Caroline Bock-BEFORE MY EYES
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BEFORE MY EYES for ENGLISH AND AP PSYCHOLOGY CLASSROOMS
FINDING INSPIRATION IN... BALLSTON SPA, NEW YORK
Ten Very Basic Writing Tips for A Summer Friday
ON FRANZ KAFKA on his birthday
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Caroline Bock-BEFORE MY EYES

ON WRITING

FINDING INSPIRATION IN... BALLSTON SPA, NEW YORK


Mark Louis Gallery in Ballston Spa, New YorkMy 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.
Mark Louis Gallery in Ballston Spa, New York
My 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.

Once, 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.

Anyway, we 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?

After 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 we did.  
 
Finding Inspiration… Writing Prompts…
-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...
Ballston Spa, New York, it’s about five minutes from downtown Saratoga Springs, just north of Albany. Ballston Spa has an array of antique and craft shops, and yes, Mark Louis Gallery.

 
 
 
 
 

ON FRANZ KAFKA on his birthday

 
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: 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9nRNnTQhFA

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.

I have been obsessed for a while about Kafka and his stories. If you read BEFORE MY EYES you will find a key scene in which I pay trip to THE METAMORPHOSIS. If you are a writer or an artist, you must read A HUNGER ARTIST. If you believe in justice, or lack of it, read, THE TRIAL (links here to free copies in English).

So what are you reading for?



So cool... poetry on the Diane Rehm show...including my first poem!

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
tall,towering trees
tiny,timid animals,
rigid, rustling leaves,
I stand there
just me.

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 Author...


Warning! More thoughts on having a friend who’s an author…
 
-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.
 
BEFORE MY EYES by Caroline Bock (St. Martin's Press, 2014) more at www.carolinebock.com-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...

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 think.
 
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,
BEFORE MY EYES(St. Martin’s Press, 2014). More about her work at www.carolinebock.comor be her friend—and be prepared.

CATS versus DOGS... Thoughts On Writing...


Cats versus Dogs more at www.carolinebock.comI own a cat.
 
BEFORE MY EYES by Caroline Bock  Cover Photo 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 MY EYES.
 
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.  
 


Cats versus Dogs ... more at www.carolinebock.comP.S. Are you a dog or cat person? What is your favorite dog or cat in literature?

PETER LANZA... and reflections on my novel: BEFORE MY EYES

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.

I wrote BEFORE MY EYES, a
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?

Ultimately, after reading this New Yorker story, what I want to do today: hug my children, talk with them, make sure they are okay.




One Week to Publication of BEFORE MY EYES

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

Look for BEFORE MY EYES in hardcover and ebook formats everywhere books are on February 11, 2014.... Caroline 

LOOK: BEFORE YOUR EYES - Check out the news on my updated website

A snowy blustering day--darkening, storming skies-- all said, a perfect day to work on updating my website. Check it out! www.carolinebock.com.

Literary Crushes and More As We Sing Auld Lange Synge (Does Anyone on the Planet Know All The Words To This Song?)

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 to Someone. 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 Columbia:
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:
I love being part of a book club! We read many good books this year – but I loved the Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaughand Wonder by RJ Palacioand The Fault in Our Stars by John Green -- yes, our book club of women of a certain age love to read young adult novels -- and these two stories made us cheer and cry.  

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:
Tales of a Hungry Life: A Memoir with Recipesby Maria Schulz  -- rollicking tales of a large Italian-Puerto Rican family in Queens – and the recipes are delicious!
 
Best Indie Book:
Recommended by the imitable workshop leader (at another best new find: Bethesda Writer's Center) Mark Cugini: Crapalachia by Scott McClanahan—“a biography of place” a very peculiar place in Appalachia and the people there, written in vivid short scenes.
 
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:
CATCHING FIRE 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!
 
So farewell to 2013, I am already looking ahead to 2014 – in February, look for the publication of my second novel: BEFORE MY EYES (St. Martin’s Press) on 2.11.14.  I will not forget old friends…
...For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne...

Much more in 2014!! Caroline
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