Lit series at WICA features Hedgebrook alum Stephanie Kallos

Here are some words written by a successful novelist to herself while starting her second novel.

“Start writing. Become aware of a small nagging voice accompanying these first efforts, a nonstop commentary saying things like ‘That’s trite. That’s boring.’ This voice insists that you change words and retool sentences almost before you type them.”

If you’ve ever tried to write fiction, you probably know about the little voice in your head to which author Stephanie Kallos refers.

Surprising then that this Seattle author’s debut novel, “Broken For You,” was a national bestseller that was selected by Sue Monk Kidd (“The Secret Life of Bees”) for the Today Show Book Club in December 2004.

With such success for her first novel, one would think an author’s doubts about the second book might be allayed.

Not so, according to Kallos’ very funny essay entitled “How To Write Your Second Novel or If You Want To Make God Laugh Show Him Your Outline.”

Kallos will be reading excerpts from that essay along with pieces of her newest book, “Sing Them Home,” at “An Afternoon with Stephanie Kallos” at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, at 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 11.

Kallos’ appearance is the second in a new literary series created from a partnership between WICA and Hedgebrook, the women’s writing retreat in Langley.

The afternoon will also include selected scenes read by local actors from “Broken For You” from a script that was adapted for the stage by Laura Ferri and produced by Book-It Repertory Theatre in Seattle 2006.

Hedgebrook’s executive director, Amy Wheeler, said she has no doubt audiences will fall for the funny Kallos.

“Stephanie is an actress and theatre person, and an absolute charmer,” Wheeler said.

“WICA is a perfect venue for sharing her and her work with a Whidbey audience.”

Wheeler is excited by the prospects for the new series and what it means for a community full of readers, authors and generally arts-loving people. It’s a program that strives to bring writers and book lovers together with an emphasis on local artists who are Hedgebrook alums.

“I think for years South Whidbey folks have known that writers come from all over the world to Hedgebrook,” Wheeler said.

“They know too that some amazing writers are doing extraordinary work in those six cottages in the woods facing Useless Bay. But until recently, they haven’t had a lot of access to the writers and their work. South Whidbey is a haven for storytellers — book lovers abound here — and this series gives us the opportunity to introduce our well-read community to writers like the extraordinary Stephanie Kallos.”

Kallos’ second novel, the recently published “Sing Them Home,” is also a Today Show Book Club selection.

The book jacket describes the book as “a sweeping, gorgeously crafted family story set in the American heartland. In ‘Sing Them Home’ we enter the lives of the Jones siblings, who have lived in the shadow of unresolved grief since their mother’s mysterious disappearance when they were children.”

Interestingly, Kallos said the inspiration for “Sing Them Home” came from a 1970s photograph from National Geographic Magazine that pictured a decimated Steinway piano left in the aftermath of a Nebraska tornado.

The mother in the story, Hope Jones, is whisked away in a Nebraska storm never to come back down to earth.

Although both of Kallos’ novels deal with issues of death, loneliness and grief and have been described with words like “endearing and painful,” or “a whirlwind of aching sadness,” the rave reviews speak of the humor in them, as well.

Mining Kallos’ Web site and reading her essays and interviews reveals a witty and humorous person trained in the theater as an actor and teacher, a grateful wife, and a mother of two young boys, who likes to laugh.

“Humor is indeed extremely important in life,” Kallos said.

“Related to that, my years in the theater taught me that really great dramatic playwrights — from Shakespeare to Chekov to Wilder to Odets to Gibson to Kushner — understand that to engage the full range of an audience’s emotions, you must allow them to laugh. Emotions are emotions. If you touch that pool of laughter, you simultaneously touch the pool of tears. My feeling is this: If I don’t create space and opportunities for readers to laugh, it’s hardly fair of me to expect them to cry.”

Tickets are $5; call 221-8268.