Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Night 41° Partly Cloudy
News >  Features

Mapson Flavors Cowboy Romance, Drama With Humor

Here’s an opening line that should be required reading for anyone considering novel-writing as a trade:

“To Owen Garrett’s keen sheepherder’s eyes, it appeared entirely likely that the woman in the blue shirt and red panties running back and forth between the water faucet and the two copulating dogs was the Californian.”

That just about says it all, doesn’t it? Besides arousing images of a spectacularly ridiculous scene, it virtually begs you to read on. Which, of course, is the point.

Now, at first glance you might think the line comes from a Baxter Black poem. But, no, it in fact comes from “Blue Rodeo” (HarperPerennial, 318 pages, $12 paperback), the second novel by JoAnn Mapson, who will read from it at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Auntie’s Bookstore.

And expect Mapson, a native Californian who has spent enough time on a ranch to tell a gelding from a gazebo, to evoke a few chuckles in the process.

“I think humor’s really important,” she said on Wednesday during a phone interview. Calling from Solvang, Calif., in between readings, she explained how humor actually helps emphasize a book’s dramatic moments.

“I think when you try to write about heavy issues without having some kind of comic relief, it’s pretty depressing,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to read it. I would rather laugh than cry, and I think they’re really close to each other emotionally. Hard laughter is right next to the tear factory.”

The theme of “Blue Rodeo” is familiar: two disparate characters, weathered by hard times, find a second chance at love in each other’s arms. What sets Mapson’s effort apart is her grasp of setting and her ability to reflect the minds of both a 52-year-old cowboy and a 40-something woman.

The woman part should be easy. But getting inside the mind of a traditional male?

“I love men,” Mapson said. “I know there are women who don’t now, but I do.” Add that to the fact that, as she said, “the men in my family are pretty strong, remarkable kind of iconoclastic men,” and you have a formula for memorable fiction.

Romance is not the only theme that “Blue Rodeo” explores. The woman character’s adolescent son, who lost his hearing after a bout with meningitis, has chosen to leave her and live at a boarding school for hearing-impaired children. Their relationship is tumultuous.

Mapson’s own 17 1/2-year-old son, to whom the book is dedicated (“For Jack: Listen up”), is also hearing-impaired. But though one is fiction and the other real, both the character and the real-life son have one other similarity: teen angst.

“He’s not deaf,” Mapson said of her son. “He’s got hearing loss in one ear, but I prefer to refer to him as being ‘mother deaf.’ He’s had a particularly strident adolescence, so I wanted to write this book so that one day he would look back on it and understand how mom feels.”

The hope is that by the time her son is mature enough to read the book with understanding, along with Mapson’s next book “Shadow Ranch,” he’ll still be able to find the kind of lengthy, thoughtful novels that she writes.

Mapson, who until December taught English at Orange Coast Junior College, isn’t worried that her books will find a market.

“I did a signing last night in San Luis (Obispo) and there was a woman there in the audience who wanted to know how big my next book was, and I said it was longer,” Mapson said. “And she said, ‘Oh, good.’

“It just cracks me up,” she added. “I’m dying to buy books all the time, and I want the fatter the better because I just don’t want to leave the world.”

Which is enough to force a smile, if not an outright laugh.

On the shelves

Gary Esarey has seen publication of his new book of poems, “How Crows Talk and Willows Walk” (Ahsahta Press, 56 pages, $6.95) by the resident press at Boise State University.

Esarey, who lives in Walla Walla, is director of Whitman College’s foreign language media center.

The reader board

C. Barr Taylor, author of the book “Shadow of the Salmon: A Fly Fisherman’s Quest for the Vanishing Wild Salmon,” will read from his book and share stories of his exploits at 7:30 Thursday at Auntie’s Bookstore, Main and Washington.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.