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Winning

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.

http://americanbookfest.com/americanfictionawards/2020afapressrelease.html

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

Not Done Yet

22 Jul

 

img_2247From the time I won an essay contest in second grade, I dreamed of becoming a writer. I wasted a lot of years doing everything but writing, mainly because I was such an expert at avoidance and self-doubt. Sometimes, though, we are fortunate enough to hit bottom at some point in our lives, and this sends us into the direction we were always meant to go. I had that experience in my mid-forties, where I was subsequently able to wriggle out of my rusty chains of insecurity and actually start writing. And after many years of back-breaking (butt-numbing) hard work, I actually completed an honest-to-god novel. Then I even got the damn thing published.

Yay! Good for me! I should feel excited, accomplished, and proud, right?

Um, no. I don’t feel any of those things. I mostly feel sad. And guilty. Self-promoting one’s novel is never an easy task, but doing it in the midst of a devastating pandemic and one of the greatest social uprisings in our country, feels overly self-serving (even though isn’t that the point of marketing?)

But like many other writers out there trying to drum up some hype for their newly published books, I’m asking myself, how much is too much? Should I stop trying to draw attention to myself when the country is falling apart? When folks are worried about putting food on the table, getting evicted from their homes, or being pepper-sprayed (or worse) while protesting, they’re probably not going to be excited about seeing another Instagram/Facebook post of a copy of LOST IN OAXACA placed artfully next to a sweating glass of iced tea while I tout it as the next great summer read.

I get it. There are so many more important things to talk about right now. But I’ve been at this for such a long time—I’m just not ready to give up on it yet. Especially when a fricking virus cancelled my book-signing party.

I know this novel doesn’t define me—it’s only a fraction of who I am. But it is meaningful, because it’s a direct result of a major shift that took place in my own life. And I still feel the need to honor that, even if it means still talking about the book. And while I’ll try my best not to over-share, I’m not ready to shut up about LOST IN OAXACA just yet. So if you see that pretty blue book cover in your social media feed yet again, just grin and bear it—and feel free to scroll on by.

Then again, maybe you’re looking for a fun literary escape?

Have I got the perfect book for you.

 

If you’re interested in hearing more about LOST IN OAXACA, check out my recent guest spot on the NEW BOOKS NETWORK podcast.

https://player.fm/series/new-books-in-literature-2421420/jessica-winters-mireles-lost-in-oaxaca-she-writes-press-2020

Awareness

3 Jul

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I’ve always thought of myself as a flexible person, but the truth is, change is difficult for me. I’ve enjoyed an easy, comfortable life where I can pretty much go anywhere, do anything, or speak my mind freely without anyone questioning me. I don’t have to worry that I’ll be stopped and questioned by the police because of the way I look. My white privilege has offered me more opportunity than people of color. As a woman, there have been times in my life when I’ve experienced sexism—and even been afraid, but I’ve never been discriminated against because of my skin color.

I recently published my novel, LOST IN OAXACA, where my protagonist, a white, privileged piano teacher named Camille, travels to Mexico in search of her missing protégé. Unable to speak the language, Camille finds herself literally lost in the mountains of Oaxaca, where she must rely on others to help her navigate not only the remote mountainous terrain, but an unfamiliar culture as well. For the first time in her life, Camille is the different one. Yet, instead of encountering racism and hate, she is given guidance, care, acceptance, and ultimately love, by those who are not offered reciprocal treatment back home in her world. She thus begins the difficult process of acknowledging her privilege and opening her mind to becoming aware.

This shift in awareness is the first step in becoming anti-racist. If we allow ourselves the chance to shed a single incorrect belief in our minds, we can move on to shedding another. Then another—and so on. When we finally realize that the story we’ve been taught for so long is not true, we can make real change in the direction of equality for all. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: it’s up to those of us who benefit from white privilege to fight for those who don’t. We can’t stay silent any longer.

I know I have much work to do. I’ve been way too comfortable for far too long.

I won’t tell you what happens to Camille; you’ll have to read the novel to find out.

                           Let’s just say that nothing is ever really lost.

 

Now What?

