AWARDS: Winner of the IPPY Gold Medal for Short Story Collections, Frank O’ Connor International Short Story Award Long-list, Sherwood Anderson Fiction Award Finalist
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Synopsis: A single mother rents a fundamentalist preacher’s carriage house. A pop star contemplates suicide in the hotel where Janis Joplin died. A philandering ex-pat doctor gets hooked on morphine while reeling from his wife’s death. And in the title story, a train engineer, after running over a young girl on his tracks, grapples with the pervasive question—what propels a life toward such a disastrous end?
Praise for Train Shots
“No one writes this good the first time out, do they? Train Shots is more than a promising first collection by a formidably talented writer; it is a haunting story collection of the first order. I was flat knocked out. Blakeslee’s range and confidence are astonishing. I can’t forget these beguiling and unsparing stories and I don’t want to.”
~John Dufresne, author of No Regrets, Coyote
“Train Shots announces an outstanding new voice. Vanessa Blakeslee’s stories traverse a trilling range of landscapes and voices, but no matter where her characters find themselves, their struggles with lost love and loneliness are authentic and engrossing and will not soon be forgotten.”
~Laura van den Berg, author of The Isle of Youth and What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us
“In each of the eleven stories in Train Shots, Vanessa Blakeslee immerses her readers in nuanced and impressively imagined worlds in which characters must choose between loyalty or justice, between sticking with it or giving up. This is a book populated with unforgettable, complex characters, each seeking, in one way or another, a cure for heartbreak.”
~Christine Sneed, author of Little Known Facts
“Vanessa Blakeslee’s story collection Train Shots is the literary version of a debutante’s ball, a lovely introduction to a young writer just coming into her own.”
~ Douglas Glover, author Elle
“The title is a reference to that grand local tradition of liquor consumption anytime a train passes by, most famously at the trackside PR’s Taco Palace in Winter Park… Blakeslee is a talented writer whose book you should pick up even if you’re sober.”
~Tod Caviness, for Orlando Sentinel
“In each of the eleven stories contained in Vanessa Blakeslee’s Train Shots there comes a moment when you can hear in your head a camera lens zooming in and out, setting up for the perfect shot, one that will capture a protagonist’s defining moment. The moment is rarely cinematic: it gets its power from the careful plotting and the psychological portraits that have preceded it.”
~ Scott Carpenter, for JMWW
“Blakeslee’s stories are like dramatic snapshots, each one a colorful glimpse of our sordid and vibrant humanity. Compelling, and honest, Train Shots deserves a prominent spot on the contemporary reader’s bookshelf.”
~ Lauren O’Regan, Women’s Book Review
“[Blakeslee’s] stories read as ballads of brokenness, chronicling the strife, anger, guilt, disappointment, and disillusionment that all of us face. Blakeslee’s range, both stylistically and in her talent to craft a unique narrative voice, is impressive.”
~Lindsey Grudnicki, for Minerva Rising
“Each story bristles with energy and the potential for beauty or destruction, and only turning the pages will reveal which one. Blakeslee writes with a confidence and panache that will carry readers through this collection in a few gulps.”
“Train Shots is a collection of eleven short stories that are an insightful look into the lives of ordinary people. Each story is like a photograph, a moment frozen in time.”
~Jim Liston, for San Francisco Book Review
“Refreshingly, Blakeslee avoids the common fault of placing all her stories in a blue-collar milieu, as though this will lend them some sort of down-home cred; her characters span the American class system and are (or feel) no less downtrodden for it.”
“Blakeslee’s … ambition pokes through again and again in beautiful sentences and her unique insight.”
~Denton Loving, for PANK
“Perhaps that is the most remarkable thing, in the end, about Train Shots; that Blakeslee plumbs the deep waters of love, disconnection, and the purpose of life without succumbing to the weight of pretension.”
