Caroline Bock - BEFORE MY EYES
Bockposts Book News
“In all major genres, vivid detail is the life blood of
fiction…the reader is regularly presented with the proofs—in the form of
closely observed details – that is what is said to be happening is really
- John Gardener, The Art of Fiction
“When people ask me the
personal-experience question, my response is that I write from my personal
experiences, whether I’ve had them or not…I treat it personally; if it is not
personal, I don’t want to be involved. If it is solely intellectual, some
concept of puzzle I’m tempted by, I will explore it until I find the personal
element and something sparks. Having a feeling for my material means sending
myself on each journey, whether I’ve actually been there or not, and it
involves the powerful act of the imagination that good writing requires:
– Ron Carlson, Ron Carlson
Writes A Story
I was recently asked to do a professional workshop for middle school teachers. I had never done one before--and so I was told to teach what I know. My first young adult novel, LIE, had ten distinct point of view characters; my upcoming novel, BEFORE MY EYES
, has three. I've spent a lot of time figuring out to write compelling, realistic characters. But the older I get, the less I know, particularly about writing. Or, I've discovered how much I still need to learn. One thing I've spent a lot of time is developing characters. I feel like I've spent my whole life observing people but as a writer I've worked at looking, thinking, reflecting, dreaming about the characters I've writing.
Still, I'm a student of writing. So for this workshop, I read a book that an on line group recommended to me from a master teacher -- Ron Carlson. And I re-read a book that my first writing master, Raymond Carver,
suggested that I read: The Art of Fiction.
Here are two character-writing exercises,inspired by Ron Carlson Writes a Story
and The Art of Fiction:
1) Take a simple act, say unbuttoning a shirt, pulling on a
sock, pouring a cup of milk, and write it in slow motion, on 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. Go from a wide lens on the room to a close up on the details. Let the details show you the emotion of the moment.
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.
3. Bonus – Revise one of the above into a
“flash” short story of 500 words. Delve deeper into the character with dialogue
or more details on setting, other characters, and conflict. Read your story out
loud to yourself before finalizing the work. Ask yourself: have you created a
fictional dream or movie in the reader’s mind?Have I created it in my own?
And keep writing! And reading... look for my new novel:BEFORE MY EYES,
the story of three fragile young adults at the end of a long, hot summer, from St. Martin's Press in February, 2014!
Great Group Reads 2013!
Great Groups Reads 2013
are carefully vetted books by book lovers for book clubs everywhere via the wonderful Women's National Book Association
. Last year, I was part of the selection committee; this year, I am was not able to join in the fun of reading and selecting these books, but I am thrilled to share this list:
Americanah by Chimamanda
Ngozi Adichie (Knopf)
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
by Anthony Marra (Hogarth)
David by Ray Robertson
The House Girl by Tara
Conklin (William Morrow)
How It All Began by Penelope
Lively (Penguin Books)
Is This Tomorrow by Caroline
Leavitt (Algonquin Books)
Life After Life by Kate
Atkinson (Reagan Arthur Books)
Margot by Jillian Cantor
Mary Coin by Marisa Silver
(Blue Rider Press)
The Middlesteins by Jami
Attenberg (Grand Central Publishing)
Nowhere Is a Place by
Bernice L. McFadden (Akashic Books)
The One-Way Bridge by Cathie
Pelletier (Sourcebooks Landmark)
Ordinary Grace by William
Kent Krueger (Atria Books)
The Other Typist by Suzanne
Rindell (Amy Einhorn Books)
The Round House by Louise
Erdrich (Harper Perennial)
Schroder by Amity Gaige
Sparta by Roxana Robinson
(Sarah Crichton Books)
Wash by Margaret Wrinkle
(Atlantic Monthly Press)
The Yellow Birds by Kevin
Powers (Back Bay Books)
*Even though I wasn’t part of the official ‘Great Group
’ review committee this year, I have read these two novels and highly
recommend them for book clubs. I look forward to reading more on this list with my book club.
My seven-year-old announced that she wants to read ‘real’
books. She doesn’t want to read on any of our multiple electronic devices. Oh,
she is happy to play games on them. She will make her father a digital
cupcake and he will have to pretend to eat it.
