Caroline Bock-BEFORE MY EYES
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WHAM!!! Write A Story...A story about a story....
Ten Very Basic Writing Tips for A Summer Friday
ON FRANZ KAFKA on his birthday

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Caroline Bock-BEFORE MY EYES

WHAM!!! Write A Story...A story about a story....

Wham! Write A Story!!
 (a story about a story for adults as well as kids)

Wham! Will writes. Ka-zooom!! And our hero flies off. The end. He adds a half dozen exclamation points to his ‘Wham’!!!!!! and three more to his Ka-zooooom!!!!!!!!!
 “I’m done,” he says in a very loud voice. “I’ve written the greatest story ever!”
But Lara, his best friend, doesn’t agree. His story isn’t done. It hasn’t even begun.
“Yes, it is! See I wrote ‘the end.’"
“You don’t have a beginning,” says Lara. “Where’s the ‘Once upon a time’ or ‘it was a dark and stormy night?’”
“I have “Wham!' With an exclamation point.”
“Okay, you can start with wham! But something has to happen next. You have to introduce the setting or the characters.  Then something has to happen to the characters. Also, you’re using a lot of exclamation points!!!”
“Exclamation points look like soldiers, and I like them. But what’s the setting? Why do I need that?”
“Where the story takes place. The setting is also about when it takes place. For example, does it take place now? Or in the past? Or in the future?”
“I want it to take place here, Lara. On the page.”
“You have to take it off the page. Bring it into reader’s mind. My mind.”
“Then, how about at school?”
“What kind of school?  You have to be specific. The more details in a story, the better the story. An elementary school? A big school? The world’s biggest elementary school?”
“The world’s most gigantic elementary school. A billion and twenty-nine kids go there.”
“I’m glad I don’t go there.”
“It’s my setting,” says Will.
Lara stretched across the white sheet of paper, her character aching to go someplace. To do something or to want something—the story needed a plot.    
“Okay, so you have the setting. Who’s in the story? Who’s this story about? Is there a main character—other than us— that does something? That propels all the action and stuff forward.”
“What happens next? That’s the plot. You have to ask yourself what happens to your characters?”
Will underlines with his newly sharpened yellow pencil a line where he says that his superhero flies off to fight the evil alien mutants, right before ‘the end.’

“Let’s back up. Is that your main character? A superhero? Not me?”
“I don’t write books about girls.”
“Today you will, or I’m leaving.”
“I guess I could add you but only as a secondary character.”
“Forget it then. This story ends now.”
“No, wait!!! Lara!!! You can be a main character too.”
“A superhero too?”
“Yes, a superhero, too.
“What’s my name in the story?”
“Can’t you just be Lara?”
“What’s the other superhero’s name?”
“He has a name,” said Will, clutching his pencil even tighter.
“You didn’t include it.”
“But I know the name.”
“And I only know what you write on the page, Will, and what I read. So what’s his name? What does he look like? What is he thinking? Seeing? Touching? Feeling? Use all of your senses to describe himand me.”  
Will put his pencil down on the lined notebook paper.  
“That’s okay. You are going to have to edit and revise this story—every writer does that. But hey, tell me, what does this other hero want? What do I want?”
“I don’t know. I never know what you want, Lara!”
“I want to save the world, of course. Ka—zooom!! Don’t all heroes want to save the world?”
Will snatches up his pencil and scribbles that down: save the world. Ka—zooom!!.
“What obstacles do we face? What decisions do we make? All this tumult is about something called: Plot. We have to have stuff happen to us. Challenges. What helps us or stops us from doing our job or getting what we want or, in this story, saving the world? Start at the beginning, again. You can do this. You can write your own heroes, Will.”
“Can I use exclamation points?”
“Maybe just one or two,” said Lara laughing with Will, and with that Lara ka-zoomed off the page.
“Wham!” dashed off Will, beginning his story, again....

Caroline Bock is the author of two critically-acclaimed young adult novels: BEFORE MY EYES and LIEKa -zoooom!!!


"Before My Eyesby Caroline Bock, takes the reader through the last few days of summer from the perspectives of three narrators: two teens and a mentally-ill young adult. Bock skillfully weaves together the topics of schizophrenia, gun violence, family issues, and typical adolescent angst while at the same time providing a compelling story. Though the reader gets a glimpse of the book’s climax in the first few pages, the end plays out in an unexpected way when unlikely heroes emerge. As a retired Professor of Education, I believe Before My Eyes would be an excellent book for an 11th or 12th-grade English class, and since it provides a realistic portrayal of schizophrenia, it might even be a good choice for an AP Psychology class. Whatever one’s reason for choosing this book, the reader will not be disappointed."—Edmund Sass, Ed.D., Professor Emeritus of Education

This summer, I "met" Dr. Sass through the world of social media. He runs a website, Educational Resources and Lessons Plans, and I emailed him about my new novel, Before My Eyes. He was driving through the small town of Bock, Minnesota, population 106, (a town I someday plan to visit!) when he received my email. And so it goes that we he read my brief note, and he agreed to review a copy of Before My Eyes.

I am amazed how we find ourselves connected to one another—and grateful.

P.S. The Teacher's Guide for BEFORE MY EYES is also posted on my web here


Mark Louis Gallery in Ballston Spa, New YorkMy brother Mark creates art from heart pine lumber in his studio in Ballston Spa, New York. The studio was once a barn that once shoed horses and repaired buggies. There are nicks for blacksmith tools and for the horseshoes in planks and rafters. He paints his art, some of it furniture, some of it paintings, the colors of the earth— brushed browns, and deep reds and yellows, allies of zinnias and sunflowers. Mark is a gentle giant of a guy with a beard going grey and retro glasses, reminiscent of the glasses our father wore all his life, and I wonder if he wears them because they are cool and hip, or because they remind him of our father, who was neither?

The wind stirs in through the open windows, and the studio is a mixed scent of green wood and dog or horse and wildflowers from his plantings out front— and bad eggs, the sulfur from the springs that feed this upstate New York town. The art is substantial— a fish, three-and-a -half feet long, a carved rooster, its tail flaring, weighing four or five times the weight of a living rooster; the smooth flesh-like wood of a horse painting over four or five hands high. I wait to hear the rooster crow or the horse rear back or the fish, let’s call it salmon, splash out of its river toward to the sun, returning to spawn in the riverbed were it was born. The light dapples in and plays with the art.
Mark Louis Gallery in Ballston Spa, New York
My brother and I are only together for a few days until we return to our own, lonelier lives. On Sunday night, we flick on an old movie in his loft above the studio. “How Green Was My Valley,” won the Oscar in 1941 famously beating out “Citizen Kane,” is on Turner Classic Movies. As we watch, we both agree: our father would have liked this John Ford movie about a Welsh family of coalminers, a workingman’s tribute— and then there’s the ending. He would have hated the ending. He liked movies in which the good guys win: the American beat the Nazis; the average guy overcomes odds to find love and happiness. I don’t want to ruin it, but the father in the move dies tragically in his son’s arms, close enough to what happened with Mark and my father that we can’t talk when it’s over that we sit there on his couch in the dark next to one another, the silence running through us.

Once, we spent long summer days at our games: kickball, ring-o-leavio, red light green light one-two-three, one-two-three. We were four latchkey children without keys, the house on Daisy Farms Drive left forever unlocked by our father since it was easier not to dole out a key to each of the four of us kids.

Anyway, we were always racing inside and outside, shouting for one another—our father booming at us: What the hell are you doing? Do you think you live in a barn? Close the door— playing freeze tag or hide and seek on languid summer nights until it was dark, and we could no longer hide or seek —Get in the house! You want to get killed by a car playing in the street at this time of night?

After another threat or two, we’d come running, shouting too. He’d scuff our heads, his form of love, which we will never forget. My father never understood how he got a son, an artist, and a daughter, a writer, but he always had the same advice for the four of us —the way you make your bed, is the way you’ll sleep in it—which we didn’t understand until we did.  
Finding Inspiration… Writing Prompts…
-Is there one locale (like my brother’s studio) in which all your senses feel alive? Write about that place.
-Do you have a sibling that inspires you? Write a short scene you and him or her as an adult… and then another with you as a child.
IF You Want To Visit...
Ballston Spa, New York, it’s about five minutes from downtown Saratoga Springs, just north of Albany. Ballston Spa has an array of antique and craft shops, and yes, Mark Louis Gallery.


Ten Very Basic Writing Tips for A Summer Friday

Ten very basic writing tips...for a summer Friday afternoon... 

1) Write on a regular schedule.

2) Finish a first draft of what you write.

3) Re-write.

4) Share it with someone who reads a lot.

5) Re-write and look at plot closely.

6) Re-write and look at characters closely.

7) Re-read entire work,try reading parts out loud. Cats are very good listeners.

8) Finish.Say it's done.It's good enough. So many really good writers I've met in workshops, in the MFA program, never trust in themselves to say a work is finished.

9) Send it out into the world— and this is a much larger discussion—— but letting it go is the important part, if you want to be a writer with readers (as opposed, I guess, to a diarist).    

