Today I’m wishing a happy book birthday* to an institutional history I had the pleasure to edit last spring. The day has finally come. Onward Faring: A History of the Bullis School is off press, and it is stunning.
Susan King, the author, works in advancement and communications at the co-ed, college preparatory Bullis School in Potomac, Maryland. We found each other through mutual friends at the American Psychological Association in Washington, DC, where I worked in the early 2000s.
Here’s a synopsis of the book, excerpted from the flap copy:
When Bullis School first opened its doors to thirteen young men in 1931, Captain (ANG) William and Lois Bullis could never have imagined how far their dreams would take them—or how much their school would grow. Captain and Lois Hoover Bullis, a schoolteacher, founded their small, specialized preparatory school in Washington, DC to assist young men in passing the rigorous exams necessary for acceptance into the United States Naval Academy. …Onward Faring tells the story, decade by decade, of a developing school and its growing community of outstanding faculty, staff, students, alumni, parents, trustees and friends.
As you can see, the book isn’t for everyone. No book is—not even a bestseller! Onward Faring was written for a particular audience of alumni and others close to the Bullis School. So it was a special honor for me to be able to peek into that community and spend a few months learning its story. (Click here for some thoughts on writing for your audience.)
Last September I wrote about a conversation Susan and I had during the editing process. She was feeling a bit isolated, left on her own to navigate the dusty shelves and boxes housing the school archives. At staff meetings she’d report on her progress and highlight the best of her findings. But no one save the lonely author had a feel for the process and the decisions that had to be made.
What information to include, what to leave out? How to avoid redundancy, considering the ebb and flow of the school calendar? How to review changes through the decades without it sounding like a dry recitation of newspaper headlines? How to make voices from the past sound fresh and relevant today?
Even as I helped iron out the wrinkles, it was clear that I was dealing with a well-practiced storyteller in Susan King. The running narrative, the sidebars she developed, the photos she chose—all of these work in harmony for an engaging and beautiful product. It helps, too, that she had access to a top-notch designer and quality materials.
As I head into my summer reading (aka lighter fare that I don’t have to edit) I am only just now discovering the depth of Susan King’s talent. At the library today I checked out one of her fiction books–turns out, she has over twenty historical fiction and historical romance books to her name. I can’t wait to dive into it.
Are you writing historical fiction or nonfiction? What comes easily to you, and what do you struggle with? What are your favorite titles in this genre?
*Note: I borrowed the “Happy Book Birthday” idea from Vinnie Kinsella, a designer and book consultant I worked with on a previous project.