Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Q&A with Jessica Winters Mireles

Jessica Winters Mireles, photo by Eleanor Mireles
Jessica Winters Mireles is the author of the new novel Lost in Oaxaca. Her work has appeared in GreenPrints and Mothering magazines. A piano teacher and performer, she lives in Santa Barbara, California.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Lost in Oaxaca, and for your character Camille?

A: The idea for Lost in Oaxaca came to me from an experience I had as a newlywed, traveling for the first time to my husband’s remote village in the mountains of Oaxaca.

This was over 30 years ago, and the road to his hometown wasn’t paved at that time. It took us over six hours to get there, and the old, ramshackle bus was crowded with travelers heading to this particular town for a big annual celebration.

As a young, white woman newly married to an indigenous Zapotec man, it was quite an experience for me to travel to this remote village and be exposed to a different culture. One day, I sat down to write about the vibrant memory of that bus ride, and the novel evolved from there.

Q: How much did you draw on your own experience as a musician to create the music-related aspects of the novel?

A: Being a trained, professional musician definitely allowed me to write accurately about the experiences of an actual performer and teacher. Having performed extensively as a young musician, followed by 30 years of professional teaching experience, gave me great insight into the psyche of Camille.

Q: The novel takes place in California and in Mexico. How important is setting to you in your work?

A: When I read a novel, I love to be taken on an adventure, especially to a foreign land.

Oaxaca, Mexico is truly one of the most magical places on earth. There are so many beautiful aspects to describe: the cuisine, the scenery, the artisanal products, colonial architecture, and especially the beauty of the many indigenous cultures.

My novel is also set in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, California—two places I know very well—and where the beauty of Mexican immigrant culture is celebrated.

Q: Another aspect of the novel focuses on immigration. What do you hope readers take away from the story, given recent headlines about immigration and DACA?

A: My hope is that my reader will see immigrants from Mexico (and other countries) as playing a vital role in making our country so special and unique.

It’s unfathomable to me that so many DACA recipients—young people who have been raised and educated as Americans—are currently stuck in limbo, waiting to see if they can stay in the country they’ve called home for most of their lives.

The fabric of our society is based on immigration; somewhere down the line, each of us is connected to an immigrant story. The fact that there is so much anti-immigrant sentiment circulating through our country these days is thoroughly disheartening.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Currently, I’ve got so many ideas swirling around in my head that I haven’t yet decided. I know my next novel will somehow involve navigating the complexity of family relationships.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I’d like readers to know that it’s never too late to get started on a writing career. I’ve been a pianist/teacher for over 30 years, and only began writing seriously about eight years ago.

It had always been a dream of mine to be a novelist, and unfortunately, I never allowed myself the opportunity to really try until recently. I’m proof that it’s never too late to follow your dreams.

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--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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