By Paula Brown
Have you ever picked at a wound?
This is how Lindsay Wong, author of The Woo-Woo and grad of Humber School of Writers describes writing a memoir.
“I have a wound here and I sort of keep picking at it and picking at it until I really understand what these people are doing, where they’re from,” says Wong.
The Woo-Woo is a memoir about Wong’s life growing up in her family. With a grandmother with paranoid schizophrenia and a mother afraid of the Chinese ghosts known as the “woo-woo” that appear in times of turmoil, Lindsay writes about the mental illness within her family and the symptoms she also experiences with vertigo.
“With memoir the hardest part is to really go back in time and really think about what happened. There’s moments when you want to just look forward and go on and be like this didn’t happen, I want to get over it but memoir forces you to kind of dig deeper,” says Wong.
The Woo-Woo was released in October 2018 from Arsenal Pulp Press and was a contender in CBC’s 2019 Canada Reads competition.
Prior to its publishing with Arsenal Pulp Press, The Woo-Woo was rejected 13 times for publication. Wong says that she wouldn’t wish the submission process on anyone.
“You get these comments from publishers who tell you the story is too weird, too niche, not universal enough,” says Wong.
A part of the 2019 Canada Reads, The Woo-Woo was defended by panelist Joe Zee, a fashion journalist and television personality. After Zee was approached by CBC to be a part of the competition, Zee says he specifically wanted to represent The Woo-Woo to address and debate the underrepresented Asian voice.
“When I was suggested Lindsay’s book, it immediately clicked,” says Zee. “I knew the book and subject matter were going to be difficult for everyone but as I said during the debates, addressing difficult matters are necessary, even if I had to be first and run the risk of being untraditional and unconventional.”
“It was definitely amazing just to know the book had touched so many people,” says Wong.
In the first of a four-day competition that sees panelists defend, debate and eliminate books to determine the tome that all of Canada should read, The Woo-Woo was the first to be eliminated.
“I knew this book would be tough for my other panelists, but it was so incredibly important for me to address this and stand behind it, ” says Zee. “I love Lindsay’s voice and honestly with this story and of course, the importance of discussing mental health so there was never a plan B for me.”
The Woo-Woo address unconformable circumstances that not all immediately understand — something Zee says is important.
“Lindsay’s book might not be the traditional book you pick up and it might be uncomfortable to get through or even relate to, but if we, as readers, are always going to only be compelled to read experiences we have already experienced or be moved in ways we have been moved before, then how will we ever evolve as society or as book lovers.”