by Julie, falling in Somerville
I am thrilled to welcome Kathleen Marple Kalb back to the blog today! She’s got a new series, and is here to tell us all about it.
A Diagnosis, not a Definition
Plenty of writers borrow a little from friends or family for a character. It’s a great way to create real and relatable people. But Henry Glaser, the son of my main character in The Stuff of Murder, is special. He’s an eight-year-old with a photographic memory and Type-1 Diabetes.
And he – and I – owe a lot to my neighbors and a very close friend.
Toward the end of lockdown, while I was working on the Old Stuff Mysteries idea, our neighbors’ son was diagnosed with Type-1. Since Covid is so dangerous for people with diabetes, they suddenly had to be as careful as our family is for my husband, an immune-compromised lymphoma survivor.
So, the boys, who’d always spent some time together, now became an informal pod. Hosting playdates and pitching in with school pickup, I became familiar with the everyday basics of keeping a child with Type-1 on track. More, I quickly learned it doesn’t stop a kid from being a kid – it’s just part of life. Something to watch.
Often, I wrote while the boys played, working on my new project, the Old Stuff Mysteries, a contemporary series featuring an historian who solves crimes with her expertise in old things. One afternoon, I was thinking of ways to make sure the fictional community is as diverse as the real world…and the boys ran past, in the middle of some wild cops-and-robbers game.
That day, I talked to my close friend and best beta reader, whose adult son also has Type-1. She loved the idea of Henry. But she also wanted me to make sure diabetes wasn’t the only thing – or even the first thing – we know about him.
A condition isn’t who you are, after all. It’s something you have.
Enter the photographic memory.
That’s from my own son. I’ll never forget frantically running around the house looking for something (irony alert: I no longer remember what!) and having my then two-year-old calmly inform me: “it’s downstairs between my truck and the ball.”
It was. Exactly.
Giving Henry a photographic memory is a great trick for solving mysteries; he can be counted on to bring up a key clue no one else noticed. It also makes the point that Henry’s Type-1 doesn’t define him.
Once I had the idea for Henry, I spent plenty of time on research and conversations with my friend and my neighbors, getting a sense of what it’s really like to parent a child with Type-1. Henry’s mother, Christian, the main character, is more worried about and focused on his condition than he is, but she also works very hard to let him be as normal as kid as he possibly can be.
Sometimes she’s too focused on his condition to see other things – entirely normal mom behavior. No spoiler, but that dynamic is a key part of the big scene where Christian catches the killer.
One thing I can promise you WON’T be a part of an Old Stuff mystery: insulin as a weapon. I didn’t realize it until I started promoting the series, but diabetics apparently don’t appear very often in mysteries, except as an excuse to use insulin. Henry is anything but an excuse.
Question: Have you read mysteries with key characters who have chronic health issues – and how were they handled? (One randomly-chosen commenter gets a copy of THE STUFF OF MURDER.)
ART from Pixabay. Sketch of running kid by Prawny.
Kathleen Marple Kalb describes herself as an Author/Anchor/Mom…not in that order. An award-winning weekend anchor at New York’s 1010 WINS Radio, she writes short stories and novels including The Stuff of Murder, from Level Best Books. She, her husband, and son live in a Connecticut house owned by their cat.
THE STUFF OF MURDER: When Hollywood comes to small-town Connecticut, it should be the stuff of dreams – but when a fading movie star ends up dead, a whole different kind of stuff hits the fan. Unity Historical Society head and antique household items – stuff! — expert Christian Shaw is on set when actor Brett Studebaker falls to his death from the pulpit in an old church. She, the “dads she should have had,” Garrett and Ed, her son Henry, who has a photographic memory and Type-1 Diabetes, and her colorful friends end up helping Assistant State’s Attorney Joe Poli in his investigation. (As does her giant tuxedo cat, Cookie, Ed and Garrett’s big red mutt Norm, and Joe’s tiny dog Cannoli!) Woodworking, embroidery, old poisons, and vintage weapons all figure in the case, which comes together in a wild scene at the Historical Society on Fourth-Grade Field Trip Day.