Donley Watt now lives in Santa Fe, NM with his artist wife, Lynn. He was
the writer in residence at Trinity University in San Antonio for six years
and before that taught at the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University. His books include Can You Get There from Here? which won
the Texas Institute of Letters’ Stephen F. Turner Award for the best first
work of fiction; the novel The Journey of Hector Rabinal which was a
finalist for a Western Writers of America Spur Award; two novellas,
Haley, Texas 1959; Reynolds, a novel; and Dancing with Lyndon, is a
former vice-president of the Texas Institute of Letters, and is currently
a novel/short story editor for the Cutthroat Online Writing Mentorship
His collected papers are a part of the Witliff Collections at
Texas State University.
FROM AN INTERVIEW FOR TEXAS MONTHLY:
Texas Monthly: What can readers expect from your new book, Reynolds?
Watt: Once I had a psychology professor who told me that "everyone does the best they can, given the circumstances." This drove me nuts for years, until I had done some living and done my best (not very well) given my circumstances. The characters in Reynolds have some strange circumstances, but are doing their best they can to make it in imaginative and (I hope) entertaining ways.
Texas Monthly: In your book you portray small-town East Texas quite well. What would you say defines the East Texas attitude?
Watt: The best and the worst of the Old South combined with the burdens and expectations of being Texans.
Texas Monthly: How were you able to capture it?
Watt: I grew up in East Texas, a wonderful place for a boy to live until he reaches adolescence. After that, as I discovered the ambiguities and temptations of the larger world, what seemed to be the strengths of the place and people became diluted and less certain. Complexity, conflict and particularity are, of course, rich with storytelling possibilities.
Texas Monthly: The characters in Reynolds are vivid and colorful. Who or what inspired these people?
Watt: Some years ago a good friend of mine, a writer originally from New Jersey, told me that she loved my short stories set in East Texas. "The place and the people are so exotic," she said. Well, exotic maybe to her, but not to me. They are simply the people I grew up with and know. Larry McMurtry in his fine book of essays, In a Narrow Grave, writes about a brief visit to my hometown of Athens (a place he despised). There on the courthouse lawn he came upon a family that to him looked like "monkey people", two young men and a girl who appeared to have just swung down from the trees. And I thought, no, they're not monkey people, they're not all that strange. They're the Malcoms - Oscar and Billy Ray and their younger sister. We all went to grade school together. Just another variety of East Texas folks.
Texas Monthly: There are a lot of familial issues in this story. Do you write from personal experience? Was your family as strange as this one?
Watt: All families have their own brands of strangeness, but my immediate kin have little resemblance to the Reynolds family. Now there are some cousins and in-laws and an uncle or two; but I'd best not go there.
Texas Monthly: What do you hope people take from this work?
Watt: The recognition that we all are flawed, some of us more so than others. And that most of us do the best we can, and often the best is pretty lousy.