Lindsay Wong is the author of the new young adult novel My Summer of Love and Misfortune. She also has written the memoir The Woo-Woo. She is based in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for My Summer of Love and Misfortune, and for your character Iris?
A: I had just finished writing my memoir, The Woo-Woo: How I Survived Ice Hockey, Drug-Raids, Demons, And My Crazy Chinese Family (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2018), and editor Jennifer Ung at Simon Pulse asked my agent if I might be interested in writing a book about a Chinese-American teen who fails her senior year and doesn’t get into any colleges and her parents send her to Beijing to “learn how to be Chinese.”
Not one to turn down an opportunity to write anything else besides memoir, I instantly said YES!
One of my part-time jobs is working as a private education consultant (glorified tutor/babysitter) and I help a lot of international students with their applications and personal essays for colleges.
Iris is based on the personalities of some of my uber-wealthy Chinese students who live in Shangri-La penthouse suites in Vancouver, drive very expensive sports cars, and refuse to study or do homework. Their parents want them to attend Ivy League schools, but these kids are more interested in partying, doing drugs, getting tattoos, and hooking up.
A lot of them are lost and really struggling to know what to do because they don’t want to attend college, and no adult has ever asked them what they wanted or allowed them to fix their own mistakes. I wanted to do a book that speaks specifically to young people who might feel directionless.
Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says it "reads like Confessions of a Shopaholic meets Crazy Rich Asians." What do you think of that description?
A: Sophie Kinsella and Kevin Kwan are both brilliant, so I will take that comparison as a compliment!
Iris does get to meet her CRA (Crazy Rich Asian) family that she’s never met before and she definitely loves to spend her parents’ money, but she is also very lost and ashamed.
What I think is hopefully different about My Summer of Love and Misfortune is that the book is about finding oneself and making messes and being selfish because you just don’t know how else to act.
But honestly, if this book is as fun and entertaining as Kineslla and Kwan’s books and speaks to someone who has made mistakes with relationships, either romantic, personal or familial, I’m so happy to have worked on this book.
Q: Can you say more about what you hope readers take away from the novel?
A: Asian women in North America are always portrayed as perfect, smart, law-abiding, and essentially the good dutiful girls in literature.
I wanted to write about a Chinese character that is the complete opposite of that: someone who is hypocritical, flawed, messy, selfish, and absurd at the same time. A Chinese female teen character who is not a straight-A student.
I think there is a standard for women characters to be constantly likeable, and especially for WOC characters, since we’re expected to behave and act and exist in a certain way. Iris Wang doesn’t know who she is, and so much of her shopping and reckless behavior is because of this shame and refusing to admit it.
I hope readers take away that it is totally okay to not know who you are or what you want when you are 17 years old. And it’s totally okay to be someone who screws up and that self-esteem is something you can learn and master. It’s a gradual process, and I can definitely relate.
Q: As you mentioned, you've also written a memoir--how did your writing process compare, and do you have a preference for one genre over the other?
A: No one likes writing a memoir. If they do, they might have a serious problem or they are just lying to you!
Writing a memoir was exceedingly difficult. You have to go to dark, uncomfortable places that you don’t want to necessarily explore, but you do it because the story always comes first.
I was actually shocked when I discovered that YA was so much fun! Working with Jennifer Ung made me truly enjoy the process of writing again. And I had a fantastic time playing with fictional characters and exploring the absurd world of Beijing’s elite.
I think fiction lets one experiment with plot and structure, but with creative nonfiction, it felt very much like an ongoing struggle to make sense of yourself to find out who you are on the page and who you are as an individual in real life.
Nonfiction feels like self-work to me, but fiction doesn’t. Does that sort of make sense? I keep saying that I will never write a memoir again, at least not until I’m 70 years old and I have more stories to tell, but I’ll honestly take YA over nonfiction any day.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am revising a YA manuscript about a Chinese male teen with OCD and a short story collection of “immigration horror stories.”
I’m also outlining an adult novel inspired by the time I was handpicked to be maid of honor at this high-profile wedding based on my height and weight and how I would look standing beside the bride in the photos.
Anyway, it was sort of hilarious because I ended up writing everyone’s speeches and the bride’s vows on my iPhone an hour before. All I can say is that Asians really take their wedding parties seriously.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: A virtual book launch (prom-themed) and give-away will be hosted June 2 on Simon and Schuster Canada’s Instagram account. More information to come!
Follow me on Twitter @LindsayMWong or visit me on Instagram @LindsayWong.M. My website is https://lindsaywongwriter.com.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb