Caroline Bock-BEFORE MY EYES
Write 5,000 words today and you can binge-watch the rest of the first season of
Write 4,000 words today and you can go to Starbucks for a
chai tea latte, grande, and re-read what you wrote. Live the writer’s life.
Write 3,000 words today—write hard and fast and then off to
the yoga relaxation class where you will ultimately lie on a mat and do nothing.
Write 2,000 words today and turn off the computer, leave it
off for the rest of the day, free yourself from the shackles of social media
and typing like one possessed. Write 2,000 words and go get your nails done by the
girl from Vietnam who scowls at your hands, looking at them intensely,
wondering what she should do with them. The nails are bitten down to the skin, bleeding
at her touch. All you really want is for her to hold your hands in the folds of
her own cool bones.
Write 1,000 words today and you can read the rest of
Franzen’s PURITY. You don’t know if this is a reward or not, you think not.
Write 1,000 words and you can go back to library and find new books, ones that
you will enjoy reading.
Open your novel and write 500 words this morning, you can do
this. You will know you made an effort. You will be giving the world what?
Ideas? Words. More words. Maybe some will make sense, maybe none will. You
don’t know what else means anything to you anymore. So, you write. Make a deal
with yourself: 5,000. You can do it. 5,000 words.
Columbine April 20, 1999
January 8, 2011
July 20, 2012
Newtown December 12,
Santa Barbara May 23, 2014
Charleston June 17, 2015
October 1, 2015
The answer is not more guns. As a mother, a voter, and
writer, I strongly believe this. We need to do more now:
Ban assault style weapons for general sale.
Require Background checks and more...waiting periods...license... insurance. It shouldn’t be easier to buy and own a gun than it is to operate a
car. Fund research on guns and their usages, including gun violence in America through the ATF and other federal agencies.
Create a national minimum age for purchasing a gun—I would strongly
suggest: 25 years of age. Make logical exceptions for police and the armed
forces, or even hunters to age 21.
Change key mental health laws. If your son or daughter is
having mental health issues, the last solution is a gun. Change mental health
laws to make it easier for parents or loved ones to help stop access to guns.
Raise awareness. Fund, on a public-private basis, a massive
public awareness campaign akin to the Mothers Against Drunk Driving efforts. I
am a member of Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense a national grassroots effort, but my interest goes one step further, I have
published a young adult novel, BEFORE MY EYES (St. Martin’s Press, 2014) about
gun violence. Call out the facts: more people want MORE DONE NOW on gun laws than
Am I against all guns? No. I respect that we have a history
of gun ownership in this country. For responsible gun owners: If you are a
hunter or a hobbyist, enjoy your gun responsibly. However, the time is now to do
all we can to “insure domestic Tranquility” (the first line of our U.S. Constitution).
It is time for all of us, but particularly our politicians, to stand up for sensible gun law legislation and do more.
HOW NOT TO WRITE...
-Listen to that voice that pounds the back of your skull
with,“Not today. I can’t do it. I’ll start on Monday morning at 6 a.m., no, at
-Oversleep on Monday morning until 7 a.m. and decide it’s
way too late to start.
-Talk about what you are going to write. Tell it to your writer friends, your book club, to the guy in accounting, who admits that the last novel he read was in
-Decide what you need is another outline. Exhaust yourself scribing
on a long yellow legal pad every plot point you can imagine (Zombies! Ebola
pandemics! Martians!) into your historical novel set in mid-20
century Europe.Add this yellow legal pad to the pile beside your desk.
-Confirm to yourself that what you truly need is more
research. This gets you going. The World Wide Web—hours wrap like rubber
bands into a ball— and reams of notes printed out. But it’s not enough. You can
justify a trip. You are writing about Italy, you must seek out the wonders of
Rome, or at least visit a nearby pizza joint, or partake of a shot of espresso at
the coffee shop. All this inspires you to do more research.
-Focus on your computer or your printer or desk. The printer
is hacking out pages like an old man with phlegm. Shouldn’t you upgrade? Isn’t
your monitor too small? Isn’t it time to back up? Clean up history? Shouldn’t
you be working at one of those standing desks—wouldn’t jogging on a treadmill
attached to your desk improve your writing? A trip to the office supply store is
what’s required, and you set out, determined to conquer technology and write
more, better, faster— and get in shape.
-Do anything but write one sentence and then another until a
page is done, a scene or chapter is drafted. How to write that first sentence?
