The official website of Until Our Last Breath: A Holocaust Story of Love & Partisan Resistance published by St. Martin's Press and maintained by author Michael Bart.
A Holocaust Story of Love and Partisan Resistance

Writing Process

Nominated by the American Library Association for a Sophie Brody Medal
a national award for the most distinguished contribution to Jewish literature published in the United States

Winner of the 60th Annual Christopher Award!

The Writing Process

I am the author of my parents' biography. I entered into a writing collaboration with Laurel Corona, a professor of English and Humanities at San Diego City College. Corona's role was to write text pending my editorial approval. In December 2003, I hired Corona to write three sample chapters and a proposal. My instructions were that everything in the book needed to be truthful and accurate with the information that I uncovered during my research and the information my parents' had shared with me. Corona assured my wife and I that she was a contract writer of educational books and knew the proper writing style for my parents' biography. After she wrote the sample chapters, she requested the option of "writing and revising the book on speculation along with [me]." I provided her the information for the book in the form of family letters, documents, and books, along with an initial 3,000 word count draft that I wrote for the preface; and details I wrote about my family for each chapter of the manuscript.

Early on, Corona proposed an author's byline "by Laurel Corona with Michael Bart." She then said, "I hope any future publisher will accept this byline because it will be helpful for my career." I said to her, "I don't care about the byline, and whatever the publisher decides is right, I will be happy with." I then said very clearly, "If this book helps your career that's fine with me, however the first priority is what's best for the book." She agreed.

On June 15th 2004 Corona began writing the remaining chapters in the manuscript. During the time she was writing, she asked to be left alone to concentrate on her work. In early August I had several phone conversations with our literary agent, Anne Hawkins. She shared with me the feedback from 8-10 editors who she had sent two sample chapters and the proposal. Hawkins said, "The editors liked the proposal, but did not think the writing style and content matched the proposal." She then said, "You can't have it both ways, either its true non-fiction like the proposal states, or it is a novel based on your parents' experiences." I told her, "I will never allow or accept a novel based on my parents' experiences to be published." I told Hawkins that Corona e-mailed me stating that she would finish the manuscript by mid-August, shortly before her next teaching semester. Hawkins then requested me to send her a copy when it was completed. Hawkins was going to review the manuscript and make suggestions on how to proceed.

The first version of the book was completed by Corona on August 11th 2004. I immediately sent a copy to Hawkins. The draft Corona gave me was a 104,691 word count manuscript based on my parents' experiences that was totally unacceptable to me. To my surprise, Corona had rewritten the sample chapters, and the entire manuscript was now novelistic, and a much bigger issue than the original sample's writing style. The manuscript needed many corrections and removal of details she wrote about my family's experiences and the historical information. As a son of Holocaust survivors it is my responsibility to ensure the accuracy of my parents' biography. I called Hawkins and told her not to waste any time reading the manuscript. Hawkins told me to keep in touch about the future direction of the book.

It was up to me to resolve my issues with Corona's work. However, I had a difficult time getting Corona to understand that it was unacceptable to write a novel based on my parents' Holocaust experiences. Corona had written information about my family that I knew nothing about. I finally told her in a phone conversation, "I will never allow this book as currently written to be published." Corona then said to me, "if you don't want to publish this book, I will have it published myself." After that conversation, I contacted an intellectual property attorney to learn my legal rights. The attorney informed me that Corona would be unable to publish our collaborative work "against my wishes."

I subsequently arranged a three way phone conversation with Corona, Hawkins, & myself. Hawkins clearly repeated what she had already told me, "You can't have it both ways; the manuscript needs to be consistent with the proposal." A short time later during a phone conversation with my wife Bonnie and me, Corona said, "I don't have the time and/or ability to edit the manuscript. I can't get into your head to know what is accurate and acceptable to you." Bonnie then said, "The only person who can do this, is Michael." Corona agreed. Therefore, I spent the next eight to ten weeks editing the manuscript in its entirety, correcting and re-writing many of the details and returned my draft to Corona on October 21, 2004 with a 61,265 word count. I had removed over 43,000 words of inaccurate information written by Corona.

In early January 2005, Corona began to edit my revised manuscript to add transitions for continuity. My revised manuscript was used as the foundation for the finished book. Corona returned the manuscript to me on February 12th 2005. From this point forward, I carefully reviewed each chapter for accuracy after any edits, revisions or modifications to the manuscript. In late February 2005, I sent the new manuscript to Hawkins. It had become very apparent to me that Corona's goal for writing this book was very different than mine. I did not have any career or monetary goals; I just wanted to tell the world about my parents' Holocaust experiences and the murder of my family in Europe.

As I continued my research, I wrote text of the numerous eyewitness accounts shared with me. Bonnie and I went on a second trip to Vilnius, Lithuania in August 2005. I was constantly editing the preface and manuscript to include new information from Holocaust survivors and other sources.

