Published by St. Martin's Griffin on November 1, 2016
Genres: Young Adult, contemporary, Romance
Source: Finished Copy from Publisher
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.
When and how did you guys decide to work on this book together? What inspired WeAre Still Tornadoes?
Michael: Well, I’ve 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, which I hope was fun for them. I 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. I wanted one of the friends to be a boy and one to be a girl, but I was worried about the authenticity of the girl’s letters. I’ve read a few novels by male writers where they have tried to write in a woman’s voice, and they didn’t ring true to me. So I just kept that in the back of my mind while I worked on other projects.
Susan: Mike called me a few years back and we ended up talking about writing and potential projects. Mike mentioned his idea about the high school friends exchanging letters, and he asked me to write this book with him. Given that Mike already had 8 or 9 books published, I thought he was a bit crazy to take such a big risk on me. We agreed to give it a shot and if it wasn’t going well, we’d be honest with each other and go our separate ways. Luckily, it went very well.
Michael: The book is made up entirely of the exchange of correspondence between two high school friends in the early 1980s when one goes off to college while the other stays home. So, for me, the inspiration came from my own experience writing letters to friends and family when I went to college.
Susan: The same here. I also wrote letters to friends and family when I went off to college. My inspiration came from many different friendships and relationships throughout my life, from memories of my high school and college friends to thoughts of my husband and my daughters. It was really an emotional hodge podge for me.
Michael: What’s interesting to me is how different that world might seem to younger readers today. There were no cellphones. There were no emails. There were no text messages, Twitter or Snapchat. So if you wanted to communicate with someone, you did it through letters or through horrifyingly expensive long-distance telephone calls. I didn’t even have a telephone my first year of college. There was just the pay phone out in the hallway.
Susan: It’s funny to think that some young readers might not even know what a pay phone is.
Michael: True. If you didn’t want to stand in the hallway having a very personal conversation that anyone could hear, using a telephone receiver that had been used by God knows how many people before you, there was really only one other option.
WeAre Still Tornadoes is written in letters between the two main characters, could you share what it was like writing these letters as co-authors and how did you guys go about it? Did you guys take on the role of each of the characters?
Susan: It was great writing this book together. We got along very well. We would talk through where we were going, what the major plot points were, then I would write Cath’s letters and Mike would write Scott’s. We would swap them back and forth, 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.
Michael: I would agree that it was a great experience, but an unusual one. When I write on my own, it’s not uncommon for me to write 5 or 10 pages in a sitting without even getting up from my chair. Here, the most I could do would be to write one of Scott’s letters, then wait for Susan to send me back the draft of Cath’s response. So there might be days or even weeks when I didn’t write a word because I was waiting for Susan’s contribution. And there were days or weeks when she was waiting for mine.
Susan: Yeah, I forget about that sometimes. I’d sometimes worry that if I didn’t hear back from Michael right away, that meant he must have hated something I’d written. There were times when one of us felt strongly about something the other had written. As a first time writer, I appreciated getting feedback on what I was writing, and I’ve known Michael long enough to respect his opinion and trust it. But at the same time, we did have a few conversations about things that one of us really didn’t like.
Michael: Absolutely, and we worked through them. I do recall there was one of Scott’s letters that Susan felt had painted her in a corner such that it was difficult for Cath to even respond. I reworked it to give her the room she needed. And there were a few things in some of the letters that I thought made Cath less sympathetic than we needed her to be. I suggested revisions to a couple of them as we worked through the book, and we worked on a complete edit of the book at the end.
Did you plot out the book before writing it, or did you discover the plot as you wrote it?
Susan: Both. We mapped out where we wanted the book to go at the beginning, and were open to changing things as the book progressed.
Michael: One of the nice things about setting the book during the year that the two characters were separated was that there were certain points in time when we knew it would be natural to bring the two characters back together, even if briefly, and we could use them to set the plot – Thanksgiving, Christmas, spring break.
Susan: Some subplots we developed along the way. And the ending was very different than we had originally mapped out.
Michael: That’s a bit of an understatement. It’s impossible to discuss what the original ending was supposed to be without giving away the ending of the book, so there’s nothing more we can really say on that.
Susan: Are you going to answer if someone emails you after they’ve read the book to ask you what the original ending was supposed to be?
Michael: Nope. It wouldn’t help anyone’s enjoyment of the book to know that.
What is your favorite 80s movie? (If you want to cheat and list a few, I won’t hold it against you xD)
Susan: The Breakfast Club and Bull Durham. Perhaps I just revealed my own coming-of-age story right there.
