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Group Reads: Post-1990 > Q&A with Ellen Urbani, author of Landfall - December 2015

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message 1: by Lawyer, "Moderator Emeritus" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
We are most fortunate to have author Ellen Urbani join us to discuss her novel Landfall. Thanks, Ellen for your generosity in the gift of your time.

And thanks to Moderator Tom "Big Daddy" Mathews who brought Ellen to join us.

This is an Open Discussion. Ellen will be happy to answer your questions and discuss the novel set in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. She will join us near mid December.

Meanwhile, begin your read. Go ahead and post your thoughts, initial impressions. And, feel free to begin asking questions. Ellen will join us to answer them. One topic and only one topic is off limits. She will not discuss her opinion of other author's works, that is, don't expect her to be disrespectful of another writer's creation.


message 2: by Tom, "Big Daddy" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tom Mathews | 2688 comments Mod
I've been reading this for about a week now. I'm really enjoying it but it's slow going as we have a new puppy in the house that requires constant observation. By the time I hit the sack and turn on the reading light I only have about five minutes of book time left in me.


message 3: by Diane S ☔ (last edited Dec 06, 2015 02:48PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane S ☔ I have now started and am liking it quite a bit. Quite a shocker in the first part.


Angela M I read this a few months ago as I was fortunate to have an ARC . I thought it was an amazing telling of the impact of Katrina told through the stories of two mothers and two daughters .
I'll comment further when people are further along .


message 5: by Tom, "Big Daddy" (last edited Dec 11, 2015 06:41AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tom Mathews | 2688 comments Mod
I'm on the home stretch now and am really enjoying the descriptions of Katrina's aftermath. I would like to ask Ellen what inspired the story about Rose/Rosie. Trying to discover the history of someone who is dead at the outset is unique. What gave you the idea to do that?

It is so unusual to have a story where the two main characters never interact. Didn't you find that challenging to write?

Also, thank you very much for joining us and answering our questions.


Tina  | 488 comments Tom, great question!


Diane S ☔ I can tell you really cared for both those girls. Many authors say the characters take over the story, did that happen with you? Did the girls help write their own stories?


message 8: by Tom, "Big Daddy" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tom Mathews | 2688 comments Mod
I finished Landfall this morning. Although I struggled with it in places I enjoyed it overall and was very impressed with Ellen's description of events in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. My review is here.
Landfall by Ellen Urbani


Angela M Read a few months ago and loved this story . I felt like I was watching the aftermath of Katrina as we did on tv once again. I think that Ellen has done a tremendous job of depicting what happened in New Orleans with these characters . My review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


message 10: by Jane (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jane | 753 comments really enjoyed this novel and have questions about the ending!


Camie | 103 comments The way the aftermath of Katrina was handled was atrocious. It's one of those situations you just cannot believe happened in the not-so-distant past !


message 12: by Jane (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jane | 753 comments Your descriptions of Katrina and its effect on N.O I found to be more vivid and to have better captured the horror of the hurricane s aftermath than other novels that have used this setting I would like to know about your thoughts on your writing process for those scenes , thank you.


Ellen Tom wrote: "I'm on the home stretch now and am really enjoying the descriptions of Katrina's aftermath. I would like to ask Ellen what inspired the story about Rose/Rosie. Trying to discover the history of som..."

Hi Tom, and fellow Trail Readers! Thanks for your patience in waiting for me to get here. I was out of the country, with no internet access for a few weeks, but am back now and looking forward to talking about LANDFALL with y'all.

You ask about the inspiration for Rose/Rosy: In early 2004, I was headed back to my job as an oncology counselor after the birth of my first child. An El Salvadorian woman who'd done odd jobs for me over the years, and had become a friend, was going to watch my baby. But on her first day, she failed to show up. Only then, faced with the prospect of having to track her down, did I realize how little I knew of her. We were friends; I'd helped her and she'd helped me in the past, but I didn't know her husband's name. I knew what model car she drove but not her license plate number. If no one answered her phone, I didn't have any other numbers for her. In fact, I knew more about her family in El Salvador than her relatives in the States. (This is the point where you want to report me to Children's Services for being willing to leave my child with her .... but I have lived in Central America, and this is how friendships between women there are built: not on details, but on shared experience. It's not a model we're typically familiar or comfortable with in the States.) Anyway: in my post-partum, hormonally-imbalanced state, by the fourth hour of her 'disappearance' I'd decided that she was dead alongside a road somewhere, classified a Jane Doe, and I'd have to not only track down her dead body but then trek to El Salvador and follow the few clues I had to find her family, in order to inform them of her death.

But then, in the fifth hour, she showed up. (Flat tire, call to pick up her sick kid at school, dead cell phone battery, etc etc. Not dead. I hung up the phone with the El Salvadorian airline. Whew.)

