Goleta piano teacher realizes longtime dream with first novel
Jessica Winters Mireles heard “no” a lot before her dream came true.
“I wrote a lot in my head for 20 years before until I actually decided to sit down and started writing on paper,” the Goleta author told the News-Press. “It was a difficult process. It’s very hard to put yourself out there.
“Literally hundreds of people said no,” the longtime piano teacher and Goleta native said about rejections from publishers when she started to show the book in 2016.
But by the end of 2018, she and her agent found a publisher.
In April, her dream came true with the publication of “Lost in Oaxaca.” It’s her first novel.
“Lost in Oaxaca” (She Writes Press, $16.95), which is a mix of romance and adventure in Mexico, is available at Chaucer’s on upper State Street and www.amazon.com.
The novel has its share of action and surprises.
“People who have read it have told me it would make a great movie or Netflix series,” Mrs. Mireles said.
“Lost in Oaxaca” follows fictional Santa Barbara piano teacher Camille Childs, who lost the ability to play the piano and focuses on helping her students. Her star pupil, Graciela, is just about to have her debut performance with the Los Angeles Philharmonic when she disappears.
Camille rushes off to Oaxaca, a state in Mexico, to find Graciela. Along the way, she gets help from Alejandro, a Zapotec man from Graciela’s village, and his aged Tia.
Mrs. Mireles said the novel is somewhat autobiographical and that Alejandro and the setting were inspired by her husband, Rene Mireles.
Mr. Mireles is an indigenous Zapotec man from the highlands of Oaxaca. Today, he’s a first-grade teacher at Aliso Elementary School in Carpinteria.
“I’m a white woman married to a Mexican man. We’ve been married for over 30 years,” Mrs. Mireles said. “When we first met and he took me to Oxaca for the first time, I was just charmed by this beautiful place.
“The food is amazing. There are so many artisans there,” she said. “It reminded me of Santa Barbara. It’s a valley. There are mountains all around it. The climate is very much like Santa Barbara too.
“When I started writing this novel, I wanted to write about my experiences there and just how beautiful place Oxaca is and how wonderful the people are,” she said.
“You write what you know,” Mrs. Mireles said. “You draw from your life experiences and make the story come alive that way.”
She graduated in 1980 from Dos Pueblos High School and earned her bachelor’s in piano performance in 1986 at USC.
“I took a writing class with (Montecito author) T.C. Boyle when I was at USC. I was a senior at the time,” Mrs. Mireles said. “He really got me excited about writing.”
She married Mr. Mireles in 1987 and focused on being a piano teacher and mother.
They have four daughters, ages 15 through 31. It was when Isa, the youngest, was diagnosed with leukemia at age 2 that Mrs. Mireles felt inspired again to pursue writing.
“I already had gone to the worst place in my life,” she said, referring to her daughter’s diagnosis. “So I thought, ‘Why not try to do something I always wanted to do?,’ which I did.”
Mrs. Mireles said she and her family learned a lot from her daughter’s health issues. “We learned to appreciate the little things in life, like relationships and family. We came out stronger and better because of it.”
Today, Isa is thriving as a Dos Pueblos freshman, Mrs. Mireles said. The leukemia is in remission.
“She’s thriving. She’s a typical teenager,” Mrs. Mireles said. “She’s perfectly healthy.”
Before “Lost in Oxaca,” Mrs. Mireles wrote articles for GreenPrints and Mothering magazines.
She said music has influenced her writing style.
“One agent told me, ‘You write like a musician plays. You have the same style with the formula of your phasing and sentences,’ ” Mrs. Mireles said.
She said fans of “Lost in Oxaca” have urged her to write a sequel. “They really love it, and it’s such a page turner.”
Mrs. Mireles said she’s considering that, but added she has a few other ideas for her next novel. “It’ll have something to do with family and life.”Email: firstname.lastname@example.org