Margaret Atwood, John Grisham among contributors to pandemic novel

The story is set on a Manhattan rooftop in 2020 as the virus spreads worldwide and the rich are fleeing the city.

One of the first novels about the pandemic will be a collaborative effort, with Margaret Atwood, John Grisham and Celeste Ng among the writers.

The Authors Guild Foundation announced Thursday that it had reached a deal with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books & Media to publish Fourteen Days: An Unauthorized Gathering. The story is set on a Manhattan rooftop in 2020 as the virus spreads worldwide and the rich are fleeing the city. Novelist and Authors Guild President Douglas Preston came up with the idea as a way to raise money for the foundation.

“At the Guild, we realised that we had an opportunity in these dark times to do something positive and even transformative through the creation of this unusual literary work. Human beings have always confronted tragedy by telling stories, and this book would be our answer to COVID-19,” Preston said.

Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins made a “major” donation to the Guild foundation to support the project. Atwood is editing “Fourteen Days” and helped recruit a wide range of contributors, including Dave Eggers, Ishmael Reed, Monique Truong, Hampton Sides, Mary Pope Osborne and Emma Donoghue. Fourteen Days is tentatively scheduled for the spring of 2022.

“The cast of lively fictional characters on the Manhattan rooftop in Fourteen Days have much to say to one another about life during the pandemic and even more about life in general, sometimes getting into discussions, debates or outright quarrels — and sometimes finding resolution in unexpected moments of empathy and connection,” Atwood said in a statement.

“To provide a narrative framework, we structured the work so that the building’s super records the stories and conversations on her cellphone to create an unauthorised guerilla text.”

Fiction writers usually need more time than poets or nonfiction writers to absorb historical events, and novels and short stories about the coronavirus remain rare a year into the pandemic. Several picture books have been published, including Heroes Wear Masks: Elmo’s Super Adventure and While We Can’t Hug. Michael Lewis’ nonfiction The Premonition: A Pandemic Story is scheduled for May.

But novelists so far have tended either to use it as a subplot, like Michael Connelly in his thriller The Law of Innocence, or avoided it, like Stephen King, who in his upcoming Billy Summers switched the date of his story from 2020 to 2019. Preston told The Associated Press on Thursday that he isn’t ready to write a full-length work on the pandemic.

“It’s too raw and too fresh, and as a novelist you have to take in the experience,” he says. “I was in New York that terrible week of March 9 when the city shut down, a national emergency was declared and the national guard was surrounding New Rochelle (where an early outbreak occurred). That was one of the most unbelievable weeks of my life and it’s very raw.”

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