It's July and she she wants to go to our public library
. She wants to check
out as many books as she can hold in her outstretched arms. She wants to use
her own library card, which she carries in her own Mickey Mouse wallet. She
wants to check out books that are pictures books and big kid books, which means
books with chapters. She wants books with lots of chapters. She wants to curl
up in my reading chair and ask if someday she can have her own special reading
chair and read. She wants to feel herself going through the pages. She wants to
see how much she’s read by holding the heft of the book in her fingertips. She wants
to turn pages, she says, and see real words. Don't distract her. Don't read over her shoulder or ask if her is she wants a cold drink of water or stroke the top of her head. Don't hum. Especially don't hum old Beach Boy songs. She wants to read not play. She wants to live inside the book.
She announces every chapter she’s finished. She shows me how
many pages she’s read and my job is to be impressed, and I am.
As a writer who is at
peace with the digital age, who blogs and tweets and posts, I’m absolutely fine
with reading on an electronic device. Except, that I still like books too. I
want to hug her. However, she’s reading her book.
I just finished an inspiring book -- WONDER by R. J. Palacio
-- a middle grade novel about a young boy, Auggie Pullman, with a rare genetic facial deformity and his first year in middle school -- and spoiler alert -- it all turns out okay. There are cool inspirational quotes along the way such as "You're gonna reach the sky..Fly... Beautiful child," from the Eurythmics "Beautiful Child." Different characters struggle with his deformity -- his own, his sister's, his best friend's -- and except for a handful of stock bullying bad kids -- they all turn out to be good, kind kids and see past what is obvious -- and to the inner self of Auggie. I envied his parents -- hard-working, caring, decent people -- a mother who said all the right things. At the end, his class gives him a standing ovation at the graduation ceremonies. Auggie soars. I loved this novel. I cried. I cheered. It's a novel to read with your kids. But I could never write it -- never, ever.
I think to write a happy novel -- one with characters that are essentially good people with decent values--one had to live a life filled with people who are essentially good. For the most part, I didn't have those kind of people in my life growing up except for my Pop. He was a good father, a good man, too often overwhelmed with being a single parent. His words of wisdom were blunt: the way you make your bed is the way you'll sleep in it. I love him still for trying.
I don't know if R. J. Palacio had a happy life or not -- but I know that mine was broken. One way I've put it back it back together is writing. Even so, the pieces are never as happy as WONDER. But I'm thankful there are writers like her that can write 'happy' -- a wonder to me. Caroline
coming out in February, 2014
from St. Martin's Press
|Ever read a book you wish you had written? That’s Jess
Walter’s sumptuous Beautiful Ruins for me
. A meld of settings – from present
day to 1962, from a small fishing village on the coast of Italy to Los Angeles and
ultimately to Idaho – a mix of fictional devices from narrative fiction to faux
memoir to screenplay pitches – acts of plays-- Beautiful Ruins
is layer on
layer of interwoven stories surrounding the life of Dee Moray, a beautiful
starlet on the edge of fame.
From a writer’s perspective lines like this…
On selling a screenplay pitch:
“And now she knows where she recognizes that look from. It’s
a look she sees every day, the look of someone doing the math, of someone
seeing the angles.”
On age and celebrity:
“…two kinds of people always lie about their ages: actresses
and Latin American pitchers.“
“We want what we want….”
runs through the novel and sets up the middle aged and older
characters on a path of wanting the wrong thing: money and fame. But we want
what we want so we go on destroying ourselves, and almost, almost destroy others
in the process.
The last chapter begins with a heart-rending quote from the
writer Milan Kundera:
“There would be nothing more obvious,
More tangible, than the present moment.
And yet it eludes us completely.
All the sadness of life lies in that fact.”
Ultimately, Beautiful Ruins is a story about seizing the
moment, about being happy with what is real and near and true. It’s also a love
story -- a triumph of love, a reaffirmation of what is real in this
Is there a novel that has
ruined you recently?
At Syracuse University, on a sparkling cold winter night, at the Hall of Languages, top floor, I listened to my poetry teacher, Jack Gilbert,
read and I cried and cried. His words and the passion in which he read them filled this undergraduate with emotion and possibility -- and I remember thinking: this is what it means to be in college, to write, to be alive.
This magnificent poet died today at age 87. One of his last collection of poems I re-read now, Refusing Heaven (his "Collected Poems" have just been released this year). In the title poem, the voice says at the end, as he refuses heaven, "He is like an old ferry dragged onto the shore,/ a home in its smashed grandeur, with the giant beams/ and joist. Like a wooden ocean out of control./ A beached heart. A cauldron of cooling melt." Rest in peace, old teacher. Sail on.
