What prompted you to write SAVING MAX?
I have two autistic sons, one of whom has Asperger’s (high functioning autism). The novel began as a way to work through the difficulties and challenges I had as a mother of a child with special needs. Fifteen years ago, there were very few resources to support these children and their families. My son was socially ostracized and we were desperate to do everything we could to help him. When he was a teenager, he began acting out in school and at home. At one point, everything seemed to spiral out of control and we felt that we had no choice but to admit him to a psychiatric hospital. I started writing the book to work through this awful time and to work through my own feelings and fears when the road ahead seemed to offer little hope.
What was your writing and researching process?
As a first-time novelist, I can’t say that my writing process in the beginning was remarkable, but it starting out with my journaling about my son and his experience at the psychiatric hospital. When we came home, I felt compelled to write about it and when I did, I found that I was able to articulate the love and unique nature of the bond between us.
I am often asked if the novel required a lot of research into autism. Since my son was diagnosed at four, all I did was research autism! I educated myself on available medications, psychiatric and behavioral methods that had proved successful with autistic children – anything that I felt could help my son and his stepbrother. I did do a lot of research on the other disorder that drives the novel, but I won’t say anything about it because I don’t want to spoil the ending!
How do you approach the blank page?
I sit down in front of my computer and start writing. It doesn’t matter that nothing intelligible happens in the first five or ten minutes. Invariably, characters and scenes find themselves on the page. One thing I had to learn early on is that a first draft is just that. Whatever I write first will seem immature and lousy. The trick is to just get past that draft. Rewriting is what writing is. Ask me, I re-wrote SAVING MAX twenty-two times in twelve years before it was published! It is how I learned my craft.
What made you decide to make SAVING MAX a thriller?
I was sitting in the psychiatric hospital waiting room one day when I was struck by what a depressing, eerie place it was. It smelled like disinfectant, my son was on a lock-down unit, and the other patients were children who seemed desperately unhappy to be there, many of whom were violent and had serious psychological disorders. As I sat there that day, I thought: “This would be a great place for a murder.” I had never thought I’d write a thriller, but it turns out I love to kill people on paper.
Can you tell us a little about your sons and the challenges of raising them?
I have two sons who are autistic (one is my step-child). Both are in their twenties now. They live in a wonderful residential community where they have jobs, live in their own cottages, and have active social lives. They are happy and productive, which is more than I had ever hoped they could be when they were small.
It was incredibly tough to raise them. At that time, there were no social outlets for them and “normal” children were often cruel and ostracized them. It was terribly difficult to decide whose advice to follow: which doctors, which educators, which medications to try (or no medication), how to handle their volatile moods and behaviors. Everyday life was one crisis after another. Frankly, I don’t know how we did it. No one would babysit my children – it was too much for them. We had no family close by and, as the years passed, it felt as if our world became smaller and smaller, focused only on the children and how to help them deal with their challenges. The external stresses were also crushing. I was a full-time lawyer who had to travel often to Europe and Scandinavia. My son’s father and stepfather were also lawyers with busy practices. I am so grateful for the friends who stood by us, the medical professionals who worked so hard to help us, and those special angels – their teachers.
Did you have any interesting experiences getting SAVING MAX published?
I am sure all authors have similar experiences in trying to get their first novel published. Perhaps mine didn’t take longer than some (seven years), but I don’t think many writers re-wrote their novels twenty-one times! So you won’t think I am particularly dense, I should explain that in 2004, I completed the novel and got an agent. She felt strongly that the book should be rewritten from the perspective of Doaks, the detective, instead of Danielle, the mother. I felt that she was absolutely wrong. Neophyte that I was, however, I thought that surely an agent with her experience knew better than I did…so I rewrote the entire novel from Doaks’s perspective. It was a disaster! I hated and, from the rejection letters, so did many publishing houses! I fired that agent and was fortunate enough to then be represented by Al Zuckerman, agent to Ken Follett, etc. He worked with me yet another year and a half to rewrite it once more from the mother’s perspective. The result is SAVING MAX.
Saving Max is publshed by Mira