Antoinette van Heugten, a former international trial lawyer, makes her debut with Saving Max, a thriller about a single mother who places her autistic teenage son in a psychiatric hospital.

What inspired you to write Saving Max?

My experience raising two autistic boys, my own son and my stepson. My son, who has Asperger's, was hospitalized when he was nine, and the novel details a number of experiences we had there. I thought a psychiatric hospital would be a perfect setting for a thriller: sterile and scary.

What do you hope Saving Max shows other parents of children with autism?

That they are not alone in their feelings of fear and desperation and that they must continue to advocate for and believe in their children, no matter what anyone says.

Did you base Max on your own children?

Max is based on an amalgamation of my son and stepson. The story is, of course, fictional, but the feelings and terror when first facing such a diagnosis and the incredible difficulty in raising such a child is something I experienced firsthand.

What do your children think about your novel?

They think it's great. They are very proud of me.

Did you research psychiatric hospitals?

I was in a psychiatric hospital with my son. I didn't do any research per se. I lived it.

What's next?

A novel with a serial killer who has delusions of parasitosis, a disorder in which the patient believes he has microscopic insects crawling all over him. I definitely plan to write a sequel to Saving Max and would love to have it launch a series, but that's up in the air.

What is it about lawyers who become authors?

I'm afraid all lawyers think they can write novels, but I've been writing all of my life. It has been a lifetime dream for me to publish a book.

What was the most eye-opening event on your road to becoming a novelist?

I was very naïve. I thought it would be much simpler to write a book than it was. I learned the most important lesson—that writing is rewriting and more rewriting. I worked on Saving Max for 12 years, learning my craft from scratch.

Your choice of a villain is very inventive. Why did you take that approach?

I've always had this odd fascination with unusual psychological disorders. I wanted my villain to appear normal on the surface.