See America for free by rail?

Yes, there’s a question mark at the end. It’s not a certain thing, but for writers anywhere, and particularly those outside the U.S., it might offer a good way to see the country inexpensively and to write while you do. You travel for free in exchange for writing about it. Teleread has the details:

teleread.com/chris-meadows/a … y-program/

It’s still informal, but if you can convince them you’ll keep a local blog, a travelers’ website or maybe a newspaper humming with news of your trip around the U.S. by rail, you just might get that ticket.

There are cons:

  1. The American rail system isn’t like that in Europe. It’s optimized for moving bulk freight, so the number of places you can go and the times you can travel will be much less. We’re a big country and mostly use planes for long trips. Still, it is a train, so you’re not packed in like on a bus or plane. And train tracks tend to run through undeveloped areas in the West, so the scenery is often marvelous.

  2. The residency isn’t likely to cover the food, which I have heard is pricey. That means either pay the high prices or stock up on food for yourself.

Back in the late 1970’s I roved all over Europe with a 3-month Eurail pass and absolutely loved it. I though of doing something similar again. Writing on a train is a bit like writing in a coffee shop. You get around people to make life more interesting. But it has an added bonus. The scenery outside your window is constantly changing.

–Michael W. Perry, Auburn, AL

P.S. Those who’re thinking of creating a website for their books might want to check out what I’m doing at:

inklingbooks.prosite.com

The Behance/Prosite comes free with Adobe’s Creative Cloud package. Behance is for creative professionals to show their work. Prosite synchs with it to show that work to a broader public. I’ve found that a site designed to show photographs works quite well to show a book’s cover and interior. Mine is still roughed in. When I get a chance, there’ll be commentary between the pictures and links to where people can buy the books.

I’ll do a posting when I know more. For now, if you’re look for a place to host your books, you might consider Behance/Prosite, particularly if you can get it free through Adobe.

Mike,

Thank you very much for reporting about this initiative. I’ve traveled a lot on trains in my youth (train was inexpensive in Italy at the time - I also did a couple Eurorails: hello comrade!), and I’ve lived several stories while traveling, or while attending for connections at train stations. I still feel train stations as an attractive place where to head from time to time.

A few years ago I conceived a trip like this, planning to sleep in motels while telling the story of other travelers. I contacted some motel chains to see if they could offer me a discount, but only Accor answered (politely, but with a negative answer). I guess travelers are expected to pay the due price. At the same time, crossing America is a long trip, and a trip that might be a bit too expensive for writers.

Transports currently need romance. They only seem a way to move something or someone between points in space. They can be much more: a way of moving a story from page to page. European transports connect heavily urbanized places - you never leave the pervasive town that is this continent. Crossing America by ground is a way of confronting humans with the nature and open spaces. I would love to tell about my travel, and the travel of the others of my same kind. Maybe, letting people know that there is life out of the fast flights or the major tourist places.

Paolo

I’d certainly agree with the basic premise that trains are great places to write. Trains rule, especially in the quiet carriage (does Amtrak have those?).

Gizmo has taken up the story with a bit of exaggeration:

gizmodo.com/why-every-writer-in- … 1529404893

According to the article, Amtrack is working up a formal application process.

When I lived in Seattle, there was a good deal on an Amtrak Seattle to Portland train ride that I thought of taking up as a way to write and relax. But if I remember right, the discount was only one way. For anyone who might be interested, here’s the schedule. You can leave Vancouver, BC about 7 am and get to the University of Oregon about 6:30 pm.

amtrakcascades.com/Schedules.htm

Metro buses can be interesting (people-wise) although often cramped. Once I thought about getting a day bus pass and roaming Seattle and King County typing away on my Neo 2, just to see what it was like. You might consider that, especially in a large city like London or Paris.

Greyhound used to have an unlimited bus travel plan for a fixed time period but seems to have ended it. Traveling that way would be cramped, but you could go more places and certainly meet some interesting people. Buses go through farming areas and (unlike trains) stop in many small towns. They’ll even stop and let you off in the middle of nowhere if you like.

If I remember right, with Greyhound you can book routes, say New York to New Orleans to Los Angeles, and get off as many times as you like along the way during a certain time period. Just be aware that, while Amtrak is heavily subsidized by the government and often travels with few riders, Greyhound is a private company and (in my experience) often travels filled to the brim. If you can’t afford a car and aren’t traveling far enough for a plane to make sense, a bus is the way to go.

