The Woo Woo, by Lindsay Wong, is a memoir about growing up in a dysfunctional Asian family. Her grandmother was a paranoid schizophrenic, and her mom terrified of the “woo-woo” – Chinese ghosts who visit when people are experiencing turmoil.
“I found out my book was a Canada Reads finalist a day after the longlist announcement,” Wong tells Humber Today. “After having so many rejections with The Woo Woo, it always astonishes me that someone liked the book enough to champion it.”
Canada Reads is an annual “battle of the books” organized by and aired on CBC to determine the one book Canadians should read immediately. A different celebrity personality defends each book. Arguing for The Woo Woo is Joe Zee, Entertainment Tonight’s previous special fashion correspondent, Elle magazine’s former creative director and executive director of the Netflix documentary series 7 Days Out.
“I am beyond thrilled and honored that Joe Zee believes in the book!” says Wong. “He has great taste in fashion and literature.”
Wong applied for Humber’s creative writing program after more than a dozen publishers rejected The Woo Woo.
After getting her MFA in literary nonfiction, Wong says she was “jobless, broke, living with my parents, and facing too much rejection in my writing practice.
“I decided to take a break from the memoir and learn how to write fiction. Humber was offering scholarships (which was the only way that I could take the program), and I was fortunate enough to receive one. At Humber, I was able to complete a draft of absurd, interconnected ‘immigrant horror stories,’ where monsters literally chase families from Asia to North America.”
With Jami Attenberg mentoring her in the program, Wong says the experience was fantastic.
“What’s unique about the program is that you get to work exclusively with an established mentor and sometimes that really helps you to focus on your craft.
“I took the program to learn how to write fiction, and it helped cut some bad habits, like overwriting. I think any writer at any stage of their practice can benefit from the editorial eye of an expert. You get unbiased feedback from someone who is coming to your work with a fresh perspective.”
Mental health is a big topic in Wong’s book – and something, she says, that is rarely if ever talked about in Asian families.
“Mental health is something that affects us all. I think there is a huge stigma about it, especially in Asian cultures, where we pretend that it just doesn’t happen. I think if we’re able to have open conversations about depression, anxiety, or other forms of ‘invisible’ health issues, we’ll be able to normalize going to see a therapist. If we see a doctor for a flu or a broken leg, why can’t we see a health professional for our minds?”
Canada Reads 2019 airs on CBC from March 25 to 28.