Distinguished Alumni Achievement Awards 2008
Author and Attorney
B.A. Political Science 1976
Dean of the College of Liberal Arts
Mark Gimenez has had two successful careers—one as a lawyer and the other as an international bestselling novelist.
He grew up in La Marque, in Galveston County, graduating from high school in 1973. He played football and dreamed of becoming the next Joe Namath, and he says only one minor obstacle stood in his way: a lack of ability. Not knowing what he wanted to do with his life, he went to work in a Sears warehouse and took a few courses at the local community college, including a political science course that sparked his interest and changed his life.
He came to Texas State one weekend to visit a friend and fell in love with the campus. Having grown up around oil refineries on Texas’ Gulf Coast, he was stunned by the beauty of the Hill Country, the San Marcos River, the campus, and, yes, the coeds. At the end of that weekend he said, “I’m comin’ to Texas State!”
Mark enrolled as a Political Science major and started reading books for the first time in his life—books like To Kill a Mockingbird, whose main character, Atticus Finch, gave him the idea of the principled, small-town lawyer he hoped he would become. He also did a little creative writing, and a professor told him that he should consider going to writing school. Mark rejected the idea of writing school because he had been accepted to several law schools and thought it would be foolish to pass up such a career. And, having grown up in a family of modest means in a small house with 10 children, two parents, and only one bathroom, law school seemed the quickest path to his career goal: a house with two bathrooms.
Mark graduated with honors from Texas State in 1976 with a B.A. in Political Science, and he earned his law degree magna cum laude from the University of Notre Dame. After law school, he began to date his wife Brigitte, who had also grown up in La Marque. They have been married for 27 years and have two children, Clay, 18, and Cole, 9 and a half.
Because Mark was such an outstanding student in law school, he was wooed by major law firms around the country, and he went to work for a firm in Dallas. But, after working just a short time as a lawyer, he realized his passion wasn't the law, it was writing. Mark stayed with the firm 10 years, made partner, and acquired the experiences that would form the basis of his future career as a novelist.
He left the law firm to practice solo and write. He penned two novels that he says were good learning experiences but that will never see the light of day. During this period, Mark and Brigitte had their two sons, lost their fathers and best friends; and both suffered serious illnesses from which they spent several years recovering. Mark's therapy during this time was to write another novel, one that he thought was good enough to publish. In 2005, Random House/Doubleday published The Color of Law, and it was an instant success. A legal thriller set in Dallas, the book sold 400,000 copies worldwide. It was named a finalist for the Thriller and Gumshoe awards for Best First Novel, and it was picked by Amazon for its Top 10 Mystery & Thrillers List. It spent two weeks on The New York Times top 35 hardback fiction list and made the bestseller lists in Australia, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. I’ve read it and it’s terrific story.
His second novel, Abduction, is a suspense thriller set in New Mexico and Texas, and his third novel, The Perk, is a legal thriller set in Fredericksburg. Both made the bestseller lists in Australia, Ireland, and the United Kingdom where Mark said people love reading about Texas. The Perk will be published in the U.S. later this year. He is writing his fourth novel, The Privilege, a legal thriller set in Austin’s eclectic SoCo—the South Congress Avenue neighborhood. The book’s hero is a 29-year-old traffic ticket lawyer who offices above a tattoo parlor in SoCo and whose sole mode of transportation is his trail bike. Mark’s books have been praised as “top-of-the-line thrillers,” as “nail-biters,” and as “impossible to put down.” Mark’s editor describes the books as “thrillers with heart” because each book has a family drama woven into the story. Mark wants his readers to care about the characters and their personal journeys as well as enjoy the thrill of the plot.
Mark says that growing up in La Marque, it was hard to envision much beyond the small town and its nearby refineries. He never dreamed in La Marque that he would one day be a writer. He credits his professors at Texas State with initiating his intellectual life and expanding his vision of the world and life’s possibilities. He says his world became much larger at Texas State. And for that he says he is indebted to all the professors who touched his life.
Since the publication of The Color of Law, Mark has logged more than 1,000 e-mails from readers all over the world who tell him how much his books have touched them. For example, after reading The Color of Law, a London lawyer wrote to say that he had quit his law practice and never been happier. And recently, a woman wrote to say that Mark’s novel Abduction, about Vietnam, helped her to understand what had happened to her brother, a veteran who is dying from cancer induced by Agent Orange. Mark says that his success in publishing has been 90 percent hard work, 9 percent luck, and 1 percent talent. He is too modest. He is an extraordinarily talented man from whom we can expect many more extraordinary achievements. I am honored to present Mark Gimenez with the highest honor given by the College of Liberal Arts, the Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award.