Saturday, February 22, 2014

Amtrak Offering Free Trips to Writers: Count Me In!

Some of my most productive writing sessions have occurred on Amtrak trains.  I occasionally ride the Keystone Line from Harrisburg, PA to New York City.  At 6'8" tall I find the seats to be spacious and comfortable. I can plug in my laptop and phone while I work.  And the WiFi is getting better.

When I learned that Amtrak was offering free train trips to writers I was ecstatic.  According to this article at The Wire, two writers have received free rides and it appears that the Amtrak is interested in sponsoring additional trips.

Count me in!  If the good folks at Amtrak are reading this, I would love to be considered for one of these free trips.  I can offer regularly tweeting and blogging while on the train and a history of effective binge writing (which I hope makes me a worthy candidate).  I can also encourage tall people to ride Amtrak trains as an alternative to flying!

Here is a taste of The Wire interview with Julia Winn, social media director at Amtrak:

1. What will a long-term residency program look like?

A lot is still up in the air with regards to a future program. Quinn described it as "an idea dreamed up by Amtrak fans and customers," and a lot of the details still need hashing out. "We would’ve never known until really in the last 48 hours what type of response a program like this would warrant, and we have been pleasantly surprised," Quinn said, so the outline being formulated is very new. But the goal, eventually, is to "engage with writers several times a month." There may be a "tiered approach," though the specifics aren't fully worked out, with the focus on individuals with a strong social media presence.  

2. How much, if anything, will an "Amtrak residency" cost?
Gross's residency was free, and Quinn confirmed that the plan is to keep the program if not free, then fairly low-cost. But Quinn points out that the residency was "free to Jessica, not free to Amtrak." When Amtrak begins offering this program on a regular basis, Quinn said "we need to weigh [whether] it’s a good investment on our end” – because Amtrak can't just start giving away free rides willy-nilly. (Especially not when it has a significant amount of debt). It's about building a "mutually beneficial relationship" with writers, according to Quinn, and ensuring that a long-term program is sustainable. For now though, the program looks to remain free, if limited

 3. What constitutes a "writer"? 

In other words, how will Amtrak decide who to send on its residencies? In the short term, as the program gets off the ground, candidates will be selected on a case-by-case basis. Quinn said that residents won't "necessarily just [be] published authors, or people with multiple books under their belt, or [people that had] a publication tap them." Amtrak, Quinn said, is open to people with a variety of writing backgrounds, because "the differences between a journalist, a published author, a blogger – those lines are continually blurred by the internet."