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.
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.
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?
My eight-year-old daughter lost another tooth this week, and she insisted that she still believed in the tooth fairy
. So the tooth fairy was contacted and replied with this note:
I believe in you…
And I’m glad you believe in me.
Stay forever young…
With love always,
Your Tooth Fairy
This note (and a few dollars) from the tooth fairy made a little girl very happy. Do you still believe?
Sometimes it's nice to know that simple things are still good things to believe in--like the tooth fairy.
P.S. If I had a fairy, it would be a book fairy, someone who waves a wand and encourages all to go read my new young adult novel, BEFORE MY EYES, which is NOT at all whimsical, but as much adult as much as young adult. Look for BEFORE MY EYES everywhere books/ebooks are sold. Read it with your mature teen (age 14 and above) or just read it.
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 ?