'Pushed Times, Chewing Pepper': Where Louisiana and California Collide

Dec 11, 2012

Author Myra Jolivet is a lot of things. She’s a former TV personality, a communications strategist, a brain tumor survivor, and above all a California native with Louisiana Creole roots.

In Jolivet's new murder-mystery novel, a family therapist from California survives her fiancé’s plot to kill her, embraces her gift of psychic visions and learns her Creole heritage is the foundation of her survival.

WESTERMAN: Now the title of the book “Pushed Times, Chewing Pepper” that’s a shortened version of an ole Creole saying, correct?

Myra Jolivet, author of 'Pushed Times, Chewing Pepper'
Credit Myra Jolivet

JOLIVET: It is. “Pushed times make a monkey chew pepper” is a pretty well-known expression in Louisiana, I think, even today. My grandfather used to say it, my mother said it, and it means in difficult times, hard times, you will do things you ordinarily would not.

WESTERMAN: So what was your intended reaction of people seeing that title on a bookshelf somewhere?

JOLIVET: I was hoping that it would pique curiosity and I just felt there’s a space out there in the world of commercial fiction that doesn’t necessarily get fed with the unique space of Louisiana, its Cajun and Creole cultures.

WESTERMAN: The main character of the book, Sarah, has a very similar biography to you. She grew up in California but has deep Louisiana Creole roots. So in this book, where does the autobiography stop and the fiction begin?

JOLIVET: Well, I got married at a young age and so we don’t totally parallel. And I had children and she struggles being with single; getting older as a single, independent woman and so that’s a little bit of a departure. But we share childhood for sure. You know, in the 1930's and 40's, many many many African-American Creole families moved to California. That was a common migration root: Louisiana to California, which is why there’s so much fabric there to tell the story. But you know the funny thing about my childhood is even though I was a child in Berkeley, California, which is the place of liberalism and diversity. My parents were strange to my California friends. My father spoke Creole French as his first language and he would say things in a heavy, heavy accent. And one time I remember I was about in the third grade or so and one of my girlfriends asked me, “Is your father from another country?”. I was like, I said, “No, my father is from Louisiana,”, but that’s how different.

WESTERMAN: So I guess my questions is: you’ve done so many things in your life, what made you decide to head back to your Louisiana roots in your first novel?

JOLIVET: There was no question in my mind that I wanted to do something that highlighted that part of Louisiana. I’m hoping that the story feeds three parts of the human psyche that I think are very significant in the Creole and Cajun cultures. The mind, which is the murder mystery that gives that twist that hopefully feeds the intellect. The heart, which the love story, the woman seeking love, finding it in wrong places, continuing to go for it. That kind of thing. Never giving up on the emotional part of herself. And then the spirit or the soul. I think all of us have these little voices that speak to us. Some of us recognize them and some of them don’t. In my family, and largely because of our culture, those voices are celebrated. I mean, I truly had relatives who had conversations with the dead as if they were talking to a living person and would give you an account of that and so I thought that would be an interesting mix to bring to a novel.

WESTERMAN: Which you do. Sarah and her Aunt Cat have these visions all which end of coming to fruition. Did you write that from experience?

JOLIVET: Yes. I can remember as far back at six years old knowing something and then it’ll happen in one form or another and I still get that today. And I think a lot of people have that, it’s a matter of whether or not you nurture it.

WESTERMAN: Alright, well Myra Jolivet is the author of the book “Pushed Times, Chewing Pepper”. Thank you so much for speaking with me.

JOLIVET: And thank you, I really appreciate it.

"Pushed Times, Chewing Pepper" is available for download at Amazon.com, Booklocker.com, Barnesandnobel.com and iTunes.com.