In response to comments on twitter, Amtrak says they are planning to set up an onboard residency for writers. Select writers will get a free trip to give them time to write, and the only requirement as of right now is for the writers to send in a few tweets during the trip.
As soon as I heard of this plan, I tried to sign up, but there is no place to sign up yet, nowhere to submit a request. So far, only a couple of writers have been given a free ride to “test drive” the program, but so many people have professed an interest in a residency that they are currently formulating an outline to expand the program. The main drawback for Amtrak, of course, is that while the residency might be free to authors, the rail company will still have expenses, and they will need to recoup those expenses somehow. A drawback that they might not have considered is the sheer numbers of writers in this country. Millions of them. (I mean, millions of us. I tend to forget that I am a writer.) And who wouldn’t want a free train ride to wherever you wanted to go, as well as all that uninterrupted time to write? If they opened the residency to submissions, rather than just pick candidates on twitter (as they did with the first couple of writers), they would have to sift through hundreds of thousands of submissions, especially if they open the program to all writers: published, unpublished, self-published, journalists, bloggers. They would have to decide what would constitute a writer, and what that writer could do for their business. Although they are saying there would be no quid pro quo, they also admit they would be looking for writers with a strong social media presence.
I have a hunch such a program would end up being a lottery, where only a few lucky people would even be considered, either because they caught Amtrak’s attention or because theirs was the first possible request to be considered. Some writers are hoping Amtrak will consider an entire car dedicated to writers. I have a hunch that is a bit optimistic, but who knows — writers conferences are big money. Why not do a conference aboard a train?
I guess it’s just as well there is no place to sign up yet. The train comes through here at 3:00 in the morning, and although I’ve made many friends, no one is such a good friend that they would volunteer to get up so early to drive me to the tracks. And I do mean tracks. There is no train station here. I’d have to stand by the tracks in the dark and hope they stop to let me board.
Still, it would all be part of the adventure. So, Amtrak, if you are reading this, my hands are in the air, and I am waving them wildly, begging, “Choose me, please! I promise to blog about my trip.”
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.