Michael: I wish I’d answered first because it’s going to look like I’m copying you, but it’s Bull Durham by a country mile. I will never get tired of it.
Did you both know that you wanted to be authors? How long have you been writing?
Susan: I enjoy writing but I previously lacked the confidence to undertake a project of this magnitude. I owe Mike quite a debt of gratitude for asking me to write this book with him, and for creating a format which only required me to write one letter at a time. It worked extremely well for a first time writer, and for a working mom, as well.
Michael: I can’t say I even thought about being a writer until college, when I started studying writing with Stephen Dixon. He’s a great writer and a better person. I had been writing a humor column for our college newspaper, and he tracked me down and invited me to take some of his classes. I owe him quite a debt. Actually, though, I stopped writing when I went to law school. I’d tried to get some of my stories published after college and had failed, so I decided to give up. Fortunately, I made a friend in law school who read my short stories, liked them, and persuaded me to start writing again. Shortly after that, I got on a hot streak and sold a few short stories, then was offered a contract to write my first novel.
Susan: I’m curious, who was that friend?
Michael: You know it was you, Susan.
Susan: Yeah, I just wanted to make you say it.
Michael: I tell everyone how much I owe my writing career to you and to Stephen Dixon. Thanks.
Susan: You’re welcome. And thank you for asking me to work on this with you.
Michael: You’re welcome.
Susan: Do you think that came across as cheesy?
Michael: Probably. Do you care?
What authors would you say have influenced each of your writing styles the most?
Susan: Honestly, I didn’t have any particular author’s style in mind while I was writing. I tried to make Cath an authentic character, and for me it was more about trying to create Cath’s voice.
Michael: I’m not sure you would necessarily see it in this book, but I suspect I’ve been influenced most by Kurt Vonnegut and Truman Capote. How’s that for a mismatched pair of authors?
What’s next for both of you?
Susan: I’m headed off to my very first book signing! My youngest daughter goes to Bucknell University, and this weekend is Homecoming Weekend. I’m doing a signing at the campus bookstore in Lewisburg, PA. Then I have a few signings coming up in Northern Virginia, Atlanta, and Chicago, and I’m doing a signing with Michael in Baltimore, his hometown.
Michael: Have a great time at Bucknell. I hope I’m not mixing them up, but that’s the daughter who recommended that we remove something very small from one of the most important letters in the book, isn’t it?
Susan: Yes, it is.
Michael: Well, please tell her that she was absolutely right, and thank her for me.
Susan: Will do. You are so sweet to remember that. You haven’t said what you’re working on.
Michael: I’m pretty far along in a new novel called The Allergic Boy Versus The Left-Handed Girl. I know that sounds like a book about superheroes with questionable powers, but it’s the story of a man who is trying to prove to the world that another writer stole a book he’d written and published it to great acclaim. And the only way he can prove it is to track down a girl he’d known when he was younger, who seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth, and may never have existed in the first place.
We Are Still Tornadoes is a young adult novel by Michael Kun and Susan Mullen. We Are Still Tornadoes is an epistolary novel, which is a book told through a series of letters. There are so many things I love about We Are Still Tornadoes, one of them being the format. I loved getting to read the letters back and forth from these two high school friends that parted ways after senior year. I also loved the way Michael Kun and Susan Mullen partnered to write this story. Susan would draft Cath’s letters and Michael would draft Scott’s letters. I love this because it added two distinct personalities and vibes to the characters. Of course, I also love the 80s setting, and I love that these two authors met in law school (I realize that has nothing to do with the story, but I love finding lawyer authors.)
We Are Still Tornadoes made me feel nostalgic in all the best ways. I used to love writing letters to my friends. (yes, even though I could text.) And the whole friends to more concept is a favorite of mine. We Are Still Tornadoes will have you laughing, it will make you sad, it was make you want to blast some great 80s music and watch some old school MTV, but most of all this is a book that will put a smile on your face. I really really enjoyed We Are Still Tornadoes. It is part realistic fiction, part humor, part romance, and part classic romantic comedy, (yes that gets it’s own category, it is not the same as humor or romance.)I think everyone will find something to love about We Are Still Tornadoes. I am so glad I read this book.Check out this great #interview with Michael Kun & Susan Mullen, the authors of We are Still Tornadoes @GriffinTeen at @Bookbriefs Click To Tweet
AGEE’S MEN’S CLOTHING
Where Men and Boys Shop
EAST BLOOMFIELD, MARYLAND
September 2, 1982
I’m appauled that you would accuse me of going through your panties when I left that heartwarming note in your suitcase. Appauled, I tell you. (Did I spell “appauled” correctly? If not, please correct it for me.) Just so we’re clear, are you talking about the yellow bikini ones with the stars on the hip that were packed right beneath your running shoes? Or the light blue bikini ones with the white polka dots? Or the hot pink ones? Or the orange-and-red ones? Or that really big beige pair that you must have stolen from your grandmother?
