Guest Post

Guest Chick: Kathy Valenti

Please join the Chicks in welcoming Kathy Valenti, author of the Maggie O’Malley Mysteries!

 The Sophomore Slump

I was on a writing high when I began 39 Winks, the second book in the Maggie O’Malley Mystery Series. My debut novel Protocol had been well received with Agatha and Lefty noms, and I made outlines, created character portraits and squirreled away office supplies as I prepared for a repeat performance.

“Aren’t you worried about the sophomore slump?” a playwright friend had asked me.

“Pardon?” I replied, mentally cracking my knuckles and stretching my deltoids as I warmed up for my second act.

“You know,” she prompted. “A poor follow-up to your first success.”

I halted, mid-mental-knuckle-crack, and stared at her. “Well, I wasn’t. Until you suggested it.”

Then, of course, it was all I could think about.

What if I can’t come up with a plot for my second book? What if it’s awful? What if I’m sent to some kind of author reform school?

Once the idea of failure had dropped into my head like a poisonous seed, it spread roots, sending tendrils from my gray matter to my fingertips, stilling my fingers and stopping my brain. I was frozen. I had allowed myself to become paralyzed by the power of a terrible possibility. I worried that the sophomore slump could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What to do?

Simple. Write. And if that failed, write some more.

Two decades as a copywriter has taught me that the only way to overcome writer’s block is to write. The good. The bad. The adjective-laden. It can all be edited into submission as long as—and here’s the rub—it’s on the page in the first place.

Turned out the same was true with fear. Armed with an oh-how-I-hope-I-can attitude, I sat before the keyboard, faced the blank screen. And wrote my fanny off.

The balm that eased the chafe of writer’s block proved to be equally soothing for jangled nerves. With word count goals to meet and a deadline to make, I turned off my internal editor—and my friend’s well-meaning voice—and plowed ahead. Was it always pretty? Um, no. But it was progress and in the end, “pretty” happened.

I finished my manuscript ahead of schedule and—here was the big surprise—fell in love with it every bit as much as I had with for my first book-baby.

39 Weeks is coming into the world in a few short weeks. I don’t think of it as my sophomore work, but rather the second chapter in a story that I love. I hope you feel the same way, too.

So how about you? Does one success make you feel ready for the next? Or does it give you major performance anxiety? Please share!

xoxo


 

Kathleen Valenti is the author of the Maggie O’Malley Mystery Series. The series’ first book, Agatha- and Lefty-nominated Protocol, introduces us to Maggie, a pharmaceutical researcher with a new job, a used phone and a deadly problem. The series’ second book, 39 Winks, releases May 22nd. When Kathleen isn’t writing page-turning mysteries that combine humor and suspense, she works as a nationally award-winning advertising copywriter. She lives in Oregon with her family where she pretends to enjoy running. Learn more at www.kathleenvalenti.com.

33 thoughts on “Guest Chick: Kathy Valenti

    • Aw, thanks, Liz!! That means the world.

      The more I think about it, I find continued attempts, whether the first was a success or not, to be completely terrifying. But there’s inspiration in that, too! Who knew I’d learn so much about courage by writing?

      Hugs and thanks again, Liz!

      Liked by 4 people

    • The struggle is definitely real! And I have a sneaking suspicion that it’ll always be there–at least for me. The good thing is that all that struggling means growth. At least that’s what I keep telling myself. 🙂 Keep on keepin’ on, Hestia! You’ll get where you want to go. ❤

      Kathy/Kathleen

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Thanks for visiting us, Kathy! Great post. I agree a million percent. My problem usually hits around 35-40K words. I panic that I’m running out of story. And you know what? I’m usually right. My first drafts generally come in between 60-62K, short for someone whose contract is for 70K. (They wish it were for 80K – oh, to reach that lofty goal!) I don’t know why, but no matter how much story I have, I write short. In MARDI GRAS MURDER, which comes out in October, there’s Mardi Gras, a Gumbo contest, a pageant, the Louisiana Orphan Train – and the first draft STILL came out at 60K!!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Ellen, I’m a huge fan of your work (and you personally), so it’s good to hear that my heroes struggle, too! Hitting that just-right word count is so hard. I tend to write long and then end up cutting huge swaths through my manuscript. And funnily enough, in my copywriting day job, I usually end up in some weird in-between place. I’ve said many a time that I wish they sold 43-second media for radio spots! Looking forward to MARDI GRAS MURDER!