Coming back from my European, North African, and Israel roaming, I flew into NYC and traveled NYC to Seattle by bus non-stop. It was three days of misery, bouncing around in the day and trying to sleep in a non-tilting seat at night. I didn’t have much choice. I got back from that year abroad with about $1.25. That was cutting it a bit close. I knew I’d become an experience traveler when that bus broke down in the mountains about an hour east of Seattle. Rather than wait, I hopped out, hitched a ride into Seattle with a semi, and called some friends when I arrived.

I just wish I’d kept a diary, so I could turn all that rambling into a book.

Also, if you’d like to read a great travel adventure story, check out across Asia on a Bicycle by two Americans who circled the world on bikes in the 1890s and wrote a book on the Turkey to China leg. You can find free digital copies from the usual places. If you want print, my Inkling Books version is nicely laid out and enhanced with notes and additional articles they wrote for magazines. You can view excerpts here:

inklingbooks.prosite.com/221883/ … -a-bicycle

It’s quite a story. In many regions they passed through just before trains and the telegraph. Someone today should duplicate their Asian trip, perhaps turning it into ‘doing it again’ book. They might even get a bicycling magazine to fund it in exchange for articles.

–Mike Perry, Auburn, AL

Yet another story on trains for writers:

bookseller-association.blogspot. … mtrak.html

Some might argue that boats and ships can serve as well, but I suspect you’d have to be more careful which you select.

Back when I owned a 21-foot sailboat, I found sailing a good way to relax and think, but handling one takes too much attention for writing and even anchored there’s a lot to do. I never could convince myself that taking a cruise would leave me much free time.

At the other extreme, a cruise ship is deliberately filled with distractions and it’s whole culture is one I abhor. When I travel, I like to experience the place I’m at and not drop in on it briefly from a ship filled with Western amenities. If the locals travel on buses with live chickens and goats, I want to be there too. I have thought of taking the ferries that travel up Alaska’s SE coast, but now that I’m far away from the Pacific NW, that’s unlikely. But it is true that lengthy coastal ferry rides could be as useful as a train ride.

I also thought of checking into working as an assistant cook on a cargo vessel or tanker that’d go all sorts of exotic places. Six to eight hours a day of washing dishes with the rest free to do as I wanted. Unfortunately, Internet connections at sea are slow to non-existent.

So, I end up back at trains, the longer the trip the better, and perhaps those that’d give me an Internet connection at least part of the time.

Rail lines, including Eurail and Amtrack, might look into creating tour packages. Sign up eight or so people, and your travel is free. Someone who knows history or culture to ride along as a guide. A writer might host an on-the-rails writing workshop or hold twice-daily talks for his readers. Rail officials who might balk at free rides for a few stories, might be happy to provide one ticket free for providing eight passengers.

Actually, the best place I’ve found for writing is the reading room at the University of Washington’s Suzzalo library.

commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File: … oom_04.jpg

It’s like being in a cathedral, but with WiFi. The scenery is great because there are lots of pretty girls who come and go, but that long lamp shade in front of each seat keeps them from being too distracting. It’s better than a coffee shop in that you can save money by bringing your own coffee. The only downside is that in early afternoon it’s so filled, the WiFi connection become impossible. I researched much of Chesterton on War and Peace there.

I wonder how easy it be to write while jumping on freight trains with nothing but an old smartphone to take it all down?

–Michael W. Perry inklingbooks.prosite.com/221883/ … -and-peace

Will this buzz ever end? Now The New Yorker has taken up train rides for writers:

newyorker.com/online/blogs/c … -chee.html

And this is one such trip from Paris Review:

theparisreview.org/blog/2014 … e-limited/

Perhaps Amtrak should do what PanAm did for my Seattle-London flight back in 1978. I signed up for it a month in advace and requested a date. The day before, with seats unsold, they confirmed my $100 ticket. Nice!

Amtrak could do something similar. Vet authors to make sure they’re real, put them on a waiting list for a series of dates, and when one has seats left, give that writer an ‘if you want it, it’s available’ notice. And few would object if Amtrak had a $50-100 charge to cover costs and make the bean counters happy.

