This story was corrected on Wednesday, March 19, 2014. An explanation follows the story.
The “young adult” label is little more than a marketing tool for book publishers, contends Caroline Bock, whose second novel under this rubric was released in February.
“Other than young adult books featuring teens as main characters – all the rest is marketing for the book industry,” she said.
The 51-year-old writer finds that the best of these books are as serious and complex as literary fiction for adults. It’s not all tales of “vampires, werewolves and dystopian societies.”
“Today’s young adult novels are the coming of age or bildungsroman stories of our time,” she observed. “In another age, Salinger’s ‘Catcher in the Rye’ or Voltaire’s ‘Candide’ would most likely have been labeled Young Adult literature.”
That said, the for-teens segment of the book business is booming, and has been for the past decade or so, and females are the primary buyers.
“I think it’s pretty much a given in the publishing industry these days that women buy and read more fiction, and in turn, girls read more young adult fiction,” Bock said. Still, she added, “LIE,” her first novel (2011), garnered “an incredibly strong cadre of young male readers,” which she attributes to a “tightly woven … high stakes” story, with “plotting and characters [that] grabbed the attention of boys as well as girls.”
In Bock’s fiction, contemporary issues are at the forefront, and happy endings are possible – even when the real occurrences that informed her stories are horrific. “LIE” was based on a hate crime, the 2008 murder of Marcelo Lucero by a group of teens on Long Island. She didn’t intend it to be a young adult novel, but her agent thought it best to sell it that way. To “extend” the teen characters, Bock added 10,000 words to the original manuscript, and “made it the story of the girlfriend and best friend of the mastermind of the beatings.”
Bock said she wrote “Before My Eyes,” her second novel, “much more consciously” for the teen market. Its three young adult protagonists offer perspectives of a shooting at a political rally, inspired by the 2011 Gabby Giffords event.
“It’s a real-life, gritty, pretty complex novel,” she said, noting that ironically, her editor considered marketing it as an adult book.
Bock is a newcomer to Montgomery County. In August, she relocated from her native New York — Bronx-born, New Rochelle-bred, Syracuse University- and City College of New York-educated, Long Island adulthood, Manhattan-employed — to Potomac last summer for her husband’s job. But she has taken the changes in stride and made it her own — not unlike what she did at age 40 in switching careers.
After leading the marketing and public relations departments at Bravo and IFC (Independent Film Channel), Bock opted to follow her dream.
“I always really wanted to write,” she said. And, “as soon as I left corporate America, I started writing.”
Instead of an immediate venture into literary fiction, as she had planned, Bock said, “I ended up writing my sister’s story.” “Confessions of a Carb Queen,” co-authored with Susan Blech, tells the story of Blech’s 250-pound non-surgical weight loss. Sony TV bought the film rights. Bock’s next project was a teleplay that her former employer, IFC, bought from her. Sadly, she said, it “went into development hell.”
In search of “structure and focus,” Bock decided to pursue an MFA in Fiction at City College of New York. It took some five or six years, part time; during that period, she also taught CCNY freshman English Composition as well as public relations and corporate communications.
Her first novel, “LIE,” began in a novel writing workshop at CCNY. Published as a trade paperback, it received four starred trade reviews (Booklist, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Review) and is in its fourth edition. Most important, it earned Bock entrée into a contract with St. Martin’s for the second novel, which is in hardcover.
Bock, who writes daily as she would work any job, said it takes from nine to 12 months for her to produce a book.
“After I get the kids off to school, around 9:15, I write until I’m starving, around 1,” she said. Evenings, “I review and revise for another hour or two.”
In conjunction with her concern about gun violence, which is central to “Before My Eyes,” Bock has become active with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “Not long after I moved here, I was lobbying at the Senate,” she said proudly. “I knew there was a reason I came to D.C.!”
In her effort to become ensconced in her new community, Bock has been busy. She has taken two classes at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda; discovered the joys of the Montgomery County Public Libraries and the Politics & Prose bookstore; joined a second book club, and signed up as a volunteer tutor for the Literacy Council of Montgomery County.
Bock is now toward the end of her first draft of her next book, which she describes as a “very literary novel in stories” — for adults. She expects to be done before summer vacation. In the if-you-want-something-done-ask-a-busy-person-to-do-it mode, she is likely to achieve that goal — and more.
“Before My Eyes” (St. Martin’s Press) is available at amazon.com.
Corrections: Author Caroline Bock’s name was misspelled in the original article. The organization Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America was originally misidentified.