      Kathy/Kathleen

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, I so wish I wrote long! My first drafts often come in around 50K! It’s always a GULP. (I really wanted to say BIG GULP there but I think that’s trademarked. LOL.) Then I must revise like a madwoman and develop develop develop. Then I usually end up cutting too much again (pause for weeping and gnashing of teeth), then get back to revising again. In other words, I need a new process.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you SO much, Kellye! I see the junior slump looming ahead, and I’m pretty sure there’s a senior slump beyond that. Fortunately we can encourage each other!

      Very much looking forward to HOLLYWOOD ENDING (you know I love you and your work!!), and congrats once again on the Agatha and Lefty wins and your Anthony nom!! I’ll be cheering you from afar.

      Kathy/Kathleen

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I really enjoyed Protocol and know that I will love 39 Winks as well. Thanks for visiting Chicks on the Case and congratulations on the upcoming release!!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I tend to get on rolls. I’ll go along for a while thinking everything is wonderful. Then I’ll hit a rough patch and I think I’m a hack who should just hide from everyone. Fortunately, most of the time I’m somewhere in between the two extremes.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Great post, Kathleen! And yes, it’s true for me, too. I just turned in the Sally Solari number 4, and it still scared the wits out of me, thinking I wouldn’t be able to come up with a plot and that even when I did, it would be lousy. (I still think your hypo-pens are the best swag ever!)

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks, Leslie! I love my hypo-pens, too!! (I get great pleasure watching people watch me write with them in public. 🙂 )

      Congrats on Sally #4!! The whole process is terrifying, isn’t it? I keep thinking I “should” know how it’s all going to go. But of course I don’t! Glad we’re all in this together. 🙂

      Like

  5. K, I loved loved loved PROTOCOL and already preordered 39 WINKS so I keep running to my mailbox. (Not here yet.)

    Your post is fabulous. Adore your sense of humor. 🙂 Whoever has you writing their copy is lucky indeed.

    And I agree that the solution (to writer’s block, to fear of failure, etc.) is always to write more.

    (This quote changed my life, truly. > “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” – Samuel Beckett)

    Congrats on all your successes! Can’t wait to read Maggie #2. 💖

    In the meantime, I’ll just be over here, checking my mailbox.

    (Not here yet.)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh my gosh! I love that quote!! Leave it to Beckett, right? (Maybe we make that into a TV show? No?)

      It means everything that you loved Protocol and are looking forward to 39 Winks. Hugs and thanks to you!

      And I saw your post about writing short above. I tend to write long in my copy, too. (If my art director partner were to read this, he’d be vigorously nodding his head.) I’m even more long-winded with bookish things, I think it’s a form of rebellion. It’s so liberating to be able to write longer than the requisite seven words for a billboard or 140 characters for social. Even writing for TV and video doesn’t quell my urge to go on and on. (And on.) I think I’m the one who needs a new process!

      Like

  6. The struggle is real! Second books are tough, and if you’re lucky you fall in love with them anyway.

    P.S. We should start a club for copywriters-turned-mystery-novelists. It won’t be a huge club but we’d probably laugh a lot. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • So much yes! I would totally be up for a copywriters-turned-mystery-novelists club. We could hang a picture of James Patterson on the wall! And we’d definitely laugh a lot. And maybe drink a lot. And laugh some more.

      🙂

      Like

  7. Great post, Kathy! As someone who’s got a few books out now let me assure you… it never gets any easier! You’re welcome. 🙂 Looking forward to 39 Winks!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Peg! It’s great to hear that I’m in good company with the new book struggles and qualms.

      And it’s wonderful to meet another Valenti! It’s my married name (I used to be a Melkonian–MUCH harder to spell). I’ve run into a few other Valentis. There’s actually another Kathleen Marie Valenti here in Oregon–and we’ve had some identity confusion over the years. In fact, I once received a subpoena meant for her. (Maybe that will be the premise of book four!)

      Thanks for your sweet note. It’s great to meet you!

      Kathleen/Kathy

      Like

  8. Kathy, loved this post–especially the image of you cracking your mental knuckles. Did your friend have any idea she’d planted such an insidious seed in your head? Glad you overcame–and triumphed. Congrats!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Lisa!

      I don’t think my friend had any idea, and I was worried that she’d see the post and know immediately who I was talking about. She’s super-supportive, though, and I know that her comment came from a place of experience. She struggled with Dread of the Slump, as well! Seems it’s an epidemic!!

      Thanks again to all for having me. 🙂

      Like

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