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.

 

Nesting

3 Jan

img_0264During the past three decades, I’ve been fortunate to have given birth four times. Each time, right around a month before each birth, I would find myself knee-deep in a frenzy of cleaning that would put Marie Kondo to shame. Nothing would escape my attention. The contents of drawers would be dumped out and  rearranged with categorical precision. Closets would be cleared out, baseboards scrubbed, and lampshades vacuumed. Bags of discarded items would be carted away to Goodwill. By the end of the day, my muscles would ache from climbing up and down the step ladder to swat at the lace cobwebs hanging from the crown molding—cobwebs that I hadn’t noticed since before the birth of the previous child.

The term for this behavior is called nesting. Usually, it’s the expectant mothers who do the nesting as a preparation for the coming baby, but I’m sure some expectant fathers do it too. It’s a chance to put the house in order before the chaos of a newborn turns everything upside down.

Well, the odds are that a fifty-eight year-old, post-menopausal woman isn’t pregnant, so why is it I’ve spent the last five days manically cleaning and organizing my entire house from top to bottom? I believe it’s because I’m about to give birth again, but this time, to a different kind of baby. And I’m as terrified and excited as I was thirty years ago when I had my first human child.

The due date for my new baby, Lost in Oaxaca, is April 21, 2020. And after a seven year confinement, I am so ready to relieve myself of this heavy load and launch her out into the world. (Okay, Jess—enough with the pregnancy metaphors.)

And I’m sorry to admit that like most new mothers, I’m going to start talking about my baby a lot. You’re going to see many photos of me and my baby on Instagram and Facebook. I’ll be writing so many blog posts about Lost in Oaxaca that you’ll start wishing that I’d just get lost in Oaxaca.

Here’s the dilemma: in this current era of publishing, it’s really up to the author to be responsible for promoting their book, which means I’m going to be doing some plugging. I’ll try my best to do it well and not too often. Luckily, I have three Millennials and a fifteen year-old Gen Z to help me navigate the complexity of posting on social media, so I’m hoping that my incessant promotion will turn out to be stylish and tasteful. In any case, my youngest will grudgingly help me. She’ll roll her eyes and call me “Boomer,” but since I gave actual birth to her when I was at the ripe old age of forty-two, she kinda owes me a favor.

Oh—and by the way—you’re all invited to the christening for Lost in Oaxaca at Chaucer’s Bookstore in Santa Barbara! Book signing is Wednesday, April 29, 2020 at 7:00 p.m.

And don’t worry about forgetting the date—you’ll be getting a birth announcement in the mail.

Now, if you’ll please excuse me—I’ve got to go scrub the inside of the water heater.

 

I’d love it if you’d stop by and visit!

www.jessicawintersmireles.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jessicawintersmireles/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jessicawintersmirelesauthor/

So Legit

14 Oct

slang photoI’ve reached a point in my life where I’ve mostly become irrelevant when it comes to my fourteen year-old daughter. It doesn’t help that I had Isa when I was 42, which pretty much makes me a geriatric mother. Now, that is a scary thought for both of us. These days, I’m lucky if she even talks to me. It’s not that she’s mean, or rude (well, sometimes she’s rude)—it’s mostly that she’s indifferent about what I have to say. She will speak to me when she needs a new dress for the homecoming dance, or to tell me she has absolutely no shoes, and can we please run out to Rite Aid because her is skin is so dry that if she doesn’t GET THAT PARTICULAR FACE CREAM RIGHT NOW her face may fall off.

Mostly, what I’m having trouble with is her vernacular. I often have to concentrate really hard to understand what she’s talking about. Honestly, if I hear her say low-key, legit, or chillax one more time, I may scream. And don’t get me started on the memes:

Scene One (of many)

Isa: laughing uproariously with her phone five inches from her face.

Me: (smiling) “What’s so funny?” (This question is usually asked three times before there is any verbal response.)

Isa: “You wouldn’t get it, Mom.”

Me: “Yes, I will. Just show me.”

Isa: (rolling her eyes) shows me a disjointed video of something that moves by so fast I can’t even register what it is. I watch it three times before handing the phone back to her.

Me: (frowning) “You’re right. I don’t get it.”

Isa: (letting out an almost imperceptive sigh while continuing to scroll through Instagram) “Tol ya.”

Now, I don’t mean to diss my kid—(is “diss” still acceptable?) She’s actually an extremely lovely child who gets good grades, has a robust social life, and is wittily hilarious when we do have the occasional convo (hey, give me a little credit—I’m trying.) And if I’m lucky, she’ll open up and actually tell me what’s going on in her life. I’ve found that the best way to get her to talk is when we walk the dogs or ride in the car together. Initially, if I just shut up and don’t ask questions—the conversation will start to flow. Before long, we are legit talking to each other, and it is da bomb.

Maybe, the next time we talk, I’ll throw in a little of my own 1970’s slang. I’ll say that something’s bad when I really mean good. I’ll end each description with to the max or tell her that the situation is totally bogus and that dude is bitchen.

