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I’m a Writer

30 Aug
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The beautiful mountains of Oaxaca

Six years ago, I sat down and wrote a paragraph. That paragraph turned into a page, then into a chapter, and finally, into a complete manuscript. To this day, I have no idea how I accomplished this. While I’d written a few short essays and even blogged semi-regularly, I had absolutely no concept of the process of putting together a cohesive narrative with an engaging plot line, vivid descriptions, and realistic dialogue. What made me think I had the audacity to publish a novel? I’m nobody—a middle-aged woman with no formal education in creative writing. A musician—not a writer.

But here I am, about to publish my first novel. April 21, 2020 is the day that Lost in Oaxaca will be released into world. Now, I’m not so naïve to believe that having published a novel will change my life in any tangible way. There are millions of authors out there, many who’ve written really good books. My little novel is just a tiny blip in the radar of words floating around in the literary universe.

But here’s the thing: Now, when people ask me what I do, I can say, I’m a writer. They’ll probably give me a skeptical look and say, Why, bless your little heart, honey. Have you ever published anything?”

“Why, yes I have,” I’ll reply with a smile. “Check out my novel on Amazon. . .”

Burn.

I may never publish anything again. I hope that’s not the case, but one never knows. But at least I can say that I doggedly stuck with something. All those years of writing, rewriting, cutting out, and revising, only to face such rejection. Seriously, in the span of two years, I was rejected or ignored by over 80 literary agents in the publishing world. But bless my little heart, I DID NOT GIVE UP.

Luckily, I found She Writes Press. Now here’s a group of women who support and celebrate other women writers—a publisher who doesn’t care that I’m a middle-aged nobody who has no marketable platform or ten thousand followers. They care about the voice of the author, and the quality of the writing. So I guess I should feel pretty good that they decided Lost in Oaxaca was worthy enough to be published.

The truth is, we women writers need to support each other. The publishing world is only one of the many places where women face adversity. Brooke Warner, the co-founder of She Writes Press, has just released a wonderful book called, Write On Sisters: Voice, Courage, and Claiming Your Place at the Table. I highly recommend it to all of my sister writers out there. It’s time we all sat down at the table together!

Write On, Sisters!

I now have a Facebook Author Page: Jessica Winters Mireles-author. Take a look and give me a Like if you would. And a new website is in the works. Don’t worry, I’ll definitely keep you posted. And I’ll apologize in advance for my incessant self-promotion. But if I don’t do it, who will?

Thank you, my dear readers for all of your support over the years. I truly appreciate all of you.

This. Is. Finally. Happening.

Terror

15 Jul

img_0494Over five years ago, when I first began writing my novel, “Lost in Oaxaca,” I never allowed myself to believe it would be published someday. Actually, that’s a lie. I did think about it—occasionally. Um, that’s another whopper. The truth is, I fantasized about it for hours on end; imagining what it would feel like to hold a book in my hands that had my name on it. To open it and see the words that I created spilling off the pages. The joy I’d feel upon seeing it on the shelf at the library, or prominently displayed in the bookstore. I could even see the line snaking around the building during my book signing at the famous Chaucer’s Book Store in Santa Barbara http://www.chaucersbooks.com/. I thought about the elation I’d experience knowing that people would be reading my story—taking a journey through a narrative that I created all on my own—connecting with my story (and ultimately me) in some intimate way.

So now that it’s happening, have I felt any joy? Nope. Elation? Not even close.

Try TERROR.

But before I get to terror, I’m going to touch a bit on vulnerability. Now, I get that most people’s literature preferences are subjective, and undoubtedly there are those who will read my book and absolutely hate it. Either because Contemporary Romance (dealing with current issues such as white privilege, racism, and illegal immigration) is not their cup of tea, or it’s because they don’t like the way I write. Or maybe they think my novel is too commercial, and not “literary” enough. Maybe they’ve already previewed the novel and disliked it, but were afraid to tell me because they love me and didn’t want to hurt my feelings.

On the flip side, there are those who’ve read it and raved about it. And I choose to believe them. The first friend I shared it with read it within two days. After she finished it, she sent me a text at midnight bubbling over with enthusiasm about how much she loved it. I don’t think she’ll ever know how life-changing that was for me (Thanks, Zip!) In any case, love it or hate it, putting my work out there for everyone to judge is definitely not easy. That pervasive voice in my head that’s been telling me my entire life that I’m not good enough is practically screaming at this point.

