Written by Karen Gellender Friday, 09 September 2011 00:00
On Nov. 8, 2008, Marcelo Lucero, 37, born in Ecuador, was murdered in Patchogue by a local teen, Jeffrey Conroy. In the wake of Lucero’s death, other Latinos came forward about being attacked and harassed by local teens, an activity their aggressors sometimes referred to casually as ‘beaner-hopping.’
In LIE, a new young adult novel written by Caroline Bock of Old Bethpage, while the situation is fictional, in the wake of a brutal attack that ends with a young man dead, the characters grapple with the same question that many Long Islanders asked in the wake of Lucero’s fatal stabbing: How did people just let this happen? How could this happen here?
Yet, the story of the attack on two El Salvadoran immigrants by a charismatic scholar-athlete and his friends doesn’t presume to offer easy answers to any of the questions it poses.
“I didn’t want to moralize,” said Bock. “I don’t like people moralizing at me; I didn’t like it when I was a kid, I don’t like it now.”
Instead, the book provides multiple perspectives: from the teens involved in the attack, to the victims, to the adults who aren’t sure what to believe anymore. Bock said she came up with the idea of how this event would affect a local community, not just the characters directly involved.
“I thought, wow, that’s a really interesting and different way to write a novel- to look at half a dozen, or what actually ended up being 10 different perspectives, on the same incident…on the same horrible decision that was made by a group of teens,” said Bock. The novel’s ten interweaved perspectives make the narrative something of a puzzle for the reader—a challenging approach, especially for a YA book—but no one can accuse Bock of shying away from the complexity of her subject.
Furthermore, while the book is marketed as YA, Bock feels potential readership is not limited to younger readers only; though the main characters are teens, several characters are adults, and the subject itself is mature.
It’s an ambitious project for a first novel, but Bock has waited decades to make her career as a writer a reality. For 20 years, she worked as the head of marketing and public relations for TV stations like Bravo, and later IFC TV. Once she reached the age of 40, she realized she really wanted to do two things: have a second child, and start writing, as she had wanted to do since childhood.
“You know that dream you had when you were 12? You’re going to do it now, or you’re never going to do it,” Bock remembered saying to herself.
Soon, Bock was pursuing an MFA in fiction at City College in Manhattan. She experienced some success with her first book, Confessions of a Carb Queen (Rodale, 2008), a memoir she co-wrote with her sister, Susan Blech. However, she soon realized that what she really wanted to pursue was contemporary fiction.
In the wake of Lucero’s murder, Bock raced through the first draft of LIE, finishing in January of 2009. Bock said she wrote, feverishly, passionately; the first draft only took 6-8 weeks.
However, LIE would go through many more revisions before she was through, and her pre-readers, made up of some of her classmates and friends from City College—people from all walks of life— had plenty of constructive criticism to offer. One fellow MFA candidate, who happens to be Latino himself, even read through different drafts of the book six times (“He’s thanked in the book,” assured Bock.)
In response to the criticism from pre-readers, her agent, and eventually her editor at St. Martin’s Press in New York, Bock extended the length of the book by 25 percent, among other changes. While the book is still taut—barely over 200 pages—it’s quite different from her first attempt.
“I really think when you’re a writer, the one thing you need is great early readers,” said Bock, who went on to discuss the importance of being open to constructive criticism.
In addition to its unusual subject and format, LIE has some other distinguishing features: not only did Bock write the reading group guide in the back of LIE herself, drawing on her own book club experience, but she also wrote a teacher’s guide to the book, which is available free online at MacMillan.com.
Having received her MFA from City College, Bock now teaches Modern Literature there while she pens her next novel; Bock wouldn’t give away the subject, but was willing to let slip that her next novel would also take place on Long Island, and would be a part of the same “contemporary realism” genre that she considers LIE to be. “I think that’s my niche in the world,” she said.
A voracious reader, Bock said she’s always in the middle of two or three books and names Margaret Atwood and E.L. Doctorow among her favorite authors; she also praises Laurie Halse Anderson, author of the critically acclaimed YA novel Speak. She also enjoys some lighter fare like The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, but doesn’t want to write genre fiction herself— even if that would be an easier sell in a tough market.
“I think if I had written, you know, the next book about vampires, zombies or werewolves, it would have been a lot easier to get it sold,” said the author with a laugh. She did clarify, however, that she has nothing against the vampire, zombie, or werewolf genres.
LIE, which has received starred reviews from both Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly, is available in bookstores now. A launch party will take place at Book Revue in Huntington on Friday, Sept. 16 from 7 to 9 p.m. The Plainview-Old Bethpage Library will also host a discussion/reception of the book on Saturday, Oct. 15 from 3 to 4 p.m. Both events are free and open to the public.
For more information about the book, and to read reviews, visit www.carolinebock.com.