Today is Tuesday, September 11, 2012, and I'm marking two very different anniversaries in this post: 9/11 and the Norton Anthology of Literature, both which mark turning points in my life -- and maybe yours?
Eleven years ago, I woke up to the same blue, blue skies that I woke up to today. Not a cloud. Blue. That day, I was supposed to be in New York City, running a press conference, downtown, until my ace second-in-command, called and ordered, "Turn on the news. Now." The skies were clear and blue and then they weren't.
The second anniversary, talks about what saves us from despair, at least what saves me: stories and poetry. The Norton Anthology of English LIterature
is celebrating its 50th anniversary, having published nine editions so far. I have carried my edition of the Norton Anthology of Poetry
with me since I was a freshman in college, schlepped it from one home to another, at least a dozen moves, brought it with me to graduate school in my 40s, adding notes to its tissue-thin paper, losing the cover, re-reading some poems never reading others in the 1,000 plus page tome. I will never abandon it, for it never abandoned me.
"I wake to sleep, and take my waking show.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go." --
opening to "The Waking" by Theodore Roethke
p. 1133 in my edition of The Norton Anthology of Poetry
And lastly, if you haven't read LIE
yet -- my critically-acclaimed young adult novel, now is the time.
This is what happens when you go to a June literary reading entitled
at Housing Works
in Soho with your New York City girlfriend. You
don’t really expect to anyone to be nude, but then you don’t expect to be so
entertained by Dave Hill, Michael Kupperman and Rebecca (aka Debbie Downer from
Saturday Night Live) Dratch and readings from their new books—
You walk out in a great mood and see graffiti art on the
construction in the front of the turn-of-the-century (19 to 20th,
having now to be precise about what century) building. You cross the
cobblestone street – and you see --
That flames are spitting out of the graffiti man’s mouth—
You take a picture thinking it’s cool downtown art—
You don’t think:
FLAMES ARE SWIRLING OUT OF ITS MOUTH until two people stumble out of the
building choking on the smoke. They call the super and someone pours a cup of
water into his mouth as if he’s giving him a drink—
You and your friend quickly decide it’s time to go to dinner.
You pick a not too expensive place nearby and order a white wine and a nicoise salad
and watch fire trucks race by—
After dinner, you go back to that turn-of-the-century
building because you parked your Honda CRV with the Junie B. Jones books piled
in the backseat right in front (street parking available after 6 p.m.). This is
what you find—
You and your friend agree: this was a night neither of you
will ever forget. You get in your car and drive back to Long Island in awe.
A summer of 2012 must read.
Re-read Crime and Punishment by Feodor Dostoevsky in the 98 degree heat, which just broke in a lacerating storm of thunder and lightening and downpour. Maybe this is not what others would consider fun summer reading though it's set in the stifling heat of 19th century St. Petersburg in summer and strikes close to the bone -- for me.
Why Crime and Punishment? It's considered the first modern psychological novel -- a portrait of a tormented murderer -- and his redemption -- and my next novel has a character that drew me back to its main character Raskolnikov. However, my character in my new novel has no ex-prostitute to save him, no exile to Siberia to redeem him, no confession -- only the breakdown of reality and his mind -- and yes, death on his hands too.
" 'To think that I can contemplate such a terrible act and yet be afraid of such trifles, he thought, and he smiled strangely. 'Hm... yes... a man holds the fate of the world in his two hands, and yet, simply because he is afraid, he lets things, drift -- that is a truism... I wonder what men are most afraid of..." Raskolnikov in the opening chapter. (I would recommend the "Norton Critical Edition" of this classic over any other).
This blog receives quite a number of "clicks" from Russia (and even recently Romania!) -- is Crime and Punishment still read there? And to all, is there an answer to Raskolinkov's rant: What are men most afraid of?
Musings for this summer evening...one filled with the darkening threat of more rain.
If you haven't read LIE,
my debut novel, consider it for your
summer reading list --
author of LIE
Why do I picture Maurice Sendak on a private boat?
As Max, making mischief, exploring once again,
where the wild things are, the king of all wild
things? Sailing into the night?
May this transformational children's writer rest in peace.
May his stories live on and inspire future generations, as they
inspired me and so many others.
What children's story inspired you? Where the Wild Things Are ?