Michael, what was your inspiration for writing WE ARE STILL TORNADOES?
When I was in college and law school -- before cellphones, emails and texts -- I exchanged countless letters with friends. I'd write them in longhand between classes or after classes, send them off, and usually get a response in a week. The letters we exchanged would be filled with the things you would imagine teenagers or young adults would write about -- jokes, music, complaints about school and parents, dating stories, heartache, words of support, the occasional dream fulfilled and the dreams unfulfilled.
It's amazing how much you could learn about someone just through their letters, and how they could actually help make your friendships grow. There are things you could say in a letter, taking time to carefully choose your words, that you might never say to someone face to face.
At the moment, I'm thinking in particular of a girl who was a couple years behind me in high school. Her name was Nancy -- actually, it still is. We were always friendly in high school, but never spent a great deal of time together. We started writing letters when I went off to college, continued when she went off to college, and kept it up for years. We've lived near each other for the past 16 years, and our families get together often. She's become one of my closest friends, and it's largely because of those letters we wrote when we were younger.
So those letters, and the letters I swapped with other friends, were an inspiration. That, and the '80s in general, when the book is set. They were the last decade before home computers, cellphones, emails, and texts, and there is something charming and innocent about that. At least in my opinion.
The most difficult scene to write was probably the one I really can't talk about without ruining a critical and, hopefully, emotional moment in the book. If you've read the book, you know exactly which scene I'm talking about. If you haven't, you'll know it once you'll get there. It had to be written economically in order for it to be realistic, yet carefully for it to have the right impact.
One of the things we aimed for in this book was authenticity. We wanted the two characters and their letters to feel very real, right down to the silly inside jokes and the occasional spelling errors, and we wanted their lives to feel real. And part of life is that things happen unexpectedly, both good and bad, and they catch you by surprise.
And, unlike many books and movies, there often is no foreshadowing of those events in real life, which is precisely why they catch you by surprise.
How long did you work on WE ARE STILL TORNADOES?
We worked on the book, off and on, for more than three years. Sometimes it seems longer than that. Sometimes it seems the time just flew. Today, I barely remember working on it.
What did this book teach you about writing or about yourself?
That I made a very good decision not to try to be a musician when I was younger.
Scott -- one of the two main characters in the book -- picks up a guitar and starts writing songs when he is essentially left alone after his friends go off to college. And some of the early songs he writes are the songs that I'd written as a teenager after I picked up a guitar. At the time, I thought they were very thoughtful and deep. I was wrong. They're overly earnest and clunky and derivative.
What do you hope readers will take away from WE ARE STILL TORNADOES?
Honestly, I immediately think of all of those old movie reviews that would read, "I laughed, I cried, it was the feel-good-hit of the summer." The book is meant to be entertaining. I would hope that readers will smile or laugh at places, and that they will get a bit emotional at others. But I also hope that they will see the book for what it was meant to be, a tribute to friendship. Real, true, meaningful friendships. Lasting friendships. Some friendships can weather any storm (tornado pun intended), and some can't. Some friends will always be in your life; some won't.
How long or hard was your road to publication? How many books did you write before this one, and how many never got published?
I had quite a bit more luck than many writers, and I try not to forget that.
Back in law school, I had a hot streak where I sold four or five short stories in a very small period of time. A publisher got wind of it, brought me up to New York to have me read a few of my stories for them, and, when I was done, they offered me a contract to write my first novel. The one condition was that I would only have one year to complete it -- I had to do it during my third year of law school. I believe they gave me 24 hours to accept the offer. And I believe I accepted it within about 24 seconds, then deposited the advance check right away before they could change their minds. Over the next year, my third year of law school, I wrote my first novel, "A Thousand Benjamins." It was published two years later.
Since then, I've had four other novels published, not including "Tornadoes" -- "The Locklear Letters," "My Wife and My Dead Wife," "You Poor Monster" and "Everybody Says Hello," in that order.
And I had one short story collection published -- "Corrections to My Memoirs."
And three non-fiction books -- "The Baseball Uncyclopedia," "The Football Uncyclopedia," and "The Movie Uncyclopedia."
This is terrible, but I have the sneaking feeling that I just forgot one. If I did, it must not have been any good.
That said, getting those books published wasn't always that smooth. I've received more than my fair share of rejection letters from publishers over the years. But I've been fortunate enough to have a couple of good agents who really worked their tails off to get my books to the right publishers. (If my former agent Sandra Bond should see this, I say, "Hey, Sandra. How are you?" She was a good one.)