That’s another blog.
Much response to this post, so I've added this addendum:
"Graham Greene realized early in his writing career that if he wrote just
500 words a day, he would have written several million words in just a
few decades. So he developed a routine of writing for exactly two hours
every day, and he was so strict about stopping after exactly two hours
that he often stopped writing in the middle of a sentence...." (from the Writer's Almanac). Great advice, and now, I have to stop writing... (only kidding, I am just getting started!) Caroline
Bock is the author of two critically acclaimed young adult novels: LIE
(St. Martin’s Press, 2011) and BEFORE MY EYES
(St. Martin’s Press,
2014). Her short stories and poetry have been published or are forthcoming in Akashic Press, Gargoyle Magazine
Defying Gravity Anthology, Fiction Southeast, 100 Word Story, Ploughshares,Prometheus,Vestal Review,
. She is also a contributor to The Washington Independent Review of Books. She writes every day, or
at least attempts to write. More at wwww.carolinebock.com
Labor Day. Unofficial End to Summer. But summer of 2015 had
a few unexpected delights…
Re-read Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret. How ahead
of the time was Judy Blume? unexpectedly fresh and relevant, especially since I have a ten-year-old daughter!
Humans on AMC… Synths, a.k.a. synthetic robots, more humane than humans—and complete with
British accents. This BBC drama is a futuristic take on the
‘Upstairs/Downstairs’ life with lots of plot turns and heart. Plus, I've read that it's already renewed for a second season. The Strain on FX… The second season of New York City under
siege from pulp fiction-inspired, Nazi-backing, vampire-infected creatures took the idea
that NYC could be a dangerous place to bring up kids to new levels. A fabulous multi-racial
cast, inspired by novels of the same name, make this well-written series worth watching. Plus, I've heard: expect more of THE STRAIN next summer!
Jurassic World…Saw this with my kids and found, unexpectedly, it was lot
of fun for me too Made me think again: how cool would a real Jurassic Park be?
Mr. Holmes…I went for the cast—Ian McKellen as the aging Sherlock Holmes, and one of my all-time favorite actresses, Laura Linney as his housekeeper.
What I didn’t expect is how much this would be a movie about the process of writing. If you are a
writer, go immediately to see.
I Believe in Unicorns…I streamed this absolute delight of
an indie film about first love on Amazon…and now I believe in
unicorns. If you liked "Fault in Our Stars," I suggest you watch I BELIEVE IN UNICORNS. It's now streaming to a television or computer near you!
So here we are at another Labor Day, which has a special
meaning to me. The setting of my new young adult novel, BEFORE MY EYES,is Labor Day weekend on Long Island,
New York. If you haven’t read BEFORE MY EYES yet, I urge you to do so this
Labor Day. I find there’s something unexpectedly metaphysically rewarding about
reading books at the moment, or in the place, that they are set.
Onward to autumn!
FISH SELL... was originally published earlier this year by the wonderful Washington Independent Review of Books...but I've been thinking a lot these hot summer days of my Pop and of his unorthodox real-world advice so I'm reprinting and sharing it here...
Beyond the Book
On seeing the
trade paperback of my book for the first time
By Caroline Bock
The cover of Before My
Eyes hasn’t changed, but the feel of it has. Grittier. I expect it to smell
I flip to the back first, as if the ending may somehow have
On the last page is an advertisement for another novel, LIE,
and I see that I wrote that, too.
I actually never forgot that I wrote LIE, my first novel.
Though sometimes it feels like I never published anything (except that poem I wrote
in third grade) — that someone else wrote all those words over all those years.
I can still remember that first poem. My father stared at it
and its “tall, towering trees” published in the school’s mimeographed newspaper.
“Toots, we got a writer in the family,” he said with his
kind of praise, expansive and vague. It took me a minute to know that he was imagining
me older, not 8 years old. Until that moment, I hadn’t particularly wanted to be
If my father were looking over Before My Eyes, he’d ask the sale price first ($9.99), and then how
many I expected to sell (a lot, maybe). And then he might ask: “Why don’t I
bring the book down to Thunderbird?” He’d sell a few for me at his flea-market table
in Florida where he sold souvenir T-shirts to Canadian tourists.
“I can’t promise you how many books I’d move, toots. I’m the
guy known for the fish T-shirts, not books. Did you ever think of slapping a
picture of a shark on any of your novels? Fish sell, toots.”
