Caroline Bock - BEFORE MY EYES
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.
Six random things you don’t know about me…
-I can’t stand coffee, the taste or the smell. (I drink lots of tea!).
-I’m afraid of Ferris wheels and apartments on high floors
with lots of windows (that’s why I always lived in brownstones in Manhattan).
-The summer after I graduated high school, I biked from
Hyannis to Provincetown and via ferry onto Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard with
my brother Mark, still one of the best trips of my life.
-I hiked the High Peaks in the Adirondacks and climbed Mt.
Marcy and Haystack among a dozen other mountains and had my first kiss in a pup
tent with Howard from Brooklyn. I was fourteen and on a three-week backpacking
trip with the American Youth Hostels.
-I miss my dad, who passed away last October, every day. He
brought four kids on camping trips every summer. He made a great kugel. He gave
us the world and all the love in it.
-In Mrs. Murano’s class third grade class at George M. Davis Elementary school in New Rochelle, I wrote my first poem,
and I can recite it to this day: In the woods/where there are tall. towering
trees/tiny. timid animals/rigid, rustling leaves/I stand there/just me.
What happens when you google yourself and ... you find out you’re a porn star?
least that’s what popped up near the top of one of my searches – not Caroline Bock
don’t go looking there – but it’s
I couldn’t help it. I clicked. (But I am not including a link here – this site is visited by
people across age groups, including students. Sorry to disappoint:
this is more a quick
literary story of discovery rather than any other kind of adventure. You can leave now, if you must.)
So I clicked, and I was pleasantly surprised. She has high
cheek bones and auburn hair and full lips and a rather commanding, bold, Teutonic
presence. She looks like someone who drinks lagers, recites the score of whatever game is on in the bar and has slept with the guitar player and the drummer and neither of them know about the other. She seems to be European, with a brash, ‘come get me if you can look’
of someone in their infallible twenties.
Am I falling into fantasy with this other c. bock? I wonder
if she googles herself and ponders me with a similar speculation? Does she peer
at my writerly self portrait and wonder what am I thinking? Or, is this a
On my website, I have a number of page views from Russia and
Germany and I’m certain it can’t be for my novels. They must be searching for
this other too and finding me in frustration, and I wonder if they spend even a
second curious about this Caroline Bock?
want to tell them that I am still working out who she is -- a writer, a wife, a mother, a sister, a tea-drinker, a reader of historical novels and history and young adult and just about anything else that has great characters and a story to match --but, still a work-in-progress. And yes, that other woman
tantalizes, and maybe, I’m a little bit of her too.
I was feeling like I couldn’t write
– it doesn’t really
matter why – it was one of those days: sticky hot, rife with pollen and undone
dishes and dreams drifting, uncomfortably unattainable— so I picked up Ron Carlson Writes a Story
From the First Glimmer of An Idea to the Final Sentence
includes his entire short story: “The Govenor’s Ball” at the end). This slim
book is a mini-MFA semester with this head of the MFA program in fiction at the
University of California, Irvine. The biggest lesson: stay at your desk.
Keep writing. Stay twenty minutes more. And twenty after that. Finish.I loved this advice (of course I was reading not writing it). But I do believe that the hardest thing is to finish, to get the first draft done, to let the words out.
But there is more. Here are the top five writing insights that I culled from Ron Carlson Writes A Story
. I hope he writes many more.
“When people ask me the personal-experience question, my
response is that I write my personal experiences, whether I’ve had them or
not…Having a feeling for my materials 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: empathy.”
“I’m constantly looking for things that are going to help me
find the next sentence, survive the story.”
“The most important thing a writer can do after completing a
sentence is to stay in the room. The writer is the person who stays in the
room.” (Carlson’s italics throughout, but I agree!)
“The single thing I say the most to writers of dialogue is
slow down. I actually don’t see much clunky dialogue, but I see a lot of scenes
that are too brisk., to summarily done…And in the process of writing dialogue,
remember: your characters can’t advance the story because they may not know it yet
. That is a reason to slow down, to listen,
“Our mission is to write the physical scene as closely as we
can, knowing that our intentions lie just beyond our knowing. Write, don’t
So we begin again. We turn toward autumn, toward possibility;
we return to writing.
This is flash fiction
- "Counting Backwards"
-- less than 750 words-- submitted to Akashic Books,an indie Brooklyn press, infamous publishers of "Go the F--k to Sleep," a parent's classic.
This short short was written after reading another writer's flash and feeling that flush of jealousy-- one of this writer's main motivators, though maybe one shouldn't admit that-- amid the swirling of loneliness, sadness and regret. Maybe one should say that deep thoughts and world disasters motivate me (what motivates you?) and leave it at that.