Yesterday, I had a wonderful opportunity to speak before the Suffolk County School Library Media Association (SSMLA)
at their annual dinner. This talk before a smart, high-spirited group of school librarians, game me the chance to remember my high school school library at–New Rochelle High School.
My school library was a refuge for a geeky kid who liked to read – who was
involved in her school’s literary magazine – and not much else – I was raised
by a single parent, a father, who raised 4 kids along after my mother had a
stroke and was left almost fully paralyzed and brain-damaged. We couldn’t
afford to buy books in our house – but we didn’t need to buy them. There was the library, especially the
You could find me
there almost everyday after school.
I didn’t want to go home.
Home was chaotic. Home was loud. Home was where I, as the eldest daughter had to cook dinner and clean and do laundry and not stop
until everyone was in bed and then, maybe I could escape and read more.
I have to admit that I don’t remember
the librarians’ names – but I remember their kindness. I remember how they
smiled when I checked out every novel by Ernest Hemingway after I read The Sun
Also Rises in 10 grade English class.
One thing I do remember -- one stifling spring day, my study partner, David, leaned over to me and said, "I like you more than you think." But that’s a
story for outside the library.
If you are a librarian or an educator, I've done something thinking about the Common Core for ELA Grades 8-12 and my young adult novel, LIE. I would appreciate your thoughts on my study notes -- at my website www.carolinebock.com.
And thank you school librarians, you should be mandated for every school, you are critical to our students success!
I just finished an inspiring book -- WONDER by R. J. Palacio
-- a middle grade novel about a young boy, Auggie Pullman, with a rare genetic facial deformity and his first year in middle school -- and spoiler alert -- it all turns out okay. There are cool inspirational quotes along the way such as "You're gonna reach the sky..Fly... Beautiful child," from the Eurythmics "Beautiful Child." Different characters struggle with his deformity -- his own, his sister's, his best friend's -- and except for a handful of stock bullying bad kids -- they all turn out to be good, kind kids and see past what is obvious -- and to the inner self of Auggie. I envied his parents -- hard-working, caring, decent people -- a mother who said all the right things. At the end, his class gives him a standing ovation at the graduation ceremonies. Auggie soars. I loved this novel. I cried. I cheered. It's a novel to read with your kids. But I could never write it -- never, ever.
I think to write a happy novel -- one with characters that are essentially good people with decent values--one had to live a life filled with people who are essentially good. For the most part, I didn't have those kind of people in my life growing up except for my Pop. He was a good father, a good man, too often overwhelmed with being a single parent. His words of wisdom were blunt: the way you make your bed is the way you'll sleep in it. I love him still for trying.
I don't know if R. J. Palacio had a happy life or not -- but I know that mine was broken. One way I've put it back it back together is writing. Even so, the pieces are never as happy as WONDER. But I'm thankful there are writers like her that can write 'happy' -- a wonder to me. Caroline
coming out in February, 2014
from St. Martin's Press
Scraps of quotes or ideas or articles cut or circled, circumcised words--must be taken down. Must clean my office for an impending move. Here's The Wall before:
Here's a FEW favorite quotes... FROM ISAAC ASIMOV, classic sci-fi writer:
"IF I HAD ONLY SIX MINUTES TO LIVE,I WOULDN'T BROOD, I'D TYPE A LITTLE FASTER."
FROM JUDD APATOW, SCREENWRITER AND DIRECTOR:
"I GUESS THE LESSON IS, IT'S OKAY TO WRITE ABOUT YOURSELF AS LONG AS ALMOST ALL OF IT IS MADE UP."
FROM ROBERT DAVIES,NOVELIST,
"THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO POINT IN SITTING DOWN TO WRITE A BOOK
UNLESS YOUR FEEL THAT YOU MUST WRITE THAT BOOK, OR ELSE GO MAD, OR DIE."
Feels like Pink Floyd should be playing in the background but I don't know how to do that --and would that be too obvious? Many more woman on the wall -- but that's another blog. Do you have a WALL? Truly, Caroline
last day of winter--
can spring truly be
Pictures of inspiration from the NY Botanical Garden taken by my son, Michael Bock, new photographer - reminds me that there is spring somewhere -- even if it's under glass. First day of spring: March 20th. Truly, author of the new adult novels:
BEFORE MY EYES
BEFORE MY EYES
BEFORE MY EYES
BEFORE MY EYES
new novel by CAROLINE BOCK
from St. Martin’s Press in 2014
If you are one of those people who like to be in the know before anybody else... check out Lena Roy's blog post on my upcoming young adult novel, BEFORE MY EYES. I asked her if she could "blurb" (write an insightful but eye-catching yet meaningful few lines for promotional use based on an early, early review copy. A blurb is an art in itself). And was I surprised what I got back - much more than a blurb. Or maybe I shouldn't have been surprised - she's an amazing writer - and reader! Here's a first take on BEFORE MY EYES:
"...Bock's story begins with a mass shooting on a Monday morning, and then she takes us back to Friday, weaving the narrative between three points of view: Max, a state senator's son who is having a hard time doing the right thing, Claire, a poet who has too many responsibilities, and Barkley, who hears voices, and unravels before our eyes. Max and Claire are more worried about themselves, and although we know what is going to happen, we quickly turn the pages.
Bock isn't preaching to us about the way things should be, she's giving us a glimpse into the way things are, without sentimentality and without an agenda. Her characters are multi-dimensional, filled with both darkness and light, as we, her readers all are. She reminds us of the struggle to be human, and has us searching for our own redemption, our own path to forgiving the world for its sins..." the complete critique of BEFORE MY EYES can be found at: www.lenaroy.com.
Thank you, Lena!
BEFORE MY EYES will be published in early 2014 from St. Martin's Press.
In the meantime, if you haven't read LIE yet, my debut novel about race, hate, murder, and ultimately at the very end, love -- get a copy today -- if you haven't read Lena Roy's EDGES, get a copy today too! Caroline
|Ever read a book you wish you had written? That’s Jess
Walter’s sumptuous Beautiful Ruins for me
. A meld of settings – from present
day to 1962, from a small fishing village on the coast of Italy to Los Angeles and
ultimately to Idaho – a mix of fictional devices from narrative fiction to faux
memoir to screenplay pitches – acts of plays-- Beautiful Ruins
is layer on
layer of interwoven stories surrounding the life of Dee Moray, a beautiful
starlet on the edge of fame.
From a writer’s perspective lines like this…
On selling a screenplay pitch:
“And now she knows where she recognizes that look from. It’s
a look she sees every day, the look of someone doing the math, of someone
seeing the angles.”
On age and celebrity:
“…two kinds of people always lie about their ages: actresses
and Latin American pitchers.“
“We want what we want….”
runs through the novel and sets up the middle aged and older
characters on a path of wanting the wrong thing: money and fame. But we want
what we want so we go on destroying ourselves, and almost, almost destroy others
in the process.
The last chapter begins with a heart-rending quote from the
writer Milan Kundera:
“There would be nothing more obvious,
More tangible, than the present moment.
And yet it eludes us completely.
All the sadness of life lies in that fact.”
Ultimately, Beautiful Ruins is a story about seizing the
moment, about being happy with what is real and near and true. It’s also a love
story -- a triumph of love, a reaffirmation of what is real in this
Is there a novel that has
ruined you recently?
Do you ever stop reading and start to write? I’ve been
reading a lot of short story collections trying to stretch my writing--attempting
to see what’s new or different out there. Short stories are quicker to read than novels and the writing is often more
telling in short form than long.
More telling: Tom Perrotta talks about point of view is
switched through many of the short stories in the preface to the 2012
edition of The Best American Short
– and how this was radical 20 years ago and more going back— and
isn’t anymore. Big check off for me because I like to switch point of views a
lot in longer pieces (see LIE, my debut novel-10 points of view
) but didn’t do
it in the past, wasn’t it against some rule somewhere? But now I’ve tried it in
some new pieces – and it doesn’t hurt at all.
Not new, uneven, but often exhilarating exploration of
character: The Book of Other People
edited by Zadie Smith. Outstanding
stories include: “Gideon” by ZZ Packer, heart-breaking, about a black-white
romance, and the hilarious stream-of-conscious ranting of Jewish grandmother to
her grandson in “Rhoda” by Jonathan Safran Foer to the story I
can’t shake from me: “Puppy” by George Saunders with its two different points
of views – two women at different ends of the economic divide and a disturbed
boy chained to a tree and a puppy.