Seriously, though, your stupid dog knocked over the entire suitcase when I was trying to stick the note inside. I had to scramble to put everything back into the suitcase. And that’s the story I’ll tell the police!
Anyway, unless your roommate hung it up to be funny, the HANG IN THERE, BABY poster is pretty scary. Didn’t Mrs. Wilkins have that same stupid poster behind her desk in fourth grade? But your Elvis Costello poster’s even scarier, if you ask me. You’d never even heard of Elvis Costello until I got you to listen to him over the summer, and now you have his poster up on your wall to try to convince everyone that you’re the cool chick in the dorm? How sad. How very, very sad. You better pray I don’t come down to visit you in whatever state Wake Forest is in and tell all your new buddies about how you were still listening to Tony Orlando and Dawn just a few months ago. Yes, you’d better get on your knees and pray, college girl.
On a different note, my job is terrible. The days are endless. That’s what I get for working at my father’s store, I suppose. Yes, I know, it’s my own damn fault. If I’d just “buckled down” and “put my nose to the grindstone” and gotten some decent “grades,” I could have gone off to college like you and everyone else in our class, but I “didn’t” do those things, and it’s too late to “cry over spilled milk.” I “made my bed,” and now I have to “lie” in it. I imagine I’ll work at “Agee’s Men’s Clothing” until it becomes “Agee & Son’s Men’s Clothing.” Then someday my father will die—it’s going to be a heart attack, in case you want to bet—and it will become “Agee’s Men’s Clothing” again. I will have spent my whole life selling clothes to people in this “one-horse town,” and I will be “fat” and “old” and “disgusting.” But your mother will still have a crush on me.
I think I use quotation marks too much. What do you “think,” college girl?
And I really do think your mother has a crush on me. (By the way, I saw her walking Plum last night. I assume she’s feeding her, too.)
Oh, did I mention that Samantha broke up with me? I know I didn’t mention it, but I waited a few paragraphs to tell you to make it sound casual. Did it work? Anyway, after we agreed that we would date long-distance while she was at college, she sent me a letter telling me she’d met someone else at school and didn’t think it would be fair to lead me on. She sent me the letter after her third day at college. Three days, can you believe it? Honestly, I’m more surprised than hurt. I figured we could stick it out until Christmas, at the very least. But three days? I’ve had pimples that have lasted longer than that. I’ve had gas that’s lasted longer than that. You get the point.
I have to go do something very important right now, at least as far as you know. Hope you’re having fun at school, college girl.
P.S. Did I tell you that my dad is giving me a 10% discount off anything at the store? How cool is that? (I’m being serious. I really want to know how cool that is. I think the answer is, “Not very,” but I’m not sure.)
P.P.S. Want me to send you some Tony Orlando and Dawn albums to listen to when you get homesick?
P.P.P.S. Three days! Can you believe it?
September 6, 1982
My Dearest Scottie,
I knew Plum knocked over the suitcase. I asked my mom how you left me a note in my suitcase since my dad made you give back the key to our house after that party, and she said she let you go up to my bedroom, but she heard Plum knock over the suitcase and heard you cursing a blue streak. So you’re off the hook. For now.
And I’ll deal with the dorm room poster thing in a minute.
But first, if you’re going to insist on calling me “college girl,” then I’m going to start calling you “underachiever guy.” Or “really bad speller boy.” How does that work for you? (By the way, it’s “appalled.”)
And yes, you do overuse quotation marks. Particularly since you also misuse quotation marks. Who puts “grades” in quotation marks? Oh, yeah—you do. Which is why I had to “help you” through “English class” all during “high school,” underachiever guy.
