Alfred Alcorn is the author of nine novels, including The Pull of the Earth, Natural Selection, and Murder in the Museum of Man. Alfreda€™s upcoming novel, Time Is the Fire, will be available from Pleasure Boat Studio by April 15th This is a remarkable work inspired by James Joycea€™s Ulysses. Dear Jack (publisher): I think the book is a blooming (intended) masterpiece, a pro vita summa, it's wiping out everything I've read in the last couple of months, Joycean not only in theme but also in its infinite inexhaustible imagination and inventiveness, the combination of the transient quotidian and the timeless tragic verities.
Unfortunately, this absolutely could happen either in the way you write about or as a natural mutation in the virus.A  A Stephen J. A: They do, but Ia€™d rather let their significance (such as it is) resonate at a less than obvious level.
A: First, ita€™s realistic in that there is going to be conflict over essential supplies, especially food, during any prolonged catastrophe such as an avian flu pandemic. Q:A  How do you explain the gap between your comic novels, Murder in the Museum of Man, and your apocalyptic works such as Extinction and Sugar Mountain? A: James Joyce, Leo Tolstoy, Vladimir Nabokov, Patrick White, Seamus Heaney, William Butler Yeats, Evelyn Waugh,A  F. I was born Alfred John Denny in 1941 in Wallasey, England, the heavily bombed docklands across the Mersey from Liverpool. In September of 1949, we left Ireland for New England and a new home with foster parents in Chelmsford, Massachusetts. While the characters of my first novel, The Pull of the Earth, are entirely fictional, I confess to having lifted the setting -- the house, the pastures, the sunshine and the shadows, the very nails in the planks of the barn -- from my memories of that farm.
Life provided its own answers and before I graduated in 1965, I had married Sally Remick, whom I had known in grammar school.
During a trip to Europe in the summer of 1969, I revisited England and Ireland quite by happenstance. In late 1971, with savings and a small inheritance, we returned to Ireland, eventually buying and moving into an old Georgian farmhouse about twenty miles south of Dublin in the foothills of the Wicklow Mountains.
At first the news comes obliquely, unvoiced, a flicker of words across the bottom of the screen: World Health Organization raises concern about reports of deaths from avian flu outbreak in Xinjiang Province. In his farmhouse in the hill country of western Massachusetts, Cyrus Arkwright watches the news about the outbreak and feels his own alarm level rachet up. In his early seventies, of medium height and slightly stooped, Cyrus has a full head of white hair and an Amish beard of darker hue, a suitable frame for his slow-smiling patrician face.
He tuned in CNN this warm spring morning to follow a forest fire flaring along the Grand Canyon. He didna€™t have to wait for nature to take its course to make the nightmare scenario more than theoretical. Little more than a year later, researchers at Chinaa€™s Harbin Veterinary Research Institute combined a deadly avian flu virus with an infectious strain of human flu. In her late sixties and womanly in slacks and cotton blouse, Grace has kept her dark-eyed blond looks. Settled into the comfortable wicker armchairs, she hands him a letter with an impressive looking letterhead. They are talking about a claim by the McFerall brothers, Duncan and Bruce, to the effect that Sugar Mountain belongs to their branch of the family.
Cyrus is looking south where new leafage colors the Berkshire hills with a tinge of chartreuse. The rehearsal Grace refers to is a periodic gathering of the extended family in which they inhabit the farm for a long weekend to test the feasibility of a longer stay. Unlike Jack, their eldest, who moved to Sugar Mountain with Nicole and nine-year-old Mary and seven-year-old Cy at the end of a long stint in the Army.
Cyrus lives the conundrum of the prepper: He strives to prepare for what he dreads might happen. He stops to admire the comfortable living room and a shipa€™s galley kitchen to one side behind cafe doors. He gets to work, sanding, wiping, and oiling the surrounds of the only window in the first floor addition, structurally little more than a lean-to but so well insulated it will scarcely need heating. Slightly taller than his father and wiry, Jack has an intense gaze and a sharp nose that makes his face appear to point wherever he looks. Cyrus bends towards his son as they sit on the sofa, which faces the glass-fronted wood stove. The question arose as to whether they should plow up another acre and experiment with a high-yield wheat crop. Nicole, who is attractive in the way of animated, dark-haired plump women, takes great pride that their garden produced a cornucopia of food the summer before -- eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, lettuce, squash, peas, cucumbers, lima beans, onions, and corn. The garden, just above and beyond the outbuildings on gently rising ground, has been fenced to keep out woodchucks and rabbits.
