Tuesday, October 16, 2018

TBR: Carry Her Home by Caroline Bock

TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and, from time to time, a recipe!  

Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?

Forty-seven stories—from flash fiction to full-length works, deeply felt, autobiographical fiction—unfold across the decades from the 1960s to present day and reveal a family’s hopes and fears, truths and lies, and love.

Which character did you most enjoy creating? Why? And, which character gave you the most trouble, and why?

Many of the stories are about this real character, Pop. Murray Blech. Veteran of the Korean War. Jew from the Bronx. A guy who marries, after a short tumultuous courtship, Louise Garofalo, an Italian-American from Maspeth, Queens, and whose joy turns quickly to tragedy. Even more so, Pop, in his heart is always running away, but ends up staying, for his children, because that is who is. He’s also a very good dancer. I loved writing Pop, I knew him well. In comparison, for Louise I had to research the contours of her life, walk the streets in Queens and Greenwich Village that I imagined she walked, listen to music from 1960s, practice the mambo, the dance she loves, and I’m a pretty bad dancer. Of course, Murray Blech and Louise Garofalo are my parents, and I am imagining their courtship and what came afterwards.

Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.

Many lows and one big high. I first tried to write this book as a linked novel-in-stories. No one wanted to publish it. The agent that represented my young adult novels (Lie and Before My Eyes) didn’t think she could sell it as linked short stories. I thought I could expand on the stories that were set in the 1960s, and that are the heart of this collection, but I couldn’t quite make it to a novel. The highs began when I started writing flash fiction, (fiction 1,000 words and under).  I started expanding outward with the characters, even naming one recurring character, Caroline. Naming the character after myself gave me permission  somehow to go deeper with the stories, to fill it what I didn’t know, or don’t, frankly, want to remember. These shorter stories began to be published in literary magazines. A year and a half ago, I decided as a goal to put the stories set in the 1960s with these flash fiction stories and see if they “hung” together, see if they felt like a whole collection—and they did. I decided to submit the collection myself to small presses. And one day last spring, sprinting to teach a class, I received a call from the wonderful publisher, Kathleen Wheaton. My collection had won The 2018 Fiction Award from the Washington Writers’ Publishing House and that as part of the prize they would publish my book.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

“Character is the very heart of fiction,” to paraphrase John Gardner. I always start with a voice in my head and think: who is this person? Why am I thinking about him or her? Why do I want to write about them, and by extension, why should a reader, any reader, care? Of course, if I think too much about this, especially the last question, I don’t write. So my other self-generated advice is: Write. Write more. Don’t think. See what happens with the words. Remember: you love words. Tempestuous, heat-seeking, full-bodied words often save you, and  your characters, from the void, from despair. Write.

My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?

I wrote the stories in Carry Her Home over the last six years, and I was surprised that once I put the stories together that there seemed to be an arc from beginning to end—even the stories that are much less autobiographical, less personal, less drawn from my family, since not all are linked by blood. The whole is more expansive than its parts.

How did you find the title of your book?

Carry Her Home is the title of one of the works—a story told from Murray’s point of view about his wife, felled by tragedy, and how he wants, desperately, to carry her home from the state psychiatric hospital. I had to go inside another’s head and heart in this story. I broke apart writing this story. But it wasn’t the first title for the collection. It wasn’t the title I submitted the collection under—I went with a more neutral title: String Theory, the title of another story in the collection that the publisher didn’t think was the most resonant piece in the book, and she was right. When I suggested Carry Her Home, I knew it was the better, braver choice. I wish that I had named the collection that from the start.

Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)

I’m half Italian (Sicilian) and half Jewish, how could there not be food? There are several stories in the collection in which Sunday dinner, appetizing and noshes are central. There is also a story about cake pans entitled, “Bundt Cake Pans.” So, here is the original recipe from my husband’s Grandma Ray for the most delicious Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake, which can made in a Bundt cake pan. I have added in parentheses a few notes from the times I have made this recipe. (Scroll to bottom for the recipe.)

READ MORE ABOUT CAROLINE BOCK: www.carolinebock.com

ORDER CAROLINE’S BOOK FOR YOUR TBR PILE: http://ww.politics-prose.com/book/9781941551165

NOTE: Caroline will be reading at Politics & Prose (main store 5015 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington DC) on Sunday, October 21 from 1-2 pm. All are welcome!

Grandma’s Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake

¼ lb butter or margarine (unsalted)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup sour cream or plain yogurt (not fat free)
6 oz. chocolate chips

Cream together butter, sugar.
Add eggs and vanilla.
Sift together all dry ingredients.
Alternate sifted flour and sour cream into butter mixture.
Stir in chips.

Pour into greased round tube or spring form pan. Can use Bundt cake pan.

Mix topping ingredients then sprinkle topping over batter:
½ cup brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)                      

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until a tester comes out dry. Cool. (Enjoy!).


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.