the story based on your time in Hawaii?
LW: Haha, I actually don’t get excited anymore. Except when I find out that I have a week to sleep.
My Summer Of Love and Misfortune is pure fiction. It’s about an imperfect Chinese-American girl called Iris Wang who fails miserably out of high school and doesn’t get into any colleges, and she’s thrust into the upper-class world of Beijing. She then finds herself falling for her Mandarin tutor and learns some pretty huge family secrets that make her question who she is.
VS: What was your writing process like when writing a fiction novel vs. writing CNF/non-fiction/memoir?
LW: CNF is such a huge pain in the ass, half-joking. I would not wish memoir writing on my worst enemy. Fiction writing was really fun and free–there are so many limitations in terms of plot and character with memoir, but fiction doesn’t seem to have very strict rules. Best of all, you don’t have to spend any time with yourself on your page–it’s a brand new protagonist. I’m sick of writing about myself lol.
VS: So…Simon & Schuster Canada – this is a major publisher…what was it like with your manuscript out to editors…waiting to find out to see who would bite?
LW: Editor Jennifer Ung at Simon Pulse reached out to my agent to see if I would potentially be interested in writing a YA book that was a mix of Anna and the French Kiss meets The Joy Luck Club. Of course, I immediately said yes because it wasn’t a memoir, and because it was a chance to do something fun, lighthearted, and frothy. And because I’m a total weirdo, it came out more like Lindsay Wong meets Crazy Rich Asians than anything like a book that was similar to the Joy Luck Club.
VS: Have any film producers been interested in The Woo-Woo? Have you thought about who your dream cast would be? Can you share it with us!
LW: I can’t say who, but an American company has optioned it. 😉
I think the actor Paul Sun-Hyung who plays Appa from Kim’s Convenience is brilliant and so so so funny. He would be perfect as my dad in The Woo-Woo. During one call with a production company, someone was saying that Lana Condor looks like me, and she could play a teenage version of Lindsay, perhaps.
VS: What book(s) are you reading now? Do you read paper books? Do you often have a book on you?
LW: I tend to really enjoy audiobooks since I am always writing and my screen-time is limited because of potentially triggering vertigo. I’m currently listening to David Sedaris’ Calypso, Victor La Valle’s The Changeling, and I just finished Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood and Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince series. They all have fantastic narrators–I highly recommend.
VS: What things do you to for ‘fun’? Crafts? Watching home decor show? Answering questions for fans?!
LW: Hahaha, I wish I had time for “fun!” But I do enjoy getting tattoos, parasailing, and smoking a Cuban cigar or two. Now that I’m social distancing, I’ve taken up crocheting scarves, making candy, and of course, sleeping a lot.
VS: Are you working on a new writing project? Can you tell us about it? Or is it top-secret?
LW: I’m revising an old YA manuscript and a short story collection (“immigrant ghost stories”) and I’ve started outlining a new novel. Not much to report, since I don’t really know what they are about. =)
VS: Are you a full-time writer? Can you give us a glimpse of a day-in-a-the-life of Lindsay Wong?
LW: Writing full-time would be a dream, but I have three part-time jobs to support my writing career. Between the tutoring, editing, adjuncting and complaining, I try to write.
TYPICAL DAY OF LINDSAY WONG
9 AM-10 AM-complain about writing to Carrianne Leung
10 AM-12 PM-complain about writing to Marni Berger
12 PM-1 PM-complain about writing to Doretta Lau
1-2 PM-complain about writing to Jenny Heijun Wills
2-3 PM-complain about writing to Facebook (general/random writers)
3-4 PM-complain about writing to group email, some variation of Sharon Bala, Catherine Hernandez, Uzma Jaluddin, etc.
4-6 PM-shower, brush teeth, eat a chocolate bar, find clean clothes and put on my face; complain about writing to agent or publicist via email
7-9 PM-go to book launch party; complain about writing to David Chariandy, Kevin Chong, and whoever is in the room; stuff cake into purse
9-10 PM-complain about writing to Ian Williams and to a car full of poor writers who have to listen to me complain
10-PM-4 AM-write + eat cake
VS: What is your favourite curse word?
LW: I can’t decide. All of them? They are all so useful, haha.
VS: Is there someone you dream of talking writing with or maybe being interviewed by? If so, who and what would the dream situation be? A cafe in Paris chat with someone? Tanning on a beach and talking?
LW: A lot of people don’t know that I’m an incredibly shy introvert and hermit. I don’t enjoy being interviewed or talking to strangers lol. I find it quite frightening to be honest. I think I went into some kind of mild shock when I realized that being an author means promoting your work and talking nonstop to people that you don’t know. But I’ll take sitting in a cafe in Paris with a chocolate crepe or tanning on a beach with a cigar by myself any day! In this fantasy, I’m the only person sitting in the fancy cafe and I somehow have access to a private beach in the Bahamas and the interviewer will be chatting with my doppelganger–an hired actress that will be playing me and doing all my future book promotion. 😉
It was soooo fun engaging with you, Lindsay! Thank you!
Folks, do connect and stay connected with Lindsay! Her new book comes out in early June…likely without a way to physically gather together…so, support is welcomed by purchasing her book, gifting it….reading it and sharing thoughts about it on your socials!
Connect with Lindsay: