Caroline Bock-BEFORE MY EYES
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?
Three quick ideas for spring cleaning—for your writing.
Experiment with point of view.
up a first person story to a third person
a story from a minor character’s point view
3) look at a picture sideways (see above) and describe what you see.
Two wise quotes on the current state of young adult fiction from the April 10, 2015 New York Times article with tastemaker editor Julie Strauss-Gabel :
1) “You go through vampires, you go through dystopian, you go
through contemporary, you go through fantasy,” Ms. Strauss-Gabel said. “The
last thing you want is an author saying, ‘That’s what’s selling right now, so
that’s what I’m going to write.’ That’s the point at which a trend gets icky.”
2) “We’re in an era where the
definition of a young adult book is completely up for grabs, and people are
willing to reinvent it,” she said. “There’s no one saying, ‘You can’t do this
in a book for children.’ ”
Signs of Winter and Spock...
-We have run out of official school snow days. We are now onto
adding days to summer vacation. The snow/ice/freezing temperatures must,
therefore, logically end. This is, of course, an illogical argument.
-Logic, the realm of Mr. Spock, is dead. We live in an
irrational world. I’m trying to connect this to winter, and perhaps this is a
way: he was a character who lived on in our imaginations, and
certainly, in the Star Trek sagas, brought back to life over and again to reassert that logic can survive our human frailties.
For one brief moment, we believe winter will never end, and then,
with wind and rains and warmth, the earth is restored. Spring will rise, even if
we refuse to believe it amid the threatening snow and ice, even if we are illogical, irrational creatures.
Rest in peace, Leonard Nimoy.
Live long and prosper.
Sharing good news... today the trade paperback version of my
latest YA novel—BEFORE MY EYES— is available from St. Martin's Press. Why
does this matter? It's cheaper than the hardcover version. It's easy to bring
to the beach (if it ever stops snowing in New England, this is will be a plus).
It's set at the end of a long hot summer (So even if it is freezing right now,
you can read about summer). But is it a so-called summer read?? Well, it's a serious summer read——
about paranoid schizophrenia, gun violence, and the teen loneliness and romance
at the end of a long hot summer. Lastly, it's been called a"powerful read," by
reviewers and by many readers. Thank you for considering
BEFORE MY EYES, which is now available in hardcover, trade paperback, and ebook formats, everywhere books are sold.
Cold. Ice-Rain. High Winds approaching. Stay Indoors! We're all hearing the warnings up and down the Northeast of the United States today.So I'm daydreaming of actors to play the key teens roles in BEFORE MY EYES——just daydreaming—but if you've read BEFORE MY EYES, you'll know it's set at end of a long, hot summer. If you've read BEFORE MY EYES (and of course, you must, it's available everywhere books and ebooks are... here's an easy link:), you'll know that these are complicated, layered Long Island suburban teens at a breaking point in their lives, and we'll need the absolutely right mix of stars. Even more particularly, if you've read, BEFORE MY EYES, you'll know that there are three main teen characters:
Barkley - 21, an undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, having his first psychotic break, hearing a voice in his head, with a gun in his desk drawer, is breaking apart at the end of the summer as he tries to hold it together at the Snack Shack and at home
Claire -17 dreamy, poetic, Claire, takes care of her younger sister after her mother suffers a stroke, and is at her breaking point at the end of the summer
Max -17, soccer star, son of state senator, spending his summer working at the local beach's Snack Shack, popping "borrowed" prescription pain pills, and at his own breaking point
and two minor teen characters:
Trish -17, funny, caring mother-hen of the Snack Shack
Peter -17, developmentally-challenged, sweetheart-of-a-guy also at the Snack Shack, unexpected hero along with Trish.
If you've read BEFORE MY EYES, which young actors should play these characters? And drum roll, the envelope, please, two thoughts on casting from the author of BEFORE MY EYES : Just named one of the 11 Potential Breakthrough Actors at this year's Sundance Film Festival by Indiewire.
known for her role in "Glee"
Other thoughts? — If you've read the novel, of course!