Joselyn Takacs, PEARCE OYSTERS

Joselyn Takacs, PEARCE OYSTERS

Zibby Books author alert!! Zibby speaks to debut author Joselyn Takacs about PEARCE OYSTERS, a gripping, transportive, and beautifully layered novel about a fractured family, a devastated community, and the disaster that brings them together. Joselyn delves into her novel’s premise—a Louisiana family struggles to maintain their oyster farm after the catastrophic BP oil spill. She talks about her personal connection to the environmental disaster—she lived in New Orleans when it happened—and her extensive research process, which involved interviewing dozens of affected oyster farmers. She also shares her love of complex family stories, her writing process, her best tips for aspiring writers, and her favorite way to eat oysters!


Zibby: Welcome, Jocelyn. Thank you so much for coming on Moms Don't Have Time To Read Books to discuss Pierce Oysters. 

Joselyn: Thank you so much for having me, Zibby. It's a pleasure to be here. 

Zibby: It makes me so excited to say that. I like, feel like a kid in a candy store, like jumping up and down and saying hello to you for this book, which I'm so excited about. 

Joselyn: I'm so excited too.

Just two years in the making, you know? 

Zibby: Oh my gosh. 

Joselyn: Since you acquired the book, and now here we are two weeks before the release. 

Zibby: Was it two years ago? That went fast. 

Joselyn: I know. I know. And I thought, I thought it would take forever for the book to come out, but. With revisions and with life, it feels like they were gone in the flash of the eye.

Zibby: Totally. Wow. Well, okay, so Jocelyn. What is Pierce Oysters about? 

Joselyn: Okay, thank you, Eric, for my pitch. So Pierce Oysters is the story of a family, an oyster farm, and an oil spill. It follows a family that runs an oyster farm in Louisiana. They've been in business for, for over 90 years. And the novel takes place during that time in 2010, during the largest accidental oil spill in world history, which would be the BP oil spill. And this is a family that does not get on in the best of times. And they're brought under one roof as their business and the ecosystem that they depend on is, is under threat as oil makes its way into Louisiana's capital.

Zibby: It's still, like, impossible to believe that this happened. You know, it feels like it should just have been the fiction. It should just have happened in a book, but not in real life. 

Joselyn: I mean, it felt surreal and nightmarish when it was happening. I think nobody could believe the magnitude of it. And certainly when the explosion happened, I don't think anyone was prepared for how large it would become.

And certainly not the oyster farmers that I spoke with because they're no stranger to oil spills down in Louisiana, you know, they happen fairly regularly. So they weren't prepared for the magnitude despite knowing oil spills very well. 

Zibby: So stupid question. Why was this oil spill so much more detrimental than all the other oil spills?

Joselyn: Well, an oil spill of this kind had never happened before, so the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon led to a severing of the pipe, which connected the rig to the well, and, uh the oil was, was just gushing from the deep water well until the oil company could find out a way to plug the well and there, there was a blowout preventer, which is supposed to kick in in the case of an oil well blowout like this, but the blowout preventer failed and that was the means of backup and when the backup failed, the oil company had to scramble to find out how to stop this gusher in very deep water, which, you know, had never been done before.

So, ultimately, they had to drill relief wells to offset the pressure in order to cap the well and seal it with cement, which took 87 days. 

Zibby: Oh my gosh. Wow. I saw the movie. Did you see the movie, Deepwater Horizon? 

Joselyn: I have seen the movie. Yes, the Mark Wahlberg movie. 

Zibby: Yeah, yeah. I'm like, I'm, I'm visualizing every, every part of this.

Joselyn: It's a gripping watch. You know, when the movie came out, someone told me, oh, well, uh, the movie's been made. So there's no point for you to write this book, right? Which is, it's, they're different. 

Zibby: Oh my gosh. They could not be more different. They're like, except, you know, one is like, anyway, yes. But yours is like, you know, it's cause and effect, right? Yours is the ripple of from, you know, how widespread the ripple effects can be and how damaging on an individual level, something so macro that seems like in principle, oh, this is a bad thing. Your book is like, okay, well, let me give you one crystal clear example of exactly what we mean by bad thing. And that's what people really learn, right? When they see it happen to somebody and they feel like, oh, it could have happened to me or, right? 

