Q: How did the two of you come up with the idea for this novel, and why did you decide to write it in the form of letters?
A: Michael has written a couple epistolary novels over the years – The Locklear Letters and Everybody Says Hello. In both of them, the readers only saw one side of the correspondence and had to use their own imaginations to fill in the other side of the story.
Michael had the idea of writing an epistolary novel where the reader would see both correspondents’ letters, and specifically the idea of having two friends write to each other when one goes off to high school and the other stays home.
Michael wanted one of the friends to be a boy and one to be a girl, but he was concerned about the authenticity of the girl’s letters. He’d read a few novels by male writers where they had tried to write in a woman’s voice, and they didn’t ring true to him.
So Michael just kept that in the back of his mind while he worked on other projects, and when it came time to write We Are Still Tornadoes, he reached out to Susan to ask her to write the girl’s letters.
A: Well, given that Michael wanted to write an epistolary novel, we had to set it in a time before email, texting and snapchat, as those forms of communication don’t translate well to the written page.
We were both actually in college during the ‘80s, as well, and we felt comfortable writing a story set in that time period. We had fun using the new wave music of the time and reminiscing about lots of time-specific things, like waiting in line to use the dorm hall phone to call home once a week.
Q: How was the book’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?
A: The original working title was “Don’t Come Home for Christmas,” but as we progressed through the manuscript, we fell out of love with that title for this particular book.
Michael thought of “We Are Still Tornadoes” and expertly worked in unifying thematic elements throughout the book which relate back to the title.
To us, the title signifies the depth and enduring nature of friendships formed as children and teenagers, while also suggesting the intensity of emotion generated in a time of great change and challenge.
Q: What was your writing process? How did you collaborate on the writing and editing?
A: We would talk through where we the story was going in general, what the major plot points were, then Susan would write Cath’s letters and Michael would write Scott’s.
We wrote sequentially, using one manuscript that we would update with the most recent letter from our character and which we would then send to the other via email. We would swap the letters back and forth in this fashion, commenting on them, making proposed revisions.
It was collaborative in that we could give each other immediate feedback on the most recent letter, but usually we liked what the other had written and we’d just say “I loved that!” and then move on to the next letter.
It took three years to complete the writing process, as we were (are) both practicing attorneys with spouses and families, and if one of us was delayed in writing, given the responsive nature of the letter writing, we were both naturally delayed in writing.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Michael is working with a screenwriter and producer on a film version of his novel The Locklear Letters, and they are very close to a deal with a major movie studio.
Michael is also working on a novel called "The Allergic Boy versus The Left-Handed Girl." It's the story of a man who believes that another writer stole a book he'd written, and the lengths to which he will go to prove it was his book, including trying to locate the girl who inspired the book, even though she has seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth -- and may never have existed.
Like some of his other books, it explores the nature of truth and of love.
Susan is not actively writing fiction at this time and will dispute claims that her legal work could at times be considered “fiction.”
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Hmm, well, given that it’s about best friends from high school navigating their first year after graduation, We Are Still Tornadoes would make the perfect high school graduation gift!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb