Caroline Bock-BEFORE MY EYES
Bockposts Book News
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.
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
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.
First some thoughts on
“Character is the very life of fiction. Setting exists so
that the character has someplace to stand, something that can help define him,
something he can pick up and throw, if necessary, or eat, or give to his
girlfriend. Plot exists so the character can discover himself (and in the
process reveal to the reader) what he, the character is really like: plot
forces the character to choice and action, transforms him from a static
construct to a lifelike human being making choices or reaping the rewards. And theme
exists only to make the character stand up and be somebody: theme is elevated critical language for what the
character’s main problem is.” (On
Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner, p. 54)
On the ‘”accuracy of
the writer’s eye”
“….whether you’re writing about people or dragons, your
personal observation of how things happen in the world – how character reveals
itself can turn a dead scene into a vital one…. Good advice might be: Write as
if you were a movie camera. Get exactly what is there. All human beings see
with astonishing accuracy, not that they can write it down…. Getting it down
precisely is all that is meant by ‘the accuracy of the writer’s eye.’ Getting
down what the writer really cares about – setting down what the writer himself
notices, as opposed to what any fool might notice – is all that is meant by the
originality of the writer’s eye. Every human being has original vision….” (p. 71, Gardner).
Pixar story artist
Emma Coats tweeted a series of “story basics” here are her highlights on
#1 You admire a character for trying more than for their
-- Simplify. Focus. Combine character. Hop over detours.
You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
-- What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw
the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
-- Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might
seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
-- Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great;
coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
--What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the
character. What happens if
they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
--If you were your character, in this situation, how would
you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
1) Take a simple act, say unbuttoning a shirt, pulling on a
sock, pouring a cup of coffee or milk, and write it in slow motion, that is,
give it two hundred words. Don’t automatically lapse into hyperbole (and thereby
the comic), but think of the effect: make it matter-of-fact, sinister, gross,
full of touch, feel, sight, and smell.
Discuss how the manner in which the character performs the
act shapes his character.
2) Write two hundred words on a character entering a space
(a car, a classroom, a kitchen, a backyard, etc). Inventory all the sense of
the space as she moves toward the one thing that she desperately wants in that
space. Take your time and describe in detail what the character sees, hears,
smells, senses and knows—and doesn’t know—about the surroundings.
Discuss how the character’s perceptions or point of view,
and motivation or want, shapes this character.
from Ron Carlson Writes A Story by
I've written two novels with multiple points of view... if you haven't read them yet, consider BEFORE MY EYES and LIE.
"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
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?