But the idea of such a situation continued to itch at me -- a naive and overwhelmed girl setting out to take word of a virtual stranger's death to her far-off relatives. It felt like the makings of a good story. However, I realized I couldn't set it in the U.S.: it's simply too easy to track someone who disappears stateside by non-nefarious means. And since I'd just published a book set in Central America (one of the few places where such a disappearance would be realistic) I didn't want to write *another* Central-America-themed book. So I quieted the itch in me and set the idea aside.

Until Katrina hit. And then, for the first time in modern American history, we had a scenario in which huge swaths of people disappeared and immediately became untraceable due to the loss of records/infrastructure/etc -- at least for a period of a few months. Suddenly, I had my U.S.-based location for the story concept I couldn't let go of.

Though Katrina destroyed so very much for so many, for me she birthed Rose and Rosy.


Ellen Tom wrote: "It is so unusual to have a story where the two main characters never interact. Didn't you find that challenging to write?"

While there were many challenges in writing LANDFALL, I can't say that the lack of interaction between the two main characters (Rose and Rosy) was one of them.

I very much believe In chaos theory, or the butterfly effect, which maintains that a very small change effected by one system (a butterfly's wing flapping, for instance) can have sizable impact on another, unrelated, system later (i.e. causing a change in wind pressure that, eventually, amplifies and results in a hurricane coming ashore half a world away). I not only believe in the environmental science behind this theory, but in the social psychology of it: the idea that our lives intersect with and impact the lives of others in unfathomable ways, all the time.

I knew from the outset, when I began writing LANDFALL, that I wanted to map out one such connection between two families: I wanted us all to reflect on the idea that without ever meeting, our lives may be constantly bouncing off one another's in the most astounding and miraculous and disastrous of ways.

So in my mind, if not on the page, Rose and Rosy were interacting all the time.


Ellen Diane S ❄ wrote: "I can tell you really cared for both those girls. Many authors say the characters take over the story, did that happen with you? Did the girls help write their own stories?"

Hello Diane! Thanks for your insightful question about the way in which the two main characters, Rose and Rosy, developed.

I'm a very logical person, and as such a pretty methodical writer: I knew who the characters were, and where their paths were going, before I ever put the proverbial pen to paper. But I did allow myself the room to follow ideas/inspirations to flesh out the characters as I progressed in the writing .... which is to say that although the personalities of the girls remained true to my original vision, and although the plotting of the story never faltered from the outset, I did include lots of character details/circumstances/thoughts along the way that I hadn't actively plotted out from day one.

The interesting result was this: When I finished writing the book, I realized I'd given each of the girls certain pieces of myself. Rose had become my 'head': she thought and acted like the most intellectual aspects of my own self; her determinism and hard-headedness and goal-oriented nature were my own; I wove my own intellectual experiences into her character. Whereas to Rosy, I gave my heart. Her tendency to care for her sick mother, her vulnerabilities, her quest for love (even in the wrong places) were shadows of myself.

While I have always counted my rational mind as my greatest personal attribute, when asked to choose my favorite character in LANDFALL it is Rosy -- to whom I gifted my heart -- whom I like best.


Ellen Angela M wrote: "Read a few months ago and loved this story . I felt like I was watching the aftermath of Katrina as we did on tv once again. I think that Ellen has done a tremendous job of depicting what happened ..."

A huge shout-out to Angela, one of the first readers of LANDFALL, for her review (also graciously cross-posted to Amazon) that helped get such good buzz going for my book. I cannot thank you enough, dear. You're a peach!


Ellen Jane wrote: "Your descriptions of Katrina and its effect on N.O I found to be more vivid and to have better captured the horror of the hurricane s aftermath than other novels that have used this setting I would..."

Many thanks, Jane, for your compliment; it means the world. Though it is not an easy thing to write or read about such horrors, I'm glad that my book made the effects of that storm so real for you.

I find that when I read stories of mass disasters, with innumerable victims, that very often the shear number of people affected numbs me. I wind up disconnected from the impact of the disaster simply because I cannot fathom destruction/grief/torment on such a large scale. But when I read about the ways in which a singular person was affected, the volume of his or her loss reaches deep into me in a more personal way.

As such, I deliberately limited myself to a very close-in focus on Rose and Rosy, and their mothers, so as to personalize the disaster of Katrina. That doesn't mean I didn't want to honor the many victims of the storm, but instead that I thought I could honor them better by showing how a single life -- *any* single life -- was shredded by the storm.

To that end, I meticulously researched Hurricane Katrina, to such a degree that I knew that storm as if she were a person: I understood her personality, more or less. Though some of the more detailed facts have been lost to the years, when I began writing LANDFALL I could have told you how hard the wind was blowing, and from what direction, in the various parishes of New Orleans at any given moment on August 29, 2005. I knew where the water breached the levees, and at what velocity, and the height to which it rose, on any given street at any given moment in those first few weeks.

I knew Katrina better than Rose or Rosy when I started writing LANDFALL. In many ways, I thought of myself as her biographer. I thought of her as a character. I thought of her as the antagonist that lived in me until I released her to you.


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