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 like cigarettes.
I flip to the back first, as if the ending may somehow have changed.
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 a writer.
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 don’t.
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.”
The 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.