Jessica looking at Bushmen rock paintings in the Groet Winterhoek mountains, South Africa. Photo credit Izak de Vries.

Bio pages are awkward affairs.  They normally go something like “Mr. Incredible is the holder of two Pulitzers, the first for ‘Save the snails!’ which was written at the age of 9 after having both arms gnawed off by rabid squirrels while in the field writing an expose on poachers selling endangered snails on the black market served in a flambé believed to cure bunions.  He received the second Pulitzer for ‘How to write books with no arms’.  Mr. Incredible, although incredible, is likable because he has procreated, enjoys artisan beer and has two dogs which he lives with on an organic coconut farm on his private island in the south seas.” 

Jessica and son

Bios are incredibly hard to write without sounding like that insufferable Facebook friend who is always doing cooler things than you are with their perfect family on the sun drenched shores of the Mediterranean.  Of course their children may be little assholes who pick their noses and eat the boogers, but they would NEVER post that.  So, if you are still reading this, you will be happy to know that I have taken over my sister’s bio page and you will get the real story.   But don’t tell her! Even though we live on opposite sides of the continent, Big Sisters have really long arms!

It all began in the hinterlands of New Jersey on a rainy morning in late June when my sister crawled out of my mother’s womb, a glistening blue Bic disposable ball point pen clutched in her right hand and waving a damp college-ruled notebook in her left.  Contained within that notebook in looping cursive was Jessica’s first novel, “280 Days of Solitude”.  Unfortunately, it was not well received by the publishing industry because it was rather dark and disturbing and they felt it difficult to sell due to Jessica’s inability to tour at this juncture in her life.  In retrospect, it was a book ahead of its times.

Fortunately, this early set back did not derail Jessica’s enthusiasm for writing.  While I was busy inserting Legos up my nostrils and crashing my bicycle off rickety wood ramps, my sister continued to fill up college-ruled notebooks with novels.  I’m sure I would have read each and every one of them if it wasn’t for the fact I was completely illiterate.  While both my older brother and sister learned to read by the ripe old age of four, I was still gnashing my teeth over phonics and tearing my hair out trying to decode “enough” at the age of nine.

My mother suggested that my older siblings read to me.  Jessica sat on me to keep me from running away and proceeded to read the entire (all eight) Anne of Green Gables series and (all 3) Emily of New Moon series out loud.  A lot of Madeleine L’Engle was sprinkled in there too.  All-right, so Jessica really didn’t sit on me and I actually enjoyed all of the books she read but don’t tell anybody in Texas because it will mess with the Cowboy Machismo Vibe I project when I’m home in El Paso.


So, being the underachiever that my sister is, she started college at age 16.  Crazy, I know.  I started college at 19 and by then, my sister had started her first master’s degree program at the same university (Go Miners!).   We were roomies my first year!  Although I had learned to read by this time, I was quite shaky at writing.  It came in handy to have advice from my sister, who was earning her MFA in English and teaching the same classes I was taking, while trying to get through freshman composition.  While I finished up my degree in microbiology, Jessica had decided she was fed up with all the sunshine and warm weather and moved to Albany, New York to start her second master’s degree, this time in African History.

Somewhere during this period of her life, Jessica wrote The Confessional published by Knopf.  I sat down and read it in one afternoon.  I know, I know, pretty good for a guy who didn’t learn to read until he was 10.

Soon after receiving her master’s degree at SUNY Albany, she headed off to Stanford for more graduate school, lamenting how she would just have to suffer with all the sunshine and warm air, and occasional trips to the beach after years of playing the exciting game called “Can-I-find-my-car-under-forty-feet-of-snow-today?”

So, during graduate school, Jessica visited South Africa and had the idea of writing the book This Thing Called the Future.  Funny thing, Jessica was in South Africa because she got this really obscure, not-very-well-known-scholarship called a “Full Brite” or “Fulbright”, something like that.  Yeah, I’ve never heard of it either.  She’s a total fucking underachiever.

Anyway, after graduate school, Jessica decided to stay in California in the Bayish Area and teach writing while also writing.  She wrote a fucking cool book called Amina while running her own publishing company and editing and compiling a book called That Mad Game: Growing Up in a Warzone.  Oh, and she also wrote the children’s book Colors of the Wind: The story of blind artist and champion runner George Mendoza.

All of that was just too easy for her so she decided to do something truly difficult: Write a book with her little brother.   When she suggested we collaborate on a project a few years ago I snorted snot right out of my nose in surprise and in the process dislodged those pesky Legos out of my sinuses!  Thanks, Jessica!

Jessica and her son Nesta in South Africa. Photo credit Izak de Vries.

By the way, my kids love Jessica’s son. She also likes to drink artisanal beer with her two Weimaraner dogs.  No, she doesn’t live on an organic coconut farm… she settled for California wine country.