Coming Up For Air

I’m finishing up a book this month.

Nose to the grindstone.

Turn and burn.

Buckle down.

Shove everything to one side and write.

I’m not quite done yet. But I’m almost there. I can feel it.

The writing process for Death Rides The Zephyr, aka the train book, has had a lot of detours and interruptions. One of those detours is a need for lots more research.

The novel involves a journey aboard a particular train, the California Zephyr, in a particular month and year, December 1952. I’ve visited libraries at railroad museums in California and Colorado. I’ve read book, talked with people, ridden on trains, studied railroad timetables, menus and old photographs. Since my protagonist is a woman hostess known as a Zephyrette, I’ve interviewed two former Zephyrettes who live here in the Bay Area.

And in the case of last weekend’s trip, I took a drive up the Feather River Canyon in Northern California, for another look at the train’s route. The following day, I spent an hour at the controls of a 250,000 diesel locomotive, courtesy of the Western Pacific Railroad Museum’s Run-A-Locomotive program.

At the controls of WP 917-D, Western Pacific Railroad Museum

The book takes place primarily in the train’s passenger cars. My Zephyrette won’t be running the train. But after last weekend’s experience, I’m going to at least place her in the back end of a locomotive so she can listen in on a conversation between the engineer and the conductor – and so I can describe it, hoping that the reader will hear the engine and smell the diesel.

Climbing aboard that locomotive and talking with WPRM volunteer Loren Ross, who instructed me on how to run the thing, gave me some valuable and much-needed information that will give the book verisimilitude.

I’d better have verisimilitude. There are a lot of railfans out there. If I get anything wrong, I’m going to hear about it.

The other interruptions to the writing process have been more personal. A new job, a longer commute, a change in working hours leading to an alteration of my writing schedule. There’s always something that crops up to steal the time devoted to writing. The day-to-day rhythm of life, running errands, cooking meals, cleaning house. Every now and then I really must run the vacuum cleaner, or else I’ll be, as my mother says, hip deep in cat hair.

So if I don’t answer the phone, or the e-mail, don’t worry, friends, it’s not you. I’m finishing a book. I’m almost there. Soon I’ll brush aside the cat hair and come up for air.


8 Responses

  1. Hurry up with this please, Janet, so I can give it to my rail fan spouse for Christmas. He’s an aerospace engineer and longtime aficionado of trains–he’s ridden them around the country and through Europe; he belongs to a garden railway group, and constructed one in our own backyard. An engine runs under my reading chair and the house groans with train books. Yet he’s always looking for another one! So as I said, do hurry. Let the dust pile up. And the cat hair. Please?

  2. You do brilliant research–probably why the books are so vivid and involving.

    I have much empathy with this. I just finished what I thought was a novella (turned into a short novel) after much research and plodding, and have just learned I have to insert an Explanation (No!). I think the editor means a sentence or two, but I know me. It will end up being a whole damned scene and the writing will sop up a month of time I could use starting the next one. Bleaccch.

  3. At this point in the book, don’t you wish you could lock yourself in, turn off the phone and do nothing but write? When all the threads and bits and pieces are flowing together, don’t you hate to hit Pause and go off to do something else, like go to work, eat? Forget about the housecleaning – it can wait. Looking forward to reading this one.

    See you in Sedona, Arizona in October!

    • Yes, it’s difficult to have to stop and go to work. An ongoing frustration for most of my writing life. The housecleaning can wait, of course. As for eating, I’ve noticed that when the book is coming together and I’m into serious writing mode, I get the munchies! I was just in the kitchen with a jar of peanut butter, a spoon and a glass of milk.

  4. I have to send the link to this blog to some railroad lovers I know. Don’t worry about the cat hair. The litter box is another matter . . .

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