- Associated Press - Saturday, October 11, 2014

DENVER (AP) - Good writers find the good stories, and Boulder scribe Erika Krouse is heading out on a train to discover hers.

Krouse is going courtesy of Amtrak, the country’s intercity passenger rail service and whipping boy of fiscal watchdogs.

But the 45-year-old Krouse is not worried about controversies. That’s because sometime over the next year, Krouse will travel 4,000 miles by Amtrak over some of the most stunning country in the United States to be inspired.

“This is dedicated time. No requirements on what we have to write,” Krouse said. “We can be fiction writers, poets, journalists and just, for a time, be writing.”

She is among 24 literary types picked out of more than 16,000 applicants to be in the first group of writers for Amtrak’s Residency Program. The writers will work on projects of their choice while riding one of Amtrak’s long-distance trains.

The 24 are from diverse backgrounds including journalism, poetry, science and even one former CIA operative, according to Amtrak.

They were selected based on their desire to work in an “inspiring environment” on a train and on their writing samples. Starting in October, about two writers a month will travel on preselected trains, with writers covering all 15 long-distance routes.

Although unpaid, the writers will be provided a sleeper compartment, desk and the opportunity to observe, listen and take in their surroundings on and off the train.

“It seems to be fairly flexible,” said Krouse, who will travel from Denver to San Francisco, rolling through the Rockies and Colorado’s Gore, Byers and Glenwood canyons.

Then, she’ll travel from San Francisco to Chicago and back to Denver.

She wants to gather material for a novel about an art heist in Colorado and for a short story collection.

Krouse has published short fiction, teaches at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver and works as a part-time private investigator.

Her new novel, “Contenders,” will be published in 2015. It’s about a female street fighter and thief who suddenly is charged with taking care of her niece.

“It’s about the mean streets of Denver,” Krouse said, “the places most people don’t see.”

Getting a glimpse of life outside of the mainstream is one of the reasons Krouse jumped on the Amtrak proposal.

“The beauty of the long-distance train is that I will see parts of Colorado most people will never see,” said Krouse. “It’s a part of America most people won’t see.”

After going through thousands of applications, semifinalists were picked by a panel that included authors as well as Amy Stolls, director of literature for the National Endowment for the Arts.

“The folks I worked with were open-minded, fair, passionate about the written word and committed to rewarding artistic excellence and providing unique space for writers of all kinds to create and be inspired,” said Stolls.

Manhattan-based writer Jessica Gross, whose piece, “Writing The Lake Shore Limited,” was published by the Paris Review, provided the inspiration for the Amtrak program.

However, critics say Amtrak should not be giving free rides to anyone.

In 2012, Amtrak operated at a $614 million deficit in its longer routes and posted only a $47 million surplus on its shorter routes in 2013.

This while Amtrak collects federal money to keep it rolling. That prompted Republican Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma to write to Amtrak’s president, Joseph Boardman, decrying the free rides the writers are enjoying.

“Given Amtrak’s prodigious annual taxpayer subsidies, this plan raises multiple red flags,” the senators wrote in a letter dated March 12, 2014.

Still, Krouse is looking forward to having her creative juices sparked by a train ride.

“It’s something unique, and I definitely am going to take advantage of it,” she said.

___

Information from: The Denver Post, https://www.denverpost.com

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