Joselyn: Yeah, that was just, that was just the goal. I mean, when I started writing about the book or writing about the spill, I didn't know where the novel started and I thought it needed to start on the oil rig and the explosion and ultimately, no, it needed to start on an oyster boat with a family that's going to be affected, but they don't know yet. 

Zibby: You spent a lot of time researching this. Tell, when did your, when did you start, where did the interest originally come from and when did the research start and all of that? 

Joselyn: So I was living in New Orleans at the time of the spill.

So it was, you know, a major life event for me. And I was involved in an activist community then that was protesting the oil company's use of a controversial chemical dispersant to disperse the oil in the water column. So I was, I was very passionate about the spill when it happened. And at the time I read an article about an oyster farm that was closing down as oil was making its way inland and I knew nothing then about oyster farmers and how, how oyster farms work in Louisiana, which is you have multiple generations of, uh, oysters prepared for harvest. And so the oyster farmer explained that the threat of an oil spill of this magnitude is multiple years worth of livelihood for them because they are not just growing this year's oyster, but they are growing, uh, the oyster that they'll harvest in, in three years. So I couldn't get it out of my mind.

And so I got a grant to record the oral histories of oyster farmers. that been affected by the spill about five years after it happened, and those interviews were the foundation of the novel. 

Zibby: Did you think about writing it only as a non fiction book? 

Joselyn: It never occurred to me because it's not what I studied.

I went, I studied creative writing, got my master's in creative writing, so I knew that I wanted to tell, to try and tell the story as a novel, because I think what novels are really great at is exploring how it feels to live through an event and to make people care about an event by first making them care about how it affects a person or a family.

Zibby: Yeah, stupid question. You never know once you have all this facts. I feel like, you know, sometimes I talk to historical fiction authors and there's like so much and they can't put it all in otherwise it's going to feel forced, right? Like they've learned 8,000 times what can fit in the little driplets, but it's that they paint a picture in their minds with all the information and then they can tell the story, but then they have all that extra information, you know, where does that all go.

Joselyn: I know more about oysters. Yeah, it stays with you, and you know about things like oyster larvae that nobody ever asks you about. 

Zibby: Is there anything you're dying to share about oyster larvae? Because now could be the time. 

Joselyn: Well, one thing that I think just visually so interesting is that, you know, when oysters spawn, they sort of release the sperm and egg into the water column and they sperm and egg meet and fertilize.

And um, but oyster larva, which is called spat actually has a foot, like a tiny foot just at one point in its life, just for a short period of time. And it uses that foot to find where it's going to settle and ensure that it's found the right, right sort of ground to attach itself and then it loses its foot and that's where the oyster lives for the rest of its life.

Zibby: Wow. Yeah. It's like a U-Haul truck that broke down or something.

Joselyn: Yeah. I mean, I think, I love that. I love that. Like they'd be better off if they could move, but that's just not their biology. 

Zibby: No. Oh my gosh. Wow. Well, I know we're talking a lot about environmental disaster and oysters, but really the book is about. The people. Right? It's about emotions and the people in the story and the challenges and yes, it's caused by the spill, but some are caused by their own flaws as people.

And the, you know, the environmental thing only exacerbates things that are underlying in some cases. Talk about the characters that you chose and why them and you know, why their name? Why Benny? Like what? Why these people? 

Joselyn: Well, I. Okay. I love family stories. I love reading about family, so I knew I wanted to tell a family story.

And, um, the characters are Jordan, who is the eldest son of, of the Pierce family, and he runs the oyster business. And he's not as, he doesn't run the business as successfully as his father did, Al Pierce, who, passed away four years earlier, who was sort of a larger than life figure, a charmer, well known locally as the oyster farmer that people went to when they wanted a quote for the newspaper, they wanted someone to talk about the conditions of the industry they went to Jordan's father, and those are shoes that Jordan could never fill because of his own complicated, reserved nature. So Jordan is now running the business on his own, but he's paying his younger brother, Benny, who is his co-owner because they inherited the business together. And Benny is a bohemian jazz musician living in New Orleans and also involved in an activist community, partially because of his convictions, but he's also involved because he's in love with one of the leaders of this activist community and he's just kind of a ne'er do well.