I’m sorry work sucks, but I love your dad’s store! I love everything about it. I really do, although I’ve never been there for eight hours at a time. Maybe it will get more interesting when it gets busier for the holidays. Or maybe you’ll move up and get more involved in other aspects of the business. (There are other aspects, right?) I don’t know, but your dad always seems happy and that’s where he’s worked forever, so it can’t be that bad, right? (I have some very fond memories of coming into the store to see you, and your dad calling me his “little Catherine” and sneaking me some hard candies. Speaking of which, you might want to check under that last suit rack in the back corner. I never really liked the orange ones.) Or maybe you’ll change your mind and go to college. Despite your quotation mark “challenges,” and despite your spelling challenges, you are way smarter than most of the people here. Besides me, of course.
You think my mom has a crush on you? Please. My mother is thrilled that you will eat her cooking. My dad and I know better. And yelling the F-word (as my mom would say) at Plum when she knocked over my suitcase didn’t endear you to my mother at all, trust me. Although I have to admit that I enjoyed making her repeat it over the phone.
As for your news about Samantha, because you waited until the end of your letter before telling me about her, I’ve delayed in responding. That’s called tit for tat. (Insert a lame sex joke here.) Samantha, Samantha, Samantha. What to say about Sa-Man-Tha? Um, okay. This is what I’m going to say about Samantha. Nothing. And do you know why? Because by the time you get this, Samantha may have come crawling back to you. Hopefully, literally crawling 200 miles on those bony little knees of hers from the Western Kentucky College for Morons, or whatever the name is of that “college” she’s attending. My roommate, who’s hanging in there, keeps saying, “This is just like camp! This is just like camp!” I’m guessing that she means that this whole college thing doesn’t seem real. So maybe that’s what Samantha’s going through. Maybe she’ll wake up and not be hungover for once in her life and realize what a huge mistake she’s made. That you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to her. That she was lucky to have you. And that, really, she didn’t deserve a minute of your time. But until I know that this really is a “breakup” and not just one of her Boone’s Farm–fueled, bubble-headed freak-outs, I’ll keep my opinions to myself.
Okay, on to the dorm room poster thing. Yes, I know you are Mr. Cool Music Guy and got Elvis’s My Aim Is True before anybody else in the galaxy except for Elvis himself and maybe his mother, but I had to put something on my side of the room. Dorothy’s mom showed up with matching black-and-gold Wake Forest bedspreads, curtains, and bulletin boards for both of us. I kid you not. I’d never even met them before, and they’re going to pick out my bedspread? I said something like, “Well, gee, thanks, but I brought my own stuff.” Her mom was clearly miffed and started banging nails into the walls and hanging up all these framed posters all over the place. Elvis is all I had, and I was sort of glad that it clashed with all their matchy-matchy stuff. Besides, “Accidents Will Happen” is like a theme song here. I’ve never seen so many people throw up! In bushes, in hallways, sometimes they even make it to the bathroom. It’s disgusting. And then I hum “Accidents will happen…” and think about riding around town with you, listening to it on the tape deck, and then it’s not so bad.
I have to go to the library. Classes started and there’s a lot to do. They don’t call this place “Work Forest” for nothing. And I have to tell you about my Calculus professor. My parents would die if they knew they were cutting a big check to Wake Forest to pay for this dork. He reminds me of Mr. Laire. Which isn’t a compliment.
Write soon and let me know if Samantha is as dumb as I think she is. About the breakup, I mean.
P.S. No, I don’t want to bet on how your father will die! What is wrong with you?
P.P.S. Your dad’s 10% discount? Not very cool. He used to give me 20% just for being so darned lovable.
P.P.P.S. Tony Orlando and Dawn are awesome, and “Knock Three Times” is super awesome. Don’t pretend I was the only one who would dance to that song. I may even have pictures of you dancing to it that I could use as evidence.
AGEE’S MEN’S CLOTHING
Where Men and Boys Shop
EAST BLOOMFIELD, MARYLAND
September 9, 1982
Dear College Girl,
You have pictures that would prove I was dancing to a particular song? Tell me how that works exactly. How can you look at a picture and tell what song someone was dancing to? I mean, unless I am holding a sign that says, I’M DANCING TO A TONY ORLANDO AND DAWN SONG AT THE MOMENT THIS PICTURE IS BEING TAKEN, I don’t see how that would work. Do you have a picture of me holding up a sign like that?