The terror part comes into play because I had no idea that when my book was finally done, the real work would begin. Initially, it was over three years of writing the damn manuscript. Then, almost two years of sending out query letters to agents, which were usually followed by a terse “it’s not what I’m looking for right now,” or worse, receiving no reply at all. After close to 100 outright rejections, I finally queried an Indie hybrid publishing company called She Writes Press who publish only women authors (read about them here: https://shewritespress.com/about-swp/) Thank goodness, they were willing to take a chance on a middle aged, unknown author like me.

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She Writes Press just won the 2019 Indie Publisher of the Year award by the Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group!

Unlike a traditional publisher, who I assume pretty much does everything for the author, I have to take on most of the workload myself. This is indeed frightening—although I’ve got to say that the incredible powerhouse women at She Writes Press are wonderful in holding my hand as I navigate the process. The exciting thing about publishing with a hybrid company is that I invest in my own publication for a greater share of the profits. It means hiring and working with a copy editor (truly an amazing experience), choosing a book cover design, creating an author tip sheet, website and specific social media accounts, and finally, hiring a publicist. All of this can get quite expensive on a piano teacher’s salary, but if the book sells reasonably well, maybe I can recoup some of my investment. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter; my objective was to write and publish a novel, and that’s what I’m doing. And no matter what it costs, I’m worth it.

April 21, 2020 is my “pub date” as they say in the business (and no, it doesn’t mean grabbing a beer with a friend.) As I get closer to the big day, I guarantee I’ll be posting about it—a lot. In fact, so much so that you may become quite sick of me. I apologize for this in advance.

Thank you, my dear readers, for your continued support. I hope you’ll enjoy coming along with me on this incredible ride!

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Off we go!

 

Happy

3 Jan

 

img_3936I’ve spent much of my life waiting for something to make me happy. If only ________ (fill in the blank) would happen, I’d be happy. If only I had________, everything would be all right. If only I could do _________I’d be fulfilled forever.

IF ONLY, IF ONLY, IF ONLY!

If and when the IF ONLY finally comes to pass (and it does happen occasionally) I’m content for a nanosecond. Then I’m right back to where I was before, hoping and wishing and dreaming of something better.

The other day my husband, René and I were driving somewhere together I must have let out a sigh. He turned to me and said, “You know, Jess—trying to be happy all the time is unrealistic. We may strive to find happiness—we may even have joyful moments here and there, but most of the time, every single one of us is struggling. And it’s okay to be sad. It’s human nature.”

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what he said, particularly because it’s frequently an internal battle for me to find constant happiness. Because I have so much to be grateful for, I feel guilty if I’m not blissful.

Of course I blame my parents. During my loosey-goosey 1970’s childhood, their philosophy was to promote an unrealistic idea of constant sweetness and light—no negativity allowed whatsoever. Happiness was a must—even if we had to fake it. All the while my poor, depressed father drank himself into oblivion every night.

Looking back on his short life (he died at 53) I understand now that he was faking it as well. While struggling daily with his ADHD and severe depression, he tamped down his creative side, trading it in for familial responsibility. I’m sure I’ve inherited some of my melancholy from him, although I’ve been lucky enough to also inherit some of his creativity. Even with all of the childhood angst I experienced, I’m grateful to him and my mother for giving me a life of privilege. I’m thankful I’ve been able to pass that good life down to my own children.

My goal for the coming year is to let go of this unrealistic idea that I must be happy all of the time. I’m going to allow myself to feel sad sometimes. Perhaps this will allow me to truly enjoy those moments of happiness that do come my way. And when they appear, I won’t have to fake it. I’ll allow the happiness fill my soul to the brim.

And when it’s full, I’ll let it spill out into the world.

Happy New Year, my dear readers. You indeed make me happy.

I thank you for that.

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This is me, not faking it.


 

 

Dream Come True

5 Nov

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Two and a half years ago I sent out my first query letter for my novel, Lost in Oaxaca. Over the course of that time I’ve received more standard rejection emails than I can count (actually I did count them but I’m mortified to admit to you how many are clogging my inbox.) I experienced some lovely moments of hope after receiving a handful of requests from agents to read the full manuscript. Then I was over the moon when the head of a reputable New York literary agency said she was “this close” to adding me to her list. She ultimately chose to decline.

One agent said I’d written “a well-crafted novel” and gave me some helpful advice. Another said she loved the book but had no idea how to market me. I’m not famous. I have no brand. These days, traditional publishing relies so much on who the author is, or what she looks like—it’s no longer focused solely on the writing. I totally get it. What traditional agency would want to take a chance on a middle-aged piano teacher who has hardly published anything?

