For appearances:
Wade Lucas at Penguin Random House:
walucas@penguinrandomhouse.com

For press Inquires:
Kris Dahl at ICM
KDahl@icmpartners.com

For information about Long Black Veil:
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To contact Jenny directly:
jb@jenniferboylan.net

Jennifer Finney Boylan chosen as one of 24 inaugural “Amtrak Residency” writers.

Jennifer Finney Boylan chosen as one of 24 inaugural “Amtrak Residency” writers.
September 25, 2014 Jennifer Boylan

Jennifer Finney Boylan. Photo by Augusten Burroughs

Wait, wait.  I thought they said “trains-gender.”  I was misinformed!  Does this mean I still have to go?

I am delighted–and more than a little flabbergasted–that I have been chosen as one of 24 winners of the “Amtrak Residency,” a “fellowship” of sorts that gives authors the opportunity to spend a week or two doing their work in the rarefied atmosphere of one of America’s cross-contintental long distance trains.  I was selected from over 16,000 applicants, which ought to give you some idea of exactly how desperate American authors are to get out of the house.

I will be traveling to California on the Zephyr, which is almost as cool as traveling there by Zeppelin, although considerably safer.  My plan is to leave Maine from the Freeport station on or about Halloween, to disembark in Indiana for the Kinsey Institute board of directors meeting, then re-board and head to Los Angeles.  From there, the plan (for now) is to head north, maybe get out and spend a few days at Big Sur, then re-train, go up to Mt. St. Helens, or what’s left of it, then up to Seattle to board a train for the return trip, which I hope will be the northern route through Montana, Dakota, all the way back to Chicago.  And from there to New York, Boston, and, at last, back to Maine.

Amtrak is providing us with a swanky sleeping compartment, which includes a fold-away sofa and a writing desk.  They also throw in lunch and dinner. We’re on our own for breakfast.

I think it’s a delightful idea, and I’m incredibly grateful to have won this opportunity.  This being the internet, however, of course, I think no more than six hours had passed before people began going waah waah waah.  Not all of the reservations about the program are unfounded, though.  So here are a few bullet points of my own concerning this whole business.

• The final group is diverse in many ways– it’s half women, half men.  It does seem a little overwhelmingly white, though; only three of the 24 finalists are people of color, I think.  We are a diverse group in other ways:  we live all over the country, we are gay and straight.  One of us I believe is transgender.  There is one finalist whom people apparently hate because he owns his own island and goes by a mononym.  I do not know this individual, but I don’t hate Cher, and she only has one name, so there’s that.  We appear to be a group of mostly well-published authors, with fairly established media platforms.  I suppose it might have been nice to include more writers who are at the beginning of their careers.  But I didn’t read the 16,000 applications, so I don’t know.  All in all it looks like a very intriguing bunch, and I’m honored to be included.

• When the initial program rolled out, there was considerable reservation about some of the provisions– Amtrak claimed that it would have ownership of the submitted applications, including the essays in them.  This caused no small amount of hair-tearing, and at least one writer I know withdrew his application in the wake of all this.  I suspected that the trouble was less about Amtrak over-reach than the more down-to-earth fact that these are people whose experience is in running a railroad, not a literary fellowship.  When I was informed that I’d won the fellowship, I did indeed grill them about this issue; I’m now convinced that they’ve learned their lesson.  They assure me that they will in fact NOT be using the app materials in any way.  We are, as it turns out, not required to produce or publish anything connected to this trip. Although, given that all of us are, blabbermouths and wing nuts, it seems likely you’ll be hearing a lot from this particular group.

• Is this the best way to rescue Amtrak?  Well, I’m neither a transportation expert nor a political scientist, so I can’t tell you.  I do know that the berths that are being given to the writers are ones that would have otherwise been unoccupied.  We can’t travel at times when the trains are otherwise booked with paying passengers.  I realize that the presence of authors will not be without cost– just think of all the burritos a science fiction writer could eat over two days.  But on the whole, I think the cost of the program to the American taxpayer will be relatively small, and the benefits large– not just for the lucky authors, who, let’s face it, are a bunch of dangerous lunatics–but for their readers.  There will be some good writing produced as a result of this, to be sure.  But just as important is that this publicity stunt–if that’s the word you insist on using–will shine a light on the many delights of train travel in this country, and inspire more people to take the train instead of the miserable brain-surgery-without-anesthesia that constitutes modern air travel.

• If I had to compare the Amtrak Residency to anything, it would be John and Yoko’s Bed-In for Peace in Amsterdam.  Did it actually help bring about world peace?  You tell me.  On the other hand, it made a little dent in the world, in a way that was both ridiculous and lovingly sincere.

And so it’s off on the open rails for me in the month of November.  I’ll update the blog as we proceed.  IN the meantime, to quote Paul Simon:

What is the point of this story? What information pertains?

The thought that life could be better is woven indelibly into our hearts and our brains.

Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance. Everybody knows that’s true.

Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance. Everybody knows that’s true.

A few links for you completists:

Here’s Amtrak’s official list of the 24 winners, and a little bit about each of us.

A little piece in the Wall Street Journal about the residents;  and another one from the Los Angeles Times, which is generous enough to call me the “pioneering transgender author,” which is nice except that it makes me feel like I have won a residency in a Conestoga wagon.

Five whole hours passed without there being some angry internet screed about the whole business, leaving me feeling rather dispirited, and wondering, jeez, what’s the holdup? Fortunately, at the six hour mark,  Citylab jumped into the fray with this piece, which, as it turns out is well written and smart.

That’s it for now.  More soon.  All aboard!

Anyone wanting more information about the Amtrak residency can contact Julia Quinn, Amtrak’s director of social media, at Julia.Quinn@amtrak.com

You can also, as always, write me at jb (at) jenniferboylan.net.

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