25 May

My novel, LOST IN OAXACA has been out in the world for over month, and I’m now being hit with a mild case of post-publication depression. From what I understand, it’s a common affliction for writers and other artists, who spend years working on a project, birth it out into the world, and then wait for it to be judged. There’s the initial buzz, we sell a few books, and the reviews begin to trickle in. Our hearts sing with all the positive accolades, until that one bad review pops up, and our souls are temporarily crushed. We don’t usually talk about our melancholy for fear of appearing whiny and ungrateful, but it’s there. Each day, our mood is largely dependent on our Author Central sales graph.

It certainly doesn’t help that an unexpected pandemic landed smack dab in the middle of my spring publication date, postponing my book signing until who knows when? Talk about a buzz kill!

And I did everything I was supposed to do. Leading up to my pub date, I wrote all the prerequisite articles to create buzz for my novel. Maybe it worked, maybe not, but either way, that part is over and done with. Now it’s up to me to keep the hype going. This is difficult, especially because I’m not a big fan of self-promotion. (Right now, you’re probably asking yourself, “Then why is she always posting or blogging about the damn book on social media?”) Honestly, if I could, I’d stop all this marketing stuff and get back to just writing. I loathe being that writer who constantly talks about her book, and yet I have to be, because it’s up to me to sell copies.

I figure my best bet is to offer all of you an unpaid internship as a marketing representative. If you’ve read LOST IN OAXACA and liked it, all you have to do is tell a friend about it. Or post a review on Amazon. I swear I’ll reciprocate should any of you need my unpaid marketing services in the future.

And rest assured—when this damn pandemic is under control, WE ARE HAVING A PARTY. I promise to sign each and every one of your copies. I will serve you mole, homemade tortillas, and even Oaxacan mezcal. We will raise our glasses for a toast to LOST IN OAXACA even if we have to stand six feet apart!

Thank you, dear readers, for buying my book. But mostly, thank you for being here with me all these years while I take this journey. I so appreciate all of you!

Pub Day!

21 Apr

img_0874Well, my big day is here. And during a pandemic, too. When I started this blog almost nine years ago, I never truly believed I had it in me to actually write a novel, let alone publish it. Well, to hell with that woman who had so little faith!

Here’s a link to my story, although if you’ve been reading this blog for all these years, you already know it.

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, dear readers! You’ve been with me this long journey and I am so grateful for you consistent support. Here’s a link to my story:

Women Writers, Women’s Books

I truly hope you enjoy reading Lost in Oaxaca! 

Now on to the next book. Lord help me.

Postponement

8 Apr

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Two weeks from today, Jessica Winters Mireles’ novel, Lost in Oaxaca will be released. This is a pretty big deal for Mireles, a middle-aged piano teacher who dreamed of being a published writer from a very young age.

Lost in Oaxaca was born over seven years ago, when Mireles sat down to write a paragraph about a young woman who finds herself stuck on a bus in the mountains of Oaxaca. During this time, Mireles experienced some fictitious bliss, but, like most writers and artists, faced her demons of insecurity on a daily basis. Ultimately, she was gratified that not only did she actually finish Lost in Oaxaca, but that it evolved into an uplifting story of love, adventure, and cross-cultural identity.

Mireles’ long labor of literary love was going to be celebrated with a book signing/launch at Chaucer’s, the beloved Indy bookstore cherished by Santa Barbara locals on Wednesday, April 20, 2020. No doubt the event would’ve been a huge gathering of friends and family, and Mireles would have been the reigning queen from approximately 7:00-9:00 p.m. A great lover of attention, Mireles would have certainly been in her element.

Unfortunately, an unexpected and devastating pandemic has caused Mireles’ big day to be postponed to a later date. While disappointed, Mireles realizes that her problems are nowhere near as dire as what others are facing at this current time, so she will gracefully accept her fate. She trusts that her friends will support Chaucer’s Bookstore by ordering a copy of Lost in Oaxaca for themselves, and maybe an additional copy for a friend or relative. She promises to sign each and every book should someone request it.

Mireles, a piano teacher for over thirty years, also knows that the best way to keep a business growing is by word of mouth. She is hoping that if you enjoy her book, you will spread the word by suggesting to your friends that they order a copy from Chaucer’s, who will even ship it to your house! Mireles is crossing her fingers that you will consider helping her with her publicity by posting on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram about how much you loved the book. Share away! And if you’re feeling really generous, a five-star review on Amazon or Goodreads would be greatly appreciated.