In fact, Nicolea€™s ambitions go well beyond brute survival, should that prove unnecessary. Ari Fineman, Gracea€™s nephew and a New York restaurateur, became Nicolea€™s co-conspirator.

Nicole delighted in the attention she and Jack received when they drove to New York to visit Frank and Allegra.
For his part, Ari, as a member in good standing of the Sugar Mountain community, procured and brought to the farm root stock to grow grapes for wine.
What convinced Jack to retire were his own words -- amplified and played back to him by Nicole in one of their marathon sessions. Then the question he had asked himself daily, hourly: Was he, when all was said and done, little more than a highly trained killer? Nor did they make it easy for him to give up his captaina€™s bars and everything that went with them. Then a call from Cyrus and Grace -- instigated by Nicole -- asking him to bring his family and come live with them at Sugar Mountain proved decisive. By the end of the week, the story about the flu outbreak in China has gotten lost in the welter of other news -- continuing violence in the Middle East, deadlock in Congress, the tentative economy, flooding and fires. Afterwards, sitting at his laptop in the communications alcove, Cyrus sends out a second report. It also goes to the loose association of like-minded families in the western half of Franklin County. The disconnect among those who are fervent about climate change and yet look down their noses at doing anything to prepare for it on an individual basis puzzles Cyrus Arkwright. He ran into this attitude when he began to establish a network linked by citizens-band radio. Cyrus had smiled to himself thinking of his son Jack and the locked boxes of assault rifles and ammunition in the cellar at Sugar Mountain.
As he made his cordial good-byes, he wondered, being a fair-minded sort, if his perception and tolerance of the Bartlettsa€™ sense of moral superiority wasna€™t in itself a kind of snobbery, only more subtle. But the Rossi family, the Roths, Learys, Becks, Phelps, Curstons, Melnikovs, Spinneys, Tallmans, and McBrides all signed up.
Marshall and Marilyn Roth with two hundred and fifty acres in Shelburne have lots of room for their extended families. From the start, they called themselves the Mutual Aid Group, or MAG and they met once a month at the home of a member for dinner and discussion.
What worries him and what he communicates to the others is the possibility of rogue National Guard units with access to heavy weapons loose in the rural areas. The group might have lapsed into nonexistence had it not been for the announcement of a deadly engineered variant in 2011. The first inkling that the outbreak in Xinjiang Province is something more than a local incident comes when the Chinese Ministry of Health reports that the Haidian District, an area of upper-class Beijing, has been put on a€?a quarantine alert.a€? Suspicion in the world medical community quickly ramps up and demands are made that international inspections be allowed. Cruelly ironic then that in the wake of reports of outbreaks in other Chinese cities, Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, a country with strong economic ties to China, petitions the World Health Organization for help in containing an outbreak of a€?a flu-like epidemic.a€? For the first time, the WHO is able to investigate what is happening without hindrance.
It takes time and courage for the team of experts to fly into what is already a chaotic situation. Researchers from the World Health Organization find that at least five substrains of HPAI -- highly pathogenic avian influenza -- are loose in Abuja and the surrounding areas. On opinion shows in the United States, experts with academic credentials warn that this flu is highly mutagenic even by the standards of H5N1.
An epidemiologist of international stature tells his interlocutor that the world faces a monumental crisis. Still, the panic part of the looming pandemic holds fire even when a virulent form of avian flu appears among residents in Glodok, the Chinatown of Jakarta.
One after another, governments across the globe clamp down on anyone and anything coming from overseas but especially from China.
Cyrus keeps those family members who are part of the Sugar Mountain community apprised of what is happening. Standing in their living room with its view of the new World Trade Center building, Allegra says, a€?We have to get out of here, Frank. Ari Finemana€™s restaurant stays open even though reservations have dropped to near nothing, or been canceled, or simply ignored.
Thad and Duvall, because they are close and because they feel responsible for their students, continue to work at the high school.
Cyrus takes calls from far and near as he has a reputation as the go-to guy when it comes to preparing for disasters. Jack uses the farma€™s pickup to fetch the final lengths of a heavy chain-link fence with posts and footings waiting for them at a dealer in Springfield.
