Caroline Bock - BEFORE MY EYES
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.
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 a new book about writing, GOOD PROSE: The
Art of Nonfiction
by Tracy Kidder and his editor Richard Todd. This is worth a read for new writers and
more established ones. Some of its gems include a chapter on point of view in
creative nonfiction as well as a chapter on “Being Edited and Editing.” The
work ends with an insightful chapter on usage and grammar, which includes a
warning against medical, political and digital age clichés including my own pet
peeve—use of “mega” and “giga” and “nano” as prefixes.
The back and forth between the writer and the editor is what
delighted this writer the most. We live inside our heads as writers and good
editors help us take what’s inside out – freely, unwieldy at times, wildly at
Why does this matter on the 4 of July? In too
many places around the world, people are denied basic freedoms of expression –
they cannot assembly, speak or write freely. In the United States of America, our Founding Fathers thought
it critical to write down what we as Americans are guaranteed in exchange for
our good citizenship, our allegiance.“We the People, in Order to form a more perfect Union,
establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence,
promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves
and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United
States of America.
” We wrote our Constitution down and have been debating
different aspects of it ever. And while we need to remain vigilant about our freedoms, especially in an age of easy surveillance, the Constitution of the United States
still stands 237 years later. Today, on the 4th
of July, we celebrate our freedom, and I write
The lion sleeps at the entrance to the Brooklyn Museum.
my daughter and I are drawn to him in his stone-cold repose.
On the opposite
side, in the light, are the Rodin’s. My daughter stands in a circle of bronze men. I tell her that these are sculptures of a French writer, Balzac. When
she asks what has she written, I can’t name a book
of his (La Comedie humaine or The Human Comedy,
I look up later).
Upstairs, we visit the watercolors of John Singer Sargen
and I want to dive into one of his paintings the water looks that real. My
daughter says that I’ll get wet.
She prefers: “The Dinner Party,”
by Judy Chicago, feminist installation art.
What is that? She asks. She wants a seat at the table, and I tell her that’s
what it is.
I write lines in my head while walking through the museum.
This is summer so far.
I've thought about this a lot -- how to start. I came across this on Bloom
, website for writers, age 40 and over - from the startling writer of short, flash fiction Meg Pokrass
. I don't think you have to be 40 plus for this advice to resonant:
"I think you can start by looking at the mess in your room, in your kitchen, or in your life—and writing some words about it. See if the words are as messy as the mess. Those words are important. Mess is important.
Alternatively, look at the orderliness in your room, your kitchen, or your life. Write about the satisfaction or the tyranny in that order. Who does it remind you of? Who do you remind yourself of?
Write about the phone call or e-mail that doesn’t come, the one that you were waiting for your whole life. Write about the call that comes too often.
Write about the call that is strangely just right on time, what the ring sound is like, and what the room temperature is when the phone rings.
Write about what you love as much as what you dislike. Imagine people you despise when they were children, write about an imaginary moment that made them who they are. Lie and create. Deceive your way to the truth. Tell your own story, and then find characters living inside yourself."
Now I'm off to look at my mess -- I have so much more of that than orderliness.
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
Scraps of quotes or ideas or articles cut or circled, circumcised words--must be taken down. Must clean my office for an impending move. Here's The Wall before:
Here's a FEW favorite quotes... FROM ISAAC ASIMOV, classic sci-fi writer:
"IF I HAD ONLY SIX MINUTES TO LIVE,I WOULDN'T BROOD, I'D TYPE A LITTLE FASTER."
FROM JUDD APATOW, SCREENWRITER AND DIRECTOR:
"I GUESS THE LESSON IS, IT'S OKAY TO WRITE ABOUT YOURSELF AS LONG AS ALMOST ALL OF IT IS MADE UP."
FROM ROBERT DAVIES,NOVELIST,
"THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO POINT IN SITTING DOWN TO WRITE A BOOK
UNLESS YOUR FEEL THAT YOU MUST WRITE THAT BOOK, OR ELSE GO MAD, OR DIE."
Feels like Pink Floyd should be playing in the background but I don't know how to do that --and would that be too obvious? Many more woman on the wall -- but that's another blog. Do you have a WALL? Truly, Caroline