Aspergers, autism, mother's love, thriller

Snapshots of World War 2: My Father


My Father

Frans van Heugten, my father, lying in the dunes probably watching my mother swim in the winter in Scheveningen, a [then] small beach town near The Hague. My father was an intellectual, always reading, quiet and somewhat shy. Within the family, though, we knew his wit and humor. Oh, and I left out stubborn. He defined the word! Of course his children are no slouches, either.

He was educated by the Jesuits – knew seven languages – and was destined to become a priest as the eldest child of his large, Catholic family. Lucky for him he met my mother, who knocked him off his feet! They served in the same underground cell in The Hague during the war, my father often involved in blowing up munitions depots to keep weapons from falling into the hands of the Germans.

My mother was fortuitously born in the U.S. (my grandfather was a head waiter at the Waldorf Astoria) and when the war ended, she jumped on a ship and sailed to New Orleans. It took my father time to get a sponsor and to satisfy immigration, but he followed “Lony” to New Orleans, where they were married in the French Quarter. He met his future employer, the owner of a shipping agency, on the vessel he sailed to America. Together they had three children, Frans, Jackie and you-know-who.


Snapshots of World War 2: My Mother

My MotherThis photograph is painful for me to see. My mother, Jacoba, on the beach in Scheveningen toward the end of the war. You can see how pitifully thin she is, every rib showing, her emaciated arms and legs. But look at that smile! No, nothing ever kept my mother down for long! Even in the dead of winter she would swim in the ocean. She was a vibrant, amazing person with the most generous heart.

She was a courier in the Dutch resistance, often pedaling to and fro with microfilm in her bra. She told me that one time the Nazis broke into her parents’ house and tore it apart, looking for microfilm. My grandmother, a quick thinker, put it on top of the toilet tank, which in Europe were high overhead. It was the one place they didn’t look!


Homestretch For The Tulip Eaters!

TheTulipEaters-3dLeft-808x1024So it is. On Tuesday, October 29, my second novel, THE TULIP EATERS, will make its way into the world. How does it feel? Crazy. Fantastic. Incredible. All true.When I wrote SAVING MAX and it wasn’t published for ten years (yes, you should have seen my face then, when my neck didn’t resemble a frightened Thanksgiving turkey), I wrote this second novel because I didn’t know what else to do. When you write, you write. That’s all.

But then SAVING MAX came out in 2010 and sold. And sold very well. All of a sudden, the reality of being a published author with a bestseller crashes down on you: radio interviews, TV spots, reviews, book signings. It was so heady and beyond my wildest expectations. Looking back, though, there was one defining moment.

When SAVING MAX showed up in my mailbox and I ripped open the box of books and actually held one in my hand – that was it! Nothing has ever approached that moment as a writer for me. I was little Nettie van Heugten in the library at the card catalog, flipping through the white cards, mesmerized by all those amazing people who were authors. Eight years old. And all I wanted in the whole, wide world was to have my name on one of those books on the shelves. Then I could die happy. And I haven’t changed my mind. Focusing only on a personal dream (not one associated with my three boys, which is hard to do!) this was and is it.

Buoyed by the fact that people actually bought, read and told me that they loved SAVING MAX, I drug out that manuscript I wrote while trying to convince myself that there was some reason to keep writing. It is a bittersweet feeling as I anticipate seeing THE TULIP EATERS on the shelves. This novel brings back my parents, both gone now. My mother died in 1978 after a long battle with cancer, the year I graduated from college. My father secluded himself even more after her death, passing away in 1990. I was twenty-two when my mother died. I set upon a mission – to learn everything about the Dutch underground I could. I went to Amsterdam. Read anything and everything. In this way, I tried to live her past, to keep her connected to me, so that she wouldn’t really be – gone. The novel is a thriller and fiction, but the historical facts are the building blocks that comprised my parents’ lives, that made them who they were. When I pulled the manuscript out of the closet and rewove the story into what it is today, I reread their love letters to one another, the research I did at the Dutch War Institute thirty years ago – my handwriting loopy and immature. I feel the loss, once again.

But on Tuesday, I will raise a glass of genever to my parents, grateful as always for this life they gave me, for the love of reading and learning that has shaped that life, for their generosity of heart and profound love that is never-ending.


Not Again! Writer’s Block


Many writers I know suffer from that horrifying paralysis known as writer’s block. I can be lazy, uninspired and many other things, but I can always write. I follow the Stephen King School of writer’s block. Put your butt in the chair. The work will follow.

Still, I often prefer to describe my inactivity as writer’s block because it sounds so much more professional (ha!). Then I read words of wisdom from others on the subject. Here you go:

You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.

I have to write hundreds of pages before I get to page one.

Barbara Kingsolver

Turn off your cell phone. Honestly, if you want to get work done, you’ve got to learn to unplug. No texting, no email, no Facebook, no Instagram. Whatever it is you’re doing, it needs to stop while you write. A lot of the time (and this is fully goofy to admit), I’ll write with earplugs in — even if it’s dead silent at home.

Enjoy writing badly.”

Karen Russell

Russell has only written one book … and it was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. In an interview with The Daily Beast, she talks about her daily struggle to overcome distraction and write…

I know many writers who try to hit a set word count every day, but for me, time spent inside a fictional world tends to be a better measure of a productive writing day. I think I’m fairly generative as a writer, I can produce a lot of words, but volume is not the best metric for me. It’s more a question of, did I write for four or five hours of focused time, when I did not leave my desk, didn’t find some distraction to take me out of the world of the story? Was I able to stay put and commit to putting words down on the page, without deciding mid-sentence that it’s more important to check my email, or “research” some question online, or clean out the science fair projects in the back of my freezer?

