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


How do you choose WHAT YA NOVEL TO READ?

If I'm 14, how would I choose a YA novel?  My friends tell me it's good?  But how do they choose it?  Cover?  Title?  Critics?  Or, is it more about the adults choosing for teens? What is it??

The book is made into a movie (or the book is only a novelization of the movie, not even a 'real' book), the book is on the reading list, the book is brought home (or ordered up on ebook) by parent (who then also wants to read it)?  Or, maybe it's just another book by the same author?  Is that why so many serials are made?  Or, why the covers by one author all tend to look a like?  We want you, our teens, to read so we are desperate to convince you that all books are about vampires (many are, we don't have to disguise this fact).  But what of a different book -- like LIE?

When I was growing up there were children books and adult books, and I remember at age 11 or 12, in the White Plains Library getting in trouble for wanting books out of the adult section.  I was shepherded back into the 'children's section,'  and went back into the 'adult' section with the excuse I was looking for my father -- who only growled that I could read any book that I wanted to --  and he'd get it out for me.  He liked authority even less than I did, but he read a lot too.  So how are books chosen by today's teens? obviously as a former marketing/PR exec, and even more so, as someone coming out with her first novel, I'm interested in solving the riddle within the riddle of a book, purchased, read.

"....What is it you plan to do/With you One Wild and Precious Life?

"Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?"
-- "The Summer Day"

The end of a poem by a wonderful poet, Mary Oliver  --  the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, the first day of summer is upon us.  So think of those last lines: Tell me, what you do you plan to do/With your one wild and precious life???


Since I didn't have a mother I was sent each summer until I was 11 or 12 to visit my Aunt, my mother's mother, in Oxford, MA, but some part of me was also being sent to the Oxford Public Library.  I always remember this library as a castle, with imposing red bricks, and a steep flight of front stairs, and inside, a hush and cool against the heat of summer.  The children's room was on the very top floor, up two or three flights of stairs, the last of twisting of metal.  The librarian there, who I hadn't seen since the summer before, was waiting for me, somehow (maybe because my Aunt and Uncle were fairly prominent in their small town), remembering me as the 'girl from New York who liked books.'   I don't know if my Aunt or Uncle frequented the library, they weren't book people in the way my father was, but they knew I was an odd, sad, moody, too-smart-for-my-own-good-at-times girl who liked to read too  much. This librarian and its top floor saved my life for two weeks every summer from the sadness of being sent away from my father.

The one constant in my life has been books -- and I feel we take for granted our public library system, we underfund it, which is always the best sign in America if you value something or not.  This is wrong.  A mistake.  Short-sighted.  Libraries changed, enriched, made hopeful one little girl's life and gave her books -- and possibilities. 

The AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION annual meeting is coming up this month -- so I am thinking about my novel in the hands of librarians, on library bookshelves, being checked out and in --by  someone, maybe like me, who always took out tumbles of books.  But even more,  I am thinking of the public library in Oxford Massachusetts, which I stopped visiting at age 11 or 12, and about how libraries and librarians since have enriched my life.  Saved it.  Let us know praise librarians and our public libraries.

DARKNESS TOO VISIBLE?? YA lit and the Wall Street Journal

Yesterday, a major story in the Wall Street Journalabout, not money, not stocks or bonds, not jobs, about --  Young Adult Literature  -- "Darkness Too Visible: Contemporary fictions for teens is rife with abuse, violence, depravity.  Why is this considered a good idea?"  by Meghan Cox Gordan.

