A couple of years ago I began writing a book which is coming out this September under the title The Joker. It is a literary thriller, a story of lives and relationships disrupted by the Avian Flu, and the characters’ survival of the pandemic. The main action happens in Stuyvesant Town, a big apartment building complex in Manhattan where I lived at the time, and which, in its own way, has a secluded feeling about it like a village in a megalopolis.

As I began writing I was mainly interested in the process of accepting adulthood and self-censure that it brings with itself: Zooming in on a certain profession and being happy with one’s choice, deciding on a partner, starting a family, staying responsible in the face of boredom or disagreement. The question of fate and psychic determinism also figured prominently: Should one settle for less than one’s dreams? No, because everyone should strive toward self-fulfillment, and yes, because dreams are the product of fairy tales and teenage entitlement. And doesn’t maturity mean finding the ability to negotiate the yes-s and no-s?

So there was this budding story about a man and a woman and the pains of growing up, maybe poignant but lacking focus, -- and then one day I ran into a friend who for some reason mentioned the Avian Flu, which was becoming a hot topic then. And already during that conversation I knew: This was what I wanted to write about. For what greater factor of fate can there be than facing extinction? I set out to write a novel which held a wild card in the midst of the common unhappiness: The Joker, the Black Death, trumping all the little jokers that life has dealt earlier, and yet bestowing more meaning on everything that, individually and collectively, one can lose.

When the novel was finished and I began looking for agents I encountered a common response: What is it? Literary fiction? A disaster novel? I don’t know. It is a novel about living and surviving. If I wrote just about surviving, the personal story would be lost. There would be just abstract man, woman or child struggling to stay alive. But doesn’t everyone have something to lose? And why do people make choices they make when a disaster strikes?