And please don’t think I’m over here crying my eyes out over Samantha with the bony knees. (FYI—I didn’t date her for her knees, if you know what I mean. I dated her for two other reasons. I’m trying to be subtle here. How am I doing at that?) I mean, if I had a dollar for every time I wanted to break up with her myself, I’d have a good six or seven dollars! Those are big bucks, my friend. The bigger problem is that there’s no one left in town for me to date, now that everyone in our class is off at college. The only girls left are in high school, and I always thought it was creepy when guys graduated but still hung around the school afterwards. (Yes, I am referring to Todd Wilkerson. Remember how he came back and dated that crazy girl in our class after he had graduated? Oh, that’s right, that was you, wasn’t it? How could that have slipped my mind?) Anyway, I’m committed to not being one of those losers. (I’m committed to be an entirely different kind of loser!) But with everyone gone, that pretty much reduces my potential dating pool to one person—your mom! Boy, will that be uncomfortable for you when you come home for Thanksgiving!
Speaking of high school, you’ll never guess who came into the store looking for jeans yesterday. (Technically, he asked for “dungarees,” not “jeans.” Which is not only sad, but an appropriate use of quotation marks, too.) Mr. Mennori. Give me a D in Biology, then show up at my dad’s store and ask for “dungarees” like it never happened? What a jerk. The funny thing is that for the first time in my life, I could say anything I wanted to him because he doesn’t have any power over me anymore. He’s just another tubby guy coming into the store and lying about the size of his waist. But instead of telling him to go screw himself, I shook his hand and actually said, “Nice to see you, Mr. Mennori.” Can you believe it? “Nice to see you, Mr. Mennori”? I completely wimped out. Next time he comes in, I’m going to say something absolutely devastating that will make him wish he’d never crossed paths with me. I haven’t thought of it yet, but I will. Mark my words. And whatever it is, it will be something your mother would be too embarrassed to repeat to you over the phone. (Did she really say “fuck”? I can’t even imagine her saying that!)
College sounds terrific so far, college girl. Studying and vomiting. Sounds like I’m missing out on so much! In fact, tonight I may try to replicate the college experience by reading one of my old book reports with my finger down my throat.
Give Dorothy my love.
Your future stepfather,
P.S. Would it be too mean if I said something about that giant mushroom-looking thing on Mr. Mennori’s elbow the next time he came in? (I’ll answer my own question: Yes. But I’ll bet you won’t be able to eat mushrooms for a week now that I’ve got you thinking about it!)
P.P.S. In case you really have lost your sense of humor, college girl, I’m joking about marrying your mom. She’s not even the most attractive woman in your family. No, that aunt of yours who came to your pool party was smoking hot! Can you send me her phone number? Do you have a picture of her dancing to a Tony Orlando and Dawn song?
P.P.P.S. I made you a tape of a great album by a British band called ABC. The album’s called The Lexicon of Love. (I had to look up what “lexicon” means.) Every single song is a masterpiece of pop music. “Poison Arrow” is my favorite, but “Look of Love” and “Tears Are Not Enough” are also incredible.
P.P.P.P.S. Calling me “underachiever guy”—is that supposed to be an insult or a compliment?
P.P.P.P.P.S. One more thing. I have a very important question to ask you, and I think you need to be sitting down when I ask it. Are you sitting down now? Okay, here it is: Are you still a Tornado?
September 12, 1982
Oh my God, I have NEVER laughed so hard in my life! Ever! And, to make it worse, I made the mistake of reading your letter during Biology class. I burst out laughing, and the professor froze as he was writing on the board and turned around to ask me if there was something I would like to share with the class. Seriously, like when we were in second grade and got busted passing notes. I couldn’t imagine trying to explain it to an entire lecture hall, so I just apologized and tried not to actually, literally, physically die of embarrassment right then and there.
I tried to explain it to Dorothy later, but I must not have done a very good job of impersonating Donnie Dibsie giving his graduation speech, because Dorothy didn’t get it at all. But, to answer your questions, YES, YES, A THOUSAND TIMES YES! I AM STILL A TORNADO! I WILL ALWAYS BE A TORNADO UNTIL THE DAY I DIE! (Which luckily was not this morning in Biology class.)
Okay, now that I’ve stopped laughing, the ABC tape is awesome. And the “underachiever guy” thing is a compliment, as far as you know. It means you’re super smart, but you don’t apply yourself.
I’m glad that you’re not too torn up about dear, sweet Samantha, who, as we both know, is not the least bit dear or sweet. Oh God, I can’t believe I just wrote that. Please, please don’t reply with some gross joke about Samantha’s sweetness. I swear I will not let you visit if you make a gross joke about that! (And, yes, everyone can clearly see the two biggest reasons you dated her. Subtlety isn’t your strong suit. And wearing bras isn’t hers.)