I’ve decided that the trick is just to keep after it for several hours, regardless of your own vacillating assessment of how the writing is going. Showing up and staying present is a good writing day.

I think it’s bad so much of the time. The periods where writing feels effortless and intuitive are, for me, as I keep lamenting, rare. But I think that’s probably the common ratio of joy to despair for most writers, and I definitely think that if you can make peace with the fact that you will likely have to throw out 90 percent of your first draft, then you can relax and even almost enjoy “writing badly.”

I am a big fan of outlining. I write an outline. Then a slightly more detailed outline. Then another with even more detail. Sentences form, punctuation is added, and eventually it all turns into a book.

I write while walking on a treadmill. I started this practice when I was working on “Drop Dead Healthy,” and read all these studies about the dangers of the sedentary life. Sitting is alarmingly bad for you. One doctor told me that “sitting is the new smoking.” So I bought a treadmill and put my computer on top of it. It took me about 1,200 miles to write my book. I kind of love it — it keeps me awake, for one thing.

A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.

E.B. White

Dan Brown: Brown likes to hang upside down in antigravity boots, saying the inversion therapy helps him relax and “let go.” He also keeps an hourglass on his desk, and every hour he stops writing to do pushups, sit-ups, and stretches.

So. On those days you just can’t get it together, hang upside down like a bat, turn your desk into a treadmill, cook and eat an entire lasagna – whatever it takes to get you’re ass back in the seat, your fingers moving over the keyboard.

Block shmock.


Why are Writers Crazy and Hard to Live With?


Okay, don’t get too excited.  No, that isn’t me in that photograph.  You think I’m nuts?  That I’d let anyone who cares enough about what I say actually see me the way my husband has to see me at various points during the writing process? Read more »


Cork, Ireland: My #1 Irish Fan

UntitledOne of the unanticipated boons of having a novel published has been the amazing correspondence I have received from people who have read Saving Max.  I had no idea that young people would become one of my largest groups of readers.  So many teenagers who have written to me either have Asperger’s or have family members or friends who are Asperger’s.  Aspies are the most fascinating people!  They have such a unique view of the world.

Today I want to share some correspondence from Conor, my “#1 Irish Fan,” as he calls himself.  His review of Saving Max, his ideas for a sequel, and his unique viewpoint on Max, the Asperger’s character in the book – all have endeared him to me.  He is an aspiring writer, full of fabulous ideas for the sequel to Saving Max, called Finding Marianne.  He is an invaluable resource! Read more »


Get Rid of My Books? Are You Insane?


Okay.  It’s a little messy.  A lot messy.  But I’ve spent my life collecting every volume on those shelves.  (There are four other floor-to-ceiling bookshelves just like this one, but I couldn’t fit them into one shot.)  There are a few first editions, but most of them wouldn’t bring a buck at a used bookstore.  And fully sixty percent I know for a fact I’ll never crack open again.  But……aargh! Read more »


Life During Wartime: The Love-Charm of Bombs

I read this article in the New York Times the other day and immediately ordered Lara Feigel’s book, “The Love-Charm of Bombs.”  It’s on its way and I can’t wait.  Here’s why.

Feigel has written a novel about the impact of World War II – the London Blitz – on the works of five British authors (Graham Greene, Elizabeth Bowen, Henry Yorke/Green, Rose Macaulay, Hilde Spiel/Australian émigré).  Normally this would be merely academically interesting, but as I read further, it became clear to me that Feigel has followed a path almost identical to the one that led me to write “The Tulip Eaters,” even though my novel is a thriller and hers has been dubbed a “new” or “group biography.”

A respected literary critic, Feigel started to write a non-fiction piece about war literature, but found that it was the lives of the writers themselves that fascinated her.  She pored over archives of their letters and diaries, especially their love letters (apparently wartime bred affairs like rabbits) and eventually wove their stories into what I anticipate will be a riveting novel.

Read more »


What I’ve Been Up To

When SAVING MAX came out in 2010, I had no idea that it would find an audience and certainly never expected that it would become a bestseller. No first-time author thinks that – at least not me! As with so many debut authors, I was just thrilled to have the book published.

Now three years later, it has sold over two hundred thousand copies and is now being re-released by MIRA this month. I am so honored by the warm reception the book has received and I am excited to share news of my next project with you.

Read more »


The Debate About Schooling Autistic Children in a Separate School

Hello, everyone. I’d like to address the issue of whether it is best for Asperger’s and other autistic children to be educated in regular schools or if it is better for them to have their own schools. I am no expert, as everyone knows. I’m just a mother of autistic children. If my kids were young today, I would be torn about making that choice.

I have one stepson who is autistic and mentally challenged. He attended a private school for special needs children in elementary and junior high school and then went to a very large public school for high school. While he did benefit when he was young from having like peers and avoiding the harassment many of these children face, I must say that his years in public high school were his happiest. He was in a special needs class, but did attend others classes he was interested in. For example, he is a huge history buff. He loved the history class and the other students were very kind to him. Socially, Jack is very outgoing and friendly and he very much enjoyed the social interaction and the pride of attending a “normal” school.

Read more »


Buy the Books

The Tulip Eaters


Available from these retailers:

  • amazon
  • amazonkindle
  • barnesnoble
  • indiebound
  • Kobo
  • iBookstore Logo

Saving Max


Available from these retailers:

  • harlequin
  • amazon
  • barnesnoble
  • indiebound
  • walmart


Talk about Saving Max or The Tulip Eaters on Good Reads.


“Antoinette van Heugten combines the tender, unshakable bond between mother and son with an action-packed, edge-of-your-seat thriller.” — Diane Chamberlain, bestselling author of THE LIES WE TOLD


Sample & Readcast The Tulip Eaters and Saving Max on Scribd.


July 2024