Community News
June 23, 2017 By Denise Barnard
How do you make a character with diabetes believable?

Diabetes Canada had the opportunity to interview author K.J. Howe (pictured above) who has just released her first novel, The Freedom Broker (Quercus, $32.49). The thriller features Thea Paris, who is a freedom broker aka someone whose job is to negotiate the rescue of kidnapped individuals held for ransom (in this case, her father, Christos, a wealthy shipping tycoon). In another first, Thea lives with type 1 diabetes. K.J. tells us about her own diabetes connection and more about her character.

Diabetes Canada: Your grandfather had type 1 diabetes. What do you remember about his experience (positive and/or negative)?

K.J. Howe: As a child, I remember my grandfather having to use “his needles,” and it struck me as rather terrifying that he had to stick himself with those sharp objects. Looking back, I’m proud of the way my grandfather handled his illness, showing me and my brothers how he learned to inject himself [with insulin] using oranges. My grandfather was a very active man and a talented amateur magician – a living example of how you don’t have to let a chronic illness stop you from living a full and active life – and I’m still inspired by that today. In The Freedom Broker, my character Thea Paris has type 1 diabetes in his honour.

Diabetes Canada: Did your perception of diabetes change at all as you got older? Do you have any other friends or family who have been touched by the disease?

K.J. Howe: As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned more about the science behind diabetes, so it’s no longer a frightening mystery, but rather a well-understood medical condition. I have several friends with diabetes, and I greatly admire how they handle their illness. They all helped me understand the emotional impact of living with this illness – it isn’t just about the physical symptoms.

When I created Thea Paris, it was important to integrate all of these aspects into her character. Thea works an elite kidnap negotiator who travels to the globe’s hotspots, and sometimes cases become rescue operations. Thea needs to be on the top of her game physically and emotionally when lives are on the line.

Diabetes Canada: How did your former job as a medical writer help you with writing your character and heroine, Thea Paris, in a believable way, especially in regard to living with diabetes?

K.J. Howe: I was a medical writer for 14 years, so I penned many articles about diabetes. This experience helped educate me regarding all the challenges involved in this illness. I realized how focused people with diabetes had to be, monitoring their food intake carefully and protecting themselves from the many complications of diabetes. I was quite interested in the innovative products that can help people monitor and control their blood sugar levels, and I hope to integrate these devices into future books in the series.

Diabetes Canada: One interviewer described type 1 diabetes as a “burden.” Some people living with diabetes face stigma and misconceptions associated with it. How does Thea view the disease? Did any of those negative perceptions influence your desire to “show the reader that anyone with diabetes—or any other illness for that matter—shouldn’t be defined by the illness.”

K.J. Howe: It’s heartbreaking to me that people with diabetes have to deal with any stigmas or misconceptions on top of the daily care they need to give themselves. Thea is acutely aware of the public scrutiny. She is on an elite tactical team where she is the only woman; add in her diabetes, and she definitely has to show that she is at least as capable or more capable than the male team members. In The Freedom Broker, she initially keeps her diabetes a secret because she is concerned about the stigma and misconceptions. Throughout the book, I explore these mixed emotions and hard decisions, and this will be an ongoing theme in the series. Realism about this prejudice is an important part of the story.

K.J. Howe’s father worked in telecommunications, so she has lived in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and the Caribbean, but Canada has always been her home base. She says, “As Canada’s 150th anniversary is upon us, it makes me realize just how fortunate I was to be born in this respectful, safe country.” It also allows her insights into different cultures, as her character, Thea Paris, travels all over the world. K.J. is the executive director of the annual Thrillerfest, hosted by the International Thriller Writers’ Organization in New York. You can find her at kjhowe.com.

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To win a free copy of The Freedom Broker, please sign in and leave a comment in the comments section below. One winner will be chosen at random.

From June 26 to July 10, The Freedom Broker will be available for $2.99 from Kobo, iBooks and Amazon as part of a Canada Day promotion.

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What is your connection to diabetes, and why would you like to win a copy of this book? Tell us now.

Do you have a personal story of how your diabetes diagnosis has affected you or someone you know? Fill in our easy personal story submission form, and you and your story could appear in myDC community content. 

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