A big part of my job is working on non-fiction proposals in history and biography.
Part of that job is to make readers mourn people they've never met. Could not have met.
A current project involves a Polish woman, a ballerina, a Jew in the Warsaw ghetto. She did not survive the war. One of six million who did not. An unimaginable number until you think about the fact that it's 3/4 of the population of New York City. Wiped out by an unnatural disaster.
What is one person among these six million?
She's a lens to see the time period. When we read about her life, we learn the stark reality of trying to survive in the hostile urban environment that was Warsaw 1939-1943.
Often history re-writes reality.
People are cast as good guys or bad guys, when no one is one or the other.
Capturing nuance and context is difficult, precision work.
Learning how to do that is an ongoing process.
One way to learn is listen to the people who've done it before.
Robert Caro is one such person. In my opinion, he's more than the cat's pjs. He's the entire wardrobe.
He has a new book out.
If you write non-fiction, On Working is one of three essential books you simply must have. Susan Rabiner's is the second, and a good book on what a non-fiction book proposals contains is the third.