10) Breathe. Take a breath. Read, a lot. Take notes on what you read. Is there a word you discover? Is there a name? (I'm becoming a big collector of names). Be generous to other writers. Write a review. Try a different form, for example, write flash fiction if you write novels. Don't wait too long to return to #1.

Do you have some basic writing tips to share?

Have a great weekend all! 

PS If you haven't read BEFORE MY EYES yet, look for it!!

ON FRANZ KAFKA on his birthday

Born on this date, July 3rd 1883,into a German-speaking Jewish family in Prague, Franz Kafka is arguably one of the greatest German writers of the modern era. The hero of his most famous short story "The Metamorphosis"— Gregor Samsa— wakes up and is a bug, a dung beetle, trapped in his shell and in his bedroom by circumstances beyond him.

If a situation is “Kafkaesque“—— it’s  nightmarish—— there is a pervasive menace——sinister, impersonal forces at work, the feeling of loss of identity, the evocation of guilt and fear, and the sense of evil that permeates the twisted and often absurd logic of ruling power. In short, a sense of being trapped by unknown, irrational powers...that’s Kafkaesque. Sound familiar?

Kafka wrote to Max Brod, his friend and editor, in an undated letter:"I usually solve problems by letting them devour me."
I often feel that his writing devours its readers, drawing us into the mind of the grotesque, the twisted, and at the same time, offering us up the humanity of the characters. 

Overall, Kafka had a dark view of the world. Acclaimed writer and literary critic Vladimir Nabokov, wrote and lectured extensively about Kafka. He notes on THE METAMORPHOSIS: "Its clarity, its precise and formal intonation in such striking contrast to the nightmare matter of his tale. No poetical metaphors ornament his stark black-and-white story. The limpidity of his style stresses the dark richness of his fantasy. Contrast and unity, style and matter, manner and plot are most perfectly integrated." There's an amazing youtube video of Nabokov lecturing on Kafka:

Until his death in 1924 at age 40 of TB, Kafka wrote largely in obscurity, and left behind instructions to Brod to destroy his works. Thankfully, Brod didn't follow directions.

I have been obsessed for a while about Kafka and his stories. If you read BEFORE MY EYES you will find a key scene in which I pay trip to THE METAMORPHOSIS. If you are a writer or an artist, you must read A HUNGER ARTIST. If you believe in justice, or lack of it, read, THE TRIAL (links here to free copies in English).

So what are you reading for?

Do You Live in The U.S.? Great Britain? Australia? Canada? FREE GIVEAWAY!!

Unrequired YA Summer Reading...

FROM CHELSEY PHILPOT'S Boston Globe article, "Seasonal Reading for Young Adults"

"The best summer books blend elements of typical beach reads (romance, adventure, mystery, etc.) with reflective themes that explore friendship, loss, self-discovery, family, and more. The awesome plotlines of these titles will have readers tearing through pages, but the original and complex characters will leave them feeling that these tales, like the season itself, were over far too quickly.

The lives of three young people — Max, the unhappy son of a state senator, Claire, a poet who feels responsible for her sister ever since their mother had a stroke, and Barkley, a troubled 21-year-old who hears a voice in his head — become joyfully and tragically intertwined one Long Island Labor Day Weekend."  

Read the ENTIRE LIST of thought-provoking, complex, new young adult books at the Boston Globe website... and don't be embarrassed if you are an adult reading these young adult novels!! 


Is the System Rigged? Can we give it A FIGHTING CHANCE?

I found Senator Elizabeth Warren’s new memoir, A FIGHTING CHANCE, so truthful it hurt. It hurt to be told the truth: The system is rigged for those who are wealthy and well-connected, a truth that doesn’t surprise, that isn’t exactly new, but is told in an eye-opening, refreshing, and at points, damn inspiring way.
The Senator from Massachusetts tells a few stories of her life growing up scraping the bottom of the middle class barrel in Oklahoma before moving on to college with a scholarship and law school. She shares how she was drawn into bankruptcy law and eventually to Washington D.C. and the worse banking and housing crisis since the Great Depression. She talks in plain-speak about politics and being a newcomer to D.C. and having the idea to form the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and her great disappoint at not being appointed its first director because she was “too radioactive.”
She describes being a wife, a mother, a grandmother, and about meeting Americans across the country and asking the question: Who is the American government working for?
Ultimately, she answers, “People feel like the system is rigged against them. And here’s the painful part: They’re right. The system is rigged. Look around. Oil companies guzzle down billions in subsidies. Billionaires pay lower tax rates than their secretaries. Wall Street CEOS—the same ones who wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs –still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors, and acting like we should thank them.” She wants to celebrate success. But she, like so many of us, doesn’t want the game to be rigged.
I had the great opportunity to see the Senator speak in D.C. and I wanted to shout out at the end, “Run, Elizabeth, Run,”  and by that I mean for President. She would have my vote.
And if you haven’t read BEFORE MY EYES, my new young adult novel, isn’ it time for a serious young adult novel that PW and Kirkus Review calls, “gripping” about teens at the end of a long, hot summer, one hearing a voice and having a gun... Caroline