Heck, they might even let writers pool their applications to ride-write on the same train. That’d be fun and help with the writer’s block. “I can’t just sit and look out the window. All the others are watching.”

–Michael W. Perry, inklingbooks.prosite.com

Teleread has posted links that have more information about what some are calling the Amtrak Writer Residency program:

teleread.com/chris-meadows/m … y-program/

Here’s one source:

reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1 … residency/

Residency seems an odd term to use for people who’ll not be residing anywhere.

This sounds good:

A system that’s relatively cost-free is more likely to last.

–Mike

Good news! Teleread says the Amtrak Residency program is now taking applicants:

teleread.com/chris-meadows/a … m-writers/

Here’s where you apply:

blog.amtrak.com/amtrakresidency/

Sounds nice. I suspect they might particularly open to applicants from overseas. Just remember that for them this isn’t about your creative juices. It’s about them selling seats. I suspect travel articles would be much appreciated, and would novel set on American trains. How about Murder on the Ethan Allen Express?

Here’s where you can find a list of Amtrak’s routes, including the long-distance ones:

amtrak.com/train-routes

Now if Eurail would just announce something similar, particularly in Eastern Europe. Last time around, I only got to roam in the west.

Also, if you’re interested in roaming by rail, this seems to be an excellent website:

seat61.com/

Here’s what he says about train travel in the U.S.

seat61.com/UnitedStates.htm

–Mike

Writer Beware has posting an article giving his concern that writers who sign Amarak’s free travel contract may find themselves in a legal mess:

accrispin.blogspot.com/2014/03/r … ogram.html

Here’s part of it:

I suspect it’s a classic case of an in-house lawyer thinking he’s being clever for asking for more than is reasonable and others needing to introduce some sense.

Also, if you’re interested in hiking, climbing, or sailing in Turkey and can pay, you might want to check out an outfit I hear from occasionally, Middle Earth Travel:

middleearthtravel.com/site/

Here’s their description:

If you’re planning a novel set in Turkey (or some invented fantasy land), they might good for learning the locale. You can even climb with them to the top of Mt. Ararat. That beats sitting on a train and watching cow sheds flow past.

–Mike, Across Asia on a Bicycle

Hey, I think I like this way better than an old stinking train. A privately owned luxury cruse ship that continually sails the world, or as they put it:

aboardtheworld.com/our_story

This apparently gives its current location:

marinetraffic.com/ais/detail … :THE_WORLD

That’s Easter Island all by its lonesome in the South Pacific. It has those funny head statues.

Hey, maybe they’d enjoy having a writer in residence on board. I could sleep in a broom closet or something. Tell them I was researching a novel set on just such a ship. They might become characters. It’d become a bestseller. I could afford one of their suites.

Yeah, right…

–Mike Perry

Those who’re fascinated by rail might want to look into this 16-day, 11,000 KM rail link just coming into service from China to Germany.

motherboard.vice.com/blog/proof- … ce=popular

–Mike Perry

Dealnews just reported that Amtrack will offer discounted, one-way fares this fall.

dealnews.com/Amtrak-Nationwide-1 … 80846.html

amtrak.com/fall-sale-fares-s … rak-travel

Seattle to San Fran. for $88 would be a particularly nice one if you are on the west coast. Ditto San Fran to Denver through the Rockies for $117.

Not all the terms thought.

–Mike

More news on those free Amtrak rides for authors:

publishersweekly.com/pw/by-t … olson.html

This list is here:

blog.amtrak.com/amtrakresidency/

It seems to be a quite broad selection. One claims to have worked as a “clandestine officer” for the CIA. Obviously not clandestine anymore.

–Mike Perry, Inkling Books
inklingbooks.prosite.com

There is a flip side to AMTRAK’s writer promotion. Some of those who ride with them have a less than delightful experience. Here’s an example from a hilarious writer who calls herself Ammo Grrrll.

powerlineblog.com/archives/2 … ine-38.php

But take note that the “colorful characters” she rode with might prove quite useful if you intend to write about the life’s darker side.

–Mike

Boing Boing has an article about traveling by train from LA to Seattle:

boingboing.net/2014/06/15/36-hou … ng-th.html

–Mike Perry