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The story follows two sisters, one of whom lives at a nudist colony



When Kelly Romo began writing her book “Whistling Women” almost seven years ago, she knew it had to be set in San Diego.'Whistling Women,' the first novel by Sherwood author Kelly Romo, was released in November.

And to ensure the authenticity of her first novel, Romo returned to that very city, which was also the site of the 1935 World’s Fair. Using the Historical Research Center in Balboa Park, she diligently delved into short newspaper articles, photographs and brochures.

“I’ve always loved San Diego,” said the Sherwood resident. “Everything in (‘Whistling Women’) is factual and I double-checked everything.”

The story involves two estranged California sisters, Wavey and her sister Addie, who has spent the last 15 years in the Sleepy Valley Nudist Colony. However, Addie’s niece wants to bring the family together while trying to confront some dark family secrets in Romo’s historical fiction novel, which came out Nov. 17.

“They really did have a nudist colony at the 1935 World’s Fair,” said Romo of her 401-page tome. “There’s a murder in there that happened in 1917 and that’s what broke the sisters apart.”

Having grown up in California, Romo, 52, who admits to being a history buff, is familiar with Balboa Park where many of the original buildings from the fair still stand.

Romo said the unusual setting of “Whistling Women” often makes people curious.

“The typical response is people asking me if I’m a nudist or just looking me up and down,” said Romo. “Others say, ‘I’m definitely reading that.’ I haven’t had any raised eyebrows — at least not to my face.”

 But the nudist colony at the 1935 World’s Fair wasn’t the only quirky fact Romo discovered during her research. In addition to a “talking kitchen,” the fair boasted a smoking robot who could also shoot a gun. Rounding out the fair was what was dubbed a “midget village,” featuring many of the little people who would go on to play Munchkins in “The Wizard of Oz.” Actress Mae West paid the fair a visit as well. (See sidebar on other fair facts.)

While it worked out splendidly in the end, it took a while before Romo, a Newberg middle school teacher, was able to find a publisher for “Whistling Women.”

After completing her novel, she sent out her manuscript out to numerous agents. While many loved the storyline, the book didn’t initially find any takers. What she soon discovered was it was missing a needed second voice. She found that second voice but still was having problems selling the novel.

That’s when Romo decided to take pursue a masters of fine arts from Pacific University. Getting feedback and direction from four authors, including Oregon’s own Craig Lesley, she began to rework her novel shortly after receiving her MFA.GAZETTE PHOTO: RAY PITZ - Kelly Romo's first novel, 'Whistling Women,' is drawing rave reviews. The Sherwood author is a middle school teacher in Newberg.

“It took me about eight months to rewrite it,” she said. She then contacted a friend from her graduate program for advice on where to send it. After reading the book, her friend mentioned it to her editor, Jodi Warshaw.

“That same friend mentioned to her agent, Larry Kirshbaum (the former CEO of Time Warner), that I was offered a contract,” said Romo. “He asked to see my manuscript and asked me to wait to sign until he got back to me. He signed me a couple of days later and negotiated my contract.”

The book is published by Lake Union, an imprint of Amazon.

“It’s doing really well,” said Romo, noting that it’s received rave reviews from Buzzfeed, PopSugar.com (where it’s one of the featured reads in a “14 reads for Book-Loving Momma” article) and the American Library Association.

Romo’s hectic schedule includes getting up at 4 a.m. and writing for 1½ hours before having to be to be at her teaching job at 7:15 a.m. It’s the same schedule she has kept for her entire re-writing period. She writes longer on the weekends.

“I have tried various writing schedules such as writing only on the weekends but then it takes me a long time to get my head wrapped around my story,” she said. “If I write every day, even if it’s only for an hour and a half, the story stays fresh in my mind.”

Despite the good reviews and being hard at work on her second novel, Romo has no plans of retiring soon, saying she loves her job as a humanities and digital publications teacher at Chehalem Valley Middle School.

“I’m thinking I’m going to teach until I retire,” she said. “There’s never a dull day with middle-schoolers,”

While she is gearing up for future local book signings, she was pleased 50 people showed up for her book launch held at Sherwood’s Mazanillo Restaurant.

“Nobody ever doubted I could do it,” she said, noting that she’s extremely appreciative of support from her three children as well as her brother. “My kids have always believed in me and they are very proud.”

“Whistling Women” is available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com and Powells.com. She said Kindle sales are going really strong and Amazon recently reported her ranking on Kindle in the 200th position out of an estimated one million titles.

There’s also a 14-hour audio version of “Whistling Women,” read by Nicol Zanzarella.

“When I heard her...I told her she did an amazing job,” said Romo.

Now Romo is working on her second book, something her agent wants to see by April.

“I’ve got 100 pages done on it,” she said of her new novel set in 1926 Orange County, Calif., which focuses on the lives of an orange grower and the daughter of a migrant picker. It also has liquor smugglers and a major tragedy, she noted.

“I’m having a lot of fun with that,” she said.

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