Caroline Bock - BEFORE MY EYES
Born on this date, July 3rd 1883,into a
German-speaking Jewish family in Prague, Franz Kafka is arguably one of the greatest German writers of the modern era. The hero of his most famous short story "The Metamorphosis"— Gregor Samsa— wakes up and is a bug, a dung beetle, trapped in his shell and in his bedroom by circumstances beyond him.
If a situation is “Kafkaesque“—— it’s nightmarish—— there is a pervasive menace——sinister, impersonal forces at work,
the feeling of loss of identity, the evocation of guilt and fear, and the sense
of evil that permeates the twisted and often absurd logic of ruling power. In short, a sense of being trapped by
unknown, irrational powers...that’s Kafkaesque. Sound familiar?
Kafka wrote to Max Brod, his friend and editor, in an undated letter:"I
usually solve problems by letting them devour me."
I often feel that his writing devours its readers, drawing us into the mind of the grotesque, the twisted, and at the same time, offering us up the humanity of the characters.
Overall, Kafka had a dark view of the world. Acclaimed writer and literary critic Vladimir Nabokov, wrote and lectured extensively about Kafka. He notes on THE METAMORPHOSIS: "Its clarity, its precise
and formal intonation in such striking contrast to the nightmare matter of his
tale. No poetical metaphors ornament his stark black-and-white story. The
limpidity of his style stresses the dark richness of his fantasy. Contrast and
unity, style and matter, manner and plot are most perfectly integrated." There's an amazing youtube video of Nabokov lecturing on Kafka:
Until his death in 1924 at age 40 of TB, Kafka wrote largely in obscurity, and left behind instructions to Brod to destroy his works. Thankfully, Brod didn't follow directions.
So what are you reading for?
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?
Warning! More thoughts on having a friend who’s an
-You will be asked to come to a reading. Wearing black is
always appropriate. Saying how whatever she reads is “moving” will work well
for most books.
-If you haven’t bought a copy of her novel, she will expect
you to buy one and she will sign it for you. Or, you can say you have read it
on your kindle or nook or Smartphone. You will not have to say that you only
read the free excerpt.
-You will find out that she’s often depressed and she will make
a bad joke about ending the way Sylvia Plath (head in gas oven) Hemingway did
(his own shotgun). You will not think this is funny and neither will she, even
though, she will say it is only a temporary condition, this darkness and
despair. It’s only until she starts writing again, and then, on occasion, when
she writes, and afterwards, a postpartum depression.
-You will ask if she has started her next novel, trying to
distract her, trying to encourage her—and she will say she is done writing
novels, nobody buys books, nobody reads—and you will be secretly relieved, you
will think that you will have your old friend back until the day you call and
she is excited once again, happy even. She has started a new work. She can’t
talk about it. It’s too early, too new, too fresh. She just has to write. You will
say you understand even you don’t because you are good friend and you know by
now that writers need good friends.
--Caroline Bock is the author of the new young adult novel: BEFORE MY EYES St. Martin's Press) available everywhere print and ebooks are sold.
If you have a friend who’s an author, be prepared:
She will expect you to read her new novel,even when you say
you the last novel you read was last summer—that one about billionaire sex or
vampires, though you don’t want to admit this to your friend, who has written a
serious literary novel.
She will say that you don’t have to read it and really mean—she
wants you to buy her novel.
She will confide that she prefers you buy it at an
independent bookstore,and you will not know what she means.You haven’t been to
a bookstore since you had to buy your mother a Mother’s Day present two years
ago. Whatever you read appears on the screen you also play games on and
sometimes answer a text or an email or as a last resort:a phone call.
And then when you do buy this novel,because you are a very
good friend, she will ask you,“Have you read it? And what you do think?” Since
the last time you had to report on a novel was in college or high school, you
will deflect her questions with, “how are the sales?” and she will shrug your
question off and persist on wanting to know what you think about her novel.
And then when you tell you love it,especially the opening
scene, she will ask you about the end.You will have to say you loved it too,
even if you skipped to the end and read only the last line, (hint: this English
major trick will save you much persistent questioning from the writer).
After being relieved for passing this test,your author
friend will ask if you will write an online review, even though you haven’t
written anything about a novel since high school or college, and barely write
anything longer than a text these days.
You’ll start thinking that having this friend is way too
much work, if you haven’t already.
But somehow, guiltily,since you were once an English or
liberal arts major too, you will compliment her on the complexity of the story
once again, thinking that this will get you out of actually writing anything.But she will nudge you: Amazon only requires twenty measly words for a review.Certainly, you can write twenty words about anything, including her novel, you will
So later, while staring at the screen, you will wonder how
anyone writes anything, how did your friend write an entire novel of words
strung together into sentences baked into paragraphs, resulting in a story with
living, breathing characters, which the parts you read were really pretty good,
especially that twist, so unexpected, a fictional dream, you remember that
phrase from somewhere, and maybe you’ll even finish her novel someday.
You will turn off your screen and sit there in the dark,
thinking that if you could only think of a story, and write it down, you could
be a writer too.
Caroline Bock is the author of the new young adult novel,
I own a cat.
However, I wrote a new novel, BEFORE MY EYES, with a
dog, a blind dog, named King, as a key character. He “sees” what others
can’t—particularly about his owner, 17-year-old Max Cooper, who is struggling
at the end of a long, hot summer.
Not only do I own a cat, but as an adult, I have only owned
a dog, a puppy, named Goldie, for three days, (and three very long nights),
until my husband and I realized that we weren’t ready for a puppy. We weren’t
ready for children either, but we were really not ready to take care of a
puppy. We were in our mid-20s and barely able to take care of ourselves.
We wouldn’t have children until sixteen years into our
marriage, and we would never have another dog. Over the years, we became
committed cat people, specializing in bruiser cats—big, bold, neutered male
cats—with old man names such as Marvin and Shelton.
Yet I wrote a second young adult novel in which the blind
dog metaphorically saves one character’s life, and is a key part in literally
saving others. I based his character on my brother’s dog, who is one of the
smartest and most empathetic of creatures, and who is also a black Labrador.
The reader reaction to King has been strong and
overwhelmingly positive. So I’ve
been thinking about the reasons. A dog belongs to family in a way that a cat does
not bother himself with being. In
a novel, a dog can be taken outside, can be the excuse for a walk (this happens
twice in my novel), can be critical to the play on a soccer field (also a key
scene), and can express warnings, fears, love—all of which King does in BEFORE
Cats, frankly, can’t be bothered with humans much of the
time; they aren’t anyone’s cipher but utterly unto themselves, at least the
cats, I’ve known. As Mark Twain noted, “If man could be crossed with the cat it
would improve the man, but it would deteriorate the cat.” On the other hand, Twain also looked
highly on dogs, “Heaven goes by favor; if it went by merit, you would stay out
and your dog would go in.” At the end of the day, I find favor in both cats and
dogs, sometimes too, over man.
This time around I wrote about a heroic dog, a blind dog,
named in King in BEFORE MY EYES—a novel about teens, mental illness and gun
violence—appropriate for teen ages 14 and above, and adults of all ages. Read
the book and find out why readers are rooting for this novel—and for King.
P.S. Are you a dog or cat person? What is your favorite dog or cat in literature?
This is devastating. I just read The New Yorker interview with Peter Lanza;it's the first
insight into the teen--and Newtown murderer--Adam Lanza from his surviving parent.
At the very end of the piece, his father reveals that he wished his son was never born,"...Peter declared
that he wished Adam had never been born, that there could be no remembering who he was outside of who he
became.'That didn’t come right away. That’s not a natural thing, when you’re
thinking about your kid. But, God, there’s no question. There can only be one
conclusion, when you finally get there. That’s fairly recent, too, but that’s
totally where I am.'”
But still, I have to ask the same question that drove me to write the character of Barkley and his parents in my young adult novel, BEFORE MY EYES
. Why didn't Peter Lanza
"see" what was going on with his son? The article does go into some gripping detail about what he--and his ex-wife,who was murdered by Adam, did try to do -- but it was not enough.None of it was enough for all those teachers and children who were murdered.
young adult novel
about gun violence, mental illness, and three fragile teens -- and their
parents-- because I couldn't get out of my head the question: Why? And I couldn't stop thinking what do the people--friends, co-workers, and parents around these troubled teens know -- and what do they choose not to know? My novel is just out a few weeks but already people are debating how I
depicted the characters-- did I go too far? not far enough?
reading this New Yorker
story, what I want to do today: hug my children, talk
with them, make sure they are okay.
