Writerly things: Take the train!

Train travel is still a viable and reliable transportation system in the United States, despite the popularity of planes or cars.  Christina Vuono, a 30 year old speech language pathologist from Philadelphia, PA, travels by train to Atlanta, GA, every year.  Amtrak is her preferred and trusted carrier.

“I like it. Now that I’ve tried a sleeper car I never want to go back. It takes longer but the conductors are usually friendly and helpful,” said Vuono. For her, it’s something of a different experience than that of planes and busy highways.  “I like seeing the countryside. I find it relaxing. I can read or do work.”

That change in experience is exactly what Amtrak is hoping will attract more customers and travelers over the long run.  Vuono, like many other customers, is a hobby-writer with a twitter account, and that combination is good for business. In the new age of social media and instantaneous word-of-mouth recommendations, the positive experience outlined in a single 120 character tweet from a happy traveler can encourage new ticket purchases.

This year, thanks to a chance twitter conversation with a writer who later took the trial pilot run, Amtrak rolled out plans for the Amtrak Residency program for writers.  The program is now a reality and a limited number of 24 passes will be awarded by application process over the next year.  The Amtrak Residency program will allow selected writers to take a round-trip, 2 to 5 day tour of the country on any of their long-distance rail routes in a sleeper car with a desk to help encourage writers’ creativity.

The application asks why a writer wants to take the residency program, requests a writing sample, and a writer’s twitter handle as confirmation of their intent as a “creative professional.” Anyone can apply at no cost.  There is no requirement that a writer be published, or even write a review of their experience if selected.  The applications are reviewed by a panel to determine approval for the residency program.

More information, and the application, can be found at Amtrak’s blog. http://blog.amtrak.com/amtrakresidency/

What would you write if you had a week on a train?  The next Great American Novel? A news piece on the changing historical/political landscape? A kid’s story about trains? Or a sci-fi novel about space travel?



It has been decided – by me, of course, because I own this particular digital neighborhood – that I shall wander into the over-heated world of reviews. Book and movie reviews. Why would I do this? What gives me the right to opinionate on someone else’s hard work? I’m not published, after all, I have never accomplished what they have, so why should I begrudge their work?

The answer is simple. I’m a reader. A viewer. The audience.  If it works for me, if I like their work, then I can write a review to share that. If there are parts that don’t work for me, I can politely and thoughtfully explain what those were. Should the writers ever stumble on these web-documented thoughts, hopefully my point of view will be helpful rather than offensive.  Feedback is a writer’s friend and if they have gotten this far in their career that I would be reading their work off the shelves of the local bookstores, they have developed pretty thick skin. In the meantime, it goes toward my own stockpile of “things not to do” when I find those things that don’t benefit my experience of the story.

However. If I’ve bothered to read the book/watch the movie (or both) and think about it enough to write a review, there are very good odds that I don’t have anything scandalous to say about it. It is far more likely that I would be impressed and secretly wishing I could buy the author a cup of coffee and pick their brain for their success secrets. Maybe use the cuppa as a distraction to steal their writing pens.

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