He's lost and it sometimes leaves a mess in his wake because he doesn't quite know who he is. And then there's their mother who her name's May and she Is a homemaker, a former, you know, teen beauty queen. Someone who prides herself on her family appearing, appearing in, positively in the light of her, of her neighbors.

And she just doesn't quite know who she is now that her husband has passed away and her children are grown and her life didn't go the way that she expected it to go. So they're, they're, they're flawed and, and hopefully compelling characters who are brought together because of the, of this oil spill.

And the novel begins at, with a, a dinner when Benny comes home and the dinner does not go well at all. And so then as the novel progresses, they're brought back together to try it again. 

Zibby: Tell me about a family dinner of yours that did not go well. 

Joselyn: Um, Oh, I'm trying to think of something that's like drama filled enough to, it's such a good question.

When I was in college, I started to become very political, and I was often bringing home friends from college who just terrified my parents. They, you know, they didn't, they wear deodorant, and they didn't bring changes of clothes, and they were just kind of experimenting. You know, they were kind of anti establishment folks, and my parents did not know what to make of them.

And we had some very awkward dinners in which conversation really had no script and of course veered into politics, which was, became an argument. And my dad, who's passed away now, but he, he's one of those guys who liked, who liked to have a spirited, a spirited political debate. And was very much all agree to disagree, but I would like to.

Just air our ideas as much as we can and so the conversations just like I sort of wanted things to end just like let's let's move on let's Let's not talk about the war anymore or like whatever. And dad just wanted, wanted to see where, where it would go. So that's one that comes to mind.

Zibby: I mean, I once brought home someone who I had started dating who had a beard when I was like in college and right before business school.

And he was like, anyway, my parents, even that for my parents was too much. 

Joselyn: Did you ever kiss the beard? 

Zibby: Well, he had a beat up van and a beard and, you know, he was like a different type of person. And they didn't know what to do with him either. That was incredibly tense. So it made me, made me think of that moment.

Oh my gosh. Now as a mom, I'm like, who is my kid going to bring home and what am I going to think? And I better keep my mouth shut or else I'm going to end up in a podcast in like 20 years or something. 

Joselyn: Oh, they will. I mean, they've got to date widely, right? 

Zibby: Yeah. 

Joselyn: You know? 

Zibby: Yeah. 

Joselyn: You've got to test out different identities when you're young, I think.

Did you always want to be a writer? I always did. I thought when I was a kid that I was going to be a screenwriter and that I was going to write rom coms, which wasn't quite, it's sort of close to what I ended up doing. There's a lot of romance in this novel, but it is a novel and less lighthearted than a rom com.

But I went to school as a history major and quickly, Changed my major to English. 

Zibby: That's amazing. If you could go back and study any period of time, what would it be? 

Joselyn: I kind of, I wish I was, I wish that I, I did keep my history major in some, some respects. I very much enjoy learning about history for the perspective it offers us and how to live through our turbulent times.

So not, not particular, not one period of history, but just I wish I had studied history in general and, and still, you know, got my MFA and still, and still wrote, I think my personality and the way I like to explore ideas is through writing. So I would have ended up there anyway, but it would have been nice to have more of a subject when I was younger.

Zibby: How has your activism and environmental sort of approach, like the lens through which you see the world. How does that inform sort of your day to day now? Are there things you do even just in the course of a morning that are deeply tied to some of the things you've learned?

Joselyn: I think I'm just, I'm, I think it's easy to get overwhelmed with the scale of the environmental challenges that are ahead of us and the change that needs to happen to to combat climate change, and so I think that continuing to do things like riding your bike and you consuming less energy and composting these things these are all sort of small lifestyle choices that I think are affirm your commitment to larger societal changes that will need to be voting for, you know, when we vote for politicians who enact policies that can drive the societal change that we, that we need to drive.

So really it's, I think that people vote, you know, with their money, but more importantly, they vote at the, they, they elect the politicians who want to create the world that they want to live in. 

Zibby: Interesting. Love it. Have you been doing any writing lately? And if so, and about what? 

