The highlights of Randy Kennedy’s résumé—23 years writing for the New York Times and, currently, a prestigious-sounding gig as director of special projects for the art gallery Hauser & Wirth—are worlds away from the circumstances of his raising: the University of Texas at Austin grad spent his childhood in the tiny Panhandle town of Plains. Those rural roots run deep in Kennedy’s debut novel, Presidio (Touchstone, August 21), which follows a car thief named Troy Falconer as he embarks on a desperate road trip from his fictionalized Panhandle hometown of New Cona to the titular Presidio. In a recent conversation, Kennedy described the real-life experiences that informed his vivid evocations of the places that Troy passes through as he drives south and west toward the book’s grim conclusion.