Saturday, September 16, 2017

Guest Post: Kathleen Valenti

Please welcome fellow Henery Press author Kathleen Valenti to Type M. I met Kathleen at Malice Domestic last year and had a lovely conversation with her. Her first novel, PROTOCOL, featuring new college graduate Maggie O’Malley was recently released. You can find out more about Kathleen at it away Kathleen...


Message in a Novel

by Kathleen Valenti


There are many adages about novel-writing.

Write the book you want to read.
Leave out the parts readers tend to skip.
The road to hell is paved with adverbs.

And the truth is, I abide by many of them. They’re good advice doled out by some of the finest writers ever to hold a pen or sit before a keyboard.

But there are a few writerly axioms I don’t follow. Case in point:

If you want to send a message, call Western Union.

It’s a quote alternately attributed to Goldwyn, Capra, Hemingway and Bogart (although playwright Moss Hart appears to be its true author). And while Twitter has largely replaced telegrams, this perennial advice still makes the rounds in writing circles.

The implication is clear: keep the story the story. Forget about including a moral or expressing an opinion or assigning a deeper social meaning. Readers want to be entertained, period.

Of course, many (if not most) writers eschew such notions. We write where our heads—and our hearts—lead us. But still…That message (no pun intended) comes through loud and clear, especially to authors of genre fiction. We’re often told the plot’s the thing. End of story. And that’s perfectly wonderful if that’s the book you want to write or the story you want to read

Me? I can’t help but include a little message with my mystery

The Maggie O’Malley Mystery Series is young. PROTOCOL, the first book in the series, has just been released and 39 WINKS is in the queue, with another soon to follow. Yet already I know that each book will highlight, in one way or another, some kind of larger issue.

It’s a part of my writer’s DNA, a snippet of my real-life voice, a way to work out the mysteries of life’s dark secrets right along with each book’s plot. It also helps me advance the story and inspire my protagonist to action. Maggie is driven by a desire to solve a mystery and address a personal conflict (and life always seems to present those), all within a context that’s larger than both.

I’m not alone. Many mystery authors give a nod to social ills or worldwide problems that go beyond the page. We may write about death and violence, but in many ways, these aspects are the other side of a coin emblazoned with justice and compassion. The denouement that contrasts the action. The “after” that rights the “before."

We crave a world of kindness, courage, help and hope, and we create it, in part by bringing in larger issues that affect our human family.

Readers tell me they like to read books that provide entertainment and escape, along with a theme that informs and inspires. They say that as long as a book’s deeper meaning doesn’t impede the plot, feel didactic, or come across as preachy, they find that thematic elements add to the texture of a story rather than detract from it. In short: they like a side of message with their plot and characters.

And to that I say: message received


Freshly minted college graduate Maggie O’Malley embarks on a career fueled by professional ambition and a desire to escape the past. As a pharmaceutical researcher, she’s determined to save lives from the shelter of her lab. But on her very first day she’s pulled into a world of uncertainty. Reminders appear on her phone for meetings she’s never scheduled with people she’s never met. People who end up dead.

With help from her best friend, Maggie discovers the victims on her phone are connected to each other and her new employer. She soon unearths a treacherous plot that threatens her mission—and her life. Maggie must unlock deadly secrets to stop horrific abuses of power before death comes calling for her.

When Kathleen isn’t writing page-turning mysteries that combine humor and suspense, she works as a nationally award-winning copywriter. She lives in Oregon with her family where she pretends to enjoy running. Protocol is her debut novel and the first of the Maggie O’Malley mystery series.


Sybil Johnson said...

Interesting post. I think fiction is an excellent way to explore an issue as long as you don't beat it over the reader's head. I suspect most people don't think this, but I think writers can do this in cozies as well. It's just done a little gentler.

Marianne Wheelaghan said...

Fascinating post, Kathleen. I agree with you (and with Sybil), as writers of mystery/crime novels, including cozies, we can (and do) shine a light on the darker side of society as much as any literary novel. Good luck with Protocol!

Rick Blechta said...

Thanks for the post, Kathleen!

Science fiction has always done this sort of thing, often as an allegory. Because of the nature of this writing, it's much easier. I can't disagree with the comments made by Marianne and Sybil, nor from you.

It is a thought-provoking topic for us, though.