BEFORE MY EYES by Caroline BockMany people have asked me about a book club "Reading Guide" for BEFORE MY EYES, my new young adult for teens age 14 above--and adults of all ages (St. Martin's Press, 2014). BEFORE MY EYES is the kind of novel--about three fragile teens, mental illness, gun violence--that does delve deeply into complex characters and situations, provokes debate, and charges up opinions.I hope this is a helpful guide...

Towards the end of the novel, Claire’s mother, says: “We are all fragile,” in trying to come to terms with the gun violence her daughter has just witnessed. How are these characters “fragile?” Which one of the main characters: Claire or Max or Barkley do you empathize with the most? The least? And why?
There are several key secondary teen characters in the novel—Jackson, Samantha, Peter and Trish—how do these characters help shape the story? What insights do these characters give you about Claire or Max or Barkley?  
What does Claire’s relationship with her younger sister, Izzy, tell you about her character? Do you know someone like Claire, who is the primary caregiver for her siblings? How does this kind of responsibility impact a teen’s life?
Claire writes poetry about the major events in her life. What did you think of her poetry? Do you write poetry or songs? If Claire wasn’t a poet but a songwriter, what would be her song?  What would be Max’s song? Barkley’s?
Barkley, who is suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, reaches out to Claire through a false persona on the internet. What does the interaction of Claire and Barkley tell us about each character? Have you ever questioned the identity of anyone you have met on line?  
All summer, Max Cooper obsesses about a soccer goal kick gone wide, which resulted in his team losing a big game. Have you ever tried to achieve something—
in sports, in life, which missed its mark?  How did it make you feel?
Max is also obsessing about a girl at the beach, Samantha. Ultimately, he realizes that Samantha is not for him, but only after he looks beyond her bikinis and flirtatiousness to Claire. What does this tell us about Max? About Claire? Have you ever had to look beyond the obvious in a person?
The novel is set at a Long Island, New York beach and many of the characters, including Max, Barkley, Peter, and Trish, work together at the Snack Shack. How does this setting shape their relationships? Have you ever worked at a summer job that you thought was the worse job ever?
If you were going to imagine a next chapter in the novel, where would Claire, Max and Barkley be in their lives?  In particular, what do you think happens on the day after the novel ends, the Wednesday, to each one of them?
Why do you think the author titled this novel, Before My Eyes? What is being seen and not seen? Are there things in your life that you let parents and/or friends see and things that you hide? How does Max secretly taking prescription drugs, or Claire talking to a stranger on the internet, or Barkley suffering from mental illness highlight this theme of seeing and not seeing? How or why is there a certain irony inherit in this title?
One of the main themes of the novel centers around the onset of mental illness, in particular, paranoid schizophrenia on the behalf of Barkley. What clues does the author give us that this character is suffering from this disease? Does it make you more or less sympathetic toward Barkley? Toward his parents?
In recent years there has been a number of violent incidents with young men and guns against their communities. In fact, some of the scenes in Before My Eyes are reflective of the 2011 tragedy in Tucson, Arizona where Representative Gabrielle Giffords and eighteen others were shot and six people killed by Jared Loughner, 22 years old,eventually diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and given a life sentence for his crimes. Does reading Before My Eyes in light of those incidents, and other incidents of gun violence in American society, shape your point of view on guns in America?
Thank you for reading BEFORE MY EYES...Caroline

So cool... poetry on the Diane Rehm show...including my first poem!

Do you remember the first poem you ever wrote?That was the question radio host and interview extraordinaire Diane Rehm asked today on her WAMU/NPR radio show. I was at my desk, working, writing, and my third grade poem from Mrs. Murano's class, at George M. Davis Elementary School in New Rochelle, NY, popped into my head. As far as I remember, it is my first poem, and I wrote it at age eight. Impulsively, I tweeted it to her-- and she read it on the air! It's right near the top of the show. (click here for link) And here it is too:

In the woods
where there are
tall,towering trees
tiny,timid animals,
rigid, rustling leaves,
I stand there
just me.

I've gone on to write and publish more,including my new young adult novel,BEFORE MY EYES,(St.Martin's Press, 2014)which has one of the main characters, Claire, age 17, writing poetry, which is featured in the novel. 

Do you remember your first poem? 

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