"I struggled with Mystery Ride for 4½ years. And at one time it was 500 pages longer," explains Robert Boswell, 39, from his home in Las Cruces, N. Mex., where he lives with his wife, the fiction writer Antonya Nelson, and their children, Jade, 5, and Noah, 2. "I cared so much about the minor characters that for some of them I wrote a hundred pages or more. My great conflict in shaping the novel was not losing what each of them had to say, not to turn my back on them."
This concern reflects themes in Boswell's life. "During the late '70s I worked as a rehabilitation counselor in San Diego. We tried to help get job training for all kinds of people, from adult schizophrenics to transplanted Asians to poor people still coming in from Oklahoma and Texas—like in The Grapes of Wrath—people who believed that all they needed to do was get to California and there would be employment." It was those years that inspired Boswell to turn full-time to fiction wilting.
The son of a high school principal, he grew up on a tobacco farm in Wycliff, Ky., which is very near to where the Ohio River meets the Mississippi, "the exact place on the river where Huck loses Jim," he says. Part of Mystery Ride takes place in a struggling Iowa farm town. "Traditional farm life in the Midwest is slowly perishing in favor of what's called agribusiness," he says. "And a dying lifestyle is something that automatically attracts a fiction writer, who wants to try to understand its beauty, before it vanishes forever."