New Release: Landfall by Ellen Urbani
Two 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.
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.
3. 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:
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.
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 (www.lettersofnote.com) 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.
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 tallpoppies.org), and we started corresponding. It’s a captivating, colorful book of historical fiction. I’m recommending it right and left.