Robert Boswell Peoples His New Novel Tumbledown with Familiar Characters

Houston author Robert Boswell has an unusual dedication in his latest book, Tumbledown. The novel is for ''all the clients who survived my tenure as a counselor and to the one who didn't.'' Boswell, who's appearing in the Inprint: Margarett Root Brown Reading Series: Robert Boswell and James McBride presentation tonight, tells us, ''Part of the nature of being a counselor is that you're working with people at risk all the time. Sooner or later, you're almost certainly going to have a client who doesn't make it. I had a client who killed himself, and while intellectually I can tell myself that was inevitable, it was a devastating experience for me.''

Tumbledown centers on a seemingly successful therapist, James Candler. We say seemingly because while Candler's life outwardly appears to be going well, it's actually falling apart. He has a fiancée and is also falling in love with another woman. He has a great house and car but can't really afford either. And he's up for a promotion at the therapy center where he works, but he's about to hand his sheltered workshop program over to his ne'er-do-well best friend who's sure to ruin it.

Candler, his friends and clients are a motley crew. And Boswell tells us he finds something attractive in each one. "I tend to like all of my characters, even the ones that behave terribly. .. maybe especially the ones that behave terribly."

Boswell says the characters, as they appear in the novel, are significantly different from those that appeared in the early versions. "Many of the characters are loosely based on either people I used to know or people I used to be," he says. "I write a lot of drafts; I wrote at least 50 or 60 drafts of this book. The characters over time, take on a life of their own and move away from my original conception or move away from the people they were modeled on.

"It's funny because sometimes I will run into somebody and they want to talk about some specific episode from some story or novel I've written and sometimes I'll be really far into the conversation before I realize, 'Oh yeah, this was based on something that really happened to me and this person was involved in it.' But I will have forgotten that because it takes on a life of its own. It's very hard to explain that to someone who is unhappy with seeing what they think is themselves in print when really the character evolved into who I need that character to be for the sake of the story."

James McBride will join Boswell onstage to read from his new novel The Good Lord Bird, which is based on the life of abolitionist John Brown. Onstage interviews and a book signing follow the readings. 7:30 p.m. Monday, August 26 at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby. For information, call 713‑521‑2026 or visit the Inprint website. $5.

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