Owen’s Daughter is the new novel from Jo-Ann Mapson, who teaches creative writing for UAA’s low-residency Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program. Her 12th novel is available July 15. Mapson, from her home in Santa Fe, New Mexico, took a few minutes to answer our questions and give us a sneak peek at one of the more ethereal characters who inhabits this book.
Mapson will return to Anchorage this week for the intensive two-week residency portion of the MFA program where students and mentors work together morning to night, breaking only for meals and literary enrichment. The public will have the opportunity to attend evening readings by the faculty mentors and graduating MFA students during the 2014 Northern Renaissance Arts & Sciences Reading Series, July 13–22. Mapson will read Sunday, July 20. You’ll also have the chance to meet her Friday, July 11, at 5 p.m. at Barnes & Noble here in Anchorage. Bring your books and questions about what it’s like to teach, write and wrangle a brood of rescued Italian greyhounds.
She is already at work on her next book, For Keeps, based on discovering a great aunt’s 30-year love affair in the shadow of several different marriages.
Q1. Owen’s Daughter is your 12th novel. Can you tell me a little about what inspires you to write flawed characters who stumble toward happiness?
We’re all so beautifully flawed and graceful in our stumbling. Maybe the most we get in life are those moments of happiness before we stumble again. I like to create that on the page. Does that sound depressing? It’s the joyful part of writing. I use a lot of humor in my books. It’s rewarding to turn everyone loose on the page and see where they go. Sometimes I only know that they will get there, eventually, and I cheer them on as I am writing.
Q2. Your books never fail to give dogs some love on the page. In Owen’s Daughter, we meet Echo II, an empathetic cattle dog mutt and neutral best friend to Margaret and Peter Yearwood, a mother and adult son struggling to understand each other. Any doggie ambassadors in your own life that helped you create Echo?
My first and best dog, Echo, half mini-dachsie and half Italian greyhound died in Anchorage due to a vet’s error. It was my first dog loss, and it leveled me. I still miss her, all these years later. In Blue Rodeo, my second book, she figured prominently, and I wanted to bring her back, or actually, her progeny, in Owen’s Daughter. I did bring back Owen’s dog, Hopeful, a 20-year-old, tripod blue heeler. My pack of four right now keeps me on my toes. Life without a dog isn’t much, in my estimation. Stories are always enriched by animals, and it isn’t necessary to have them die to create symbolism. If they live, now, that’s a story.
Q3. Will you share a short excerpt with us from Owen’s Daughter?
Here’s the intro:
Just as pollen becomes a passenger riding the wind’s coattails, a spirit, too, can travel great distances. One day you may find me at 103 Ave de Colibri, a place I’m quite fond of because I lived there, once, and in that way, I always will. I’ve watched people come and go, tearing down the stables where beloved horses lived, the Appaloosa mare, her chestnut foal, as well as the chocolate-eyed bay stallion.
I see everything.
I watch the new owners whitewash the walls in the traditional way, using lime and water. Later, a traveler shows a man how to make glue so that he can apply wallpaper. Wallpaper inside an adobe house? Don’t forget the turpentine, he warns, turpentine is an insecticide. The fumes are terrible, and anyone who sleeps in that room is plagued with bad dreams.
Time is fluid, flowing both ways.
Some years later the wallpaper comes down, and others paint the rooms sky blue. Still others think red walls are a good idea, but not for long, and they argue about color, but actually they are arguing about something much deeper than paint, and come apart, sell the house, and then move. The latest is diamond plaster, a mixture of white clay, ochre pigment, and crushed mother-of-pearl. When the sun shines in the kitchen window, the walls wink as if they are holding back the stars.
Q4. As a professor in the graduate creative writing program who has mentored a number of successful students, can you recall an instance where you dispensed particularly sound advice?
Two lessons I did that are memorable to me: Since my husband worked at Bird TLC, I had a volunteer bring in a great gray owl, and talk about saving raptors, giving them a life, however difficult, and urged the students to ask questions, take notes, and bring the outside into their writing world. The other was assigning a short story from a newspaper picture of a person wearing a pickle suit. The title of the photo was “The Dill is Gone,” and every single student wrote the best story ever from that assignment. It was fun and enlightening and that’s the kind of teacher I hope I am.
Q5. Last year you and your fellow novelist and faculty member in the UAA low-residency MFA program, Carolyn Turgeon, visited with inmates at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center. I hear there’s another visit planned this year. What do you talk about with the women there?
Mainly we listen. They are so hungry for stories. We send them copies of our books ahead of time. They talk about our books, ask us questions, and then pretty soon they are telling us their life stories. We encourage them to write things down, to use their own material, and to write about things they want to explore. It’s extremely humbling and rewarding.
This Q&A facilitated by Jamie Gonzales, UAA Office of University Advancement.