David Marion Wilkinson never expected to be at this place. He’s a novelist with a tilt toward the historical. A stubborn novelist. A novelist determined to carve out a long, successful career. But he’s also got to eat, and suddenly Hollywood came calling. Soon his life was entangled with the History Channel’s 10-hour miniseries Texas Rising, a sometimes historical, sometimes quite fictional account of the Lone Star State’s battle for independence from Mexico, that premieres May 25.
Wilkinson’s son Dean ended up in Los Angeles after graduation from the University of Texas. In the interconnected world where it matters whom you know, Dean played in a band with a guy who was dating the daughter of a producer. Soon Dean was working for her father’s production company. One day he saw two of his father’s books – the historical novel Not Between Brothers and the biography One Ranger – on the bookshelf. Wilkinson’s son was told they were among a hundred books consulted as research for the show, which began with a focus on the formation of the Texas Rangers. But soon Wilkinson was called in as a historical consultant by Executive Producer Leslie Greif, famed as one of the creators of TV series Walker, Texas Ranger and producer of HC’s mini-series Hatfields & McCoys. Greif was brash and confident, the cliche Hollywood producer who gets things done. Wilkinson soon found his role grow to include work on the script and ultimately a co-producer credit.
“The executive producer – a native of Los Angeles with a lifetime in the entertainment industry – and, I suppose, the original screenwriter, Ted Mann, laid out their ‘vision’ of the original story,” Wilkinson says. “They had chosen, for instance, to accept the Emily West [Yellow Rose of Texas] legend in its original conception in the Fifties, even far exceeding that myth, totally beyond the slim historical record left behind by the real Emily West. My first job was as a historical consultant, and I argued passionately for them to reconsider their decision. When they refused, after I came on board as a screenwriter, I set my mind to take their story and their characters and run with them.”
Texas Rising may not get perfect marks for historical accuracy, but Wilkinson is proud of his contribution to a project that had stalled with Mann leaving behind a partially completed script. Wilkinson’s career was also in a holding pattern when Greif and Texas Rising came calling. His novel Oblivion’s Altar was getting positive reviews in 2001, when 9/11 happened and fiction sales dropped off the map. Wilkinson reinvented himself as the co-author of famed Texas Ranger Joaquin Jackson’s biography One Ranger. But fiction was his love and he aimed to prove it in the semi-autobiographic novel Where the Mountains Are Thieves, about a writer trying to keep his life and marriage together while living in the Big Bend region of Texas. The novel showcases some of his best writing, but Wilkinson’s real-life marriage failed and book sales weren’t keeping him financially afloat, so he found himself humbly working the oil fields in his 50s as he had in his 20s.