You’ll notice that there is always a mother, damaged or dead,
in my novels. I’m working on writing a mother into my next book, but I may have
to kill her off. My father raised me, and I have trouble with mothers.
I have never seen a shark or written about one. Before My Eyes is about paranoid
schizophrenia, gun violence, and the teen psyche at the end of a long, hot
summer. It is largely set at the beach, but there aren’t any fish.
Some people glance at Before
My Eyes and ask, “What age is this for?” because it is marketed as a YA
novel. I wrote it with teen characters surrounded by adults who don’t see what
is happening before their eyes. I think adults should read it first.
If you read Before My
Eyes, you’ll immediately glean that it starts near the end and moves
backward. The world is different if you think you know the answers, but you
I see the world moving forward and backward at the same
time, roots overlapping one another, the trees from my first poem. I see myself
writing in notebooks at 8 years old and today. My father is gone, dead now, but
here with me, looking over my shoulder, talking about fish.
“Fish sell, toots.”
trade-paperback version of Caroline Bock’s Before My Eyes is now available wherever books are sold.
For more about the author go to www.carolinebock.com.
“When the King of Siam disliked a courtier,
He gave him a beautiful white elephant."
….” In Dispraise of Poetry by Jack Gilbert
I made a great find this past weekend at Capitol Books, a
used bookstore in D.C., with floor-to-ceilings offerings in a row house near the Eastern
Market—a copy of the poet Jack Gilbert’s Views of Jeopardy, his first book of
poetry from The Yale Series of Younger Poets, published in 1962. I am not a
collector of things— I’ve never felt the urge to bring anything but words into
I believe there may be a chapbook out there. I remember he
published one while I was at Syracuse University, the one year he taught at
this upstate New York college, and I believe I even bought it. But it’s lost to
the years and a dozen or so moves.
“Three days I sat
Bewildered by love.
Three nights I watched
The gradations of dark.
Of light …”
Morning in Perugia by Jack Gilbert
What I remember most about him was that he was slight man,
white haired and in his sixties by the time I was his student. He was
passionate about the poetic line and about women, especially those he found himself with in places foreign
to him, a guy from Pittsburgh, and I find that these passions imbued in this
early set of poems.
“… When I got quiet
she’d put on usually Debussy
leaning down to the small ribs
Number Five: Against A New York Summer by Jack Gilbert
I think of him so young writing these poems, and want to cry
out, but instead I read on, gorging on the lines, ebullient with my find.
EIGHT GOALS TO CHANGE THE WORLD ... at the turn of the millennium... specifically: "At the Millennium Summit in September 2000 the largest gathering of world leaders in history adopted the UN Millennium Declaration, committing their nations to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty and setting out a series of time-bound targets, with a deadline of 2015, that have become known as the Millennium Development Goals. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are the world's time-bound and quantified targets for addressing extreme poverty in its many dimensions-income poverty, hunger, disease, lack of adequate shelter, and exclusion-while promoting gender equality, education, and environmental sustainability. They are also basic human rights-the rights of each person on the planet to health, education, shelter, and security." — United Nations.
Today on NPR, I heard that the United Nations is reviewing the results of its Millennium Goals...
I wrote a version of this short essay inspired by those goals for a collection of essays, Spirit of Service (Harper Collins, 2010), and I thought it timely to re-read and reflect on my original work...
“—Let it be said by our
children's children that when we were tested, we refused to let this journey
end, that we did not turn back, nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the
horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom
and delivered it safely to future.—Barack Obama, the
culmination of his inauguration address.
We often feel like others have more influence over the
course of events than we do.
We especially feel this way when we are tested with such
big, intractable, and really hard problems: hunger, poverty, disease, genocide
and environment sustainability to
name a few. We think that as long
as these problems are not in our backyards, we do not need to stand up and take action. It’s for others, the government, to be
graded on anyway.
In his inaugural address, with a heavy snow on the streets
of Washington, D.C., on January
20, 1961, another President challenged this stance by declaring: “ask not what
your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” A lesser known line follows that widens
this vision: “My fellow
citizens of the world: ask not
what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of
We have dithered too long over the idea that others will do
what we can and must do as citizens of the world. The United Nations
has outlined eight millennium goals to raise up the people of the
world. Together, we must go forward into the journey of the 21st
— Join the hundreds of millions
across the globe working to impact the UN Millennium Goal #1 – eradicating
extreme poverty and hunger across the world by 2015.A focused global effort to show support for the fight
against poverty and for the UN millennium development goals is being organized
by Stand Up and Take Action, a global advocacy group. Locally, use your influence to organize a teach-in about
world poverty and the UN millennium goals.