All hope is not lost, though. I didn’t spend five years of my life writing/editing a novel to give up that easily. I’ve decided to head in a different direction. Come hell or high water, this novel is getting published.

The exciting news is that Lost in Oaxaca was recently accepted by Spark Press Publications, a hybrid agency that selects its authors based solely on the quality of the writing. https://gosparkpress.com/about/.

I know your first thought is that this is merely a vanity press—that anyone with enough cash can get their work published, not matter how good (or bad) it is. After much research, I’ve learned that this is definitely not the case. While I do have to finance the publication, I don’t have to worry about navigating all the difficult details of publishing.  Those details most likely would have led to a mental breakdown had I decided to self-publish. Keeping my sanity is worth the cost.

I’m a late bloomer. I didn’t start writing seriously until I was in my early fifties. With a family and a full time job, I don’t have a heck of a lot of time left over to write, let alone market my novel. This might be my only chance, so I’m going for it.

Barring any unforeseen problems, Lost in Oaxaca should come out in sometime in 2020.

Watch for the movie version shortly after that.

A girl can dream, can’t she?

 

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Worry

7 May

“When I look back on all these worries, img_2382I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.”

–Winston Churchill

You’d think that I would have learned my lesson after all these years. But I haven’t. I still wake up in the middle of the night, riddled with worry about the things that I have little control over. My go-to worry is usually about money—that’s there never enough of it—though compared to the rest of the world, my standard of living is in the top one percent. I worry about our house being eaten by termites. I worry about my weight and my health. I worry about politics (who doesn’t?) I worry about my kids, my husband and my aging mother. I worry that I’ll never find an agent for my book—that people are sick to death hearing about me and my dumb novel and how I can’t find an agent who loves it enough to sign me.

I worry that I’m not a good enough writer.

I lived with some form of worry my entire life, most of it pointless. Almost eleven years ago, my worry turned to terror when our daughter, Isa was diagnosed with cancer. Now, that was truly something to worry about. And boy, did I ever get good at it. For almost three years, I carried a tight ball of fear in my gut that never went away, not even for a moment. And when it was all over and Isa was cured, the worry slowly began to dissipate. I was left with this incredible sense of relief. Everything was sweeter and brighter and more joyful. I began to practice feeling grateful.

I stopped worrying and I found my passion.

I began to write.

And I’ve kept at it. Over the past six years, I’ve written 135 blog posts, published two essays (in actual magazines) and even earned $75 for one of them. I’ve managed to send out my annual Holiday newsletter. Every. Single. Frickin. Year. I’ve become friends with many amazing writers (virtually and in person.) And I wrote an entire novel, which most of the time I think is pretty good if I’m feeling generous toward myself.

But in the process of following my literary bliss (and the subsequent rejection I’ve faced with my efforts of trying to get published) I’ve allowed the worry to come back. I began practicing self-doubt instead of self-appreciation. I’d forgotten that what’s important is the path, not the destination (trite, but true.) I’ve been so focused on getting to the end of my journey that I haven’t allowed myself to enjoy all the beautiful things in my periphery along the way.

The worry attached herself again. She’s kept me up at night with her tortuous ways.

Eleven years ago, she held onto me so tightly that I could barely breathe. I learned to beat her back. And I’ll do it again. She’s a tough one, but I’m tougher.

Bring it on, Bitch.

Taking too Long

25 Oct

img_1069I got another rejection email this morning—nothing out of the ordinary—just another one of almost one hundred agents who have said no to my novel.  “Thank you for sending this,” she wrote, “And I apologize for the delay. Your query looked interesting, but unfortunately it is not exactly what I am looking for at the moment so I will have to pass.”

I sent that particular email in April of 2016—it was one of my first queries. Doing the math, I laughed aloud, realizing that it only took her a year and a half to answer me. I do give her credit for actually responding.

So here’s the question: When do I give up and decide that enough is enough? It’s getting a bit depressing. I’ve been querying agents for well over a year and I’m seriously thinking about self-publishing even though I’ve heard that if I do, I may quash my chances of ever getting an agent to represent me for this novel. Although there is the rumor of the occasional success story of an Indie author getting picked up by a publisher, it’s rare.

I’ve given my novel to well over a dozen people to read and everyone has told me they’ve really enjoyed it—even loved it. And no matter how fond of me they are, I can’t imagine they’re all lying to spare my feelings. It can’t be worse than some of the junk I’ve read over the years, can it?

Researching this whole self-publishing thing is thoroughly daunting. There are so many questions: which company is the best; how much money should I spend—how do I market the dang thing? Ugh. I don’t want to think about these details. It is it too much to ask that someone do it for me?

