Interview: Kathleen Valenti

Please welcome Kathleen Valenti, author of the Maggie O’Malley mysteries.

Protocol cover front 2What’s your idea of a perfect day?

My perfect day begins with a cup of coffee and ends with a glass of wine. In between, I’d blow right past my word count goals, go on a long run, help my kids with their homework (even that “new math” stuff), and whip up a gourmet meal.

Of course, “perfect” and “typical” are usually miles apart, so my days usually look like semi-controlled chaos spent rewriting, playing referee for bickering children, arriving late to Jazzercise with my shirt inside out, and preparing a packaged dinner that includes the word “Helper.”

The coffee and wine, though…those remain.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase/expression, or meal?

I’m known for my appalling penmanship and unnatural love for black licorice. I’ve found that most people can’t stand licorice and readily hand over their black jellybeans. I’m so fond of the stuff I have licorice-scented lip balm. My face basically smells like the bottom of my grandmother’s handbag.

Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?

I can’t pick a favorite author. Choosing just one would be as impossible as giving up licorice. (See above.) But I have been influenced by a number of gifted authors, most notably Stephen King.

King is far more than the master of horror. I believe he’s one of the finest writers of our generation. He’s bigger than the genre with which he’s associated, greater than the archetype he embodies. He understands what moves people and uses the power of that knowledge to move his stories forward. I admire his fearlessness, his prolificity, his willingness to follow his muse anywhere. He writes from the heart, for the heart, which inspires me as both a reader and a writer. He’s undaunted. It’s a trait I work to adopt not just for my writing life, but my everyday existence.

Do you listen to music when you write? 

The only music I listen to is the clattering of keys that come from my keyboard. I need to get in my head and stay there, and silence helps me do that.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?

I think Protocol would be semi-sweet chocolate filled with caramel because it’s multi-layered and the experiences changes the more you bite into it.

What made you interested in writing this particular story? 

Several years ago, I sent my laptop to the manufacturer for repair. It came back with someone else’s hard drive, replete with photographs, letters, lists and budgets.

The minutia of everyday life. The digital leavings of another’s existence.

Turned out the computer snafu went both ways. My hard drive was now in the machine of the computer that had once housed the hard drive I now had in my hands. Our hard drives had been swapped, laying bare both of our digital lives and taking personal information out of our control.

It was strange to say the least.

The mix-up was never unmixed (and that’s another story), but it did give me the glimmer of an idea for a book involving technology and the belief that we know where our communications are going. This idea became the hook for Protocol, which married nicely with my desire to write a mystery that touches on issues of health and greed.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing? 

I write about loss, isolation, social justice and why people do the things they do. A mystery isn’t just a whodunit. It’s a whydunit, especially in the larger context of a community or the world. Humor is also a theme in my stories, whether it’s the gallows variety or simply situational. Humor keeps my characters—and me—sane. Well, relatively speaking.

Tell us about your main character.

Maggie O’Malley is the quintessential awkward girl. A self-professed nerd, she spent high school and college studying for the big test rather than going to the big game. She lost herself in schoolwork not only to dull the pain of losing her mother, but also to secure a future career in pharmaceuticals so that she might one day find the cure to the cancer that had ended her mother’s life—and changed her own.

Maggie is funny, feisty, smart and strong. She’s used to fading into the background, but finds herself in a situation where she must act. And act fast.

I think a lot of us can relate to Maggie. We’re just not usually confronted by as many dead bodies.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.

Maggie looks like Emma Stone, has the brains of “The Big Bang Theory’s” Amy Farrah Fowler, and possesses the humor of Tina Fey. We should all be so lucky!

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?

Well, Steve King (can I call you Steve, Steve?) would top the list, even though he’s not a mystery author. I would fan girl myself into a bigger blathering mess than usual at the prospect of spending the evening with my favorite author. (happy sigh)

It we’re talking strictly mystery, I would love to have Lisa Gardner, Karin Slaughter, Carl Hiaasen, Harlan Coben and Jesse Kellerman for dinner. (Insert fava bean reference here.) They are some of the mystery authors whose works I most read and admire. OH! And I’d invite fictional author Joan Wilder from Romancing the Stone, just so I can say “Joan Wilder? THE Joan Wilder?!!” when she arrives for dinner.

What’s next for you?

I just put to bed the second book in the Maggie O’Malley mystery series. It follows Maggie from the tumultuous end of Protocol to the new life she’s intent on rebuilding. If the fates allow.

It’s so gratifying to be able to stay in lives of Maggie, Constantine, her father and all of the other characters of Protocol. They’ve become dear friends, and I’m lucky to continue seeing them on a daily basis.

I’m also spending time doing various and sundry author events where I get to connect with readers. These are my people! I’ll always be a voracious reader, and I love spending time with others who cherish the written word.


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

When she’s not chained to her writing desk, she can be found online here:


13 thoughts on “Interview: Kathleen Valenti”

  1. Welcome, Kathleen! I read the story of PROTOCOL’s beginning on Jungle Reds. Swapped hard drives – so many possibilities.

    And no day can be a total waste if it starts with coffee and ends with wine, IMO. 🙂


    1. Hi Liz! Thank you so very much!! I am absolutely delighted to be here.

      Yes, the hard drive thing was a TRIP. We lost a lot of precious photos that I foolishly didn’t back up, but the bright side is that I gained the kernel of an idea for a book. 🙂

      And I’m with you! A day that begins with coffee and ends with wine is just dandy by me. 🙂


  2. Coffee and wine are two very important food groups! I can’t believe the hard drive mix-up…. so much of who we are is on our computers these days. Lol, I want to be friends with your MC! We can eat sheet cake together #sheetcaking 😉


  3. YES to the coffee and wine. Oh No to the computer disaster. That’s why I am glad the Mister 3 no 7 is a computer guy. We have stacks of old hard drives in a box that he keeps “just because” even though he used some whiz-bang program to erase and chomp the content.


    1. Mister 3 no 7 sounds very wise indeed! I flagellated myself with old typewriter ribbons for weeks for not having backed up files. (sigh) I’m now a backup fiend!

      Keeping old hard drives is a fabulous idea. “Just because” is often the best reason of all. 🙂


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