As the publication of BEFORE MY EYES, my second young adult novel, approaches
I have to turn to other writers to stay sane because publishing is an insane business. Here's a quote that I particularly like from a great American writer who drank too much, died of consumption, and left great writing behind:
"Mostly, we authors must repeat ourselves-- that's the truth. We have two or three great moving experiences in our lives--experiences so great and moving that it doesn't seem at the the time anyone else has been caught up and pounded and dazzled and astonished and beaten and broken and rescued and illuminated and rewarded and humbled in just way that way before." -- F. Scott Fitzgerald
A snowy blustering day--darkening, storming skies-- all said, a perfect day to work on updating my website. Check it out! www.carolinebock.com.
This is the time of year to look back, a writer’s dilemma.
It seems like I am always mulling on memories, lingering over
scenes half-remembered, reconstructed as fiction.
But as 2013 ends, this is a
happy look back at my literary highlights of the year, as I prepare to pop the champagne and get ready to
sing “Auld Lange Synge" (does anyone on the planet know all the words to this song?!):
Cheers! to My Literary Crush of the Year:
Alice McDermott from That Night
to Charming Billy
and now on
. I’ve read everyone of her novels and I think Someone is one of her
best – it travels down some of the same streets as the one before – Brooklyn,
Long Island’s South Shore, a young girl looking into her neighbor’s world and
then into her own, an Irish-American girl trying to make sense of the
ordinariness of life. I loved Someone.
Cheers! To Best Literary Find in My New City – The District of
I met my literary crush Alice McDermott here hand selling
books on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I also attended readings by Edwidge
Danticat and Elizabeth Wein
9also author of the best YOUNG ADULT novels that I read this year CODE NAME VERITY and its sequel: ROSE UNDER FIRE). Best of all, I found a new home to buy books, discuss books, breathe books.
And cheers to:
The Best Books I read with my book club:
Best Poetry Find:
I took an amazing class with her: Grand Theft Poetry and
realized that poetry can be found, stolen, nourished in many places.
Best Self-Published Book:
Best Indie Book:
Favorite “classic” book re-read:
The Joys of Yiddish by Leo Rosten – read for research, with
naches for the language, which as a kid my father sprinkled around our dining room table. Oy!
Best Movie Based on a Novel:
based on Suzanne Collins Hunger Games series, as if you didn't know. But best new addition to the cast: Phillip Seymour Hoffman. This December, the movie just crossed 700 million in box office world wide. May the odds be forever in their favor!
Best Television Series Based On a Novel:
House of Cards
starring Kevin Spacey and awesome Robin Wright - is based on the novel by same name by Michael Dobbs
(interesting a British writer and politician). I am currently binge-watching for the holidays on Netflix!
...For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne...
My son, who is in middle-school, had to interview someone in the family on his or her profession, so after much debate he interviewed me, his mom, on her second-career adventure as a writer. I would highly recommend this as an exercise for any mother and son because it gave us a chance to talk about me rather than him, though in the process we talked about him too-- about how you get from middle school to anywhere else in this world, which I didn't realize seemed to him an improbable journey. We discussed his aspirations, his dreams, his desire to do big and good things in the world. But since this was an interview with me, here are the answers to the 20-questions he asked about my career -- from the answers you can imagine the questions, or not:
My mom is a writer.
responsibility is to write at least 5 days a week and to complete edits in the
time designated by her editor.
She works in my house.
She works in an office crowded with papers,
books and notes. She does a lot of
research on the internet and in the library, and even, travels to locations she
is writing about in her work.
She loves to read. Sometimes she reads more than
one book at a time. I don’t know how she does this but she makes me go to the
library with her so I can testify to the fact that she read a lot.
believes that the more she writes the better she becomes as a writer.
There are no requirements for this job. However,
my mother has a B.S. in English and Communications, worked for twenty years in
cable television, and recently completed her Master of Fine Arts in Fiction
there is no special clothing.
she works 25-30 hours a week depending on deadlines. When she is finishing a
novel, she works all the time and forgets to make us dinner.
a year-round job.
men and women write.
can be done anywhere.
mother has a high satisfaction in her job.
because she’s self-employed.
17. She believes you need life experience to write fiction, a love of
novels, and a good command of grammar.
18. Yes, she wanted to write since third
19. She doesn’t particularly like
semi-colons. She calls them the bastards of grammar. She says it is okay for a
writer to use all kinds of words including “bastards” when writing.
20. No, she’s self-employed.
Interview conducted by Michael Bock
for a middle school class project.