I just want to write.

 

 

 

 

 

Puzzle

31 Jul

img_1605It wasn’t that long ago that I looked forward to my writing time—a few free hours here and there would make my stomach tingle with eager anticipation. I’d grab my coffee, open my computer and begin piecing together my puzzle of words, sentences and paragraphs. After several years, I watched my jigsaw come together with pages, chapters and finally, a completed novel.

I know I should feel a sense of accomplishment that after many hours of work, I took an idea and turned it into a story with a beginning, middle and end—a story that many people have told me they’ve loved reading.

And yet the truth is, it’s not right yet.

After another round of queries, another agent was intrigued and asked for the full manuscript. He told me he’d get back to me within three days—which he did, but not with the positive news I’d hoped for.

It was another pass. But instead of the standard I’m sorry this isn’t the right fit for me at this time, blah, blah, blah, this guy actually called me on the phone and spoke to me for twenty minutes about what I needed to do to make the narrative execution work. He really liked my voice, but felt I needed to flesh out the main character more so that the reader could better understand her motivation. He said he’d be happy to take another look at after some revision.

More revision? Oh, Lord.

I guess that in my eagerness to finish the puzzle, I neglected to take the time to see if all the pieces were in the correct position. From a distance, it looked fine, but upon closer inspection, it became obvious some of the pieces were not aligned.

When the truth hits you right in the face, it hurts. Especially when you realize that deep down, you knew it all along.

Which is why I haven’t been writing lately. I’ve avoided my computer altogether (except when I waste time on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram—or spend an inordinate amount of time following the distracting antics of the crazy man in the White House.) Right now I’ll do anything to avoid facing the nitty gritty work that I know I must do in order to make my novel really good.

But it is imperative that I remember I’m not defined by whether or not I get this novel published. Instead, I’m defined by my tenacity in sticking with this process no matter how much rejection and failure I’ve faced. I have a stubborn streak and it will do me justice in the end.

There. I just wrote over 400 words. I guess I’m already back to work. I’ll report back and let you know how it turns out.

Thanks for listening.

Rejection

2 May

Voting and protest concept

I had no idea how hard this was going to be. Don’t get me wrong—I knew there would be rejection. I just didn’t realize how much rejection.

It’s been a year since I began searching to find representation for my novel, Lost in Oaxaca. The very first week I began the process of querying agents, I got a response from a well-known literary house in New York City. The woman who owned the agency emailed me back within a day. “I like this,” she wrote after reading the first chapter. “Send me the full manuscript as soon as possible.”

Well, that was easy, I gloated, expecting her to call me within a few weeks with an offer of representation. LOL. Or TTJTRWJ which means Time to join the real world, Jess. Eight months later, she finally emailed me back.

Dear Jessica,

I have had this for so long that it’s time for me to face up to the reality, which is that I like this but I don’t love it, and that’s why I keep putting it down and picking it up again.

I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I can’t represent something for which I have only moderate enthusiasm, and that is not something you should want either.

I feel it’s a little too romancey for my taste. The writing is good, but not spectacular. It’s a near miss, but one that I have to take seriously.

Good luck with this. Someone else might be interested, but I have concluded that I am not the right person for this.

Good, but not spectacular. A near miss. Ouch. Okay, so she didn’t love it. We all have different tastes. That’s to be expected. Someone else out there is bound to love it.

I keep a yellow legal notebook pad where I write down whom I’ve queried and the date I sent the email. When I receive a rejection, I write a big “NO” across the name. I have written “NO” forty-eight times. Really. Forty-eight times. I just counted.

I can tell that most of the rejections are form letters. I get it—sincerely, I do. Every day, these people are inundated with thousands of emails from hopeful authors like me—how can they possibly take time to respond with a personal note?

This is not to say I haven’t had some positive response. In the course of one year, I’ve had five agents request the full manuscript. After reading my novel they all graciously declined, but at least they asked to read it. I guess that’s something. Recently, I received the one and only rejection email where the agent (from another well-known New York literary agency) actually took the time to offer suggestions.

Dear Jessica,

Thank you for the opportunity to read Lost in Oaxaca. I enjoyed the detailed portraits of musical subcultures, family life, and travel experiences, and found your imagery quite engaging. I also appreciated the story’s diverse cast of characters and emphasis on inter-cultural engagement. However, this aspect of the story often felt forced and didactic. Characters like Camille’s mother felt too much like caricatures of xenophobia to be convincing, and Camille was often frustratingly naïve, in spite of her intelligence. In order to challenge readers, the story’s political aspects must be more challenging and complex. This manuscript was well-crafted, and I wish you the best of luck with it in the future.

