600 Hours of Edward grew out of National Novel Writing Month in 2008. How did you knock out a complete novel in just 24 days?
I think the answer lies in time, in two senses. First, when I set to writing 600 Hours, it had been many years since I'd attempted fiction. But in the intervening time, I'd become a much better writer and self-editor because of my professional life as a journalist, and I'd experienced enough to draw a character who was quite unlike me or anyone else I know. Second, I was writing so quickly—nearly 80,000 words in 24 days—that I simply didn't have the luxury of worrying about whether it was good. That was enormously freeing. I just wanted to finish a novel, something I'd never done before. In some significant ways, everything that's happened since has been a bonus.
What did you know about Asperger's Syndrome heading into the book, and what did you learn along the way?
Well, I knew that it was the likely syndrome for the character I had in mind: a guy who is relentlessly devoted to his rituals and for whom shades of gray and social niceties present distinct challenges. Beyond that, I focused the research I did—and it wasn't much—on two things, behaviors and traits. I purposely steered clear of the clinical and diagnostic stuff, because I didn't want to write that kind of book. I wanted Edward to be remarkable because of who he is, not because of his particular disorder. I figured if I stuck to the things he was likely to do and the way he was likely to see the world, I'd draw him properly for the purposes of the story. Thankfully, people who know that world far more intimately than I do have told me that I captured it accurately. That was a big relief, and I'm grateful for all the folks who have continued to educate me about autism.
You didn't initially plan for more than one Edward book, but word is you've since reconsidered.
True. In fact, the first chapter of the sequel, titled Edward Adrift, is in the back of the new edition of 600 Hours of Edward. I maintained for a long time that I'd told the most interesting part of Edward's story, but I was wrong. When you live with someone as long as I've lived with Edward, you see new possibilities. He had more places to go and more people to meet, and once I started tugging at the threads of the new story, it revealed itself nearly as quickly as the first one did. It was really cool to be back inside his head.