Commercials for the Christmas opening of the film A Journal for Jordan shows a smiling Michael B. Jordan in Army fatigues and boasts Denzel Washington as the director, but many in the bookish community might not realize it’s the story of a literary industry executive.

Dana Canedy was named senior vice president and publisher at Simon & Schuster in July 2020 as U.S. companies focused on elevating their diversity and inclusion promises after the police murder of George Floyd. The New York Times 20-year veteran, former Pulitzer Prize administrator, and Pulitzer Prize winner wrote A Journal for Jordan: A Story of Love and Honor in 2008 about her fiancé, U.S. Army First Sergeant Charles Monroe King, who died in combat in Iraq and left a journal for their son Jordan. The book is published by Penguin Random House’s imprint Crown Publishing Group.

The daughter of an Army drill sergeant, Dana and her family lived near the Fort Knox base in Kentucky. On Father’s Day 1998 while visiting her family, she meets Charles and is left smitten. But the feeling fizzles as she heads back to New York to work at the Times and live her single metropolitan lifestyle. Then her father tells her he gave her contact info to Charles. Once she and Charles connect, sparks fly. They spend years hopscotching the country for their jobs, as Dana works at other Times offices and Charles is stationed on other bases. After a few years, they are engaged and have a baby on the way. It’s the height of Operation Iraqi Freedom when Charles is called to duty. He dies after a bomb explodes underneath his armored vehicle in October 2006 when Jordan is six months old.

From the very first pages, Dana writes about the imperfection of her relationship with Charles. She does an excellent job describing their shortcomings with developing a relationship as a high-profile Black journalist with a dedicated military man. There is a frustration that Charles won’t leave his post in Iraq until his team returns safely home, and Dana describes that heartbreak that her fiancé won’t stay home for their newborn son.

“He was so devoted to his troops, many just out of high school, that he bailed them out of jail, taught them to balance their checkbooks, and even advised them about birth control,” she writes in the book. “But I struggled to understand what motivated the man who had for so long dreamed of your birth but chose to miss it because he believed his soldiers needed him more.”

The book, like the film, revolves around the journal Charles writes for his unborn son. Interwoven between Dana’s descriptions of their situations, Charles’ passages from the journal he leaves for Jordan tell the story from both sides with gems of wisdom the parents hope their son will understand someday.

Dana Canedy

Dana wrote an essay this week for the Times about the trauma reliving her grief onscreen. “So, yes, I have answers to the obvious questions about my life being turned into a movie,” she writes. “Ask me about the behind-the-scenes part and it’s harder to find the words to describe it. I am trying to take it all in and appreciate it. But as the movie rolls out nationwide, I am not sleeping well and am overwrought at times.”

She continues about her lack of sleep and the reenacted scenes affecting her. “While I am often so exhausted that my exercise bike has become an expensive clothing rack, some nights I fight sleep to keep the nightmares away,” she writes. “After Denzel sat with me for a private screening of our film, I dreamed I was fighting in the war alongside Charles and watched helplessly as he was shot dead in a hail of gunfire. Even the excitement of planning the premiere brought pangs of pain.”

Jordan is now 15 years old, and she says in the essay she worries about the impact of the story on her son and that he covered his eyes during the romantic scenes.

In the film, The Photograph‘s Chanté Adams plays Dana, and Michael B. Jordan plays Charles and serves as a producer alongside director Denzel.

A Journal for Jordan opens in theaters Christmas Day.