Lindsay Wong

Interviewed by Alex Cole.

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Lindsay Wong grew up in Vancouver, BC. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia, and a MFA in Literary Nonfiction from Columbia University in New York City. She is the author of The Woo-Woo (Arsenal Pulp Press, Oct 2018), which was shortlisted for 2018 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction, and the forthcoming novel The Summer I Learned Chinese (Simon Pulse, Summer 2020).

What was your experience in UBC Creative Writing program like?

I began taking writing seriously at UBC. When you’re placed in an intimate workshop environment and expected to produce semi-polished pieces in various genres with the sole purpose of receiving honest feedback from other writers, it makes you instantly understand that writing is both a profession and practice. UBC taught me how to prioritize writing over all else.

The UBC Creative Writing program also introduced me to some amazing and very generous mentors. I’m so grateful for the multiple kindnesses and encouragement from Linda Svendsen, Mary Schlendlinger, Alison Acheson, Andreas Schroeder, Nancy Lee and Kevin Chong. When you’re a student writer, any sort of feedback, no matter how seemingly insignificant, can shape your determination and motivation to continue. These instructors recognized the raw potential in me, and I’m so grateful.

Did you find your love for non-fiction during the BFA? Or before that?

I don’t think anyone makes the conscious decision to be a memoirist, but to be considered for the BFA program at UBC, the portfolio required proficiency in three genres, and writing nonfiction seemed far easier than learning to write libretto. Mary Schlendlinger’s nonfiction workshop was the first time that I began to investigate the genre, and at that time, I found it more organic to write profiles based on real-life interviews than to write short stories crafted from the imagination.

I wouldn’t say I love nonfiction, especially writing memoir. The Woo-Woo was not a particularly enjoyable book to write, but I definitely found it necessary to make sense of some of the bizarre events and individuals that have shaped my life.

Where was your favourite place to do a residency?

I would have to say The Studios of Key West, where the residency organizers would take us boating, parasailing and jet skiing. The first day that I arrived, the engine of our little boat caught fire and we were stranded on the water for seven hours! It was like a short story, seven strangers (six writers and one visual artist) stuck on a boat in the middle of nowhere, discussing potential cannibalism.

The Studios of Key West also felt more like a holiday rather than a writing retreat. They have amazing cafe con leches in Key West, and I’d go to this cafe (5 Brothers Grocery and Sandwich Shop, I believe Shel Silverstein’s favourite place) for my extra-sugary coffee. For breakfast, I would smoke a fat cuban cigar and then suntan on the beach.

What have been some of the biggest obstacles or challenges you have faced as a writer?

Being diagnosed with MAV (Migraine-Associated Vertigo) was a tremendously debilitating obstacle for me, as I could not write or read for long periods for nearly five years. I would lie in bed, trying to decipher my own handwriting. I was nauseous, suffering from constant dizziness, visual hallucinations, constant ringing in the ears, and I couldn’t eat or sleep. Not being able to read because the individual words in a book or on a computer screen were moving around was an immense challenge for an aspiring writer.

What position did you play in hockey?

I played left defence. I was always the biggest, meanest kid in Peewee. I was essentially the Team Goon! If I didn’t like someone on the opposing team, or if I was feeling cranky, I’d knock a player into the floorboards or trip them with my stick. Sometimes, I’d push them down and just sit on them until the referee blew the whistle.

In October, I did a reading at the Real Vancouver Writers Series and I began chatting with one of the other readers, Meghan Bell. We realized that we had played hockey against each other when we were kids, and she remembered that my team “played dirty.” And I was like, “Yep! That was me.”

What is your most powerful memory from ice hockey?

There’s a powerful memory from ice hockey that I talk about in my memoir. You can read an excerpt here.

I do remember that my dad didn’t tell me that he had signed me up for power skating to prep for hockey season. I was in sixth grade, and he woke me up at 5 AM, and promised me McDonald’s if I got into the car. It turned out that he had signed me up for power skating classes. I had never played ice hockey before, so I showed up to the session without a jersey, barely able to skate. I was also the only girl in a group of twenty boys who all wanted to be NHL players. I was furious at my dad for lying about Mcdonald’s and making me exercise at 5 AM.

What would a younger you be surprised to learn about your present self?

 I think she wouldn’t recognize or necessarily care about her present self. But if we somehow met at a time where the present and past converged, younger Lindsay wouldn’t listen to present-day Lindsay unless I was offering my former self junk food or a lot of $20 bills. Younger Lindsay would probably tell Present Lindsay to “f– off.”

 Alexandra Cole is currently in her final year of the Creative Writing BFA at University of British Columbia. She enjoys ice hockey, cats, and a good cup of tea. She plans to pursue her MFA at the University of British Columbia in Creative Writing.

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