Writer on the Rail, Day One


I’m writing this somewhere north of Florida as the southern sky fades from dusk to darkness. It’s my first night on a 15-night, cross-country trip by train.

A bit of backstory: I applied for the Amtrak Residency — a paid trip for creative professionals — in January of 2015. After a bit of daydreaming about how amazing it would be to actually write while traveling on a train, I forgot about the application. Surely, I, a journalist and a romance writer, would never be picked.

In July of 2015, I was one of 24 writers chosen. I was stunned. I assumed programs like this were for literary fiction writers, playwrights and poets. It took me months to get over the shock that I could travel and write.

Because I wanted to spend as much possible time writing, I planned a long, circular route around the U.S.: Florida-NYC-Chicago-San Francisco-Los Angeles-New Orleans. An assignment for the AP was added into the mix, just to make things interesting: Tales from the Train, a look at the people along the journey.

IMG_0792Today, that journey began.

My husband drove me to the Orlando station, a rarity of a building in central Florida, because it’s one of the few old buildings left (it was built in 1926). We arrived at the station and I swept in, intent on doing my first interview for my Associated Press assignment, filing, taking photos, being busy. I did all of that, working at warp speed as I’d been doing the past two weeks while covering the Fort Lauderdale shooting and the Ringling Circus closing story.

Then, I paused and looked around. There was a silence in the station, even as it filled up. People moved slowly. It hit me: I equated travel with frenzy. Especially with air travel, I was accustomed to the rushing through endless lines and shucking off shoes and opening laptop bags while stumbling to the gate. There was none of this in the train station, no TSA checks or security. There was also a noticeable absence of stress. An excellent thing for me, especially after recent days. (Did I mention that I also published a novella today?)

IMG_0762After my husband and I said our goodbyes, two of my co-workers from the Orlando AP bureau came by for a few minutes to say hello. Then things got weird: the reporters from the New York Post showed up. I haven’t mentioned this to anyone save for my husband and a couple of friends, but the Post is doing a story on me and my books. Which is wonderful and weird, considering that I’m the one usually doing the interviews. So my AP co-workers and I stood there grinning at the Post journalists.

After a little while, my co-workers left and the Post reporters and I boarded the train. I was assigned a roomette, a little cocoon of efficiency. IMG_0778

The rest of the day, and most of the night, has been spent talking about love, romance and books with the wonderful Linda Massarella of the Post. It feels strange being the center of attention. I’m normally pretty introverted and spend long stretches of time alone. I’ve been laughing throughout, as Linda tries to do exactly what I’ve done to countless other people over the years: probe into their innermost thoughts, ask possibly inappropriate questions, draw out their deepest stories. It’s an odd feeling, being interviewed, and strangely, mentally exhausting. But also exciting, because Linda’s sharp and observant.

As I type this, I’m cozy in my little bed-cocoon, and we’re somewhere near Charleston.