Mireles certainly understands that her book may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Some may even dislike it intensely. If this happens, she requests that the dissatisfied reader please keep their displeasure to themselves, and attempt to refrain from reviewing it in any way, shape or form.

Mireles also wants her readers to know how very much she loves and appreciates them. It’s been a long road, and while she may have hit a temporary road block, she’s bound to be on her way again shortly. In the meantime, there’s plenty of time to read these days!

You can absolutely count on Jessica Winters Mireles to keep you posted on the date of her rescheduled book signing!

https://www.chaucersbooks.com/

chaucers 2

Change of Plans

19 Mar

 

img_0633With all that’s going on in the world today, my problems are insignificant. I have comfortable shelter, enough food, and I can try to keep my piano teaching business going by working remotely. My husband, who is a school teacher, will still be paid even though he can’t go to work. We have medical insurance. So far, no one in our household is sick. For all of this, I’m extremely grateful.

But I’m still a bit sad. I’m disappointed that after so many years of hard work, all the exciting hoopla planned in my community for the release of Lost in Oaxaca probably isn’t going to happen. At least not in the near future. The novel will still be released and available on April 21, but unless a miracle happens, my book signing at Chaucer’s Bookstore in Santa Barbara on April 29 will most likely be postponed.

I’m not the only author with this predicament. Many of my fellow debut authors are facing the same challenge: How to drum up excitement for your book when you can’t gather in large crowds—or even in small crowds? Let’s just say no crowds.

I must now come up with new ways to promote my book online. Trust me, this is not easy for a middle-aged boomer such as myself. I’m learning as I go, but it’s pretty daunting.

I’m not giving up, though. I’ve worked too hard and for too long. And it’s really not about the celebration, it’s about reading the book. And all I really want is for you to read my book and connect to my story. That’s pretty much it.

I also want to support Chaucer’s, our local Indy bookstore. If you’re so inclined, visit their website: https://www.chaucersbooks.com/ and preorder a copy of Lost in Oaxaca. They are still open! Or you can preorder a copy on Amazon if you prefer.

Maybe this isolation will get us reading again. I mean, your brain is eventually going to need a break from binge-watching all that Netflix, right?

Be safe, be well, and take care of each other. I’m sending out virtual hugs to all of my friends, family and to you, dear readers. We will get through this.

Below is the beautiful postcard designed by my daughter, Leah, and son-in-law, Jeff. Even if it doesn’t happen, I may still send them out, just to support the post office by buying postage!

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Liar, Liar

11 Feb

img_0434Writing is not fun. The people who tell you, Oh, I love to write so much that wish I could spend all day doing it are lying. Because if they had the time to write all day long, they would use every distraction at their disposal to avoid actually writing something. I know this, because I am one of those liars myself.

Right now, while I may actually be writing something, it’s not what I’m supposed to be writing. I’m supposed to be starting my next novel. In fact, I should’ve started it ages ago—or at least created a substantial outline of what I want it to be. At this point, even a completed paragraph would be good.

Unfortunately, when you complete your first novel, and it’s about to be published, it’s assumed you’ve been at this writing thing since you were twelve, and that you have a minimum of two or three completed manuscripts in the bottom of a desk drawer somewhere that you can pull out, polish up a bit, and send off to your publisher.

Insert eye roll emoji here.

I really do want to start my next book. And I actually have a general idea of what I want to write about. It’s just that it’s a sensitive subject that’s close to my heart, which makes it that much more scary and overwhelming. I’m not afraid of expressing vulnerability, but I do worry too much about what others think of me. Especially since I’m a two on the Enneagram scale (truly weird how accurate this test is) which means my personality makes me only want to please. https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/type-2.

While the topic of my next novel may not please everyone, maybe it will help others, which is also part of my personality type. So I ask myself—which is more important—pleasing, or helping? With all the hate and division going on in the world these days, I think I’ll stick with helping.

Okay I’m done. I’m posting this, and then I swear, I’m not getting up from the computer until I write an entire page. Or maybe a paragraph. Or at least one really great sentence.

I’ll keep you posted.

