Caroline Bock-BEFORE MY EYES
YOUNG ADULT NOVEL WRITING TIPS
Write, Write, the yowling of desire.
Do you have a six word memoir? Must be six words. Post it, here, there.
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.
Wham! Write A Story!!
(a story about a story for adults as well as kids)
Wham! Will writes. Ka-zooom!! And our hero flies off. The end.
He adds a half dozen exclamation points to his ‘Wham’!!!!!! and three more to
“I’m done,” he
says in a very loud voice. “I’ve written the greatest story ever!”
But Lara, his best friend, doesn’t agree. His story isn’t
done. It hasn’t even begun.
“Yes, it is! See I wrote ‘the end.’"
“You don’t have a beginning,” says Lara. “Where’s the ‘Once
upon a time’ or ‘it was a dark and stormy night?’”
“I have “Wham!' With an exclamation point.”
“Okay, you can start with wham! But something has to happen next. You
have to introduce the setting or the characters. Then something has to happen to the characters. Also, you’re
using a lot of exclamation points!!!”
“Exclamation points look like soldiers, and I like them. But what’s
the setting? Why do I need that?”
“Where the story takes place. The setting is also about when it
takes place. For example, does it take place now? Or in the past? Or in the
“I want it to take place here, Lara. On the page.”
“You have to take it off the page. Bring it into reader’s
mind. My mind.”
“Then, how about at school?”
“What kind of school? You have to be specific. The more details in a story, the
better the story. An elementary school? A big school? The world’s biggest
“The world’s most gigantic elementary school. A billion and
twenty-nine kids go there.”
“I’m glad I don’t go there.”
“It’s my setting,” says Will.
Lara stretched across the white sheet of paper, her
character aching to go someplace. To do something or to want something—the
story needed a plot.
“Okay, so you have the setting. Who’s in the story? Who’s
this story about? Is there a main character—other than us— that does something?
That propels all the action and stuff forward.”
“What happens next? That’s the plot. You have to ask
yourself what happens to your characters?”
Will underlines with his newly sharpened yellow pencil a
line where he says that his superhero flies off to fight the evil alien mutants,
right before ‘the end.’
“Let’s back up. Is that your main character? A superhero? Not me?”
“I don’t write books about girls.”
“Today you will, or I’m leaving.”
“I guess I could add you but only as a secondary character.”
“Forget it then. This story ends now.”
“No, wait!!! Lara!!! You can be a main character too.”
“A superhero too?”
“Yes, a superhero, too.”
“What’s my name in the story?”
“Can’t you just be Lara?”
“What’s the other superhero’s name?”
“He has a name,” said Will, clutching his pencil even
“You didn’t include it.”
“But I know the name.”
“And I only know what you write on the page, Will, and what
I read. So what’s his name? What does he look like? What is he thinking? Seeing? Touching? Feeling? Use all of your senses to describe him—and me.”
Will put his pencil down on the lined notebook paper.
“That’s okay. You are going to have to edit and revise this
story—every writer does that. But hey, tell me, what does this other hero want?
What do I want?”
“I don’t know. I never know what you want, Lara!”
“I want to save the world, of course. Ka—zooom!! Don’t all
heroes want to save the world?”
Will snatches up his pencil and scribbles that down: save
the world. Ka—zooom!!.
“What obstacles do we face? What decisions do we make? All this
tumult is about something called: Plot. We have to have stuff happen to us.
Challenges. What helps us or stops us from doing our job or getting what we
want or, in this story, saving the world? Start at the beginning, again. You
can do this. You can write your own heroes, Will.”
“Can I use exclamation points?”
“Maybe just one or two,” said Lara laughing with Will, and
with that Lara ka-zoomed off the page.
“Wham!” dashed off Will, beginning his story, again....
"Before My Eyes, by Caroline Bock, takes the reader through the last few days of summer from the perspectives of three narrators: two teens and a mentally-ill young adult. Bock skillfully weaves together the topics of schizophrenia, gun violence, family issues, and typical adolescent angst while at the same time providing a compelling story. Though the reader gets a glimpse of the book’s climax in the first few pages, the end plays out in an unexpected way when unlikely heroes emerge. As a retired Professor of Education, I believe Before My Eyes would be an excellent book for an 11th or 12th-grade English class, and since it provides a realistic portrayal of schizophrenia, it might even be a good choice for an AP Psychology class. Whatever one’s reason for choosing this book, the reader will not be disappointed."—Edmund Sass, Ed.D., Professor Emeritus of Education This summer, I "met" Dr. Sass through the world of social media. He runs a website, Educational Resources and Lessons Plans, and I emailed him about my new novel, Before My Eyes. He was driving through the small town of Bock, Minnesota, population 106, (a town I someday plan to visit!) when he received my email. And so it goes that we he read my brief note, and he agreed to review a copy of Before My Eyes.
I am amazed how we find ourselves connected to one another—and grateful.
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.
is a novel for the today’s student reader – bringing
with it a complex world view, of teenagers – and adults—making key,
life-changing decisions to tell the truth or lie about a hate crime. As
the author and as a someone with experience teaching English composition and literature at The City University of New York in Harlem,
completing my MFA in Fiction, I
have attempted to outline key questions, which are culled from the
Common Core standards for
English language instruction in New York for grades 8-12. This Common Core guide for LIE,
including summary of major themes, characters, and points of view, can be found at my website
In some cases,
I have added author's notes, which are hopefully insightful
and directional, but certainly not the
final word on the text I am sure
that there are close readers out there who will interpret the text in a
rigorous way than even the author.
I welcome hearing from you about
your classroom experience with LIE.Find out more about LIE
for the Common Core grades 8-12 at www.carolinebock.com.
I'm eager to hear about your experiences with LIE
in the classroom.
Yesterday, I had a wonderful opportunity to speak before the Suffolk County School Library Media Association (SSMLA)
at their annual dinner. This talk before a smart, high-spirited group of school librarians, game me the chance to remember my high school school library at–New Rochelle High School.
My school library was a refuge for a geeky kid who liked to read – who was
involved in her school’s literary magazine – and not much else – I was raised
by a single parent, a father, who raised 4 kids along after my mother had a
stroke and was left almost fully paralyzed and brain-damaged. We couldn’t
afford to buy books in our house – but we didn’t need to buy them. There was the library, especially the
You could find me
there almost everyday after school.
I didn’t want to go home.
Home was chaotic. Home was loud. Home was where I, as the eldest daughter had to cook dinner and clean and do laundry and not stop
until everyone was in bed and then, maybe I could escape and read more.
I have to admit that I don’t remember
the librarians’ names – but I remember their kindness. I remember how they
smiled when I checked out every novel by Ernest Hemingway after I read The Sun
Also Rises in 10 grade English class.
One thing I do remember -- one stifling spring day, my study partner, David, leaned over to me and said, "I like you more than you think." But that’s a
story for outside the library.
If you are a librarian or an educator, I've done something thinking about the Common Core for ELA Grades 8-12 and my young adult novel, LIE. I would appreciate your thoughts on my study notes -- at my website www.carolinebock.com.
And thank you school librarians, you should be mandated for every school, you are critical to our students success!
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 |