As a former finance expert and TV host, Carmen Rita Wong experienced first-hand the ups and downs of being a driven, successful Latina. However, it was a depiction she found lacking in Hollywood and in the pages of New York Times Bestsellers. That’s why the determined Wong took matters into her hands via her fiction book, Never Too Real, the first of a trilogy, which follows a group of successful Latinas as they navigate career, love, family and enduring friendship.
The road to publishing wasn’t easy for Wong. “We are not looking for aspirational in this market at this time,” she was told. Instead, they were searching for "suffering and poverty,” she told Latina.
Hoping to create new representations about Latinas and putting aside her own writing fears, Never Too Real was released this summer to popular and critical acclaim.
Latina spoke with Wong about the need to have portrayals of successful, career-driven mujeres, her journey writing Never Too Real, its response and more.
What inspired you to write the book?
I started out as a writer years ago, but this is my first foray into fiction. I got to a point in my life where I needed to do something a little different and adventurous. I was both frustrated and inspired. The frustration came about because I just didn’t see us enough out there. I grew up really loving books like The Joyluck Club, and seeing these women of color who are first generation in their family go to college and be successful and tackling all these issues that we deal with as Latinas. I a had a party with a bunch of friends and we each brought a younger Latina that we were mentoring, and I looked around and said, "why don’t we see ourselves in media and Hollywood the way I see these amazing women in this room?" That inspired me, I just didn’t see it, so I decided to write it .
Tell us about how each character came about.
It is fiction, but each character's storyline ties to something in my life. Cat loses her show and has to figure out what she wants to do, which I experienced. Gabby goes through a divorce, and that happened to me. Luz discovers who her real father is, which also happened to me and is shocking. Magda’s mother passes away and there is a schism in her family that needs to be repaired. Those ideas come from my life, but I really created the characters as kind of an amalgam of all of my friends. Some pieces of them are from my Latina friends. I have Black Latina friends, so that’s Luz. I have blonde, blue-eyed Venezuelan Latina friends, and that’s Magda. I know a gay venture capitalist who’s fantastically wealthy. There is definitely a bit of all the people that I know in there, but their story lines are very personal, very real.
What is the most meaningful part of the book for you?
I just wanted to be very honest about the relationships and how we support each other and also the idea that Latinas are diverse. You see it more and more today and you see it more and more in the future. We are Black, white, blonde, brown, gay and straight. We marry within our own people and outside of our own people. Our kids are mixed, sometimes they don’t speak Spanish and sometimes they speak Spanish. I purposefully did it; I didn’t even have to contrive it. This is my life life. I am surrounded by this diversity. This is normal to me, so I wanted that to be very easy. I wanted to communicate that idea that we are not one kind, because I think the more inclusive we can be, the more powerful we are as Latinas.
This book is very universal and you shared a lot. Was that difficult for you?
The biggest hurdle getting over was my own self-doubt because it was a new form of writing. It was a big risk, but I was so in love with these characters, not because they were me but rather because they were all women. I had a review on Instagram from a follower who was a self-proclaimed “white girl,” and she said, “I learned so much reading this book about that experience and I could see myself too but I also learned a ton.” That’s a review I want to see because you don’t have to be Latina. I have my African-American girlfriends who love it because they see themselves. At the end of the day, the themes are universal to women in general. That was the real reason why I did this, not just for Latinas but for all women. This is what I love.
Get your copy of Never Too Real on Kindle or paperback.