Personal Post Script, June, 2015: This goal of eradicatin, extreme poverty and hunger certainly wasn't reached. War in too many places intervened. In the United States poverty, is now eloquently termed "income inequality." But the fight must go on. In the United States: 15 dollar minimum wage is a start. What other ways to jump start this campaign on a local and global level?
Dear Bill Gates:
I’m concerned about your summer reading list, heavy on
nonfiction titles, lacking in fiction, classics, poetry, which reflect the
common core of what I believe every educated American should read (of course, I
will readily admit that this is totally subjective, and I want to stress that I
am happy that you are reading at all, something I stress to my own children).
So, I have some alternative titles to your summer reading
list for you to consider:
-The Complete Works of Emily Dickinson, short poems, easy to
read at the beach, or choose any other poetry collection.
-1984 by George Orwell. I am amazed at how often George
Orwell’s 1984 is quoted, especially in relations to politics and to technology.
I plan to re-read this summer, and I think you should too. “He who controls the
past controls the future. He who controls the presents controls the past.”
-The “Battle Royal” section of Invisible
Man by Ralph Ellison to understand the history of racism and pain in America.
The entire the book is moving too, but it’s that chapter you have to
-Hilary Mantel’s Assassination of Margaret Thatcher: Stories, or Lydia Davis’ Collected Stories, or George
Pellecanos’ Martini Shot, if you’d like some terrific genre short fiction— one
nice thing about short story collections is you can feel free to skip a story
or two and still say you read the book. I’ve been reading a lot of short
fiction lately—short fiction focuses the mind, and these stories all present
character, image, conflict in the most concise way.
-The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman
Alexie, my son just read this in 9 grade – talks about being the
‘outsider’ and ‘other’ here in America better than any young adult novel. One
other thought: Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming, winner of this year’s
National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, written in verse. I have it
on my TBR list and so should you.
-Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, the Broadway show is a big hit,
but the graphic novel is a deep and moving tale of a father and daughter— and
coming out. And it’s always cool to say you read graphic novels.
I’d just urge you to go farther and wider and be more open
and curious in your reading, and if you do, to share it with us all.
Read on, Bill! Have a great Memorial Day Weekend!
*Full disclosure: I am the author of two critically
acclaimed young adult novels: Before My Eyes (St. Martin’s Press, 2014) and LIE
(St. Martin’s Press, 2011). You can also always read these book:)! More at
From Girl on a Train to Robert Frost...I recently wrote a few haiku reviews... a great exercise in writing. Some are reactions to what I read, others are refractions of characters (i.e. the pool cleaner in Gatsby is in my imagination, not the novel's pages). Here goes...
For The Girl on a Train…
WOMAN ON A METRO
On a metro car:
See or hear nothing, feel less.
Days of driving rain.
For The Buried Giant…
No past, no future—
misted memories, but all
For The Great Gatsby…
THE POOL CLEANER
I cleaned the swim pool—
after cops fished Gatsby out—
more work, no more pay.
For The Collected Poems of Robert Frost…
A LOST WRITER
I don’t know these woods—
what crossroad to travel now—
lead me there, poet.
Have you ever tried a haiku review?
—Caroline Bock is the author of the critically acclaimed
young adult novels: BEFORE MY EYES (St. Martin’s Press, 2014) and LIE (St.
Martin’s Press, 2011).
I write primarily fiction; however, I love poetry and since these are the final days of National Poetry Month, I am going to share with you notes from a fabulous writer's conference I attended, BOOKS ALIVE, sponsored by the Washington Independent Review of Books, an incisive online writing and book review community. This weekend, they honored poet and poetry advocate extraordinaire Grace Cavalieri with their first Lifetime Achievement Award. Upon accepting the award, she gave her top four reasons why poetry still matters (and I may be paraphrasing her, as I quickly took these notes):
-Poetry slows down time. You read slowly and you write slowly
-Poetry preserves the beloved
-Poetry makes us notice the world more
-We are more fully alive when we read and write poetry
This makes me want to write poetry, my secret writing, and to me that is the world.
Does poetry matter to you?