Caroline Bock-BEFORE MY EYES
HOW NOT TO WRITE...
-Listen to that voice that pounds the back of your skull
with,“Not today. I can’t do it. I’ll start on Monday morning at 6 a.m., no, at
-Oversleep on Monday morning until 7 a.m. and decide it’s
way too late to start.
-Talk about what you are going to write. Tell it to your writer friends, your book club, to the guy in accounting, who admits that the last novel he read was in
-Decide what you need is another outline. Exhaust yourself scribing
on a long yellow legal pad every plot point you can imagine (Zombies! Ebola
pandemics! Martians!) into your historical novel set in mid-20
century Europe.Add this yellow legal pad to the pile beside your desk.
-Confirm to yourself that what you truly need is more
research. This gets you going. The World Wide Web—hours wrap like rubber
bands into a ball— and reams of notes printed out. But it’s not enough. You can
justify a trip. You are writing about Italy, you must seek out the wonders of
Rome, or at least visit a nearby pizza joint, or partake of a shot of espresso at
the coffee shop. All this inspires you to do more research.
-Focus on your computer or your printer or desk. The printer
is hacking out pages like an old man with phlegm. Shouldn’t you upgrade? Isn’t
your monitor too small? Isn’t it time to back up? Clean up history? Shouldn’t
you be working at one of those standing desks—wouldn’t jogging on a treadmill
attached to your desk improve your writing? A trip to the office supply store is
what’s required, and you set out, determined to conquer technology and write
more, better, faster— and get in shape.
-Do anything but write one sentence and then another until a
page is done, a scene or chapter is drafted. How to write that first sentence?
That’s another blog.
Much response to this post, so I've added this addendum:
"Graham Greene realized early in his writing career that if he wrote just
500 words a day, he would have written several million words in just a
few decades. So he developed a routine of writing for exactly two hours
every day, and he was so strict about stopping after exactly two hours
that he often stopped writing in the middle of a sentence...." (from the Writer's Almanac). Great advice, and now, I have to stop writing... (only kidding, I am just getting started!) Caroline
Bock is the author of two critically acclaimed young adult novels: LIE
(St. Martin’s Press, 2011) and BEFORE MY EYES
(St. Martin’s Press,
2014). Her short stories and poetry have been published or are forthcoming in Akashic Press, Gargoyle Magazine
Defying Gravity Anthology, Fiction Southeast, 100 Word Story, Ploughshares,Prometheus,Vestal Review,
. She is also a contributor to The Washington Independent Review of Books. She writes every day, or
at least attempts to write. More at wwww.carolinebock.com
Labor Day. Unofficial End to Summer. But summer of 2015 had
a few unexpected delights…
Re-read Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret. How ahead
of the time was Judy Blume? unexpectedly fresh and relevant, especially since I have a ten-year-old daughter!
Humans on AMC… Synths, a.k.a. synthetic robots, more humane than humans—and complete with
British accents. This BBC drama is a futuristic take on the
‘Upstairs/Downstairs’ life with lots of plot turns and heart. Plus, I've read that it's already renewed for a second season. The Strain on FX… The second season of New York City under
siege from pulp fiction-inspired, Nazi-backing, vampire-infected creatures took the idea
that NYC could be a dangerous place to bring up kids to new levels. A fabulous multi-racial
cast, inspired by novels of the same name, make this well-written series worth watching. Plus, I've heard: expect more of THE STRAIN next summer!
Jurassic World…Saw this with my kids and found, unexpectedly, it was lot
of fun for me too Made me think again: how cool would a real Jurassic Park be?
Mr. Holmes…I went for the cast—Ian McKellen as the aging Sherlock Holmes, and one of my all-time favorite actresses, Laura Linney as his housekeeper.
What I didn’t expect is how much this would be a movie about the process of writing. If you are a
writer, go immediately to see.
I Believe in Unicorns…I streamed this absolute delight of
an indie film about first love on Amazon…and now I believe in
unicorns. If you liked "Fault in Our Stars," I suggest you watch I BELIEVE IN UNICORNS. It's now streaming to a television or computer near you!
So here we are at another Labor Day, which has a special
meaning to me. The setting of my new young adult novel, BEFORE MY EYES,is Labor Day weekend on Long Island,
New York. If you haven’t read BEFORE MY EYES yet, I urge you to do so this
Labor Day. I find there’s something unexpectedly metaphysically rewarding about
reading books at the moment, or in the place, that they are set.
Onward to autumn!
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.
