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Along for the Ride : Jo-Ann Mapson is on the 'Blue Rodeo' circuit, but she'd rather be writing in Costa Mesa.

July 12, 1994|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With a handful of rave reviews in tow, Jo-Ann Mapson has left on the second leg of a 22-city publicity tour for her new contemporary Western novel "Blue Rodeo."

The Costa Mesa author's itinerary during the next two weeks includes stops in Boston and New York followed by sweeps through Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana and Tennessee.

On the whole, however, she'd rather be in Costa Mesa.

"Writers are hermits," Mapson said before leaving Friday. "Writers like to stay home. It takes a lot of alchemy to change your personality into a public person."

The thought of promotion--a round of newspaper interviews, readings and signings--never played a big role in Mapson's dream of becoming a published author.

"I think there's a lot of misconceptions about what a publicity tour involves," said Mapson, 42. "It's a business trip basically: There's many plane rides, a different hotel room every night that you get to between 10 and midnight. You get one meal a day if you're lucky; the rest of the time you're eating airport peanuts."

And there's no guarantee how many people will even show up at a book signing.

Although Mapson has been pleased with the turnouts for signings in the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest and the Midwest during the first half of her publicity tour in June, she acknowledged that "sometimes there's no one there, and the publicity didn't arrive, or the books aren't there. You never know what's going to happen."

The same can be said for book reviews. But Mapson needn't worry.

"Blue Rodeo" (HarperCollins; $22) is receiving even more flattering reviews than her 1993 critically acclaimed first novel, the Orange County-set "Hank & Chloe."

A review in the New York Times praised Mapson's "tart and funny prose," likening the Southwestern romance to "a pleasing piece of country music." The Los Angeles Times calls it a "romantic, elegant, low-keyed Western for our time."

Set in secluded northwestern New Mexico, "Blue Rodeo" tells the story of Margaret (Maggie) Yearwood, a just-turned-40 woman who is intent on building a new life.

Emotionally reeling from an unexpected divorce from her Hollywood screenwriter husband and the sudden deafness of her teen-age son, Peter, from a bout with meningitis, Maggie has moved into a rented farmhouse in the tiny town of Blue Dog to establish state residency so her son can attend a boarding school for the deaf.

Peter, embittered by his parent's divorce and struggling to figure out how he fits in the deaf and hearing worlds, angrily shuns his mother.

But like "Hank & Chloe," Mapson's new novel is also a love story.

Maggie's new neighbor is middle-aged cowboy Owen Garrett, a man with a past he'd just as soon forget: "a sorry night" in Colorado when, with a quart of whiskey under his belt to numb the news that his wife had left him for another man and taken their daughter with her, he accidentally killed a man in a pointless bar fight.

Described by Publishers Weekly as "the Marlboro man with a tender and sensitive streak," the earthy, working-class Owen and the brooding, equally honest Maggie form a friendship that quickly turns to romance.

"They remind each other of the simple things in life, the simple pleasures, and I think they reaffirm in each other that there's someone inside each of them worthy of love," Mapson said.

Romance is a recurrent element in Mapson's fiction, and she has no reservations about "Blue Rodeo" being referred to as a contemporary Western romance.

As she sees it, "the term romance has totally been trashed. Everyone thinks of bodice-rippers. Romance has to do with a whole way of life, the landscape and history, rather than just tearing your clothes off."

Her next novel, "Shadow Ranch," which she is writing under a new two-book contract, features a romance between an 80-year-old former citrus grower and the ex-stripper he marries.

"I love to write about love because that's what we're all about," Mapson said. "That's why we do everything we do. I just think it's fascinating."

Mapson said she borrowed her novel's title, "Blue Rodeo," from the name of a song written by Laguna Beach author T. Jefferson Parker's late wife, Cat.

"Her voice is so poignant it still makes me cry every time I listen to the tape," she said. "I think the song is about kind of a greater good than just what we humans do on Earth, and it's about loss and the kind of love that you have to have to let somebody go. The first time I heard it, it gave me chills up and down my spine, and I could never stop thinking about it, and I thank Jeff from the bottom of my heart for letting me use it."

Mapson said she has constantly been asked on her book tour to explain the meaning of the novel's title.

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