Listen up, I loved reading Judy Blume and S.E. Hinton too.  I even loved A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (all of these she recommends).   I re-read The Outsiders recently -- and for the most part -- it still reads really well, the characters are deeply developed. I still wanted to make everything for Pony, in the same way I did when I was 12 or 13 (okay, what does that say about me?).  But maybe a deeper look at the raw realism of today (yes, okay, LIE) is called for?   Where was Laurie Anderson in this article?  The raw New York City based novels of Paul Volponi (who in full disclosure gave LIE a great blurb, though I have never met him), or of Walter Dean Meyers?  She calls Hunger Games 'hyper violent.'  Hey, it's a strong female fighting the capriciousness dictatorial society, but then recommends Fahrenheit 451. I'm not sure of the difference in theme, except one has been deemed a 'classic,' by time and literary critics.  She goes on to tout other classics, or even books such as Ophelia by Lisa Kline (in full disclosure I haven't read, but is now on my reading list) based on Shakespeare Hamlet.   

And one more thing that seems so fussy,( and so mistaken about YA lit in general) this Wall Street Journal writer breaks the books into 'books for young men' and' books for young women,' and what was great about S.E. Hinton is that boy or girl, you could read The Outsiders.   Boy or girl you could read To Kill a Mockingbird.

So yes, darkness NEEDS to be visible.  I am hoping that today's audience, boys and girls, young and old,  still want to know more about the world, the true, heart-felt, devastating real world.    

INSPIRATION comes from strange places- go there

This weekend I went to the Levittown Memorial Day fair:
    Bought one of these three items in red from the food stand below.  Watched kids, including my own, play for stuffed animals. Listened to punk/grunge teen-age rockers and picked out their groupies in the crowd, the girls wearing short skits and torn tights and combat boots in the 90 degree heat.  Watched an old man in his marine uniform in his metal folding chair at the center of the crowd tap his feet to another tune in his head.  He was happy.  I was too.  I could have stayed there all night because I could feel my brain writing the scenes.   I don't know what scenes yet, but that will come.  So, the advice: go, explore, see the world, even if it's the world right there in your own background.

Writing For Television

Yes, I have experience in television - cable television.  I was the head of marketing and public relations at Bravo (in the days of film and arts), then IFC and IFC Films.  And yes, I've always had this creative vs. the commercial, this print vs. television, this writing literature vs. writing for television in me (I majored in English/creative writing and Telecommunications/writing for the medium at Syracuse University). 

I've written LIE (and yes, it's getting published August 30th by St. Martin's Press - I have to get the plug in), so I'm going to try (again) to write for television.  I have had one minor TV success.  After I left IFC, I wrote a pilot,  SCENES FROM A F&#%CKED UP LIFE, that IFC bought.  I think I'm the only ex-employee ever to sell something back to that network.  I continue to think it's a pretty damn good pilot.  But they own it and it's in a file somewhere.

So, now it's time for another try at television, where some the best writing is happening these days.   To help me prepare -- I read: The TV Writer's Workbook: A Creative Approach to Television Scripts by Ellen Sandler.   She has a great website too --

I do think that a writer -- any writer, but very important for a young writer, to be versatile.  More on being versatile, and frankly, on the business of being a writer (so your parents don't freak out at the idea of you being a writer!) later!!

Wish me luck!  Stay tuned!!


Daring is the courage to try out the unknown, to move into unfamiliar spaces," Peskowitz writes. "That seems to describe perfectly the conundrums, and the promise, of writing, where each day we seem inevitably to create anew, to step into what’s next."   --Miriam Perskowitz Daring Book for Girls

I believe that DARING is also the willingness to dive into conflict, to fight for what you believe in.  In terms of writing, it's having characters that believe in something, who are willing and ready to argue or fight or stand up for what they believe in.  It's especially exciting when these characters are girls who are ready to fight (The Hunger Games !!).

As women, we avoid conflict too much.  We want to be nice.  I've read a lot of student work, and I see how young women writers want to be liked, want their characters to be liked.  This washes over the characters, especially the female ones, and makes them bland and inconsequential.

In writing, as it is often true in life, it doesn't work to be too nice, too agreeable, too eager to please.  Be daring -- in life and in your character's lives!!

Miriam Perkowitz has some more interesting points at her new column at The Daring Writers Guide


January.  Nine months until young adult novel is out (August 30).  Feels like being pregnant, waiting.   
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