What's your writing ritual like? Do you listen to music? Work at home or at a coffee shop or the library, etc?
I normally write a first draft longhand, then type it up. "Tornadoes" may be the first thing I've worked on where I didn't write things out longhand first, which I suppose is ironic since the story is told entirely through handwritten letters.
But I don't have a real writing ritual if you mean a certain time of day or a favorite place, or things like that. If I have the time and am inspired to write, I'll write wherever I happen to be.
I wrote my first novel, "A Thousand Benjamins," between classes during my third year of law school in the student lounge or in my apartment. Sometimes, I'll admit writing during class if I was on a roll. (If anyone from the administration of University of Virginia Law School should stumble on this, it's too late to ask for your degree back. It's a little thing called a "statute of limitations." You can look it up.)
I wrote a short story called "One Last Story About Girls And Chocolate" sitting on the sidewalk outside a bar in Seattle. (I was on vacation with two friends, each night we would vote on what to do, and each night they would vote me down 2-1 to go to a bar, even though I don't drink. Finally, I just walked out of one of them and sat on the sidewalk out front with a pad and pen.)
I wrote the first draft of "The Locklear Letters" on a vacation driving up the California coast, mostly on the beach or in restaurants.
I wrote the first draft of "Everybody Says Hello" in our hotel room on a vacation whenever my wife wife or daughter were sleeping.
I do a lot of editing on planes, particularly if I'm on a cross-country flight.
This is a long way of saying that if I have the time, the inspiration, and a piece of paper, I'll write. It doesn't matter where or when.
What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?
Write. Sit down and write. It's easy to say you have an idea for a book or for a story. It's easy to say you're going to write. The hard part is actually sitting down and writing. (Of course, that's also the fun part, or it should be.)
I can't tell you how often I meet people at parties who tell me that they're going to write a book or a story, and they'll give me a summary of it, then I'll bump into them a year or two later and they still haven't written a word -- but they're still going to do it, they swear!
You have to write if you want to be a "writer." It's literally the first five letters of the word.
(One more piece of advice -- only use the word "literally" when you mean it. If you say someone's hair was "literally on fire," you'd better mean there were flames.)
What are you working on now?
I'm working on a novel called "The Allergic Boy versus The Left-Handed Girl." I know that sounds like some battle between two superheroes with questionable powers, but it isn't. It's the story of a man who believes that another writer stole a book he'd written, and the lengths he will go to 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 my other books, it explores the nature of truth and of love. Unlike "Tornadoes," no one sings any overly earnest songs in it. At least not so far.
ABOUT THE BOOKWe Are Still Tornadoes
by Michael Kun and Susan Mullen
St. Martin's Griffin
Growing up across the street from each other, Scott and Cath have been best friends their entire lives. Cath would help Scott with his English homework, he would make her mix tapes (it's the 80's after all), and any fight they had would be forgotten over TV and cookies. But now they've graduated high school and Cath is off to college while Scott is at home pursuing his musical dreams.
During their first year apart, Scott and Cath's letters help them understand heartache, annoying roommates, family drama and the pressure to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives. And through it all, they realize that the only person they want to turn to is each other. But does that mean they should be more than friends? The only thing that's clear is that change is an inescapable part of growing up. And the friends who help us navigate it share an unshakable bond.
This funny yet deeply moving book--set to an awesome 80's soundtrack--captures all the beautiful confusion and emotional intensity we find on the verge of adulthood...and first love.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
His second novel, "The Locklear Letters" (MacAdam Cage), was finally published in 2003.
In 2003, he signed a three-book contract with his publisher, MacAdam Cage, the first such contract in MacAdam Cage's history. The first of the three books, "My Wife and My Dead Wife" was published in June 2004. The second, "You Poor Monster" was published in 2005. The third, the short story collection, "Corrections to My Memoirs" was published in 2007.
Mike's most recent novel, "Everybody Says Hello", was published in April, 2012.
Michael co-authored the non-fiction baseball book, "The Baseball Uncyclopedia", which was published in 2006. He has also co-authored "The Football Uncyclopedia", which was published in June, 2008, and "The Movie Uncyclopedia".
Mike's short stories have appeared in Atlanta Magazine, Urbanite, Other Voices, Fiction, Indy Men's Magazine, Story Quarterly, and Cottonwood, among other publications. He lives and works in Los Angeles.
Have you had a chance to read WE ARE STILL TORNADOES yet? Have you written a story told entirely through letters? Do you write anywhere and anytime you can? Share your thoughts about the interview in the comments!
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