Here's the (mostly) final update on the MISSING HEAD CHALLENGE: Thanks to all who posted pictures of themselves with the first Asperger's Mystery from E.J. Copperman/Jeff Cohen! We all greatly appreciate your effort and hope that you enjoy the book! Donations are being made to the Autism Spectrum Education Network (ASPEN). While the Challenge is officially over, we'll keep donating for those who continue to post pictures!
And on to business.
Just for the record: My son is actually nothing like Samuel Hoenig. Seriously.
I understand why I get the question. If I were in the position of those who ask it, I would probably do the same. It's not at all too large a leap to attempt. But the honest fact is, there is very little connection.
Samuel is the "hero" (he would not ever consider himself such) of THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD, the aforementioned Asperger's mystery. He is 29 years old in that book (sorry, Josh Getzler--in my mind Samuel's in his 30s because I'm already past Book #2), lives at home with his mother, prefers working by himself, has a driver's license but doesn't drive, and is formal in his language and meticulous in his observation.
He has Asperger's Syndrome, which until recently was a disorder and is now a nebulous part of the autism spectrum, but that's a whole other story. (Grammar fans: I do in fact know there is no such word as "nother.")
My son Josh (not Getzler) is 25 years old, lives at home with both his parents, prefers working by himself, drives pretty much every day, and is not at all formal in his language nor especially meticulous in his observation.
But he does have Asperger's, and that's why people ask.
I've written about Josh before. In fact, I wrote two non-fiction books about raising him (and other people raising their children with AS) long before Samuel ever came to life on the page. I've occasionally posted about him here, and if there's anybody out there who's looking for an employee doing... just about anything, he's still mostly available. Don't hesitate.
In the Aaron Tucker series, back when I was a feckless youth of 43, I included Aaron's son Ethan who--waddaya know!--had Asperger's. That was mostly because nobody knew what it was in 2002 and I figured I could reach some and educate them while writing what I hoped was a funny mystery. And sure enough, the 38 people who read those books often get in touch to let me know they learned something, which makes me proud.
So because I have mentioned Josh's Asperger's in public, and now I write an adult character who has AS, people naturally assume he's the inspiration for the character. And I suppose he is, in that I wouldn't have known much about Asperger's or autism or a number of other things if I had not been Josh's dad. But the similarity ends there.
My Josh is a graduate of the Drexel University film and video program and has made a few short films. He lives at home because he managed to get out of college and enter the absolute worst economy since Tom Joad graduated from Hard Knox. He'd love to be making enough to rent his own apartment. Sure, he likes his parents, but maybe living on his own wouldn't be so awful.
Samuel lives at home because he likes it, enjoys his mother's company, and if he were being completely honest, the thought of being in his own place probably scares him a little bit.
Josh is working part-time at a movie theater and wants to make, or assist in the making of, film or television. Samuel owns a business called Questions Answered, which he operates out of a former pizzeria.
Samuel's Asperger's makes it difficult for him to process idioms and understand body language. Josh might have had those challenges when he was 10, but he's learned enough that it doesn't really seem to slow him down much anymore.
Samuel asks everybody what Beatles song is his/her favorite. Josh likes to talk about comic books, superhero movies, and Doctor Who. It's not at all unusual for a person with AS to have an intense interest in one subject.
The things Samuel does in THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD, including investigating the theft of a frozen specimen from a cryonics lab and the murder of a scientist, are things Josh wouldn't ever do. And if a loud alarm were to sound, while Samuel is almost incapacitated, Josh would be uncomfortable and probably annoyed.
Samuel would probably never make a film in which a baby devours his babysitter (off-screen) for fun. That's all I'm saying.
So if you want to know whether I wrote Samuel because I've grown up with Josh, sure. There is much to learn from people with any type of autism spectrum disorder. I've become a better person through knowing my son. It helps write with compassion when necessary.
If you believe that Samuel is based on Josh? No. They're really very different.
But thanks for asking.