Caroline Bock-BEFORE MY EYES
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?
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.
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.
BEFORE MY EYES
BEFORE MY EYES
BEFORE MY EYES
BEFORE MY EYES
new novel by CAROLINE BOCK
from St. Martin’s Press in 2014
If you are one of those people who like to be in the know before anybody else... check out Lena Roy's blog post on my upcoming young adult novel, BEFORE MY EYES. I asked her if she could "blurb" (write an insightful but eye-catching yet meaningful few lines for promotional use based on an early, early review copy. A blurb is an art in itself). And was I surprised what I got back - much more than a blurb. Or maybe I shouldn't have been surprised - she's an amazing writer - and reader! Here's a first take on BEFORE MY EYES:
"...Bock's story begins with a mass shooting on a Monday morning, and then she takes us back to Friday, weaving the narrative between three points of view: Max, a state senator's son who is having a hard time doing the right thing, Claire, a poet who has too many responsibilities, and Barkley, who hears voices, and unravels before our eyes. Max and Claire are more worried about themselves, and although we know what is going to happen, we quickly turn the pages.
Bock isn't preaching to us about the way things should be, she's giving us a glimpse into the way things are, without sentimentality and without an agenda. Her characters are multi-dimensional, filled with both darkness and light, as we, her readers all are. She reminds us of the struggle to be human, and has us searching for our own redemption, our own path to forgiving the world for its sins..." the complete critique of BEFORE MY EYES can be found at: www.lenaroy.com.
Thank you, Lena!
BEFORE MY EYES will be published in early 2014 from St. Martin's Press.
In the meantime, if you haven't read LIE yet, my debut novel about race, hate, murder, and ultimately at the very end, love -- get a copy today -- if you haven't read Lena Roy's EDGES, get a copy today too! Caroline
Did you ever find something old--a poem-- and decide to finish it twenty years after you started it? Of course, you're a different person. Or are you? Here's my poem that I found and finished...
Twenty Years Between
the First and Second Part
We come to it late this love late at night
after the argument about the kids
that aren’t born yet to us— we are preparing our
arguments ahead of time like we prepared
cheat notes for tests in college we make
ready our lives for children then come back to
love after we’ve decided nothing—
the children will come when they come and
we’ll let them be born. What a thing
to have to decide—
when to let something be born
and when other things like money
Twenty entangled years later,
making love late again.
No arguments before or after, only
our son and daughter’s sleeping breaths,
what a thing we’ve decided—
nothing matters more.
Consider giving your teen a novel that will make them think differently about the meaning of love -- and hate -- my debut novel: LIE.
At Syracuse University, on a sparkling cold winter night, at the Hall of Languages, top floor, I listened to my poetry teacher, Jack Gilbert,
read and I cried and cried. His words and the passion in which he read them filled this undergraduate with emotion and possibility -- and I remember thinking: this is what it means to be in college, to write, to be alive.
This magnificent poet died today at age 87. One of his last collection of poems I re-read now, Refusing Heaven (his "Collected Poems" have just been released this year). In the title poem, the voice says at the end, as he refuses heaven, "He is like an old ferry dragged onto the shore,/ a home in its smashed grandeur, with the giant beams/ and joist. Like a wooden ocean out of control./ A beached heart. A cauldron of cooling melt." Rest in peace, old teacher. Sail on.
There are times when it's hard to write. In the middle of100 mile per winds, it's hard to write, it's hard to imagine the night will end, and if it ends, will there be a roof on the house or trees on the roof. Hurricane Sandy. The rain drills sideways. The wind rips. You have to be the grown up because technically you are grown up even if you want to hide under the covers too. You are thankful you do not have that house that you always wanted with the water view and afraid for those you know near the water. Lights blink, revive, and blink again. Dark hits you in the face. Your children cling to you -- even your twelve- year- old son who earlier in the evening ignored you like always. They want to go, leave, escape, now. You remember you live on an island -- the bridges closed, the railroad shut down, you cannot leave even if you were brave enough to drive anywhere. You're not brave enough. And then,with a final heave of darkness and wind, the skies sigh in exhaustion. The dawn seeps through the horizon, the land is speckled with wet leaves and downed trees, the sky blue and clear. Your neighbor lets you know he has a guy who has a chainsaw coming as if that is an every day thing -- and you are thankful to that neighbor and to the guy with the chainsaw. Everyone has lost power. A generator buzzes from someone's backyard and spews gasoline fumes into the storm-fresh air. Your son takes off on his razor to find out what happened to his friends and their houses, waving you off, racing toward the sun.
