Interview with Ellen Urbani, author of Landfall

New Release: Landfall by Ellen Urbani

landfallTwo mothers and their teenage daughters, whose lives collide in a fatal car crash, take turns narrating Ellen Urbani’s breathtaking novel, Landfall, set in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Eighteen-year-olds Rose and Rosebud have never met but they share a birth year, a name, and a bloody pair of sneakers. Rose’s quest to atone for the accident that kills Rosebud, a young woman so much like herself but for the color of her skin, unfolds alongside Rosebud’s battle to survive the devastating flooding in the Lower Ninth Ward and to find help for her unstable mother. These unforgettable characters give voice to the dead of the storm and, in a stunning twist, demonstrate how what we think we know can make us blind to what matters most.

giveawayLeave a comment below for a chance to win a signed copy of Landfall!

interview_edited-11Ellen Urbani. A genie grants you three writing-related wishes: what are they and why?

I always wanted to write a book. It was on my bucket list. Now it’s accomplished; no genie necessary.

When I was a child, I checked Corduroy by Don Freeman into and out of the library every week. I’d return the book, and the librarian would re-stamp it back out to me, so that I was never without it. I always wanted my own copy. Decades later, the first thing I did when I found out I was pregnant with my first child was buy a copy of Corduroy, finally. So that wish is accomplished, too; no genie necessary.

I hope that someday President Obama might be inspired to write me a letter. (See #5, below.) Jury’s out on this one, but I’m going to put off rubbing the bottle for a while still in favor of giving my own words a chance to work some magic.

2. Share some resources that help you when you’re writing.

A hired babysitter. Grandparents who babysit. School; which isn’t really a babysitter, but let’s not split hairs.

master3. What are your five favorite words?

Resilience. Courage. Forgive. Fortitude. Kindness.

Bonus: Any variation on Animal/Pet/Dog/Beast-I-Can-Shower-With-Affection

Side note: For the past 3+ years, we’ve been building our own home. I spent the better part of the summer of 2014 designing/distressing/antiquing all the interior doors. I had nothing left but the waxing to do when I stepped on an old rusty nail on the shop floor. Seemed auspicious. So I used it to carve words-to-live-by into each door. Some examples, below:


kindnesscourage fortituderesilience

4. Give an example of a paragraph of your work before and after editing.

As submitted to New York Times Modern Love column in September 2014.

Title: Flowergate

With the best of intentions, I once did something entirely regrettable.

I sent my sister flowers.

My sister is my Irish twin, my match in character and sensibility and ambition.  We dance together across the living room wall in matching ballet tutus whenever we reunite at home, our school-age selves reanimated via the grainy slides our parents habitually unearth from the basement and project onto a sheet tacked to the wall.  En pointe at the annual dance recital, arms raised in classically-trained fourth position—one overhead, one to the side—my fingers graze my sister’s shoulder, conjoining us.  We touch in nearly every picture.  In a flash of light we are repositioned, hand-in-hand, schoolgirls strolling toward the parish where the nun who taught me the year previous will spend all of September accidentally calling my sister by my name.  Another flash and we are years younger still, her riding me like a pack mule, chubby hands knotted in the mane of my hair.  My red curls clash with her straight brown locks—our primary distinguishing characteristic until I married young and spent my entire early adulthood attached to a man, whereas my sister meandered into middle age single but wanting not to be.

I sent my sister’s flowers to her workplace.

*          *          *

As published in the New York Times Modern Love column on January 29, 2015.

Title: A Flower Delivery That Brought More Pain Than Pleasure

With the best of intentions, I once did something regrettable.

I sent my younger sisters flowers.

The three of us have always been close. When we reunite at home, images of us in matching ballet tutus dance across the wall, our childhood selves reanimated via the grainy slides our parents project onto a tacked-up sheet in the living room. En pointe at the annual recital, arms raised, I graze my sisters’ shoulders with my fingers, conjoining us. We touch in nearly every picture.

In a flash of light we are repositioned as Catholic schoolgirls, strolling hand in hand down the street. Another flash and we are younger still, the two of them riding me like a pack mule, chubby hands knotted in the mane of my hair, my red curls clashing with their straight brown locks. Our hair was our primary distinguishing characteristic until I married young and spent my entire early adulthood with a man, whereas my sisters matured into middle age unattached but eager for romance.

I sent my sisters’ flowers to their workplaces.

5. Describe yourself, your favorite literary character and your favorite book, each in 5 words or less.

As for me and my favorite character: I’m going to cheat. I am going to describe us both in the words that Sena Jeter Naslund gave to her character, Una Spenser, the protagonist in Ahab’s Wife: “I have in me a spinnaker sail that finds the breeze and leads all my sails in that direction. I do not count myself fickle, for I have much of loyalty in me, but I am changeable.”

But now I’ll behave.

Favorite book: Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi

Five word description: Stories with animals are best.

Note: Yann sent me a lovely note after the publication of my first book, When I Was Elena, full of encouraging words about the ups and downs of publishing. More recently, Letters of Note ( featured this gem, penned on White House stationary, proving I keep good company in liking Mr. Martel’s work so much.