Ugh. Anyway, while we are on the topic of losers, Todd Wilkerson was absolutely not a loser when I started dating him. How was I supposed to know that he’d go from being the coolest guy in the senior class to working at the gas station? Okay, so maybe it took me too long to figure out that he wasn’t the strong, silent type and that he was just sort of, well, the dumb, silent type. But who wouldn’t be blinded by that smile? And the flowing black hair. And the way his T-shirts hung off those shoulders. And, well, you get the point. So, I get it that you’re worried about looking like a loser if you date a high school girl. How about the girls at the community college? Or driving down to Baltimore to meet some girls down there? Or what about trying some sort of coed sports thing, like softball or bowling? Okay, whatever, those aren’t great ideas. I don’t really know what to suggest, except maybe to reconsider the whole college thing?
I’m sorry if I gave you a bad impression of college with the vomiting stories. I guess not all 18-year-olds are as used to drinking as you and I are, probably because they came from towns where there were other things for kids to do after school. But there are guys here who can’t even handle three beers. Puh-lease. But I really do like it here. I mean, I am homesick at times and I miss my parents and Plum, but most of the time, I really like it. Some people keep to themselves or are just annoying, but most people are open and really want to make friends and have fun. I’m becoming friends with people I wouldn’t have hung out with in high school. Like this girl who lives in the triple next door to me, Jane, from Kansas City. She was a cheerleader and a drama person in high school, and she’s kind of loud. She seems spacy and almost silly sometimes, but then in English Composition, she cranked out a paper about Invisible Man that was better than anything I could do (and of course, I obsessed about highlighting the novel and writing notes in the margins and rereading critical passages), and she tested into a second-year calculus class, which is just crazy. And she loves new music. She’s been playing this great new record by a guy named Peter Gabriel that has a fantastic song on it called “Shock the Monkey.” You’d like it. And we went to see this band that she told me about called R.E.M. The lead singer was wild! He was hitting himself on the head and dancing so crazily that I was seriously worried about him the whole time. Their music was awesome. You should definitely see them if they come to town. (And don’t pretend you don’t know where Wake Forest is. It’s the town and state you write on the envelopes to your letters.)
We went to our first home football game last weekend with a big group from our dorm. People here actually get dressed up for football games. Does Agee’s Men’s Clothing even carry seersucker suits? Lots of older boys and alumni were wearing them, along with bow ties and shoes they call “bucks.” And apparently I will need to figure out where to buy flowery sundresses down here before the next home game. I did NOT fit in at all with my T-shirt and jean shorts. It was so fun, though—sunny and gorgeous and kind of goofy to be singing the fight song and chanting along with the cheerleaders. Plus, everyone started drinking around 10 in the morning, which meant the lightweights were vomiting by noon.
Oops, another vomiting story. Sorry.
School itself isn’t too bad. I’m retaking Calculus 1, so that’s easy, and Mrs. Oberlin did a good job teaching us how to write a paper, so English Comp is okay. I had to drop out of French, though. In certain ways I’m realizing that our high school wasn’t as great as our parents think it is, and I am certainly not ready to read French literature. I mean, I can read Flaubert in English, but not in French. The shocking thing, though, is that a lot of freshmen can! The kids who went to fancy private schools or boarding schools, man, they’re fluent in multiple languages and have read everything already! I thought boarding schools were for screwed-up kids. Turns out, they are like mini colleges. The boarding school kids are pretty intimidating. They smoke clove cigarettes and wear scarves, if that tells you anything. It’s hard to describe, but I probably won’t be hanging out with them anytime soon.
Oh yeah, and Mr. Mennori. I’ve discovered that he was a horrible teacher. I’m thinking of majoring in Psych and doing a Pre-Med course load, so I’m also retaking Biology, which I think I’ve mentioned before. I thought it would be easy because we took it in high school, but I don’t remember any of it. Which, by the way, does not mean that you can or should be rude to him the next time he comes into your store! You have to uphold the Agee family tradition of being super nice to your customers. Perhaps offering him a hard candy will put you in the correct frame of mind? You don’t want to get fired and have to work at the gas station, like someone else we know.
Gotta run, but please give your mom and dad hugs for me and tell your mom that I miss her oatmeal raisin cookies! I tried one in the cafeteria here yesterday and almost broke my tooth. Which is my way of saying that your mom should feel free to send me a tin of her oatmeal raisin cookies!