I hope all are safe and working on recovery --
set on Long Island,
inspired by true events.
I recently visited the Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios - Disneyworld in Orlando Florida--and was inspired at every turn
-- not by the rides (though don't miss the Star Wars Tour at Hollywood Studios or the newly updated and wildly colorful "It's a Small World" classic at the Magic Kingdom) but by the imagination of the place, by the charm, by the wonder in my kid's eyes at every turn. What fascinated my 12 year old son? The talking garbage can in Tomorrowland. Was there a real person guiding it by remote control? Was it advanced robotics? Was is something else? Who was behind it (if anyone knows more about the talking garbage can in Tomorrowland - please let me know!).
At Disney's Hollywood Studios, the theme park tribute to Hollywood and the movies, I stumbled upon The Writer's Stop... of course, I had to stop and go into to this coffee shop and bookstore. Here I found a brief respite from the 90 degree tropical heat, and even more so, I discovered: The Imagineering Workout: Excercises to Shape Your Creative Muscles by The Disney Imagineers. This book is a gem, written in short chapters, with practical as well as inspiration advice, from those hands-on professionals -- from writers to designers to engineers -- who create for Disney. Here's a few of their suggestions:
- "Inspiration comes from things infused with life," John Kavelin, Director, Design and Production, Tokyo Disneyland Resort
- "Setting goals before and during the creative process enhances your projects...the key is to make sure the goals inspire and don't detract from your creative journey." Dave Crawford, Principal Mechanical Engineer Show/Ride Engineering
- "Your ability to articulate your likes and dislikes will give you the ability to champion and defend your project... observe what you like for five to ten minutes... observe what you don't like for five or ten minutes..." --Sue Bryan, Senior Show Producer, Concept Development.
- "Use 'What If?" to preface and idea of suggestion... ask and respond to your 'What ifs?' List them. Stay Positive..."- Steve "Mouse" Silverstein, Principal Developer, Animation Programming Systems, Walt Disney Imagineering Florida. (I seem to always start a with an idea generated from a question, though admittedly most of mine are a little less positive and more filled with outrage...read LIEto see what I mean!)
- "Question: how many Imagineers does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: Does it have to be a light bulb?...Create the magic!" --Jan O'Connor, Show Writer, Creative Development.
I plan to keep this book near my desk! Here's to a great end of the summer for all. If you haven't picked up a copy of my debut novel LIE now is the time--
Advice to a Six Year
Old After the Mass Shooting
at the Midnight
Showing of “The Dark Knight Rises”
by Caroline Bock
We send our children off—
with sunscreen and antibacterial lotion.
With orders to drink lots of water
if it’s hot, and to button up, if it’s cold.
I instruct my six year old not to scream—
don’t draw attention—
if the gunman points his semi-automatic your way—
run out of sight, disappear into the air—
know where the exits are located.
Or if in a classroom, barricade yourself in.
Don’t be a hero. Call 9-1-1.
Come home from Columbine,
West Virginia Tech, the “Congress at your Corner”
meet and greet in Tucson,
the midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises”—
come home safe.
But at six years old, she insists she is smarter than me:
says she won’t leave my sight, she’ll hold my hand.
She’ll eat her green vegetables. Go to bed early.
We send our children off—
mine, contrary to what she promises,
breaks away, races across the dying grasses—
the scent of apples on the ground—
a new backpack slung on her sturdy shoulders—
new sneakers tight on her feet.
We stand in the autumn fields demanding
the world return our children safely to us
and fear our voices can never be loud enough.
Thoughts and prayers to all the victims and their families
Caroline Bock is the
author of the critically-acclaimed