Mr. Martel —

My daughter and I just finished reading Life of Pi together. Both of us agreed we prefer the story with animals.

It is a lovely book — an elegant proof of God, and the power of storytelling.

Thank you.

Barack Obama

6. Share 10 people on Twitter you’d recommend following and why.

I can hardly figure out how or why to read my own feed. As such I’m utterly unqualified to make recommendations about anything Twitter-esque.

7. Describe (in words or photos) your favorite reading space.

A hammock moored to two lemon trees in the Guatemalan desert.

8. Who is your favorite literary character of all-time?

See #5, above.

9. Three books you’d bring with you to a deserted island.

·         SAS Survival Handbook: For Any Climate in Any Situation by John “Lofty” Wiseman

·         Mountaineering First Aid: A Guide to Accident Response and First Aid Care by Jan D. Carline, Martha J. Lentz and Steven C Macdonald

·         Peterson’s Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants by lee Allen Peterson

Admittedly, I’m endlessly practical. But you totally want me on your team in an emergency, as I’m never unprepared.

10. What book are you reading? How did you choose it?

I’m reading Henna House by Nomi Eve. I was recently accepted into a woman’s authorial/marketing collective that she’s a member of (Tall Poppies; check out Tall Poppy Book Club on Facebook or go to, and we started corresponding. It’s a captivating, colorful book of historical fiction. I’m recommending it right and left.


23 thoughts on “Interview with Ellen Urbani, author of Landfall

  1. Pingback: The Landfall Giveaway Winner is… | The Book Beacon

    • Retirement is such a boon for reading! If you’re in a book club, I’ve got a Book Club Challenge going on through the end of the year, and would be happy to give you more information. Some other favorite books of mine that you might want to check out, if you haven’t yet read them, are : Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner; The Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker; Don’t Let’s Go To the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller; Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed; The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon; Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier.

  2. Agree with you about Twitter. Just don’t get it so I avoid it. Now Facebook is another story. Loved the interview and am looking forward to reading the book. Thanks for the opportunity to try to win a copy.

    • You’ll find me on Facebook, too, Susan: rather easier for me to understand than Twitter! I suppose it’s because I’m longwinded and prefer the chance to ‘talk’ more at length that FB provides.

    • Jenna, the truth is that I can’t part with CORDUROY, even though my children have now outgrown it. It sits on my bookshelf alongside my other favorites: personalize copies of Alice Walker’s books, LIFE OF PI with Yann’s letter tucked inside. It will be with me, always.

  3. Great questions and answers. Those doors are beautiful! I can totally relate to it being a bit easier to get things done with the help of a village of babysitters. Thanks for the book recommendations, I am really looking forward to reading Landfall and Henna House.

    • Thank you for complimenting the doors, Kristianna. They were a lot of work, but worth every minute. And I have some great pictures of my son and I, wearing artillery ear protection, beating the doors with tractor chains to make them look old. It’s not every day a kid gets to abuse his house that way! Do let me know what you think of LANDFALL, and get thyself a copy of HENNA HOUSE asap. It’s out in paperback this month, so is a steal!

  4. Fun interview! Like the carvings on the doors. What a great idea. Reading in a hammock is ideal!! Looking forward to reading your book!! Thanks for the chance! 🙂

    • Letty, I have rarely managed to fit in more reading time than I did while living in Guatemala. During the summer months, it would reach nearly 118 degrees in the desert, and there was little more to do than hang in a hammock and read during the middle of the day. I remember being captivated by the book SHOGUN. I hope LANDFALL is as meaningful to you as James Clavell’s book was to me!

  5. Thanks for taking the time to read this and comment, Courtney. I hope LANDFALL lives up to your expectations. I’d love to know what you think of it when you finish it. You can find me on FB when you’re ready to chat!

    • Caryn, if you haven’t read LIFE OF PI yet you must get yourself to a bookstore today to get a copy. If you can, however, try to get your hands on one of the hardback copies or a new paperback, as the original paperback print run left out a passage at the end of the book that is absolutely essential — so beware of used paperbacks for that reason. (Can you imagine the heartbreak and fury Yann must have felt when that mistake got discovered and a gazillion books were already in circulation?!) And do let me know what you think of LANDFALL also!

  6. 1. I love the door!
    2. I am right there with you on babysitters, grandparents, and school are lifesavers when it comes to getting things accomplished.
    3. I am also clueless when it comes to Twitter.
    4. I think your novel sounds well worth reading!

    • Yes, Becky, those doors were hard work but turned out beautifully. They make me happy every time I touch one, and family and guests alike thrill to the task of finding the nearly-hidden words I carved into them. It’s like a game of Where’s Waldo every time we have company for dinner! And AMEN for grandparents. My folks are the best. Jump on FB and let me know what you think of LANDFALL once you’ve read it!

  7. Many thanks, Book Beacon, for helping me celebrate LANDFALL’s release today by inviting me to be a guest on your ‘show’! I — and so many other authors — appreciate all the effort you invest in helping connect our books to your readers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s