Lost in Oaxaca

Shutting Her Up

7 Feb

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When my youngest daughter was diagnosed with leukemia almost thirteen years ago, my life changed profoundly. In the middle of all that fear and chaos, I somehow found me. I discovered just how strong I was; I learned to focus on what was most important in life—family, friends, finding joy in the little things. I began to ignore that malevolent voice who was always telling me I wasn’t good enough to pursue my dreams. With her silenced, I found my true passion: writing.

So now, over a decade later (where the heck does the time go?) I’m about to make a really big dream come true—publishing my first novel. And I should be over the moon excited about it, but instead, I’m nervous. More like petrified. As my publishing date approaches, that nasty voice that I told to shut up all those years ago has sensed my vulnerability and she is on the attack. She’s bitchier than ever—telling me how stupid I am to think to anyone will read my book; that I’m a total fraud, and what makes you think you’re an actual writer?

Lately, I’m wondering why I allowed this bitch to get into my head again. Most of my advanced readers have loved Lost in Oaxaca. The Book Club Cook Book loved it. https://www.bookclubcookbook.com/galleymatchbookclubsrecommend-copy-2-2/  So what am I afraid of? Rejection? After 150 outright NOs from publishers and agents, I don’t think that’s it. Criticism? Maybe. Perhaps it’s because I feel like I’m about to give birth to a child that I’ve spent seven years creating, and I want everyone to love her unconditionally. Yet I’m savvy enough to know this is not going to happen.

So the voice scolds and rebukes me; tries to get me to believe that I won’t be a success. But if there’s one thing I know—it’s that I won’t ever stop writing. I love words and stories and books too much. I love colorful characters who are flawed and scared. I want them figure it all out, just as I’m figuring it all out. And writing is my pathway. It allows me to share my doubts and fears with you, so that maybe in our shared vulnerability, we can connect on a deeper level. That’s what really makes me want to write.

Thirteen years ago, when I was at my lowest, I somehow got that bitch to shut up.

I can do it again.

 

I’d love to see you at Chaucer’s Bookstore on Wednesday, April 29, 2020 from 7:00-9:00 p.m. for my book signing!

Long Overdue

16 Jan

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If not for my college roommate and dear friend, Kay, my novel, Lost in Oaxaca, would have never been written. Kay and I have been close friends since seventh grade, when nine twelve year-old girls from different elementary schools merged together and formed a friendship that is still going strong almost fifty years later.

You can read about us here if you like:

https://allegronontanto.wordpress.com/2011/12/18/my-girls/

Kay was the one who always did everything first. She cut her hair before it was a thing, rocking a Dorothy Hamill haircut like nobody’s business. She wore espadrilles before there were popular. She painted her bedroom walls a dark chocolate brown, listened to depressing Barry Manilow songs, and wrote deep thoughts down in a leather-bound journal. I borrowed her clothes, hoping that some of her specialness would rub off on me. It didn’t take.

Kay was (and still is) an incredible actress and singer, and she decided to apply to the theater department at USC. I quickly followed her lead and applied to the music school. I know I got in on my own merit, but being the anxious and insecure teenager I was at the time, I don’t think I would have taken the initiative to apply to USC without her doing it first. We were both accepted, and the following fall, we headed off to LA together.

We were too cool to live in the dorms. Somehow, we managed to rent an adorable two bedroom apartment in Santa Monica that had hardwood floors, crown molding, and magically, a sliver of an ocean view out the upstairs window. We drank cheap wine, watched SNL reruns and dreamed of becoming famous. We acquired a cat and named her Cressida. During the summer before our senior year, Kay got a job waitressing at an upscale hamburger restaurant on Wilshire. And because I followed her everywhere, I got a job there, too.

At that restaurant, I fell in love with one of the line cooks responsible for making all those fancy, gourmet hamburgers. He was an indigenous Zapotec man from Oaxaca, Mexico, and not only was he handsome, he was kind. Two years later, I married him. For our honeymoon, we traveled to his hometown in Oaxaca, Mexico. There, the seed for my novel, Lost in Oaxaca was planted. Being the late bloomer that I am, that little seed took an awful long time to germinate. But this coming spring (April 21 to be exact) it’s going to blossom into something pretty big and beautiful.

Jessica Winters Mireles

After thirty-five years, it’s long overdue, but thank you, Kay, for letting me follow you all those years ago, so that I could eventually learn to find my own way.