Caroline Bock-BEFORE MY EYES
Caroline Bock - Author of BEFORE MY EYES and LIE
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Where Does a Writer Start?


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Caroline Bock-BEFORE MY EYES

Bockposts Book News

Where Does a Writer Start?

Where does a writer start?
This writer starts with two things:
The question WHY? Eventually, upon analysis, I’ve learned that my initial why.  My curiosity. My questioning myself and the human condition – leads to what English teachers call “theme.”  
How, in the 21st century, in Long Island, New York, can a group of suburban teens—turn on people who lived among them? Strangers, but not strange. Two brothers who weren’t bothering anyone—just because they were not like them? And why did no one——parents, teachers, coaches, notice anything? Why did none of their wide circle of friends say: this is wrong?  What is the nature of hate and prejudice in the 21 century? These are the questions my character struggle with in my 2011 young adult novel, LIE.
With my 2014 young adult novel–Before My Eyes– three intertwined stories – but also inspired by the why. Why did no one see what was going inside with these three fragile teens–especially one who is going through a psychic break–and who has so easily bought a gun?  
The second thing I start with is:
A character.
A voice in my head. A sense that something is going to happen to this person–I’m not sure what, but I’m going on a journey with him or her. It may end well; it may not. It may end unsettled—in a question because  my characters are complicated.

Ultimately, these novels end.

Yet life remains complicated, so I am starting a new novel; one I am aiming for adults, since our lives, these days, are more complicated than ever. STAY TUNED.


What is this? A mini-sweepstakes for LIE, my critically-acclaimed (*starred* reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, School Library Journal and more)young adult novel.

Why now? Today, Thursday, April 14, Donald Trump, GOP candidate for President of the United States, is having a political rally in Patchogue, New York on Long Island. What happened there, in 2008, a horrendous hate crime, the murder of Marcelo Lucero inspired LIE.

I wrote LIE to understand why this could happen in a town so near where I lived at the time. 

I write to understand. I write to build bridges, not walls.

Enter for a chance to win a copy of LIE. It's only two copies, LIE is widely available these days in public libraries, but if you haven't read or heard of my young adult novel (appropriate for ages 14 and above and adults), I thought it timely to do a FREE giveaway. The link is live only through April 16th:



I’ve been reading a lot of work this past month by Elizabeth Strout, known most famously for her novel-in-stories Olive Kitteridge.
The three works I’ve read seem to blend into one book. In the last that I read, My Name Is Lucy Barton, her new novel, one of the characters, a writing teacher tells her, “We all only have one story to tell,” and she goes on to say that we tell it, in many different, over and over and that’s okay. I felt this way with her recent work. It was all one story.
I began this journey without a plan; picking up the O. Henry Prize Stories 2015 collection and discovering her short story, “Snow Blind.” A rural, small town. A tightly knit family, the Applebys, and a terrible family secret. One of the children, Annie, ultimately does leave the small town, almost miraculously, becomes a star of screen and stage, but even she cannot totally leave behind her small town family and her history. I found a link to the story here:
I learned soon after reading this masterful short story that her novel, The Burgess Boys, was being made into a HBO mini-series, and realized I hadn’t read this book. It’s the story of two brothers, both lawyers, one more successful than the other in New York City.  Along with their sister, who never left their small town in Maine, they harbor a deeply-held family secret. When the nephew does something stupid and terrible in the hometown, all breaks loose between the siblings. However, ultimately, (no spoilers here), the ties of the siblings to one another and to their history in that Maine village bind them to one another more than to anyone or anything else.   
I then thought: I must read her new novel. In My Name Is Lucy Barton, the main character, nicknamed ‘Wizzle’ by her mother is very ill. She’s in a New York City Hospital (what I take to be Cornell Presbyterian, though it’s never named. There is a view of the famously art deco Chrysler Building and having spent a lot of time there in recent years, I can imagine the view of the building, glistening, in my mind’s eye). Her mother on her first visit to New York City, and the first visit between them in years. Staying at her sick bed for several days, the mother tells story after story, of people from their Illinois farm town and their impoverished life together. In many ways, My Name is Lucy Barton is a story about how stories heal us.
But at the end of my reading I thought: Can we never move far away enough to leave our family, our hometown, our dark family secrets, no matter how we try to re-make ourselves? The answer for the characters in these Strout stories is: no. We are bound to our family, our siblings, our towns. This is the essential story that gets told again and again in these works by Strout.
Have you ever spent time with an author and felt you knew their story?

PS you can always spend time with my newest young adult novel: BEFORE MY EYES!


Do you write short stories? I was interviewed by THE WRITER MAGAZINE after winning first place in their 2016 short story contest, judged by Column McCann. If you have not read his "!3 Ways of Seeing" story collection, run now and read it. It is masterful. And if you'd like read The Writer Magazine interview with me where I give some advice on writing, go now:

Unexpected Book, TV and Movie Delights of the summer of ‘15

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!

Television series…
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...and other thoughts on BOOK MARKETING and MY POP

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
“Fish Sell”
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.
It doesn’t.
BEFORE MY EYES by Caroline Bock 
I flip to the back first, as if the ending may somehow have changed.
It hasn’t.
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 


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 my house.
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 …”
            Before 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
bite me.
            Portrait 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...ideas for your summer reading list

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 read.
-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’m sure others would have suggestions for you that go beyond your limited nonfiction and science/tech-focused summer book reading choices— any others out there? 
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!
Caroline Bock
*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

BEFORE MY EYES Now available as a trade paperback!

BEFORE MY EYES trade paperback now available from St. Martin's PressSharing good news... today the trade paperback version of my latest YA novelBEFORE 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.

Character Building Excercises -the Fictional Kind

First some thoughts on character:
“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 developing character:
#1 You admire a character for trying more than for their successes
-- 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.
                                                            Adapted from Ron Carlson Writes A Story by Ron Carlson

I've written two novels with multiple points of view... if you haven't read them yet, consider BEFORE MY EYES and LIE.

Write on!

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