Caroline Bock-BEFORE MY EYES
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Caroline Bock-BEFORE MY EYES


Read my short story at The Writer Magazine web site now.
I was going to write a long blog about the value of entering contests, but what I really want you to do is read my short story, "Gargoyles and Stars,"winner of the 2016 Writer Magazine short story contest judged by Colum McCann. I rarely enter contests so I truly have no wisdom to share except to enter them once in a while, if you admire the work of the judge or the publication, if you feel lucky, if you don't feel lucky and want to feel lucky for a moment. ——Caroline

FISH SELL...and other thoughts on BOOK MARKETING and MY POP

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
“Fish Sell”
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 like cigarettes.
It doesn’t.
BEFORE MY EYES by Caroline Bock 
I flip to the back first, as if the ending may somehow have changed.
It hasn’t.
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 a writer.
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 don’t.

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.”
The trade-paperback version of Caroline Bock’s Before My Eyes is now available wherever books are sold. For more about the author go to 

WHAM!!! Write A Story...A story about a story....

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 his Ka-zooooom!!!!!!!!!
 “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 future?”
“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 elementary school?”
“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 tighter.
“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 himand 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....

Caroline Bock is the author of two critically-acclaimed young adult novels: BEFORE MY EYES and LIEKa -zoooom!!!


"Before My Eyesby 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.

P.S. The Teacher's Guide for BEFORE MY EYES is also posted on my web here


BEFORE MY EYES by Caroline BockMany people have asked me about a book club "Reading Guide" for BEFORE MY EYES, my new young adult for teens age 14 above--and adults of all ages (St. Martin's Press, 2014). BEFORE MY EYES is the kind of novel--about three fragile teens, mental illness, gun violence--that does delve deeply into complex characters and situations, provokes debate, and charges up opinions.I hope this is a helpful guide...

Towards the end of the novel, Claire’s mother, says: “We are all fragile,” in trying to come to terms with the gun violence her daughter has just witnessed. How are these characters “fragile?” Which one of the main characters: Claire or Max or Barkley do you empathize with the most? The least? And why?
There are several key secondary teen characters in the novel—Jackson, Samantha, Peter and Trish—how do these characters help shape the story? What insights do these characters give you about Claire or Max or Barkley?  
What does Claire’s relationship with her younger sister, Izzy, tell you about her character? Do you know someone like Claire, who is the primary caregiver for her siblings? How does this kind of responsibility impact a teen’s life?
Claire writes poetry about the major events in her life. What did you think of her poetry? Do you write poetry or songs? If Claire wasn’t a poet but a songwriter, what would be her song?  What would be Max’s song? Barkley’s?
Barkley, who is suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, reaches out to Claire through a false persona on the internet. What does the interaction of Claire and Barkley tell us about each character? Have you ever questioned the identity of anyone you have met on line?  
All summer, Max Cooper obsesses about a soccer goal kick gone wide, which resulted in his team losing a big game. Have you ever tried to achieve something—
in sports, in life, which missed its mark?  How did it make you feel?
Max is also obsessing about a girl at the beach, Samantha. Ultimately, he realizes that Samantha is not for him, but only after he looks beyond her bikinis and flirtatiousness to Claire. What does this tell us about Max? About Claire? Have you ever had to look beyond the obvious in a person?
The novel is set at a Long Island, New York beach and many of the characters, including Max, Barkley, Peter, and Trish, work together at the Snack Shack. How does this setting shape their relationships? Have you ever worked at a summer job that you thought was the worse job ever?
If you were going to imagine a next chapter in the novel, where would Claire, Max and Barkley be in their lives?  In particular, what do you think happens on the day after the novel ends, the Wednesday, to each one of them?
Why do you think the author titled this novel, Before My Eyes? What is being seen and not seen? Are there things in your life that you let parents and/or friends see and things that you hide? How does Max secretly taking prescription drugs, or Claire talking to a stranger on the internet, or Barkley suffering from mental illness highlight this theme of seeing and not seeing? How or why is there a certain irony inherit in this title?
One of the main themes of the novel centers around the onset of mental illness, in particular, paranoid schizophrenia on the behalf of Barkley. What clues does the author give us that this character is suffering from this disease? Does it make you more or less sympathetic toward Barkley? Toward his parents?
In recent years there has been a number of violent incidents with young men and guns against their communities. In fact, some of the scenes in Before My Eyes are reflective of the 2011 tragedy in Tucson, Arizona where Representative Gabrielle Giffords and eighteen others were shot and six people killed by Jared Loughner, 22 years old,eventually diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and given a life sentence for his crimes. Does reading Before My Eyes in light of those incidents, and other incidents of gun violence in American society, shape your point of view on guns in America?
Thank you for reading BEFORE MY EYES...Caroline

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? 


My eight-year-old daughter lost another tooth this week, and she insisted that she still believed in the tooth fairy. So the tooth fairy was contacted and replied with this note:

Dear Sara,
I believe in you…
And I’m glad you believe in me.
Stay forever young…
With love always,
Your Tooth Fairy

This note (and a few dollars) from the tooth fairy made a little girl very happy. Do you still believe?

Sometimes it's nice to know that simple things are still good things to believe in--like the tooth fairy.


P.S. If I had a fairy, it would be a book fairy, someone who waves a wand and encourages all to go read my new young adult novel, BEFORE MY EYES, which is NOT at all whimsical, but as much adult as much as young adult. Look for BEFORE MY EYES everywhere books/ebooks are sold. Read it with your mature teen (age 14 and above) or just read it.    

20 Answers to the Question: So, What Does a Writer Do, Mom?

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:  

1.     My mom is a writer.

2.      Her responsibility is to write at least 5 days a week and to complete edits in the time designated by her editor.

3.     She works in my house.

4.      She works indoors.

5.     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.

6.     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.

7.      She believes that the more she writes the better she becomes as a writer.

8.     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 Writing.

9.      No, there is no special clothing.

10.    Normally, 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.

11. It’s a year-round job.

12.  Both men and women write.

13.  It can be done anywhere.

14.  My mother has a high satisfaction in her job.

15.  No, she’s self-employed.
16.  No, 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 grade.

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.

His mother, Caroline Bock, has a new novel –BEFORE MY EYES to be published by St. Martin’s Press on 2.11.14. More at

The Writer is the Person Who Stays In The Room and Other Writing Insights

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 (he actually 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, find out.”
“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 think.”
So we begin again. We turn toward autumn, toward possibility; we return to writing.


A Very Adult Short Short Story - "Counting Backwards" by Caroline Bock

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.

Warning: this is Very Adult Fiction. Here's the link:

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