P.S. No, my mom didn’t actually say “fuck.” She said, “He used the F-word, very loudly.” She had to add in the “very loudly” part because for some reason she whispers when she says “the F-word,” even though Plum is the only one around to hear her most of the time. But enough jokes about my mom, already! My dad would kill you if he found out you were talking about her that way. Okay, maybe not kill you, but he’d do whatever accountants do when someone’s being disrespectful to their wives. Maybe throw his Texas Instruments calculator at you. The big one.
P.P.S. Speaking of my dad, did I mention that he has started calling me his “little princess” again whenever I call home, like he used to when I was eight or nine? He seems weird when I speak to him. And my mom sounds weird, too, but an entirely different kind of weird. Maybe I’m just not used to talking to them over the phone. Have you seen them? Do they seem weird to you? Are they feeding Plum?
P.P.P.S. Jane just told me that a band called the English Beat is coming to play at Wake Chapel the second Saturday in October. Do you want to come visit and go see them with us? Let me know and I’ll get an extra ticket. I think you’d really like it here. Everything but Dorothy. You’re going to hate her with a capital H when you meet her. Trust me.
P.P.P.P.S. One more thing. Are YOU still a Tornado?
AGEE’S MEN’S CLOTHING
Where Men and Boys Shop
EAST BLOOMFIELD, MARYLAND
September 15, 1982
Dear College Girl aka Little Princess,
Damn straight I’m still a Tornado! I will be until the day I die! And when I get to heaven and St. Peter asks me who I am, I’ll say, “I’m Scott Agee, and I AM A TORNADO!” I haven’t figured out how to say it in all capital letters, but I will. And then he will direct me to that special place in heaven that’s reserved for Tornadoes.
And while we may both be Tornadoes, one of us has actually heard of Peter Gabriel, R.E.M., and the English Beat. I swear, I really should come to visit just to rip the Elvis Costello poster from your wall. You don’t deserve it. (By the way, Peter Gabriel used to be in Genesis. That’s the band that did that song called “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” that you liked. And R.E.M.’s lead singer has curly hair and you can’t understand a word he’s saying, right? His name is Michael Stipe. It’s just a matter of time before they replace him with someone who can e-nun-ci-ate. And the English Beat’s lead singer is named Dave Wakeling, in case you were wondering. Their best song is called “Mirror in the Bathroom.” I’ve played it for you before: “Mirror in the bathroom / Please talk free / The door is locked / Just you and me.” Does that sound familiar?)
Speaking of coming to visit, I’d love to come down to see the English Beat in October—and tell you all about them—but I usually work on Saturdays. If you recall, that’s the busiest day of the week for Agee’s Men’s Clothing, “Where Men and Boys Have Shopped Since 1966.” I’ll see if I can convince my dad to let me leave work early, even if the men and boys are still shopping. I don’t think he’d let me leave early to go see a band, though, so I’ll probably tell him that you need me to drive down to whatever state your college is in so I can help you with something. It’ll either be that you need help with calculus or that you’re pregnant. Given that he’s seen my math grades over the years, the pregnancy story would be more believable. And he might even give me some money to take you out to a nice dinner or something. (If that happens, I’ll make sure to ask for extra money because you’re eating for two.)
Now, as for your last letter, I need to be honest—I skipped all the paragraphs dealing with our old teachers or the classes you’re taking. I’m sorry, but if I had any interest in school, I wouldn’t be helping men and boys shop, would I? I assume you’re doing great in all your classes, so thumbs-up for that. And I assume you think our old teachers suck, so another thumbs-up.
As for whether your parents are being weird, I don’t know how to answer that. The only time I ever see your mom is when she forgets to close the shade in the bathroom when she’s taking a shower, and even then it’s only if I feel like walking all the way over to my closet to get the binoculars, take them out of the box, walk back to the window, etc. It’s a whole production. Anyway, I’m sure she’s fine. She probably just misses you since she’s now stuck at home with your dad and your ugly dog. Or she’s heard about your pregnancy. The news is spreading like wildfire, I tell you!
As for your dad, he’s always been weird in my book. The only time I ever see him is when he’s walking from his car to the front door when he gets home. He did come in the store for a new pair of pants, but I didn’t help him. My dad did.
One more thing: so if you think Todd Wilkerson is such a loser because he didn’t go off to college and got a job at a gas station instead, what does that say about me? And don’t try to draw a distinction between a gas station and a clothing store. If my dad owned a gas station, I’d be working at a gas station—and you know it.
