Caroline Bock-BEFORE MY EYES
"Before My Eyes, by 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.
My 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.
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.
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.
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?
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
Finding Inspiration… Writing
-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...
Ten very basic writing tips...for a summer Friday afternoon...
1) Write on a regular schedule.
2) Finish a first draft of what you
4) Share it with someone who reads a
5) Re-write and look at plot closely.
6) Re-write and look at characters
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!
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.
So what are you reading for?
"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!!
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
Many 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?
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
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
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
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
rigid, rustling leaves,
I stand there
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?
Warning! More thoughts on having a friend who’s an
-You will be asked to come to a reading. Wearing black is
always appropriate. Saying how whatever she reads is “moving” will work well
for most books.
-If you haven’t bought a copy of her novel, she will expect
you to buy one and she will sign it for you. Or, you can say you have read it
on your kindle or nook or Smartphone. You will not have to say that you only
read the free excerpt.
-You will find out that she’s often depressed and she will make
a bad joke about ending the way Sylvia Plath (head in gas oven) Hemingway did
(his own shotgun). You will not think this is funny and neither will she, even
though, she will say it is only a temporary condition, this darkness and
despair. It’s only until she starts writing again, and then, on occasion, when
she writes, and afterwards, a postpartum depression.
-You will ask if she has started her next novel, trying to
distract her, trying to encourage her—and she will say she is done writing
novels, nobody buys books, nobody reads—and you will be secretly relieved, you
will think that you will have your old friend back until the day you call and
she is excited once again, happy even. She has started a new work. She can’t
talk about it. It’s too early, too new, too fresh. She just has to write. You will
say you understand even you don’t because you are good friend and you know by
now that writers need good friends.
--Caroline Bock is the author of the new young adult novel: BEFORE MY EYES St. Martin's Press) available everywhere print and ebooks are sold.