Caroline Bock-BEFORE MY EYES
Bockposts Book News
Where does a writer start?
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
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 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
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
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
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
PS you can always spend time with my newest young adult novel: BEFORE MY EYES!
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.