Caroline Bock-BEFORE MY EYES
GOOD NEWS from Caroline Bock
“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.
Signs of Winter and Spock...
-We have run out of official school snow days. We are now onto
adding days to summer vacation. The snow/ice/freezing temperatures must,
therefore, logically end. This is, of course, an illogical argument.
-Logic, the realm of Mr. Spock, is dead. We live in an
irrational world. I’m trying to connect this to winter, and perhaps this is a
way: he was a character who lived on in our imaginations, and
certainly, in the Star Trek sagas, brought back to life over and again to reassert that logic can survive our human frailties.
For one brief moment, we believe winter will never end, and then,
with wind and rains and warmth, the earth is restored. Spring will rise, even if
we refuse to believe it amid the threatening snow and ice, even if we are illogical, irrational creatures.
Rest in peace, Leonard Nimoy.
Live long and prosper.
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.
Cold. Ice-Rain. High Winds approaching. Stay Indoors! We're all hearing the warnings up and down the Northeast of the United States today.So I'm daydreaming of actors to play the key teens roles in BEFORE MY EYES——just daydreaming—but if you've read BEFORE MY EYES, you'll know it's set at end of a long, hot summer. If you've read BEFORE MY EYES (and of course, you must, it's available everywhere books and ebooks are... here's an easy link:), you'll know that these are complicated, layered Long Island suburban teens at a breaking point in their lives, and we'll need the absolutely right mix of stars. Even more particularly, if you've read, BEFORE MY EYES, you'll know that there are three main teen characters:
Barkley - 21, an undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, having his first psychotic break, hearing a voice in his head, with a gun in his desk drawer, is breaking apart at the end of the summer as he tries to hold it together at the Snack Shack and at home
Claire -17 dreamy, poetic, Claire, takes care of her younger sister after her mother suffers a stroke, and is at her breaking point at the end of the summer
Max -17, soccer star, son of state senator, spending his summer working at the local beach's Snack Shack, popping "borrowed" prescription pain pills, and at his own breaking point
and two minor teen characters:
Trish -17, funny, caring mother-hen of the Snack Shack
Peter -17, developmentally-challenged, sweetheart-of-a-guy also at the Snack Shack, unexpected hero along with Trish.
If you've read BEFORE MY EYES, which young actors should play these characters? And drum roll, the envelope, please, two thoughts on casting from the author of BEFORE MY EYES : Just named one of the 11 Potential Breakthrough Actors at this year's Sundance Film Festival by Indiewire.
known for her role in "Glee"
Other thoughts? — If you've read the novel, of course!
FLASH FICTION: "Read On" -- You'll ruin your eyes, she said, like your mother, and god knows you have her eyes. She had to wear glasses.Cat's eyeglasses.She'd never wear those glasses around the boys. And here my Nana offered up another one of her sayings—about boys and girls and glasses, which went up there with the lecture on your body is a temple. The book, a library book, cradled in my arms. You'll ruin your eyes, she continued. With books. With reading. And look at me, no man likes a girl smarter than him. Look at me. Put down that book.
------- Anybody who knows me, knows that I didn't book down that book or any other. Read on!
Wham! Write A Story!!
(a story about a story for adults as well as kids)
Wham! Will writes. Ka-zooom!! And our hero flies off. The end.
He adds a half dozen exclamation points to his ‘Wham’!!!!!! and three more to
“I’m done,” he
says in a very loud voice. “I’ve written the greatest story ever!”
But Lara, his best friend, doesn’t agree. His story isn’t
done. It hasn’t even begun.
“Yes, it is! See I wrote ‘the end.’"
“You don’t have a beginning,” says Lara. “Where’s the ‘Once
upon a time’ or ‘it was a dark and stormy night?’”
“I have “Wham!' With an exclamation point.”
“Okay, you can start with wham! But something has to happen next. You
have to introduce the setting or the characters. Then something has to happen to the characters. Also, you’re
using a lot of exclamation points!!!”
“Exclamation points look like soldiers, and I like them. But what’s
the setting? Why do I need that?”
“Where the story takes place. The setting is also about when it
takes place. For example, does it take place now? Or in the past? Or in the
“I want it to take place here, Lara. On the page.”
“You have to take it off the page. Bring it into reader’s
mind. My mind.”
“Then, how about at school?”
“What kind of school? You have to be specific. The more details in a story, the
better the story. An elementary school? A big school? The world’s biggest
“The world’s most gigantic elementary school. A billion and
twenty-nine kids go there.”
“I’m glad I don’t go there.”
“It’s my setting,” says Will.
Lara stretched across the white sheet of paper, her
character aching to go someplace. To do something or to want something—the
story needed a plot.
“Okay, so you have the setting. Who’s in the story? Who’s
this story about? Is there a main character—other than us— that does something?
That propels all the action and stuff forward.”
“What happens next? That’s the plot. You have to ask
yourself what happens to your characters?”
Will underlines with his newly sharpened yellow pencil a
line where he says that his superhero flies off to fight the evil alien mutants,
right before ‘the end.’
“Let’s back up. Is that your main character? A superhero? Not me?”
“I don’t write books about girls.”
“Today you will, or I’m leaving.”
“I guess I could add you but only as a secondary character.”
“Forget it then. This story ends now.”
“No, wait!!! Lara!!! You can be a main character too.”
“A superhero too?”
“Yes, a superhero, too.”
“What’s my name in the story?”
“Can’t you just be Lara?”
“What’s the other superhero’s name?”
“He has a name,” said Will, clutching his pencil even
“You didn’t include it.”
“But I know the name.”
“And I only know what you write on the page, Will, and what
I read. So what’s his name? What does he look like? What is he thinking? Seeing? Touching? Feeling? Use all of your senses to describe him—and me.”
Will put his pencil down on the lined notebook paper.
“That’s okay. You are going to have to edit and revise this
story—every writer does that. But hey, tell me, what does this other hero want?
What do I want?”
“I don’t know. I never know what you want, Lara!”
“I want to save the world, of course. Ka—zooom!! Don’t all
heroes want to save the world?”
Will snatches up his pencil and scribbles that down: save
the world. Ka—zooom!!.
“What obstacles do we face? What decisions do we make? All this
tumult is about something called: Plot. We have to have stuff happen to us.
Challenges. What helps us or stops us from doing our job or getting what we
want or, in this story, saving the world? Start at the beginning, again. You
can do this. You can write your own heroes, Will.”
“Can I use exclamation points?”
“Maybe just one or two,” said Lara laughing with Will, and
with that Lara ka-zoomed off the page.
“Wham!” dashed off Will, beginning his story, again....
"Before My Eyes, by Caroline Bock, takes the reader through the last few days of summer from the perspectives of three narrators: two teens and a mentally-ill young adult. Bock skillfully weaves together the topics of schizophrenia, gun violence, family issues, and typical adolescent angst while at the same time providing a compelling story. Though the reader gets a glimpse of the book’s climax in the first few pages, the end plays out in an unexpected way when unlikely heroes emerge. As a retired Professor of Education, I believe Before My Eyes would be an excellent book for an 11th or 12th-grade English class, and since it provides a realistic portrayal of schizophrenia, it might even be a good choice for an AP Psychology class. Whatever one’s reason for choosing this book, the reader will not be disappointed."—Edmund Sass, Ed.D., Professor Emeritus of Education This summer, I "met" Dr. Sass through the world of social media. He runs a website, Educational Resources and Lessons Plans, and I emailed him about my new novel, Before My Eyes. He was driving through the small town of Bock, Minnesota, population 106, (a town I someday plan to visit!) when he received my email. And so it goes that we he read my brief note, and he agreed to review a copy of Before My Eyes.
I am amazed how we find ourselves connected to one another—and grateful.
My brother Mark creates art from heart
pine lumber in his studio in Ballston Spa, New York. The studio was once a barn
that once shoed horses and repaired buggies. There are nicks for blacksmith
tools and for the horseshoes in planks and rafters. He paints his art, some of
it furniture, some of it paintings, the colors of the earth— brushed browns,
and deep reds and yellows, allies of zinnias and
sunflowers. Mark is a gentle giant of a guy with a beard going grey and retro
glasses, reminiscent of the glasses our father wore all his life, and I wonder
if he wears them because they are cool and hip, or because they remind him of
our father, who was neither?
The wind stirs in through the open
windows, and the studio is a mixed scent of green wood and dog or horse and
wildflowers from his plantings out front— and bad eggs, the sulfur from the
springs that feed this upstate New York town. The art is substantial— a fish, three-and-a
-half feet long, a carved rooster, its tail flaring, weighing four or five
times the weight of a living rooster; the smooth flesh-like wood of a horse painting
over four or five hands high. I wait to hear the rooster crow or the horse rear
back or the fish, let’s call it salmon, splash out of its river toward to the
sun, returning to spawn in the riverbed were it was born. The light dapples in and
plays with the art.
brother and I are only together for a few days until we return to our own,
lonelier lives. On Sunday night, we flick on an old movie in his loft above the
studio. “How Green Was My Valley,” won the Oscar in 1941 famously beating out
“Citizen Kane,” is on Turner Classic Movies. As we watch, we both agree: our
father would have liked this John Ford movie about a Welsh family of coalminers,
a workingman’s tribute— and then there’s the ending. He would have hated the
ending. He liked movies in which the good guys win: the American beat the
Nazis; the average guy overcomes odds to find love and happiness. I don’t want
to ruin it, but the father in the move dies tragically in his son’s arms, close
enough to what happened with Mark and my father that we can’t talk when it’s
over that we sit there on his couch in the dark next to one another, the
silence running through us.
we spent long summer days at our games: kickball, ring-o-leavio, red light
green light one-two-three, one-two-three. We were four latchkey children without
keys, the house on Daisy Farms Drive left forever unlocked by our father since
it was easier not to dole out a key to each of the four of us kids.
were always racing inside and outside, shouting for one another—our father booming
at us: What the hell are you doing? Do
you think you live in a barn? Close the door— playing freeze tag or hide
and seek on languid summer nights until it was dark, and we could no longer
hide or seek —Get in the house! You want
to get killed by a car playing in the street at this time of night?
another threat or two, we’d come running, shouting too. He’d scuff our heads,
his form of love, which we will never forget. My father never understood how he
got a son, an artist, and a daughter, a writer, but he always had the same
advice for the four of us —the way you
make your bed, is the way you’ll sleep in it—which we didn’t understand until
Finding Inspiration… Writing
-Is there one locale (like my
brother’s studio) in which all your senses feel alive? Write about that place.
-Do you have a sibling that
inspires you? Write a short scene you and him or her as an adult… and then another
with you as a child.
IF You Want To Visit...
Ten very basic writing tips...for a summer Friday afternoon...
1) Write on a regular schedule.
2) Finish a first draft of what you
4) Share it with someone who reads a
5) Re-write and look at plot closely.
6) Re-write and look at characters
7) Re-read entire work,try reading
parts out loud. Cats are very good listeners.
8) Finish.Say it's done.It's good
enough. So many really good writers I've met in workshops, in the MFA program,
never trust in themselves to say a work is finished.
9) Send it out into the world— and this is a much larger discussion—— but letting it go is the important part, if you want to be a writer with readers (as opposed, I guess, to a diarist).
10) Breathe. Take a breath. Read, a lot.
Take notes on what you read. Is there a word you discover? Is there a name?
(I'm becoming a big collector of names). Be generous to other writers. Write a
review. Try a different form, for example, write flash fiction if you write
novels. Don't wait too long to return to #1.
Do you have some basic writing tips to share?
Have a great weekend all!