Much gratitude to former partisans Fania Jocheles & Motl Gurwitz. Click here for an article on the Jewish partisans at Vilna's liberation
Nekamah's base camp
My wife Bonnie & I, with former partisans Fania Jocheles and Motl Gurwitz at the 'Nekamah' base camp in the Rudnicki forest in 2005

My wife, Bonnie, felt very strongly that the book needed to be documented and sourced, and began reviewing dozens of hours of my videotaped interviews with Holocaust survivors, relatives, and friends of my parents. Bonnie used these interviews, plus my research materials that took me over a decade to acquire, to compile, write, and insert over 250 footnotes into the manuscript.

When I discussed the subject with Corona, she said, "This book does not need footnotes. In my opinion, footnotes will distract the readers from the text." In March 2006, I submitted the proposal and completed manuscript to several universities for consideration to publish. Two of the universities were interested, and asked for permission to send the manuscript out for review. In May 2006, I was working with an editor at the University of Missouri who said to me, "I would be more comfortable with this book if it was footnoted." I then told him, "My wife Bonnie had compiled and written over 250 footnotes with about 10,000 word count of footnoted information. Bonnie had originally inserted the footnotes into the manuscript, but Corona didn't feel they were needed and deleted them from the manuscript." He then said, "That's odd, I can't imagine why any college professor would not want to footnote this book." I then told him I would provide him with a list of the notes Bonnie had compiled, and re-insert them into the manuscript after his review. Once he reviewed the notes, he felt it was very important to insert all of them. At that point Bonnie inserted most of the original footnotes she had into the manuscript, and they were converted into endnotes. A short time later, the University of Nebraska had the book formally reviewed by a nationally known Holocaust scholar who strongly felt the manuscript needed as many endnotes as possible. Bonnie then, inserted all retrievable and remaining notes she had into the manuscript. The numerous suggestions from the universities were extremely helpful for me to change the writing style into what was the appropriate style for my parents' biography. My deepest appreciation and gratitude goes to the University of Missouri and to the University of Nebraska for their important work.

After the second version and subsequent revisions of the book were written I shared the manuscript with friends and professionals in the publishing business. I was consistently told (including by a literary agent) that our author byline was backwards and that any future editor/publisher would reverse it before purchasing the book.

In March of 2007, Barbara Braun, our literary agent for UNTIL OUR LAST BREATH, received an offer for publication from ST. MARTIN'S PRESS. One of the items in the offer was the authors byline to read "by Michael Bart with Laurel Corona." Our agent informed us that, "they feel it is his story." This was no surprise to me as I had heard this was going to happen. Corona was unhappy, and requested our agent propose a different byline "by Michael Bart and Laurel Corona," which St. Martin's Press accepted. Our signed contract with St. Martin's Press reads, "Michael Bart and Laurel Corona."

In June of 2007, Bonnie and I hand delivered the finished manuscript to Daniela Rapp, my editor at St. Martin's Press. My arrangement with St. Martin's Press, and with Corona, was in the future, St. Martin's Press would send her the manuscript first for any needed corrections. Corona then, would send the manuscript to me for a final read, edit, and any further corrections since I had full editorial approval. In August of 2007, Corona received the manuscript from the copyeditor with suggested corrections. After she made her corrections, she then, sent it to me. I had less than a week to review, edit, and correct the manuscript, before returning it to St. Martin's Press by our deadline of August 29th. My primary focus was to make all the needed corrections to the body of the manuscript, and then later, during the final editing process, concentrate on the endnotes, photos, and other miscellaneous items. In October 2007, Corona received the pre-typeset corrected version back from the copyeditor for her review. This completed Corona's work on the manuscript. My writing collaboration with Corona was difficult, challenging, and finally concluded. However, when I received the final manuscript from Corona, I noticed in the August revision she had inserted endnote #1 into my preface stating that she "did all the writing for the text." I made a correction in the manuscript, noting it with my initials, because the statement was not accurate. I followed-up with an e-mail in January requesting the endnote be completely removed. From October on, I worked with St. Martin's Press, outside professional proofreaders contracted by the publisher, and the History Book Club to make changes, corrections, and additions to the manuscript. After the corrections were made, the book was in the hands of the typesetters.

The book was published on May 13, 2008. St. Martin's Press made the decision to build their promotion of the book around me being the public face and voice speaking about my parents. Very special thanks to my editor Daniela Rapp and the entire team at St. Martin's Press. My deepest appreciation and respect goes to Daniela Rapp who understood the importance of my parents' biography and worked very hard to have it published and shared with everyone.

With very special thanks to my wife Bonnie for her tireless efforts and contributions in research, filming of interviews, compiling & writing the endnotes, continuous editing and review of text, and the acquisition, placement and captions of the 106 archival photographs in the book.

Michael Bart

Until Our Last Breath - contact author Michael Bart

Until Our Last Breath - represented by Barbara Braun & Associates

Until Our Last Breath - published by St. Martin's Press

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Writing Process