Question: “Hey Mike and Sue – Why did you guys choose Wake Forest University as Cath’s school in We Are Still Tornadoes?”
Short Answer: Because we had decided to have the two main characters grow up outside of Baltimore.
Longer Answer That Actually Makes Sense: Okay, this is going to take a minute to explain.
Mike attended Johns Hopkins University as an undergraduate and later lived and worked in Baltimore for a number of years. He loves the city and either sets his novels in Baltimore or has his main characters come from there. It’s kind of his thing.
We may not have even discussed it, but we always knew that Scott and Cath would come from a town outside Baltimore. That was a starting point. And while Cath was headed off to college as the book opens, we didn’t identify Cath’s college at first. In fact, we didn’t do so until almost half-way through the writing process. Instead, as we wrote the book, we referred vaguely to her being “in college,” without ever naming the school or even stating what state it was in.
The more we wrote, the more the idea that Scott and Cath would never mention the name of Cath’s school Cath seemed entirely inauthentic to us. What college freshman wouldn’t mention the name of the school she was attending over the course of dozens of letters? Who would consistently write “Come visit me at my college” or “You would love my college”? And who would write back “I can’t wait to come visit your college”? No one.
For a very brief time, we toyed with setting the book at a fictional college. But that, too, seemed inauthentic to us.
By the point in the manuscript that Scott had driven there in less than a day to visit Cath at college, we knew we had created a radius around Baltimore within which Cath’s college would have to be located.
Coincidently, during this time, Sue was visiting colleges with her youngest daughter Haley. They visited Wake Forest, and (with apologies to Haley for not paying as close of attention as she should have to the tour) Sue had one of those “light bulb moments” when she thought, “I could totally see Cath at this school!” Not only is the campus beautiful, but it has the national name recognition that we were looking for, and it’s the right distance from Baltimore. And, not incidentally, as an ACC school, both us of were familiar with it. We had met while studying law at the University of Virginia, and Sue is also a graduate of Duke University, which is not far from Wake Forest in North Carolina. So, despite the fact that neither of us had attended Wake Forest, it felt like we could make it a comfortable and believable setting for the novel.
Fortunately, Mike has two very dear friends from his time in Baltimore -- Dave and Carol Weymer -- who not only are graduates of Wake Forest, but had attended about the same time as Cath was attending in the book. We sent the manuscript to Dave and Carol, and they helped us to fill in campus-specific details, like the names of the cafeteria and the library, among many other WFU touches, to create a more complete and authentic setting. We’re really happy with how it turned out, and we hope that the Wake Forest community is, as well.
And that’s the story of how much of We Are Still Tornadoes came to be set at Wake Forest University.