There, I’ve just made myself depressed. Looking forward to seeing how you’re going to talk your way around this one, Ms. Psych Major. (Okay, I did read the paragraphs about your classes, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t bore the proverbial crap out of me. And, no, I don’t recall which proverb that comes from.)
P.S. If your friend likes Peter Gabriel, tell her to check out the new album by Simple Minds called New Gold Dream. It just came out the other day, and it’s phenomenal. The first song is called “Someone Somewhere in Summertime.” It’s really good. So is “Promised You a Miracle.”
P.P.S. I know you’re not a huge baseball fan, but have you seen what the Orioles are doing? They’re making a last-minute run to make the play-offs, and it’s incredible! We’ve been watching them on TV or listening on the radio almost every night. I think they can do it. They’ve got a great young team. Eddie Murray’s playing great at first, and Cal Ripken, Jr., is having an incredible rookie year!
P.P.P.S. “Underachiever guy” was an insult, wasn’t it? Damn!
September 18, 1982
Well, if you were trying to ruin my day, it worked. And it has nothing to do with you being so obnoxious because you know more about music than me, although that didn’t help. I mean, seriously, Scott—what’s with the pregnancy jokes? Maybe you were trying to be funny, but you made me cry.
This is my third attempt to write back to you. I’ve been trying to remember what I could have written to upset you or to suggest that you are a loser like Todd Wilkerson. Unfortunately, I didn’t make a photocopy of my letter, but I don’t recall connecting you and Todd in any way whatsoever. The bottom line is that Todd is a loser who didn’t go to college and works at a gas station. Not “because” he didn’t go to college or “because” he works at a gas station. You and Todd are nothing alike. Nothing. You are smart and funny and interesting and … whatever. I’m too upset to pay you any more compliments. Todd is just so … Todd. Remember how he used to hang around the high school parking lot, just waiting for me to get out of school, and then all he’d want to do was sit in his basement and drink beer and watch TV? And he’d come to the football games and just go crazy, yelling and screaming at the other team, and then he got in that fight at the homecoming game? I mean, that’s the stuff that made him a loser. You don’t do that kind of stuff. At least I hope you don’t.
You just write crappy letters to the girl who’s supposed to be one of your closest friends! Seriously, Scott, you had to know that letter would hurt my feelings. And the pregnancy jokes? I’ll give you five seconds to think about why I wouldn’t find those funny. One, two, three, four, five. Got it. Oh, yeah, now you remember. Not so funny, is it? So cut the bullshit, okay?
I’m not in the mood to write anything cute or witty to you today. I’m too tired, I have a headache from crying, and I have that red, blotchy face thing going on, thanks to you. I just hope the puffiness goes away before the Pit closes so I can get dinner without everyone thinking I’m a homesick baby or something.
I’m still glad that you want to come see the English Beat with us. We got an extra ticket just to be on the safe side, and I’m sure your dad will let you out early to visit, particularly if you tell him that I’m upset with you right now. And guess what—you won’t be lying!
And if he asks you how upset I am, tell him I’m so upset that I’m not even signing this letter, “Love, Catherine.”
With vaguely positive emotions toward you at this moment, but secretly hoping you get the stomach flu,
P.S. If you want to make sure that one of the two people in my dorm room talks to you when you visit, I’d advise you bring something from the East Bloomfield Quality Bakery, “Where Butter Makes the Difference.” (What a stupid motto.) Dorothy loves brownies. She’s the brownie version of the Cookie Monster.
P.P.S. “Underachiever guy” isn’t an insult. But I guess it’s not exactly a compliment, either. It’s a combination of the two. It’s an “insultiment.”
P.P.P.S. In the highly unlikely event that a lightning bolt strikes me dead as I am placing this letter in the mailbox, I’d hate for the last thing you’d remember to be a letter where I suggested that I don’t care about you or wished you got the stomach flu. I do. You’re just very difficult sometimes.
P.P.P.P.S. Go Orioles!
MICHAEL KUN lives in Los Angeles, California, with his wife Amy and their daughter Paige. He is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University and the University Of Virginia School Of Law. He is a partner in Epstein Becker & Green, P.C., specializing in labor and employment law. He is the author of The Locklear Letters and You Poor Monster, among other works of fiction and non-fiction.
We Are Still Tornadoes is SUSAN MULLEN’S first novel and first collaboration with Michael. She is a graduate of Duke University, where she studied English literature, and the University Of Virginia School Of Law. She practices law and lives in Northern Virginia. Sue has been married to her law school classmate Kevin Mullen for 25 years, and they have two daughters.