Kristy Kiernan is the author of Catching Genius and Matters of Faith. Below, she writes about her work with the FAAN Walk for Food Allergies and its connection to her novel.
Author Kristy Kiernan and Jack Suchora, age 4 (anaphylactic to dairy, allergic to eggs, peanuts, tree nuts), at the FAAN Walk for Food Allergies.
On a cool, sunny Saturday in November, southwest Florida families gathered at Lowry Park in Tampa to enjoy a day of friendship, music, games, a nature walk and even a visit from Tampa Bay Buccaneer cheerleaders. The only thing setting the gathering apart from any company picnic was the food on the tables. This was the FAAN–Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network–Walk for Food Allergies.
Instead of egg and pasta salads, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the kids, tables were stocked with SunButter (peanut butter substitute made from sunflower seeds), Caramel and Apple Bars, and soft Snickerdoodle Cookies (dairy, gluten, wheat, nuts, tree nuts, soy, egg, fish and shellfish free). Other tables were staffed by EpiPen employees, and allergists filtered through the crowd talking to their patients, getting to know these families.
So what was I doing there? A writer without any family members with food allergies?
I was meeting my characters.
When I wrote Matters of Faith I didn’t know anyone with food allergies, and I relied on medical research and empathy to imagine what a family dealing with them goes through. Though an adverse reaction figures prominently in the plot, I didn’t set out to write a book about food allergies, I simply wrote a book about a family. But once it was published, the reader mail I received was frequently from mothers of food allergic children thanking me for presenting a realistic, if terrifying, possibility that they had to live with every day.
Most surprising and gratifying was that many of them gave the book as a gift to family members, friends and acquaintances in order to help educate them about how serious food allergies can be.
Over the last year I’ve met many of these families, and on that Saturday in November I was the Honorary Chair of the Tampa FAAN Walk. Copies of Matters of Faith were raffled off, and I signed them to people very much like the Tobias family in the book.
It was a humbling and exhilarating day. I am filled with admiration for these families and thank them deeply for sharing such an important event with me.