I Want an Amtrak Residency!

#AmtrakResidency was designed to allow creative professionals who are passionate about train travel and writing to work on their craft in an inspiring environment.

Sign me up! I just sent in my application. (Of course, I used my real last name, Fredricksen) When I first heard about this, it was still in the intangible stage where Amtrak had acknowledged a random idea tweeted by a writer. Seeing it come to fruition has me excited far beyond reason…I have other things I need to do right now, like grade papers.

But the semester ends in a couple of months, and this writer/teacher will be free of scholarly commitments! I have my hubby’s buy-in. This is the perfect stage in my career for me to do something like this. I have a number of short stories published, and I’m in the revision stage of the novel-that-will-be-queried. I have the flexibility (IE no writing contracts with deadlines) to work on whatever I want, whether that’s one of the stories from the shelf, or a brand new tale.

Why? you ask, puzzlement wrinkling your sainted brow…

1) Time. Dedicated time for writing. Some of my best work comes out when I can binge and concentrate primarily on writing. I’ve had three successful NaNoWriMos, two ThreeDayNovel weekends, and a handful of other stunts I’ve pulled. I’ve always wanted to go to the moon or the ISS and be able to write, sleep, and eat whenever I felt like it, regardless of the clock. Since my first two choices are currently out of reach, an Amtrak Residency would be just right.

2) Inspiration. The lull of the wheels combined with ever-changing scenery is the perfect writing environment. Top that off with a private room so I’m not tempted to spend hours telling my neighbors about what I’m writing instead of actually writing, and we’re golden. WiFi on board means I can stay connected while I write, both to share the experience and ask questions like “If you raised chickens on the moon, would you have to import Earth dirt or could you adapt the lunar scrabble?”

3) Connections. I have made thousands of connections as a writer through social media and live events. The key to readership is not to convince random people to like my stuff, but to be as well-known as possible so that I can be discovered by the readers who do like what I write. Not everyone likes Science Fiction. Not everyone likes Steampunk. Not everyone likes Erotica, and there are plenty of people who would be rather stunned by my SciFi works with polyamorous romances. But I find ways to connect with these thousands of people, whether they’re just lurkers who read my SciFi Questions of the Day but never comment, professional peers who love to bounce ideas back and forth, or fans who’ve read and loved my stories. The act of tweeting and posting about the process of writing while on a train will open up my possible connections exponentially.

Why should they choose you? you ask, doubt tinging your usually supportive stance…

See the aforementioned connections? For an author who’s only published a few short stories, I’m pretty popular in the interwebz! My personal facebook page was where it started, when I posted a SciFi question of the Day just because I had a science/plausibility question I really wanted input on. Then I thought about which Mythbuster I’d want by my side if the lawn gnomes ever attacked, and it snowballed from there. I currently have 1,400 connections there; a combination of personal and writing friends. My author page on facebook is not nearly as interactive (facebook’s page design makes this problematic.) On twitter, I have 700 followers. A lot of those are fellow writers who are always ready to retweet something interesting.

My powerhouse of connections (which is not part of the application, sadly,) is Google Plus. I have been circled by 30,500 people there, and my posts usually prompt a plethora of great comments. I’m sure my friends and followers would be very interested in reading what I post from the train!

My Klout score hovers in the high fifties. What does that mean?

What is considered a good score? Let’s say that you have a Klout score of 32 – what does that mean? According to Megan, a score above 30 shows expertise in social media. Above a 50 is approaching social media thought leader status.

—By Donna Gilliland on Apr 13, 2011, interview with Megan Berry, Director of Klout Marketing

Not only am I a thought leader, but I’m eager to use my influence to share my travel-writing experience with the world. This is far different from saying “I took a train once. It was cool. You should too!” This is me tweeting and posting things like “I think I just witnessed my first cow tipping…is there a hotline to report that kind of thing?” or “I have no idea what time it is or where I am, but I just wrote 2,000 words in the last hour.”

You’ve been on a train before…right? you ask, a trace of sarcasm in your voice…

Yes. When I was growing up, I knew my father’s job title was ‘engineer.’ Then one day he took us to an event at work (IBM.) It was a model train show! I put two and two together and assumed my father drove trains for a living. After all, both he and my mother had extensive model railroad sets at home. Daddy’s are HO, Mom’s are N gauge. I want a Z-gauge set-up installed in a hard cello case someday. Who can make that happen?

My grandparents loved to travel by train. Once, they let us come with them for the first bit of the trip, just for the experience of it. My father drove and met the train at another station to drive us back. When I had to leave college after only two years, it was an Amtrak train that took me from Colorado to Vermont. My husband and I have taken the train to Washington DC a few times. When I found out that my father was going to have yet another open-heart surgery and the prognosis wasn’t good, I hopped on a train the next day. I was on that train when I got the call that he’d made it through.

You have trains in your stories, don’t you? you ask, your interest piqued.

Why, yes. I have a Steampunk series I’m working on, and trains are integral to that universe. In my Kingdom Come universe, I assume that one of the basic pieces of infrastructure the colony established early on and maintains regularly is a transit system consisting largely of several varieties of trains. My Lunar Shorts assume the same for the moon. I don’t write dystopias; I write about positive futures where humans form near-ideal societies that function effectively. Trains are part of that.

Where would you go? you ask, ready to offer suggestions…

The Vermonter is close, but I’ve taken it several times. I’d love something new! It’s a short drive across the lake to catch a train in upstate New York. I would be thrilled to make a big circle of the country from New England, down to the south, circling west to California and back east again in some northerly route. Or perhaps I could simply go to Colorado and back and visit friends back there. I’ve heard the train between Colorado and California has some of the most spectacular scenery in the country. Then again, it would be awesome to go to Texas and visit my NASA peeps! I have a number of connections who are always willing to help me out with questions of scientific plausibility. I’d love to meet them in person!

I end this post as the whistle of the train goes past my house. It’s less than a block away, and I could easily see it from my window if it was daylight. I’ve always liked the sound and feel of the train going by. I can anticipate the whistle (required by law as it crosses the street) because I can feel the train coming.

When my daughter was little, the train whistle scared her. We got used to hearing her shout “Mommy! Train!” as she came running to us for hugs and reassurance. Alas, she has also grown used to the whistle and rumble, and now sleeps through every night-time crossing.

I hope that I can soon sleep on that train for a few days, instead of constantly watching it pass me by.

About AmyBeth Inverness

A writer by birth, a redhead by choice.
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