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One of the most unusual novels to come out of the Covid-19 pandemic is being planned in the US in a partnership between the Authors Guild Foundation and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH).  Entitled Fourteen Days: An Unauthorized Gathering, it is a collaborative novel edited by Margaret Atwood and written by some of the biggest names in contemporary writing, including John Grisham, Dave Eggers, Emma Donoghue, Tess Gerritsen, Angie Cruz, Celeste Ng, Mary Pope Osborne, Nafissa Thompson-Spires and Monique Truong.

The project is the brainchild of Authors Guild president and novelist Doug Preston who explains: “At the Guild, we realized 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.”

The novel has a tantalising synopsis. ‘In Fourteen Days, a diverse group of neighbours who are left behind when the rich flee the city gather on the rooftop of their fictional Manhattan tenement and begin to share stories—surprising, intimate, horrifying and heartwarming—and discover connections and community.’

The Guild conceived the book as ‘a collaborative story, an innovative sort of novel, written with contributions from a wildly eclectic group of authors drawn from the full range of narrative genres. Each author has chosen or developed a character who lives in the building and serves as the voice for their story.’

The Guild says that Atwood “graciously agreed to serve as general editor of the book and reached out to writers in all genres, including mystery, thriller, romance, science fiction, children’s books, nonfiction, poetry, biography and literary and experimental fiction—writers across the entire breadth of literary world—to ask if they wished to contribute to creating the narrative.  The response exceeded all expectations”.

Atwood commented: “Thanks to the writing of our contributors, 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.  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 unauthorized gorilla text.”

Millicent Bennett, editorial director at HMH, acquired world rights to the project for HMH’s Sugar23 Books imprint led by Angela Ledgerwood.

Bennett moved swiftly to pre-empt the novel. “As a reader, this irresistible, surprising novel immediately captured my imagination and my heart. And as an editor, Fourteen Days feels both inspiring and necessary as a response to the pandemic. Out of the dark, isolating early days of the pandemic, it manages to draw light and hope by focusing on the ways that we survive trauma and keep our humanity intact—through the bonds of community and through storytelling. It’s an honour to be working with the Authors Guild Foundation to bring this transportive work into the world,” she said.

All contributors to Fourteen Days will receive an honorarium, courtesy of Suzanne Collins of Hunger Games fame, who made a major donation to the Authors Guild Foundation to underwrite the project. Liz Van Hoose is the Foundation’s project editor, working with Preston to develop characters and weave the stories together. Daniel Conaway and the Writers House literary agency generously waived their commission for representation of the work.

“We are hugely indebted to all the writers and Dan for donating their time and resources to help make Fourteen Days a reality and allowing the proceeds from the book to benefit the Authors Guild Foundation,” said Mary Rasenberger, CEO of the Authors Guild and Authors Guild Foundation. “The need for programming and support of published writers has never been greater. Our latest member survey revealed that a staggering 71.4 percent of participating authors reported that their income (from any source) had declined since the COVID-19 crisis began. Respondents reported losing 49 percent of their regular pre-pandemic income on average. Given that challenge, it only seems fitting that a book about the COVID-19 pandemic should help benefit those hurting from its effects.”