From Girl on a Train to Robert Frost...I recently wrote a few haiku reviews... a great exercise in writing. Some are reactions to what I read, others are refractions of characters (i.e. the pool cleaner in Gatsby is in my imagination, not the novel's pages). Here goes...
For The Girl on a Train…
WOMAN ON A METRO
On a metro car:
See or hear nothing, feel less.
Days of driving rain.
For The Buried Giant…
No past, no future—
misted memories, but all
For The Great Gatsby…
THE POOL CLEANER
I cleaned the swim pool—
after cops fished Gatsby out—
more work, no more pay.
For The Collected Poems of Robert Frost…
A LOST WRITER
I don’t know these woods—
what crossroad to travel now—
lead me there, poet.
Have you ever tried a haiku review?
—Caroline Bock is the author of the critically acclaimed
young adult novels: BEFORE MY EYES (St. Martin’s Press, 2014) and LIE (St.
Martin’s Press, 2011).
I write primarily fiction; however, I love poetry and since these are the final days of National Poetry Month, I am going to share with you notes from a fabulous writer's conference I attended, BOOKS ALIVE, sponsored by the Washington Independent Review of Books, an incisive online writing and book review community. This weekend, they honored poet and poetry advocate extraordinaire Grace Cavalieri with their first Lifetime Achievement Award. Upon accepting the award, she gave her top four reasons why poetry still matters (and I may be paraphrasing her, as I quickly took these notes):
-Poetry slows down time. You read slowly and you write slowly
-Poetry preserves the beloved
-Poetry makes us notice the world more
-We are more fully alive when we read and write poetry
This makes me want to write poetry, my secret writing, and to me that is the world.
Does poetry matter to you?
Three quick ideas for spring cleaning—for your writing.
Experiment with point of view.
up a first person story to a third person
a story from a minor character’s point view
3) look at a picture sideways (see above) and describe what you see.
Two wise quotes on the current state of young adult fiction from the April 10, 2015 New York Times article with tastemaker editor Julie Strauss-Gabel :
1) “You go through vampires, you go through dystopian, you go
through contemporary, you go through fantasy,” Ms. Strauss-Gabel said. “The
last thing you want is an author saying, ‘That’s what’s selling right now, so
that’s what I’m going to write.’ That’s the point at which a trend gets icky.”
2) “We’re in an era where the
definition of a young adult book is completely up for grabs, and people are
willing to reinvent it,” she said. “There’s no one saying, ‘You can’t do this
in a book for children.’ ”
Best of 2014 and Looking Forward to 2015...
Best new place: Pittsburgh, one night visit included the
Carnegie Science Center and the Duquesne Incline. Looking forward to second
Pittsburgh trip in 2015.
Best New Thing About My Writing: Having BEFORE MY EYES
published in February by St. Martin’s Press… and returning to writing scripts
for television and film. Looking forward to diving into flash fiction, a new
novel and scriptwriting in 2015! Best favorite new bookstore: Politics and Prose in D.C.
(best 1-day class taken there with Leslie Pietrzyk)
Most unexpectedly best political movie of 2015 streamed on
Google Play: The Interview; going beyond the sophomoric bits of sex and drugs
and comic book action, this movie had a lot to say about the inherent evils of
dictatorial regimes (mass starvation, concentration camps) and how the media in
their countries and around the world props up the lies of these regimes.
Best new version of classic musical, which my nine- year old
daughter also loved: Annie.
Best movies about the inescapable human condition: Theory of
Everything, The Imitation Game, and Boyhood.
Best New Exercise: Rookie Yoga.
Best TV Show: House of Cards, best new TV series: Madame
Secretary, and for summer watching with above nine-year old: The Strain. Looking ahead: TV series I
can’t wait for new season for in January (and no spoilers please from the Brits in the crowd!!) Downton
Most unusual thing I did in 2014, and one of the best: Late-night
party at burlesque bar in DC to celebrate friend’s birthday!
Best, best new thing… that all my family is healthy! Looking
ahead in 2015 to a new year of inspiration, writing, books, movies, and friends
CLAIMING A METAPHOR
If there were one metaphor she’d use
for herself, it would be that of something fractured beyond any repair, or
shattered. But broken is more accurate. Jagged. Something to be thrown away,
something to worry about the garbage men getting hurt handling. —Caroline Bock, original flash fiction, December 2014
At this time of year, I look inward even
more than other times. And while on the whole this was a
pretty good year, I still forged this metaphor about myself, or at least,
my literary self. What metaphor would you shape for yourself? Does it differ by
season? Does it sing in one and cry in another?