Joselyn: I was trying to do a palate cleanser because it took me a million years to write this novel.

Zibby: How many million? No, really. How long? 

Joselyn: I started the book in 2015, so, and this is nine years later, and that wasn't because I was writing consistently, it just, it's just how long it ended up taking with all of the revisions and the research I needed to do. So I thought now, it's a good time to actually learn how to write a screenplay.

So I'm, I'm, Writing my first screenplay, and collaborating with my husband on it, who's also a writer, and we're having fun. 

Zibby: Good for you. 

Joselyn: Yeah. Yeah. We collaborate a lot on fiction, in the sense that he's my first reader, and I'm his first reader, but we've never written anything together before, like this.

So, I mean, I think our marriage will survive, but it's, it's, it's different for both of us. 

Zibby: Wow. That's exciting. Can you tease even the topic? Like the macro? 

Joselyn: It's about a series of families vacationing together. 

Zibby: Mm. Mm hmm. Nice. Awesome. Well, the rom com can live on. I don't know. Who knows? 

Joselyn: There are, there are elements of rom com.

So, I knew all along when I was nine, I knew. 

Zibby: There you go. It was only a matter of time. Well, having gotten this far in the publishing journey, what advice would you have for aspiring authors? 

Joselyn: One of the things I find most useful in my writing practice is using an internet blocker because I'm susceptible to distraction.

The one I use is called Freedom. And I do timed writing sessions. I will usually work, you know, like the Pomodoro method for 20 minutes and then take a break. And I'll, usually a good session's about two hours long for me before I've run out of, out of energy. And so I think timed writing and free writing exercises are really good for making progress when you're stuck.

So that's a tool that I think aspiring writers, but anyone could use. 

Zibby: I feel like I'd worry that in 20 minutes I wouldn't get anything done. Maybe then I would just like re read stuff and, you know, like would that be the 20 minutes? Would I have to restart the clock? I feel like I would try to get my way out of that.

Joselyn: I mean, that's when the internet, that's where the internet blocker comes in. 

You can't check your email or you can't, you can't look something up. 

Zibby: Yeah. 

Joselyn: I always want to look something up when I'm writing like, Oh, I don't know how big that thing is, or I don't know where this place is. Let me find out. It's all just a means of getting away from writing for me.

Zibby: Yeah. Yeah. Good point. Good point. Do you have a favorite? Oyster to eat or anything? 

Joselyn: The favorite way I like to eat oysters is on a saltine with just a dash of Tabasco. It's my, my go to way to eat oysters. I prefer them raw, which most people don't. What's, what's your feeling about oysters? Do you, do you enjoy eating raw oysters, Zibby?

I don't, 

Zibby: I'm sorry. 

Joselyn: No, there's no. 

Zibby: I'm a very picky eater, but I'm excited to celebrate your love of oysters and the book and the cover and I, you know, I think like oyster stuff is very appealing looking and, you know, sculptural and it's in its own right. So. 

Joselyn: Entirely fair. Most people feel that a lot of people feel that way.

So I take it. You won't be eating any oysters that are at our lunch in Santa Monica. 

Zibby: I won't, but I will be taking pictures of you eating the oysters and that'll be great, but I am very excited. Yeah. Blue plate oysterette will be there and with bells on, so it'll be fun. Yeah. Well, Jocelyn, I'm so excited.

I'm so excited that you wrote this book because the characters and the setting, I mean, I just have to look at the cover and it all comes like flooding back, right? It's so visual, the way you wrote it, like I literally feel like it is a place I have I've visited, it's a home I've been to, these are people that I know myself intimately, and that's a gift to do with a book, right?

It's, you're creating a world, and it's a very captivating one, and one where you find yourself rooting for all sorts of people, and, and also questioning the world at large and what you can do to make a difference, so those are all the good things in a book. 

Joselyn: Ah, Zibby, thank you for saying that, and thank you for for bringing this book out into the world.

It wouldn't, wouldn't exist without you. 

Zibby: I'm sure it would, it would have found its way, but I'm delighted that we get to play a small part in bringing it out to the world. So congratulations. 

Joselyn: Oh, thank you very much.

Joselyn Takacs, PEARCE OYSTERS

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