“I’m always asking myself the question: Why is this night different from all other nights? Meaning, why is this moment important to single out from all others?” says Caroline Bock, whose short story won first place in TW Two Roads Diverge contest. She is the author of two young adult novels, Lie and Before My Eyes, and her short stories and poetry have appeared in such journals as Ploughshares and Zero Dark-Thirty. Bock has a MFA in fiction from The City College of New York. Prior to focusing on her writing, she led the marketing and public relations departments at Bravo cable network, IFC and IFC Films. She lives in Maryland with her husband and two children and works as freelance bookseller with the independent bookstore Politics & Prose. We asked her to tell us about the process of writing “Gargoyles and Stars.” Her responses follow.
Q&A with Caroline Bock
First lines are so important, especially in a short story. How did you develop your first line? What did you want it to accomplish for the reader?
This story was inspired by a prompt to my monthly short fiction group. We were to write a piece of flash fiction where the setting was central. So I started in a different mindset from where I usually start – I usually begin with a character. Instead, I headed off with a memory of a place, and then, a dramatic moment at that setting, somewhat inspired by a true incident.
The ending of the story is ambiguous. What do you hope readers will take away from it?
We’ve reached the end of the journey with Lydia. She is safe. Right now, the sun is rising; her mind is with her beloved and her place of happy memories. The future is uncertain, but then it always is, except for the stars returning each night. I wanted the readers to feel that they lived an entire life with Lydia over this one night. A bittersweet, but satisfying ending for a short story, I hope.
What are the origins of this story: something you witnessed? experienced? an idea you wanted to explore? Tell us more about how it began in your imagination and how it grew to a full story.
I attended the City College of New York twice in my life: in the 1980s and more recently from about 2006 to 2011 to pursue a master’s degree in fiction. I experienced the much less safe Harlem of the 1980s and the much more gentrified Harlem of today. When I recently returned as a student, I would drive up to the campus from my Long Island home twice a week. One night, I returned to where I parked my car on Convent Avenue, and it wasn’t there. It turned out to be one of the most remarkable nights of my life – and the backbone of the story. However, when I sat down to use this night for the prompt, I asked myself what if? What if it wasn’t someone like me who found a lake of glass instead of her car? Who would that person be? Why would she be at City College? What would be different about her experience?
What is your best advice to other short story writers – something that has guided and sustained you as a writer?
Take what you know and turn it around. Ask yourself questions. What if it were this way, or that, or completely different from the way I remember it? What if it were something new, but at the same time, rooted in memory? What if I wrote something short, when I’m more comfortable writing long? Or write long, when I’m more comfortable with short? Or write in the third person when I so often default to the first? What is the challenge I have with this piece, and how is it different from other challenges I’ve given myself? I like to write to engage myself as much as I like to engage the reader. I’m someone with a lot of questions.
Read Caroline Bock’s story “Gargoyles and Stars.”
Click here to read the 2nd place story, “A Wolf with Patience” by Barbara Stark-Nemon.
Click here to read the 3rd place story, “Good for the Soul” by Brenda Sinclair Sutton.
Click here to read the honorable mention story, “White Rice” by John Philipp.