Jul 13 Written by 

True-Life Editing, Example 2: Who Am I and Where is Home?

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Selling well in the categories Travel>Israel (#5!) and Biography/Memoir, in ebook and paperback, is Who Am I and Where is Home?: An American Woman in 1931 Palestine, by Andrea Jackson. Ms. Jackson’s Brooklyn-born mother Celia, an idealistic Zionist, lived in Palestine for a year when young single women didn’t do that, and Celia’s letters, and those from family and friends, all survive. The letters also expose a love triangle that altered the destinies of all involved.

The challenge for the author was how to interest an audience in her mother’s old letters. First we determined their value for readers. What was this story about, and who might care? Or should the Ms. Jackson narrate the story and call it fiction?

Oh no, oh no, I said. Nonfiction sells much better.

These well-written letters qualified as historical documents, available nowhere else, about a lively young Jewish-American woman’s life and work in Palestine during the 1930s. Her love triangle, growing ever more intense, could serve as a very personal and suspenseful “subplot.”

Now we had a focus and possible readerships who might be interested in:

·      that era in Palestine, and Israel’s development and infrastructure--in which Celia was very much involved

·      Jewish activists in Depression-era New York

·      pioneering young Jewish women

·      twentieth-century American Zionism

·      social pressures on politically active women

·      portraits/memoirs from that social class and generation

Ms. Jackson, a retired lawyer and a writer, edited the letters accordingly. Most letters to Celia from her family (“When are you coming home?”) were cut. It’s natural to want family photos in a book about your family, but it’s not good for the book, so I advised reducing the number of photos. Fictionalized portions and author commentary woven throughout the draft became the final three chapters, powerfully answering the reader’s inevitable question, “What happened after Celia came home?”

The author and I worked hard to find a book title that would “say it all,” accurately reflecting the content and maximizing its appeal to our array of target audiences. One of nonfiction’s most popular tricks is the subtitle. Who Am I and Where is Home? captured Celia’s search for meaning, and also her youth and personality: those are questions only yearning young people ask. The subtitle then had to say everything about the text’s historical and social context: who, what, when, where. With An American Woman in 1931 Palestine we nailed it.

Ms. Jackson chose a cover both attractive and apt. The book designer, Cathy Wood, did a great job; the book’s interior is gorgeous, easy to read, the typeface not too small: a product worthy of all the human experience that went into it.
Catherine Rankovic

Writer, with 30+ years' writing and publishing experience, 20+ years' teaching experience. Last book read: Mrs. Lincoln by Catherine Clinton.