Interview with women’s fiction writer Jessica Winters Mireles
Women’s fiction author Jessica Winters Mireles is here today to chat about her new romance, Lost in Oaxaca, a novel.
Born and raised in Santa Barbara, California, Jessica Winters Mireles holds a degree in piano performance from USC. After graduating, she began her career as a piano teacher and performer.
Four children and a studio of over forty piano students later, Jessica’s life changed drastically when her youngest daughter was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of two; she soon decided that life was too short to give up on her dreams of becoming a writer, and after five years of carving out some time each day from her busy schedule, she finished Lost in Oaxaca.
Jessica’s work has been published in GreenPrints and Mothering magazines. She also knows quite a bit about Oaxaca, as her husband is an indigenous Zapotec man from the highlands of Oaxaca and is a great source of inspiration. She lives with her husband and family in Santa Barbara, California.
Welcome, Jessica. Please tell us about your current release.
The title of my novel is Lost in Oaxaca. The story is about a piano teacher, who as a young pianist lost out on a concert career after an injury to her hand destroyed her ability to play. She now leads a solitary life teaching piano, and she has a star student: Graciela, the daughter of her mother’s Mexican housekeeper. Camille has been grooming the young Graciela for the career that she missed out on, and now Graciela, newly turned eighteen, has just won the grand prize in a piano competition, which means she gets to perform with the LA Philharmonic. Camille is ecstatic; if she can’t play herself, at least as Graciela’s teacher, she will finally get the recognition she deserves.
But there are only two weeks left before the concert, and Graciela has disappeared—gone back to her family’s village in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico. Desperate to bring Graciela back in time for the concert, Camille goes after her, but on the way there, a bus accident leaves her without any of her possessions. Alone and unable to speak the language, Camille is befriended by Alejandro, a Zapotec man who lives in LA but is from the same village as Graciela. Despite a contentious first meeting, Alejandro helps Camille navigate the rugged terrain and unfamiliar culture of Oaxaca, allowing her the opportunity to view the world in a different light—and perhaps find love in the process.
What inspired you to write this book?
Mostly, it was my career as a pianist and teacher that inspired me. I’d hate for my students to know this, but for decades, I’ve been writing stories in my head while teaching piano lessons. I’ve found that listening to music, even from a young child in the process of learning to play the piano, sparks great writing ideas. Through the years, I’ve also wondered how I would react if an injury to my hands prevented me from playing the piano, so I incorporated this idea into my novel, as well. I’m also a hopeless romantic, and adore a good love story. My novel was definitely inspired by my own love story: I’ve been married to the love of my life for 33 years. Our many trips to my husband’s hometown in Mexico have allowed me an incredible glimpse into the beautiful culture of Oaxaca, Mexico.
What exciting story are you working on next?
I have so many ideas right now, it’s difficult to decide what to do. I’m sure it will have to do with a middle-aged woman navigating some big life change!
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I’m a very late bloomer. As a child, I was a bookworm, and always loved to write. Looking back now, I realize that I was a very good writer all through school, but somehow told myself the story that I wasn’t good enough to pursue it professionally. I chose music instead. While a piano performance major at USC, I had the opportunity to take a creative writing class with T. C. Boyle, and fell in love with writing all over again. Unfortunately, I once again put my dreams on hold to get married, raise four children, and teach a studio of 40 piano students. When my youngest daughter was two, she was diagnosed with leukemia. After almost three years of chemotherapy, she was considered cured, and in a sense, I was cured, too. I decided that I would write again, no matter what. I began to allow a little time each day to write. I signed up for an adult education writing class, started a blog, and joined a bi-weekly writing group. The funny thing is that even though I have a novel coming out soon, it’s still difficult for me to refer to myself as a “writer.” Maybe when I have the next novel under my belt, I’ll own that title.
Do you write full-time? If so, what’s your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
Unfortunately, I can’t write full time because I still have a large class of piano students and one teenage daughter still living at home. I do manage to squeeze in about 2-3 hours each day if I can. I would love to be able to write all day long!
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I love photography, and often will look through the photos I’ve taken with my phone to find inspiration to write. I believe that many writers are inspired by other types of creative expression. I also make up stories in my head about people I see on the street; I imagine what they looked like as children, and what their life experiences have been.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a famous concert pianist! And I wanted to be Nancy Drew.
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
This may sound trite, but I want to say that it’s really never too late to fulfill one’s life dream. Sometimes it takes hitting bottom to make one realize that life is too short to ignore those deep desires! I didn’t start seriously writing until my late forties. I’m 58 now and am about to publish my first novel. If I can do it, anyone can do it.