Then again, maybe I’ll just be quiet and let her do the talking. . .

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Isa, then. . .

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And now. . .

Friends in High Places

24 Sep

img_5986Recently, I made friends with a green Lynx spider in my garden. Which is stupid, because spiders and people can’t really have relationships. But we humans love to anthropomorphize the creatures we come in contact with, so in my mind, “Lynxie” and I were friends. I’m sure our friendship was the furthest thing from Lynxie’s mind; she probably considered me a nuisance, if not a predator, as I spent a great deal of time examining her up close.

I was drawn to Lynxie because she was spectacular: a beautiful green color with an intricate geometric design on her back. She had made her home on a large black-eyed Susan plant, as her green color exactly matched that of the leaves. After I posted a photo of her on social media, friends on Instagram and Facebook set out to discover what kind of spider she was. In a matter of hours, I knew all I needed to know about my new best friend: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peucetia_viridans

For weeks, I checked on her each morning, watching with fascination as she waited patiently for her prey (mostly bees and moths) to get close. My family got involved as well, making it a habit to check on her every time we walked by the flower bed. Soon there was an egg sack attached to the stem—and we were thrilled—babies were on the way!img_6052

Days passed, and she stayed put, but something was different: she was no longer catching and eating her prey. She began to shrink, and her vibrant green color began to fade. It was as if she was putting all her energy into her babies. I began to worry about her.

Yesterday morning, I stopped to check on my friend. She was gone. Panicked, I inspected the entire plant to see if she had moved to another leaf, but I couldn’t locate her. Did she move closer to the ground to have her babies? Had another predator spied her egg sack and thought it was a delicious hors d’oeuvre? Or even worse, was she sick of my constant scrutiny and decided to flee?

Whatever her reasons are for ghosting me, I wish her luck. She brought me and my family great joy, and I don’t regret a single moment we spent together.

Proof that her sudden disappearance has affected the entire family:

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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!

 

Profound

3 Jun

img_2435Lately, I’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time sitting front of the computer, trying to think of something profound to write. This is not easy, considering the amount of distractions I face. At this moment, the dogs are downstairs barking at some felonious trespasser who is currently walking past our house. Coming from the obnoxious yipping being produced, this interloper is a serious threat to my life. Next door, the sound of the chainsaw from the tree-trimmers grates on me like the whine of a dentist’s drill. In my direct line of vision, there is a hot-pink plastic laundry basket full of dirty laundry that I was supposed to wash last night, but I fell asleep watching House Hunters before I got around to it. It’s literally hissing at me from across the room.img_5554

Then there’s that device we can no longer live without, dinging with all those notifications every few minutes, alerting me to the fact that Trump has a new hair style, or someone has now broken the all-time Jeopardy winnings record. I can’t help it—I hear the ding. I drool.

Here’s the real truth: It’s me. I’m the distraction. I don’t think I can write anything profound because in my mind, I don’t believe I have anything profound to write. This may be because I suffer from “Impostor Syndrome,” which is when a person doubts their abilities and is afraid to be exposed as a fraud. As a fifty-six year-old woman who is becoming more invisible in society as I age, my relevance fades a little more each day. So when someone praises my talents as a writer or musician, the voice inside my head immediately tells me they’re lying.

I think many of us (especially women) fight these internal battles every day. We’re always trying to keep up with this ideal that society has laid out for us—that we’re not good enough unless we (and our children) are beautiful, slim, and successful. Whatever that means. So even if we have wonderful lives with fulfilling jobs and loving families, we come up short as we compare ourselves to others. And here’s the rub: all of those perfect, beautiful women whom we’ve placed up there on that pedestal most likely feel the same way we do—unworthy and vulnerable. They’re just better at hiding it.

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What happened to that young warrior girl?

I’m really trying to change, although it’s not always easy after being programmed to view myself so untruthfully for much of my life. Coming from a generation that judged women on their physical beauty, I still struggle with my own self-image. As a product of this generation who considered it conceited and vain for a female to be proud of her own accomplishments—let alone openly praise herself, I still struggle with acknowledging that I am indeed talented, smart, and worthy. I mean, I f***ing wrote a novel that’s going to be published. This should erase my self-doubt, not increase it. Ugh.

While it might be too late to change the image I carry around about myself, I can certainly change the way I perceive others, especially in my own home. Thanks to my older millennial children who have taught me so much about my outdated perceptions of the world, I am slowly evolving. Instead of praising my fourteen year-old daughter’s physical beauty first, I now tell her how proud I am that she works so hard to achieve her success. Instead of commenting her that her shorts are too short, her yoga pants too tight, or her crop-top too revealing, I tell her that she should be proud of her body, and if she feels good in that outfit, then by all means, wear it.

It’s exhausting judging people all the time. It’s so much easier just to love them. And that goes for loving me, too. Change. What a concept.

How’s that for profound?

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The older and wiser warrior.