JUVENTUD comes to Miami this week, I talk about shooting guns with WEIRD SISTER, & more

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Dispatch from Ocean Drive where despite being the warmest spot in the continental U.S. today, it’s still chilly. What’s a literary writer doing on Ocean Drive, you may ask? For the next few days, I’m the writer-in-residence at The Betsy Hotel, a program which has been underway since 2012 and which I first heard about, as with so many good things, word-of-mouth via the poet and memoirist Brian Turner. Tonight, I’ll be reading with the supremely talented Jaquira Diaz at Books & Books, Coral Gables, at 6:30 p.m., following the theme, “coming-of-age in literary fiction.” Jaquira has just been named the Kenyon Review Fellow in Prose for 2016-2017, so even more reason to come out and celebrate this much-deserved honor. Then back at the Betsy on Thursday, the hotel is hosting a breakfast salon (fancy! my first) where I’ll be discussing Juventud, the writing life, etc. At both events, books will be available for sale/signing. Visiting Miami feels especially right for this book, whose characters maintain a diverse array of South Florida ties; in many ways, through Juventud, I’m coming to feel more like this part of the state is my home, too–something I’ve never quite felt before.

A few more musings slipped out into the world of late: I spoke with the ladies at WEIRD SISTER about shooting guns in the context of Juventud, and published an essay on anxiety and creativity at Read Her Like an Open Book. But I’m most happy to report that Juventud is continue to earn praise as it finds its way into the world, the latest in this glowing review of JUVENTUD at New City.

For now, the sun is out. I’m off with my notebook for the beach.

 

 

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JUVENTUD: Final Media Roundup of 2015

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As 2015 winds to a close and debut novels are drowned out in the literary-list madness of December, I thought I’d list the most recent accolades for Juventud here lest you think launch season is ending on a whimper and not a bang. Once again, the novel earns the spotlight at The Quivering Pen blog, where David Abrams has included it in his A Year of Reading Best Book Covers, along with works by Laura van den Berg, Lydia Davis, Lauren Groff, Rick Moody, Ann Tyler, Salmon Rushdie, and my favorite by Joe Meno.

In the book critic realm, several more thoughtful and praise-filled reviews have appeared. I am especially appreciative for this review of Juventud by Donna Miele for the Atticus Review. Miele says, “In the details of Mercedes’s family and social life Blakeslee offers an understanding of relationship and setting—or relationship as setting—that allows Juventud to transcend the trappings of both romance and thriller, though the story flirts with both genres. This is a novel that should generate a lot of discussion and response by future authors, to be pored over and remembered.” Book blogger Stefani Cox loved the novel and had much to say about it on her blog, including a shout-out to Curbside Splendor for publishing a diverse array of authors.

Last but not least, if you’re behind on your podcast listening and plan to spend your New Year’s Day pitching clutter instead of nursing a hangover, you may want to check out my story of how I came to Florida, performed at THE SWAMP at this year’s Miami Book Fair, and recorded by John King for The Drunken Odyssey podcast Episode 183 (which also features a terrific interview with Mary Karr). And finally, one of my favorite conversations about Juventud was with Sarah Werner for The Write Now podcast.  Why not listen in as you clean out those old files and chase away the New Year’s Eve fuzz with a shot or two of espresso? I can’t think of a more pleasant way to ring in 2016.

The Jewish Book Council loves JUVENTUD ~ and other great reviews!

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Last week the Juventud fall book tour wrapped up at the Savannah Seersucker Reading Series, Miami Book Fair (which I’ve described to more than one friend as “Disney World for lit lovers”) and D.C.’s Kramerbooks, all events fully attended and followed by astute Q &As. Those who know me also know that I love speaking on panels and “in conversation” with other writers. Somehow, when I share the stage with fellow writers, the pressure is off and I can relax and focus more, and speak from the mind and heart about the novel. November was no exception, and I am so pleased that the fall tour ended on a high note. If you missed my take on Miami, you can read this lively, pre-book fair round-up by Ryan Rivas for Lit Hub.

Savannah’s local paper featured a nice write-up of the Seersucker reading series’s “Curbside Splendor episode,” which you may check out.

Meanwhile, though I may have lagged behind in blog-posting, the warm welcome of the novel into the world has not. The Jewish Book Council gave the novel a glowing review, saying, “Blakeslee’s poetic language and exquisite descriptive detail give Juventud a canvas on which to portray what it is like to grow up with daily peril and family secrets. Where is trust? The book provides a realistic history of the drug wars beyond headlines as it transports the reader to Colombia’s streets, cities, and farms. The characters’ intriguing discussions about social justice, good and evil, activism, love, forgiveness, and hope serve to strengthen and enhance the story’s essence.”

Book lovers at popular blog sites have had some nice things to say, too: “I found Juventud both enlightening and disturbing,” says reviewer Larry of It’s Either Sadness or Euphoria. “Blakeslee really captured Mercedes’ voice so well, and I felt she gave the character complexity so she was so much more than a pampered teenager who suddenly found a conscience. I also found that she had a deft hand when it came to evoking the dichotomy of Colombia’s beauty and the extreme poverty and violence affecting the country.”

Last but not least, the Orlando Weekly suggests Juventud for their holiday “shop local” guide. The Weekly has been unflagging in their support for the novel, for which I’m ever grateful.