Now, that’s concrete advice I can use. I took her suggestions to heart and have already re-worked parts of my manuscript. What I really appreciate is that she actually took the time to offer her expertise to someone she doesn’t know. That’s true professional courtesy. I think that when I do publish this damn book, I’m going to acknowledge this particular agent for being so thoughtful.

I have many good qualities but my best one is patience. Therefore, I AM NOT GIVING UP. I have sent out eighty-six queries and more than half have said NO. Some never responded. But I AM NOT GIVING UP. Some agent out there is bound to read my query and be intrigued enough to ask for the manuscript. Hopefully, that person will fall in love with my characters just as I have—and then I’ll get the phone call I’ve been waiting for.

And the rest will be herstory.

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Tiny Beautiful Things

1 Mar

I recently read the most wonderful book: Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed, the author of the best selling memoir, Wild. This lovely little book is a compilation of letters sent to the author while she worked writing an advice column for the Rumpus called Dear Sugar. My childhood friend Michele (one of my fellow creative soul sisters) recommended it to me as she understands my constant angst about trying to find happiness through creative expression.

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I needed this book right now. I haven’t felt like myself lately. Each morning when I turn on the television I want to either scream or cry at what’s happening in our country. I need to start my next novel and every time I sit down at the computer–I’ve got nothing. I stare blankly at the screen until I finally give up and log into Facebook where the political posts made me even more depressed. Just before falling asleep in bed each night, my brain manifests all kinds of wonderful and exciting writing ideas, then when I wake up the next morning, I can’t remember a single one.

The best thing about Tiny Beautiful Things is that we learn something that we already know: life is hard sometimes. We are all sad and raw and completely lost at some point in our lives. the trick is to understand that with each experience there’s a lesson to be learned. We don’t always pay attention, but it’s there.

I’m not sure what my lesson is lately. Certainly, I need to feel more gratitude for what I have. And I have so much. So I will pay attention to all the tiny beautiful things that are right in front of me.

 

 

 

Midlife Crisis

17 Oct

sunset-at-carneros

I’ve recently decided that I’m going through my first real midlife crisis. At least I hope that’s what it is—perhaps I have another 54 years ahead of me. Whatever it is though, I’m struggling to find the joy lately.

I could blame my depression on several things:

1) No takers on my novel so far. I do have one agent still looking at it, but no word back yet. I’m savvy enough to know that for new writers trying to get published, this is not uncommon. It’s still hard on the ego, though.

2) The ELECTION. Like a looky-loo at a car accident, I’m sickened but at the same time, strangely captivated. I can’t seem to pull my eyes away from the tragedy playing out on television while eagerly waiting for another car (or scandal) to plow into that already huge pile of carnage.

3) My children are growing up and leaving me. I know this is as it should be, but shedding my role as caretaker of four is harder than I thought it would be. Thank goodness I still have six years left with Isa.

4) Getting older sucks. Menopause, wrinkles, aches and pains all remind me that while inside I’m still that sixteen-year-old girl, my body proves that she is long gone. I should have loved her more when she was around.

“White-privileged, first-world problems,” my husband admonishes me. “Get over yourself.” As a person of color, he’s allowed to say this to me. Growing up poor in Mexico, he knows about real poverty, discrimination and suffering. Sure, I’ve had my moments of pain, but fully understand I’ve lead a privileged life. After recently calculating our wealth on Globalrichlist.com. I’m actually embarrassed to admit how far up on the scale we are. I have NO reason whatsoever to complain.

Still, I can’t seem to shake this feeling of “What if?” What if I’d starting writing earlier? What if I’d made exercise a priority throughout my life? What if I’d traveled the world when I was young and had the energy? What if I’d learned to love myself a long time ago?

Hey Jess—do you want some cheese with your whine?

Okay, rant over. No one can fix me but me. I need to look for the good, so I’m off to practice some intentional gratitude.

I’ll start with a heartfelt THANK YOU for following my blog. I truly appreciate your readership.

There. I feel better already.

Just to remind myself of how lucky I am, I’m posting some photos of things I’m grateful for:

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Black-eyed Susans in the garden

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Time spent with my beautiful daughters

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My daily view of the Santa Ynez mountains

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Isa and our babies, Cody and Leo

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The vibrant color of this late autumn hollyhock.

family photo

There are really no words to express my gratitude for my family.