~Mark Pursell, forBuzzed Books
A shot, a train, a widower, a pop princess (Atticus Review)
Most Anticipated Fiction of 2014 (Memorious magazine blog)
Blakeslee talks w/ Split Lip Magazine
Favorite Reads (The Quarterly Conversation)
About the Author
Vanessa Blakeslee was raised in northeastern Pennsylvania and earned her MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her writing has appeared in The Southern Review, The Paris Review Daily, The Globe and Mail, PANK, and Kenyon Review Online, among many others. Winner of the inaugural Bosque Fiction Prize, she has also been awarded grants and residencies from Yaddo, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, The Banff Centre, Ledig House, and the Ragdale Foundation. In 2013 she received the Individual Artist Fellowship in Literature from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs. Find Vanessa online at vanessablakeslee.com.
Blakeslee reads from “Welcome, Lost Dogs”
an excerpt from
“The Princess of Pop”
The Princess of Pop remembered being a kid back in Louisiana on her cousins’ wide wooden swing, climbing so high that with one release of the chain links she might sail off into the clouds. If only she could fly like the pretty quail her dad and uncles used to talk about when they returned from hunting, with the same look in their eyes as if they were talking about their latest girlfriend or a sexy movie star. But then they would unhitch the tailgate of someone’s truck, toss aside the dirty canvas, and there would lay the quail, glossy soft feathers spotted with blood. “They fly fast but we get them eventually,” her dad had said, lifting one by its feet and turning the bird so that she might see its beauty up close.
In her room at the Highland Gardens Hotel, the Princess of Pop traced her fingers along the smooth, empty dresser before swinging her oversized Fred Segal bag onto the bedspread. She yanked out the half-full bottle of Grey Goose, a container of blue-cheese-stuffed olives, a pack of Marlboro menthol lights, and two books: one given to her by Mel Gibson that was about Jesus saving the world from sin (she had managed to read a few chapters before losing interest); the other one, which she liked only slightly better, was called A Confederacy of Dunces. Her older brother had insisted she read it because she liked to be funny, and he said she would appreciate the humor. And because she knew he was smart and she wanted him to think the same of her, she was struggling her way through the story so that the next time she visited him in New York they might have something to talk about besides their family sadness. But it had been months since she’d seen or spoken to her brother, and the corners of the book curled back and the bookmark had disappeared last week. She shook out her little bottles of precious pills and they bounced and rolled across the comforter. She left them there, poured a glass of warm vodka, added two olives, then wandered to the balcony and leaned over the rail.
The Highland Gardens pool area was a secluded paradise. Palms bent over the walkways and birds twittered in the trees. No one was swimming; the pool gleamed a still, shining blue. But then someone shouted her name, and this startled her out of the quiet. That was her name but she didn’t know who that person was anymore; they might as well be calling someone else. Why did her life matter so much, anyway? But she followed the familiar throaty voices to the unshaven faces of the men ducking behind their cameras, lenses like the long black snouts of wild boar—her uncles used to hunt them, too, she remembered. Click-click, click-click, click-click, the cameras sounded like water guns. The men fired and waved from the balcony straight across from hers, on the opposite side of the pool.
She wanted to melt into her heels right there; she wanted to die. Instead she just held up her glass and said, “Cheers, boys.” They were so busy shouting her name, though, the voices jamming atop one another, that she knew they didn’t hear her. She peered down at the walkway below and listened, but no one was coming. Then she held the glass over the side of the balcony, let go, and waited for the splintering impact.
Nothing. When she leaned over the rail, she saw no broken glass anywhere. Where had the glass gone? It couldn’t have just disappeared. Then she spotted it, nestled and whole in the long spiked leaves of a giant tropical plant underneath her balcony. The sunlight shone through and the glass had not a scratch; the two olives still floated on the bottom. She snorted, stalked back into the room, and swayed with her arms crossed, not quite sure of what to do. The sheer white curtain liner puffed in the breeze. She poured herself another glass of vodka…