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On The Table Read, “The Best Book Reader Magazine in the UK“, author Ed Davis writes about his experiences riding the rails across America, and his journey from idea to publication for his hit book, The Last Professional.

Ed Davis on The Table Read
Ed Davis

Written by Ed Davis

Riding The Rails

It is not often that we get to encounter living archetypes, modern equivalents of Twain’s Huck Finn, Kerouac’s Sal Paradise, Steinbeck’s Tom Joad. Yet I found myself among such men when, of necessity, I began hopping freight trains over forty years ago. I needed to get from California to New York.

As a big, bearded guy with a big bulky backpack, I wasn’t having much luck hitchhiking. Finally, a kind soul with a little more life experience and a lot more common sense than I possessed in those days gave me a lift and said, “Friend, you should be riding the rails.”

I could not have been more surprised had he suggested I ride a magic carpet. Yet, in a way, that is exactly what he was doing.

Later that day I was standing astride my first flatcar, flying through the unfurling landscape, wind in my hair, sun on my back. I was hooked.

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This was in the early 1970’s, and over the next ten years I rode many thousands of miles around the United States and Canada. There were a few other young men like me riding, and sometimes a woman — Jan, my wife since 1976, road with me one whole summer. Occasionally, very occasionally, I would climb into a boxcar or walk into a hobo jungle, and there would be an old timer. Profesh, these men called themselves—genuine knights of the road—blowed in the glass as they would say. Unlike most hobos who traveled to work, Profesh worked to travel.  Wanderlust was at the core of their being. They were never at peace unless they were on the move.

And their kind was vanishing.

Solitary men for the most part, they would rarely speak about themselves but could sometimes be coaxed to talk about the trains—their movements, their mysteries, and the respect they were due if you didn’t want to end of greasing the rails. When the last of them Caught the Westbound, their term for reaching the end of the line, it was clear to me that their way of life would be lost.

The Last Professional

So it was, one night in a boxcar outside Watsonville, California that — by the light of a passing streamliner — I wrote the first words of what would eventually become The Last Professional.

Somewhere a hobo is waiting.

The Last Professional by Ed Davis on The Table Read
The Last Professional

The first draft of the novel, the story of a young man returning to the rails to confront a trauma from his youth, and an old one clinging to his vanishing way of live, wrote itself quickly. This was in the early 1980’s, when traditional publishing was still traditional. I landed an agent in New York, then one in Chicago. I wrote a second novel. We got close to a sale more than once, but just close.

Changing My Life

Then Jan and I had our first child, with another to follow four years later. I willingly, and without regret, swung my focus to helping raise and provide for our young family. I also stopped riding the rails.

But I never stopped writing.

I never stopped thinking about this story.

Fast forward to half-a-dozen years ago. I have the great good fortune of being in business with my best friend from high school, a business we are both very proud of, and one that allowed me to begin swinging my focus back toward writing, and toward this manuscript that had been languishing in a drawer.

First, I took a swing at rewriting it; any writer’s voice is going to evolve over four decades. Then I sought professional help, editors for hire. Some moved the project forward, some not. One even suggested that I refrain from using the word “hobo” because it might have negative connotations in the minds of some readers. The novel got shortened for a Hollywood agent who was positioning it for film. Its name got changed. Characters were killed off, then not, then killed again.

Four In Stone

So, I put it back in the drawer. I no longer recognized it, and I had begun a new project that was completely absorbing me, a long novel called Four in Stone, about four unlikely friends growing up in a small northern California town.

One reason I was so absorbed was that I had begun working with the best editor I have ever known, Vince Zukowski. He saw possibilities in my work, and in me as a writer, that I did not know were there, and he helped me realize them. Every writer should be blessed to find such an editor.

Finishing The Last Professional

When Four in Stone was complete, Zuke and I pulled out the boxes of manuscript that had started with those simple words in that boxcar. It was now two novels, one short, one long, with two different titles. A page at a time, we slowly began knitting together The Last Professional that came to press earlier this year. That it premiered as both a and a Libro.FM pre-order bestseller is validation that its time had finally come.

It is the book I always hoped it would be, and one that I believe honors the legacy of those living archetypes I was lucky to share boxcars with so many years ago.    

About Ed Davis

Ed Davis began his writing career over forty years ago, pausing in boxcars, under street lamps, and in hobo jungles to capture the beats and rhythms of the road as he caught freight trains and vagabonded around the Pacific Northwest and Canada. His latest novel, The Last Professional — which began in a boxcarreleased in January, 2022, and his short stories have appeared in numerous literary journals.

His novella, In All Things, and his collection of travel narratives, Road Stories, have both been Amazon Top Ten bestsellers, and Ed’s death row thriller, A Matter of Time, waswritten in real time, twenty-four hours, as the last day of the hero’s life unfolds.

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