The day I brought the issue of People home, I was shocked when he grabbed the magazine, sat down at the dining-room table and slowly made his way through the entire story. At the end, he stood up, smiled, and said, "That's a very good story about me." I was delighted.
That article became the seed of Following Ezra. Before I sent my proposal to my agent, I discussed the idea with Ezra, and basically asked his permission. He loved the idea. I told him that it might be helpful to many parents of younger kids with autism, and he liked that, too. I was concerned that some of the funny stories about things he did as a younger child -- say, the time he went up to an obese neighbor and asked him how he got so fat -- might be embarrassing. Ezra would just say, "No, that's okay. I'm not embarrassed. I don't do that anymore."
The book opens in the summer of 1999, but this is not just a flashback to help set up the narrative. The story covers a lot of ground between the mid-'90s, when Ezra was born, and his bar mitzvah 13 years later. Were all of the vignettes that make up the individual chapters written relatively recently, at the time you decided to put them down in book form, or have you been writing all along?
Since we first started noticing differences in Ezra when he was a toddler, I've been taking notes. Not for a book, but to figure him out, to try to understand his mind, how we could help him, what to expect -- and what the future might bring.
Many of those notes took the form of emails I wrote to myself, to my wife Shawn, to my parents and in-laws and others who cared about Ezra. (Age 7: "Last night I was making waffles with a new waffle iron. He kept grabbing letters from the fridge and taking them into the playroom. When I went to tell him the waffles were ready, he had spelled out 'dinosaur' on the train table. 'Yeah! I spelled 'dinosaur!' That's how you spell 'dinosaur!''")
After a while, I felt like a foreign correspondent or an anthropologist, reporting on the customs and practices in an exotic land. (Age 6: "Will only eat a banana one way: whole. I open, pull the peel halfway down, hand it to him. If it breaks before he eats it, he screams: 'You broke it!'")
But all along, I was noticing not just Ezra's challenges, but also how truly extraordinary he was, the astonishing ways his mind worked. (Age 8: "We were reading a book that mentioned a woodpecker. I asked if he had ever seen a woodpecker. 'No. But I heard one, on a hike on November 29, 2003. It was a Friday.'")
It's difficult (or at least it was for me) to live with someone like that and not be constantly taking note of the remarkable things that would come out of his mouth.
I posed the previous question because you're a professional writer and have been for more than 25 years. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that you turned, privately, to that form of expression as a way to sort out your own complicated thoughts on raising an autistic child. How did putting Ezra's story into words help you -- if it did at all -- to understand any feelings you might have been working through?