18 Aug

When I was a young pianist, I participated in numerous competitions. I remember one in particular, where I had won my division in southern California, and was up against the winner from the northern region. The final competition took place in a ballroom at a swanky hotel in San Francisco, and I was scheduled to play last. I was sick with nerves. My palms were so sweaty that I had to wipe them on the hem of my lace dress. There was also a good chance I was going to upchuck my breakfast all over the gold-patterned hotel carpet.

I remember my competitor was a handsome young man, who played the first movement of a Brahms Sonata brilliantly. After he performed, a well-respected piano teacher I’d known for years—who also happened to be in the audience that day—looked over at me, gave me a sad smile, and shrugged apologetically. He was implying that because I was a young girl wearing a pretty pink dress, I didn’t have a chance in hell to beat this serious young man in a black tuxedo. This was the early 1980’s, and so I believed him.

As I walked up to the stage, my nervousness suddenly disappeared. I figured that if I wasn’t going to win, I might as well just go for it. I performed my piece—a contemporary sonata by Norman Dello Joio—with my total heart and soul. And it was the best I’d ever played it. Not only that, I had a wonderful time.

Here’s where I tell you that it didn’t matter if I won or lost—the important lesson being that I went for it. When the pressure of needing to win was removed, I was really able to shine. I played circles around that guy that day. My performance was more interesting, more musical, and way more exciting than his.

And here’s where I also tell you that I won that competition. I’ll never forget that teacher’s reaction when my name was announced as the winner. The memory of the surprised look on his face has stayed with me for 40 years—lasting way longer than the $500 prize money I received (and spent to pay off a huge phone bill I racked up from accepting collect phone calls from my jerk of a boyfriend—but that’s another story for another time.)

Why, you ask, are you reliving this story from so long ago? Well, it’s because I recently won another award. Not a musical one, but this time, one for my writing. My novel, LOST IN OAXACA, just won the American Book Fest Fiction Award in the category of Women’s Fiction.

Now, I know this is just a little Indy award—it’s not a huge accomplishment by any means. But since I’m just starting out with a whole new career as a writer, it feels really good to be acknowledged.

So I’ll accept this writing accolade with grace. Because the only person telling me I wasn’t worthy of winning this award was me.

And I just showed her.

Scroll down to the bottom of the list to see me!

14 Responses to “Winning”

  1. Karen Prince Fox August 18, 2020 at 2:24 pm #

    I am so very happy that you won the award! And also the pianist award several years ago.
    Thank you for your book and for your blogs.

  2. dmensign2015 August 18, 2020 at 2:37 pm #

    Bravo! 🙂

    D. Michael Ensign, CHA

    General Manager

    Holiday Inn Express & Suites, Carpinteria

    Ph – 805-566-9499


  3. Elisabeth August 18, 2020 at 2:48 pm #


  4. Bonnie Forman Gerstenfeld August 18, 2020 at 2:53 pm #

    love it! Highlight of my day reading your story

  5. Michele Abbott August 19, 2020 at 9:22 am #

    Amazing! You are such an inspiration and a talent! Thanks for sharing – it gives us hope.

  6. Evelina Curzan August 19, 2020 at 11:21 am #

    Congratulations on winning this well-deserved award! I’ve read your book ‘LOST IN OAXACA’ and found it to be most interesting! A compelling story, written by an accomplished author! I will be looking forward to reading more of your books.

    • Allegro non tanto August 19, 2020 at 11:32 am #

      Thank you, Evelina! I appreciate you taking the time to let me know you liked my novel! ❤️

  7. Suzanne Duffy August 24, 2020 at 12:11 am #

    Marvelous blog post story, Jessica! Congratulations, then and now!!

  8. Melanie Jacobson August 24, 2020 at 6:18 am #


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