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Two Decades On, Mongoose Tale Nets Award for Teacher-Author

May 30, 2008 — A local mongoose named Viggo has captured the hearts and minds of a national literary awards organization for his starring role in Up Mountain One Time by longtime Antilles School teacher Willie Wilson.
Wilson won the 2008 Independent Publisher Book Awards Silver Medal in the Multicultural Fiction-Children's category this week for the reissue of the book, first published in 1987. The awards recognize the best books in independent publishing.
Wilson's Glassbottom Days, his account of growing up on St. Thomas, won the 2006 Independent Publishers Award for Best Regional Fiction-South.
More than 3,000 entries were submitted for this year's competition, out of which 450 books were honored. Entries came from 49 states, 16 countries and nine Canadian provinces.
The book had been out of print, Wilson said, and he had never submitted it for an award. Artist Karen Bertrand is Wilson's wife and the book's illustrator. A lot of folks asked them when they would reissue the popular story.
"Once Karen and I decided to do that, it was held up for a variety of reasons, including that the publisher had lost the original art," Wilson says.
They finally submitted the 20th anniversary edition of the book about three months ago, Wilson says. The award will be formally announced this week in Los Angeles.
"We found out about a week ago," Wilson says.
He won't attend the awards ceremony; he is busy winding up the Antilles school year with finals and graduation ceremonies.
"It's not like this is accompanied with a large monetary award," Wilson says. "It's more bragging rights, but I'll take it. It's really nice for something we've worked on for a long time."
Getting the original book to print is a story in itself, Wilson relates.
"I originally wrote the story as a play for Antilles," he says. "Then public television WTJX asked me to rewrite it for an hour-and-a-half reggae video. It was very hip, very local. After that, I decided to write it as a novel."
Though some major roadblocks ensued after that decision, nothing was as devastating as when he discovered he had left his 200-page, handwritten original manuscript in the San Juan airport.
"It was almost three weeks later when I went to type it, and couldn't find it," Wilson says. "We'd been occupied with traveling and Christmas and visitors. I looked for it and thought, 'My God, where is it?'"
As it turned, out, Wilson says, losing the original version of the book "was one of those blessings in huge disguise." He continued, "I reconfigured everything. But then the publisher said it was too long, so I cut it from 192 pages to 112, and the publisher said it was too flat."
That was it for the Wilsons.
"About that time, Karen and I decided to simply do it ourselves the way we wanted," Wilson says. "We got it squared away, and it was successful."
The book relates how Viggo, the charismatic mongoose, flees the perils of downtown St. Thomas streets to find a happy life in the bush. Readers will recognize familiar names and places in his journey, such as Drake's Seat and the resident donkey. Along the way, Viggo encounters Rupert, a philosophical goat who shares his thoughts with the mongoose.
"In essence," Wilson says, "Rupert tells the mongoose to enjoy the road as he goes along. The mongoose doesn't quite understand. The bush is kind of a metaphorical place. Rupert tells Viggo, 'Once you can see the bush, you're back to what you should be.' … The story is a little bit about wonder. Several reviewers have said it works on two levels: the child's story, and the slightly deeper meaning."
Wilson has another book, an adult novel, in the works.
"I've been working on a book set in Peru, where I once lived and taught school," he says. "I've got the bug again now to go back. Karen is encouraging me to spend three weeks this summer, hire a mule and go to remote locales."
Don't look for Wilson's next tome on the shelf in the near future.
"Anyone who knows me won't be holding their breath for the book," he says with a laugh. "These things take a long, long time."
Many people have told him both his books should be in the public-school curriculum, Wilson says.
"I would like to see that," he says. "I've been so busy teaching, I haven't had time for extra-curricular things."
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