Interviews at Fiction Writers Review and the Orlando Weekly, plus letter to my adolescent self at DEAR TEEN ME

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Gearing up for the hometown launch of Juventud tomorrow evening at 6-9pm at the East End Market, and crossing fingers here that we’ve got enough copies of the novel for the crowd that will be descending after this locally-focused author spotlight in the current issue of the Orlando Weekly. I’ll be spending this evening baking Colombian sugar cookies for tomorrow night’s festivities, and perhaps a few other surprises.

More great press this week, including a conversation I had recently with Barrett Bowlin about Juventud at Fiction Writers Review. “Train Shots,” the story, was published under his editorship of Harpur Palate and you can imagine his excitement in following the collection’s success, especially the news that it has been optioned for film.

An especially enjoyable piece to write was the letter to my adolescent self, featured this week at DEAR TEEN ME. I tackled a subject I’ve been itching to write about for a while — how the AIDS scare paralyzed my generation — although I never would have guessed my essay would emerge in the shape of a letter…to myself. Hope you enjoy the read.

Lastly, thanks to Ryan Rivas and LitHub for including me in 30 Questions for 30 Writers at the Miami Book Fair, which is in just a couple of weeks. MBFI is one of my favorite literary events in the Sunshine State, and it will be a dream come true to present Juventud to the audience there on Saturday, Nov. 21st.

Now, off to bake!

An excerpt of JUVENTUD at Joyland, and the latest Interview at the Masters Review!

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Wondering what I’ve been reading at all these far-flung tour stops? Joyland literary magazine featured an exclusive excerpt from Juventud this week, which happens to be the scene I find myself reading the most often. It’s definitely one of my favorites in the novel, one that seems to spur thoughtful Q&A as it did last night with the attentive crowd who came out for my author talk at the West Hartford library. Students, library regulars, VCFA and Bread Loaf alums filled the house, and it was truly a joy to catch up at long last with friends old and new.

Also this week, my latest interview on Juventud is featured at the Masters Reviewhttps://mastersreview.com/interview-vanessa-blakeslee-on-her-debut-novel-juventud/. Hope you enjoy. Meanwhile, I’m off to catch a bus and then Amtrak, for tonight’s reading at the Dire Literary Series in Boston.

Smart takes on JUVENTUD in the latest reviews from The Rumpus and Ploughshares!

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Two extraordinarily thoughtful reviews of Juventud were published this weekend, each one honing in on the “youth” aspect of the book in unique ways. Here, from the Ploughshares review of Juventud: ‘In the beginning of the novel, Mercedes describes a young boy who has been displaced by the conflict. He holds a sign stating, “Ayuda. Somos desplazados.” Help. We are displaced. This moment serves two purposes: the boy’s sign reflects Mercedes’ emotional state during a time of violent sociopolitical upheaval, and also holds Mercedes—and Juventud’s readers—responsible for serving those ravaged by conflict.’

And I was elated to mull over the final paragraph of this review of Juventud at The Rumpus: “The novel’s title brings to mind Kenneth Lonergan’s seminal play This Is Our Youth. Though Lonergan’s teenage characters live and work and play on the Upper West Side of New York City, they suffer seemingly similar plights as Mercedes—particularly Warren, one of the nineteen-year-old soul-searching protagonists, whose dad engages in successful but murky business dealings. As Warren describes him: “But my father is not a criminal. He’s just in business with criminals.” Though we never meet Warren’s father, we learn about his fate, particularly at the end of play in Warren’s closing monologue: “but when he was at the height of his powers, he totally lost control of his own daughter, and she ended up getting beaten to death by some guy from the world next door to us.” Like Mercedes and many young people,  Warren’s sister was drawn to worlds unlike her own, and she becomes a sort of cautionary tale about the cost of rebellion. Mercedes, on the other hand, is a strong agent of her own fate, who leaves casualties in her wake. Blakeslee does not deliver a neat ending; instead, she provides a story worthy of deep philosophical discussion and debate.”

Seeing these latest reviews in dialogue with each other is affirming beyond measure, and writing a thoughtful critique takes diligence and effort. I’m grateful for both of these essays being out in the world, and to have Lonergan’s work brought to my attention. Juventud appears to be finding itself in fine company, indeed!

JUVENTUD earns the spotlight at Washington Independent Review of Books ~ plus my “Table of Contents” menu at Real Pants

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Tremendously excited to see this thoughtful review of Juventud at the Washington Independent Review of Books. Reviewer Patricia Ann McNair says,

“Because Juventud is at its best a love story between Mercedes and Manuel, Blakeslee has to navigate the language of romance and sex as well as that of history and politics. When these things work together, the writing is at its most interesting: “We made love on the couch, where countless volunteers had bickered over ideas and spilled Cokes and cried for their captive relatives; the cushions stung my knees.”

There is another love story here, too, the one between Mercedes and her father, Diego, the most complex and compelling character in these pages. Diego’s love for his daughter both protects and damages her, despite his best intentions. This is the relationship that most matters in Mercedes’ story, the one that drives the novel forward. It is potentially the most rewarding, as well.”

In addition, I had a great fun inventing a Juventud-themed menu at Real Pants for their “Table of Contents” series.

Hard to believe, now that I’m back behind the register at Bookmark It in Orlando, that just a couple of weeks ago I was running from one Northern city in the height of autumnal bloom to another. If you haven’t made it yet to a launch event, you may get a glimpse here of my Sunday Salon NYC reading on Oct. 18th in the East Village (Jimmy’s 43). We sold out once again that night, a wonderful precedent that I very much hope will continue!

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