Author Workspace: Jonathan Stone
Here it is. In all its glorious discomfort, annoyance, and frustration, though supreme reliability. My regular seat on the 8:01 from Talmadge Hill to Manhattan. It’s an hour and four minute commute in to New York in the morning, and the same back out at the end of the day. I’ve written seven novels here, and I can hardly believe it myself.
In truth, my “regular” seat has moved around a little. When I started writing on the train, in 1998, laptops were comparatively big and clumsy, and I had to sit in the seats that face each other at either end of the train car so my laptop wouldn’t bump against the seat in front of me. (When I started commuting, there were no cellphones either, so you could count on the trip to be a lot quieter.) With my first laptop, I had to slide in a floppy data disk, and a floppy program disk! I’ve now been through about six generations of laptops. All the old ones are still in my basement, and opening an old one at random now, it looks like some sorry contraption from Eastern Europe circa 1965. Now, with an 11 inch Macbook Air, I can work at any seat.
When I began writing on the train, I commuted with a bunch of pals. Lawyers, brokers, financial types, marketing execs, fellow advertising copywriters and art directors. By now, they’ve all retired, or been let go, or they work from home. I’ve seen a succession of regular conductors retire. I’ve even seen my New Haven train line convert to all new train cars! And I’m still at it.
I started writing on the train originally because my kids were infants. Home life required all hands on deck – and I wanted to be fully involved with them anyway. And my “Man Men” advertising office life was consuming and hectic. The two hour commute was, oddly, my refuge and sanctuary.
Luckily, they haven’t said that my books lull them to sleep like the gentle rocking of the train over the tracks.
I commute along what’s called Connecticut’s Gold Coast. Famous for its spectacular homes on the water, sweeping lawns, and well-heeled “one-percent”-laden towns of Greenwich, Darien, New Canaan, etc. But the train line exposes another aspect of these towns. Their unseen backbone, in a way. The sloppy rear flanks of car dealerships, auto repair places, storage facilities. Lots of warehouse entrances, overflowing dumpsters, fenced-in satellite dish arrays. The backyards of modest houses set against the tracks, some kept beautifully, others perennially unkempt, with cars on blocks, ever-expanding piles of trash, etc. And even though the technology I use, the train cars I ride, and the world at large, have transformed wildly in the years I’ve been writing on the train, my view out the train car windows has hardly changed at all. And I still take it in for a few minutes on every trip, and still, somewhere, somehow out there, find inspiration, before looking down at the story waiting for me on my laptop.
Jonathan Stone’s latest novel, TWO FOR THE SHOW, came out at the end of May, from Thomas and Mercer. He is the author of the previous ebook bestsellers MOVING DAY (Kindle First, May 2014) and THE TELLER (#1, Amazon Financial Thrillers.) His short stories were selected for the two most recent Mystery Writers of America anthologies, and he has a story in the upcoming Best American Mystery Stories, coming out in the fall.