Interview by the Young Adulting Editors
Lindsay Wong is the author of the bestselling, award-winning memoir The Woo-Woo: How I Survived Ice Hockey, Drug-Raids, Demons, and My Crazy Chinese Family. She has a BFA in creative writing from the University of British Columbia and an MFA in literary nonfiction from Columbia University, and she is now based in Vancouver, Canada. My Summer of Love and Misfortune is her first YA novel. Visit her online at https://lindsaywongwriter.com or on Twitter @LindsayMWong.
Name the thing you love most about being a writer and the thing you absolutely detest.
Honest answer? I love having an excuse to stay home in my pajamas and eat copious amounts of junk food. Kettle Corn and dark chocolate are my all-time favorites. I also really love Haribo gummy bears. If it’s a really shitty day, I’ll chase it all down with a liter of Diet Coke, black coffee, and Haagen-Dazs. When I write, I have the disgusting diet of a thirteen-year old boy but I’m getting older, which means I have an eighty-year old man stomach. The writing snacks are now followed by lots of Zantac and Pepto Bismol. That’s probably why I became a writer in the first place. No other profession lets you hide away from the world and binge eat gross food in the name of creating art haha.
I’m one of those writers that absolutely detest writing. Revisions are my least favorite thing to do, but I’m miserable when I’m not writing and grumpy when I’m not working on a project. I always tell people not to be a writer if they can help it. Maybe writing is like an addiction. I must be drawn to shitty foods and shitty people and things that are horribly bad for me in general lol.
What possessed you to make the leap from a non-fiction writer (for adults) to a young adult novelist?
I blame the sorting hat at UBC’s writing program for putting me in a nonfiction class when I was a BFA student. 😉 I loved studying Young Adult with Alison Acheson and Linda Svendsen, and writing YA got put on hold when my nonfiction professors, Mary Schenlinger and Andreas Schroeder, told me that my family was dysfunctional enough to feature in a memoir. I’m very grateful to have a chance to work in multiple genres, and I thank my mentors in the UBC creative writing program for encouraging me to experiment and telling me that I did not suck at writing!
Also, YA is so much fun and nearly painless! After writing fiction, who wants to go back to memoir? Writing a memoir is horrible. I wanted to gouge out my eyeballs while writing The Woo-Woo and many times while promoting it, but I don’t have health insurance so I wouldn’t be able to afford it if I did.
You were still promoting your memoir The Woo Woo when you started writing My Summer of Love and Misfortune. Tell us about the process of writing this book.
I thought only five people would read The Woo-Woo, and I would only have to do 1-2 readings so I would have a lot of time to write My Summer of Love and Misfortune, which was on contract at the time. I grossly and naively underestimated the time that book promotion would take (47 readings, multi-international tours, and so many interviews for Woo-Woo etc) that I ended up writing the YA book in airports and on flights. Sometimes, while I was waiting in line-ups, I would frantically type out paragraphs on my phone. Jennifer Ung, my editor at Simon Pulse, was amazing to work with, and I felt so shitty that I kept asking for extensions. I remember the first deadline was due as soon as I landed in Hong Kong, and I had only written 40,000 words. I was able to finish the draft on the flight there, and as soon as I cleared customs, I sent her the manuscript haha.
My Summer Of Love and Misfortune was such a delight to immerse myself in, but the travel schedule for Woo-Woo had me flying to Windsor, returning to Vancouver for two hours to switch suitcases, flying to Hong Kong, hanging out in Bali for a festival, flying home to Vancouver to grab more winter clothes, and then rushing back to the airport to do a lecture in Sault Ste Marie. I also moved three times while I was writing My Summer, and at one point, I was living out of my suitcase lol. It was hectic, but the experience really taught me how to write on deadline and not worry too much.
Are you a fan of YA? What YA books or authors do you adore?
I love YA so much. I worked as an editorial intern at Wendy Lamb Books/Random House in New York for a year, and it was an amazing experience to read so many wonderful MG and YA authors like Gary Paulsen, Rebecca Stead, Meg Rosoff, and Patricia Reilly Giff. Working in editorial really makes you realize that publishers receive hundreds and hundreds of submissions a week. They have a wall of shame at Random House where they post the worst and weirdest query letters and sometimes my office was the mail room because I would just be recycling slush as soon as I opened the mail. Wendy Lamb was my first editorial mentor, and she taught me how to closely line-edit and critique a manuscript by always having the author’s intention in mind first.
I especially admire John Green, Libba Bray, Gloria Chao, S.K. Ali, Sandhya Menon, Sally Green, Garth Nix, Holly Black, Jenny Han, Philip Pullman, Susan Juby and so many others. I constantly immerse myself in a variety of YA, and my favorite books, whether contemporary or fantasy, keep me turning the pages compulsively. I binge-read/listen to YA via audiobooks like I binge-eat junk food lol. It’s my drug of choice.
What are you working on next?
I have a draft of another YA manuscript about an under-dog Chinese kid who gets bullied and a short story collection of immigrant horror stories and I’m also drafting a fun satirical adult novel. While I was at UBC, I wrote an undergrad YA thesis about the competitive world of triple A female ice hockey, and I have always loved the idea of writing a hockey novel, but my thesis is unusable. I’m such a different writer (hopefully a better one) than I was when I was a BFA student. Maybe I’ll end up writing that hockey novel some day. =)