The President goes on nationwide television with the head of the CDC and announces that the worst thing would be to panic. With the pandemic alert level at Phase 6, the Global Alert and Response office of the World Health Organization puts up a map of the globe on their site coded red, orange, and yellow on a background of white. It turns out that her boyfriend, a low-ranking member of the trade delegation that visited China, flew to Washington shortly after arriving home.
Then, a week later, a food worker at Princeton is brought to an emergency ward by EMTs in full biohazard gear.

The argument between Frank and Allegra simmers until she gathers up Lily and a few last things and heads for the door. Not wanting to be a burden on anyone, least of all his family, Henry moved to the Grove several years before of his own volition. Entering the carpeted living room after a knock, Grace finds her father sitting on the sofa next to Edith Hamell.
More residents have gathered in the library, which is mostly a television lounge with comfortable chairs, a few shelves for books, and several card tables. She gets to the rotary and takes the interstate north to Bernardston where her sister lives in a mansion-sized cottage. The former director of travel at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, he continues to guide groups in East Africa, India, and elsewhere. Grandfather John Brooks, a white-haired, gruff, happy man, met us at the train station in Ballinasloe with a pony-and-trap.
Charles Walter Alcorn and Mary Brooks Alcorn, sister of my mother, owned a hardscrabble dairy farm on a hundred acres in the south of the town, on land that has since become part of the large suburb that is eastern Massachusetts. I lived there from 1949 to 1960, and while not all of those memories are pleasant, they are detailed and rich, and I carry them with me like a treasure.
We moved to Montgomery, Alabama where, in the midst of the civil rights upheaval, I worked as a reporter on the Alabama Journal, one of the citya€™s dailies.
There, long-forgotten scenes, faces, voices, and smells revived the past, and I began a kind of archaeology of the self, reconstructing a lost life from fragments of resurrected memories.
During the next four years I got to know contemporary Irish writers, especially Seamus Heaney who lived a short way down the coast with his wife Marie, their two boys Michael and Christopher and the recently arrived Catherine. I am polishing a fourth in the Norman de Ratour murder mystery series and preparing The Pull of the Earth for publication as an e-book. I read it through many interruptions, but I enjoyed re-reading it with fewer ones in Athens. My first memories are of the countryside where I was sent with my brother Anthony to escape the bombing. Tony and I adjusted quickly; we helped out on the farm with chores and took the yellow school bus to the grammar school in Chelmsford Center where, I noticed, everyone wore shoes. I did better as a football player, gaining an average of 5.5 yards per carry in my junior year and becoming captain of the team. Sure I liked the judiciously placed here and there the usual Harvard-Cambridge suspects including myself, but the stakes here are high and you have gone out of your way to surpass both Joyce and yourself. In 1947, Alfred James, who had soldiered with the British Army in North Africa, Iraq, and Italy during the war, died of leukemia. I was scarcely to see much less ride in a car during the year I walked with my brother to the local school or went to Mass in the trap or helped with the haying or with the cutting of turf on the vast bog that rose like a mirage beyond the pastures in front of the house. This football prowess along with high board scores helped me receive a scholarship to Harvard, where I was even more erratic as a student. The farm in Chelmsford had been sold and houses were being built in the hayfields and pastures. And as Anna Cecilia was seriously ill with tuberculosis, we spent a good deal of time in orphanages. That bog, a tawny, black-peated, wind-swept place covered with gorse and heather, has remained, as Seamus Heaney so beautifully puts it, an a€?outback of my mind.a€? And even today the smell of a turf fire has a poignancy that reduces me to an eight-year-old again.
I concentrated in Government, a waste of time in retrospect, and woke up mornings wondering what I was going to do with my life. Now the father of two girls, Margaret and Sarah, I still woke up mornings wondering what I was going to do with my life.
Around this time I began The Pull of the Earth, a novel in which I feel I both accomplished and transcended the goals I set for myself when I began to write.
There is Meredith, Gracea€™s divorced and ailing sister who lives in Bernardston, a town several miles to the east. In late 1948, we left redbrick, war-ravaged Merseyside to cross the Irish Sea to live with our grandfather in the midlands of Ireland. It was then that I began to write, I realize now, to stanch this loss, to recapture somehow, even to relive, if only in words, all that was no more. Vestments followed in 1988, by which time I had left the Gazette, spent a year teaching freshman composition at Harvard College, and then worked for the travel program at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, organizing and leading trips over most of the natural and unnatural world. I retired to write full time some years ago, though I still get called to take groups on trips.

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