This piece ran in today's San Antonio Express-News. It's behind a paywall, so here it is in its entirety (along with a photo I took of David):
By Joe O'Connell, For the Express-News
January 12, 2014
SAN ANTONIO — A sign by David Marion Wilkinson's writing desk reads “Joy.” It was his guiding principle as he attempted to write the ultimate comic novel, but life and the book took a different turn.
The result is “Where the Mountains are Thieves,” a solid novel that is equal parts funny and tragic, but 100 percent honest about human failings and what it means to be a writer today.
“I came to this place where writing a comic novel wasn't possible,” said Wilkinson, who is best known for writing historical novels of the West.
“Thieves” follows Jesse Reverchon, a middle-aged author fresh from rehab and an affair who moves with his wife and young son Travis to Alpine to patch their lives together. Reverchon coaches his son's baseball team and tries to buckle down and get his writing career back on track. Along the way, the reader is warned of an accident lurking in the pages ahead that will rock Jesse's world.
Jesse says, “I came to understand that most novelists are strictly observers. At first I struggled with it, agonized over it. And then, about the time Travis was born, I accepted it.”
But in heartwarming and funny moments, Little League baseball proves Jesse's salvation. Á la “The Bad News Bears,” he tries to whip a ragtag group of misfits into a team.
“It's his catalyst to getting connected,” Wilkinson said. “His only success is impacting the lives of fatherless boys, but what he comes realize is they are saving his life.”
Wilkinson's latest novel is itself a lesson in the vagaries of the publishing industry and the human heart.
Like his main character, Wilkinson had moved his family to Alpine (he has two sons and, unlike his character, no history of drug or alcohol abuse) to make a new life in the Big Bend region. He became writer-in-residence at Sul Ross State University, built a house overlooking Cathedral Peak, and befriended the sometimes-eccentric residents of the beautiful but isolated place. But his real-life marriage was falling apart.
David Marion Wilkin-son's new novel, “Where the Mountains Are Thieves,” follows a middle-aged author who moves with his wife and young son to rebuild their lives.
“You could sit there and watch the sun go down with a sense of peace and a feeling that everything's OK, but then you look around and see it's not,” he said.
Careerwise, it actually started in 2001. After three years of work, Wilkinson's last novel, “Oblivion's Altar,” was hot off the presses and receiving positive reviews when the events of 9/11 changed everything. The nation was in turmoil, and no one was reading fiction. Wilkinson turned instead to nonfiction with “One Ranger,” a biography co-written with famed Texas Ranger Joaquin Jackson.
Suddenly nonfiction agents were hitting him up with work-for-hire projects, and he realized they saw writers as interchangeable widgets. Like his character Jesse, Wilkinson was desperate to prove he still had fiction-writing chops.
Nearly broke and recently divorced, he found himself back working oil fields as he had in his youth. He didn't write for two years. When the words came, “Where the Mountains are Thieves” became a different, better, more honest book.
“There's a little anger in the book, along with frustration, sorrow, regret,” he admitted.
It's the writer's story of when art meets commerce. Wilkinson cites Herman Melville, who stopped writing and became a customs inspector. Only after his death did perhaps his best novel, “Billy Budd,” see publication.
These days, Wilkinson is not sure about his next novel. His writing career has taken another turn. He's been working as a writer on a History Channel miniseries about the Texas Rangers, and another in development about women spies during the Civil War.
“It changes every day,” he said of writing for television. “I'm good at that from what I've been through.”
Joe O'Connell is an Austin writer. Reach him at email@example.com.