I’ll admit it. I can’t stop reading. I read to write. I am a
Next story collection: Married
Love, by Tessa Hadley. What she says in the afterward resonated with this
reader-writer: “I used to be nervous if I didn’t ‘know enough.’ Now I trust, up
to a point, that the best part of “knowing” is imagining. If you can imagine
it, then you’ll probably be able to write it.”
So here a few of my writing thoughts… notes… from reading
these short story collections..,
the rule is there are no rules
we all want something new
even with no rules, wanting something new, we
still want what we’ve always wanted: story, a way into other people’s lives
because we can’t stand our own or a way into our lives to understand anything
At the end of day it’s you knowing that you can
trust yourself to
imagine and write.
More thoughts on reading-writing out there?
His “mythic, perfect story…was one big lie,”confessed Lance
Armstrong, the world’s most famous cyclist, the winner or now loser of seven
Tour de France races. But isn’t that what happens in myth?
The gods take down
the hero, usually through hubris or excessive pride? Isn’t Odysseus,
sent on his travels when he refuses to accept his fate? We think we must be
greater than our fellow man that we possess something special, that we deserve
better, that we are fated to win and
fairness and justice and the small ordinariness of life is for another
Some of the lines from my debut novel, LIE,
what is said by Jimmy,
the instigator of a a hate crime and the star of the football and baseball
teams at his Long Island high school resonates now: there’s first place or no
place… you’re either a winner or you’re nothing. LIE
revolves around a murder but
one the subthemes –about the winner-take-all attitude in the 21
century and how it sometimes faces a mythic and tragic fate for all involved.
What does Lance Armstrong hope to achieve by confessing now?
Absolution? What about everyone that he involved and impacted by his hubris?
Ultimately in my novel, Jimmy is brought down—
though not by his own confession. At seventeen he isn’t
ready to confess – but then neither was Lance Armstrong, he had to win first.
He had to lie to us all and win. Was it worth it? As a writer that’s what I
want to know. Was it worth it?
author of the debut novel -LIE -
called "Unusual and important"
in a starred Kirkus Review;
"gripping" in a starred Library Journal
review; "suspenseful and thought-provoking,"
in a starred Booklist review
and "smart ... painfully believable" in a
starred Publishers Weekly review --
is now available everywhere
books/ebooks are sold
from St. Martin's Press, a big six publisher.
How to write more in 2013:
Write from the heart, life is too short to follow trends, to
chase what’s hot today. Though if from the heart comes the next paranormal,
dystopian, fantasy, erotic bondage adventure, I won’t argue!
I love the completeness of short stories – both from the
reader’s perspective and the writer’s. What do I mean by this – a novel is a
marriage, a short story is a date, fun and over at the end of the night. Not
that it doesn’t take a good while to write a good short story, it does. I am still working at the long-term
marriage, but right now, I need the gratification of a few wild dates.
Start with a character -- that you know inside and out, that you can
describe from head to toe, whose emotional core you can write about for
pages, and write at least one page on that character. "Character is the
very life of fiction," from John Gardner is a quote I have above my desk.
How to start anything? Don’t obsess. Remember: the first
draft of anything is “shit.” Ernest Hemingway said that. I have it above my
Are you ready for 2013?
Wind-strewn, tree branch buckled,
black dawn—the first day of winter, the last day on the Mayan calendar and the
world is still here, barely.
Electricity out all night but back on –for now.
Twenty-six church bells for the victims of the senseless mass shooting in
Newtown, Connecticut. Everyone asking ‘why’ and what happens if there is no
answer to ‘why?’ I keep coming back to the serious mental illness of this
shooter, of Tucson’s, Aurora’s as much as I do to the easy access to military
Though on guns: Why does anyone outside of law enforcement
need to own a semi-automatic anything? Why?
And why did no one try to help this
sick young man – we now flag kids who need extra educational resources and
support them; we now mainstream physically and developmentally challenged
students; we have interventions for kids who abuse drugs. But we let young men
in their late teens and early 20s and who are most likely showing signs of suffering
from serious mental illness have target practice or buy guns? Is this how the
Or, (because I have to end on
beauty not pain) as the great American poet Robert Frost asks does it end in
fire or ice?
Fire and Ice
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To know that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
Thoughts and prayers to all the Newtown families --