May this season bring us all peace— and a few metaphors to
(P.S. … and now
for our holiday commercial message: If you are wishing for a new e-reader this
season, consider a BEFORE MY EYES download. My new YA adult novel is available as an ebook for
every device!!) ...Caroline
I recently attended two readings with eight debut or fairly new authors. It's an honor to read, and to attend a reading, and frankly, an opportunity. At these readings, I learned a few things of what to do and what not to do:
-Prepare a short introduction for yourself.Don't rely on the good-hearted soul to introduce you in the manner or with the detail you may want to be introduced.
-If you are reading with other authors, have a plan.Who will go first? What will each of you read? How long will each of you read? For the audience the reading is a night out, a learning experience, and for you: A chance to sell your books. You are putting on a show, and the audience expects on some level to be entertained in exchange for considering your book.
-Test, test, test any audiovisual equipment before the reading. Test the sound with the idea that you will have a full room and it will need to be loud. Bring speakers if possible. Have a back up plan if the electronics fail. And don't get flustered if the electronics fail— just move on. People are here to see you, to hear you talk about your book, not to view the book trailer you spent a lot of money on (or, if you are lucky, your publisher spent a lot of money on).
-Now the reading. PRACTICE WHAT YOU ARE GOING TO READ in front of friends and relatives. Read slowly. Pause at the end of the sentence. Pause at the end of the paragraph and look up at your audience. Read with drama. Choose a dramatic section, preferably the opening. BRING A COPY OF YOUR BOOK (I'm always surprised when writers don't and then use a new brand-new copy from the sell pile, sometimes making it harder to sell that copy). Mark up your reading copy as you would a speech— underline key words or phrases. Make note to yourself to slow down and breathe—— in the margins or at ends of the paragraph. Don't apologize at the end of your reading about what you just read or how you read it. Now it's over. Just close the book and look up at your audience.
-Be prepared to answer basic questions from the audience such as:
-Did you always want to write?
-What writers or books inspired you as a child?
-What kind of research do you do on your book?
-Make sure you thank the audience, no matter how big, no matter how small, for attending. Remind them that the PRINT books are for sale...and signed editions are certainly
Dear fellow writers, I wish you much success with your books—and your readings.
First some thoughts on
“Character is the very life of fiction. Setting exists so
that the character has someplace to stand, something that can help define him,
something he can pick up and throw, if necessary, or eat, or give to his
girlfriend. Plot exists so the character can discover himself (and in the
process reveal to the reader) what he, the character is really like: plot
forces the character to choice and action, transforms him from a static
construct to a lifelike human being making choices or reaping the rewards. And theme
exists only to make the character stand up and be somebody: theme is elevated critical language for what the
character’s main problem is.” (On
Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner, p. 54)
On the ‘”accuracy of
the writer’s eye”
“….whether you’re writing about people or dragons, your
personal observation of how things happen in the world – how character reveals
itself can turn a dead scene into a vital one…. Good advice might be: Write as
if you were a movie camera. Get exactly what is there. All human beings see
with astonishing accuracy, not that they can write it down…. Getting it down
precisely is all that is meant by ‘the accuracy of the writer’s eye.’ Getting
down what the writer really cares about – setting down what the writer himself
notices, as opposed to what any fool might notice – is all that is meant by the
originality of the writer’s eye. Every human being has original vision….” (p. 71, Gardner).
Pixar story artist
Emma Coats tweeted a series of “story basics” here are her highlights on
#1 You admire a character for trying more than for their
-- Simplify. Focus. Combine character. Hop over detours.
You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
-- What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw
the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
-- Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might
seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
-- Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great;
coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
--What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the
character. What happens if
they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
--If you were your character, in this situation, how would
you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
1) Take a simple act, say unbuttoning a shirt, pulling on a
sock, pouring a cup of coffee or milk, and write it in slow motion, that is,
give it two hundred words. Don’t automatically lapse into hyperbole (and thereby
the comic), but think of the effect: make it matter-of-fact, sinister, gross,
full of touch, feel, sight, and smell.
Discuss how the manner in which the character performs the
act shapes his character.
2) Write two hundred words on a character entering a space
(a car, a classroom, a kitchen, a backyard, etc). Inventory all the sense of
the space as she moves toward the one thing that she desperately wants in that
space. Take your time and describe in detail what the character sees, hears,
smells, senses and knows—and doesn’t know—about the surroundings.
Discuss how the character’s perceptions or point of view,
and motivation or want, shapes this character.
from Ron Carlson Writes A Story by
I've written two novels with multiple points of view... if you haven't read them yet, consider BEFORE MY EYES and LIE.