books

False Cosmopolitanism

We’re suffering from a false sense of cosmopolitanism. Access to the worldwide Interwebs leads us to imagine ourselves global thinkers. But we’re not -- unless we’re true xenophiles, bridging cultures, immersed and knowledgeable about multiple worlds. Most people hang out in “like-minded microcosms” and when we cross a boundary online the new light shed on everyone’s prejudices and assumptions can take us by surprise.

“Xeno-confusion” is happening more often in the virtual world, like this stumble into unfamiliar territory. Viewed through the lens of American civil politics, an American company's skin whitening product campaign on Facebook targeting Indians raised an anticolonialist uproar -- but not from the Indians. (No similar protests reported for popular self tanners that darken the skin.)

The launch of TEDWomen, a conference examining the effect of women and girls on the world’s future, created its own online culture shockwave. Are we all on the same page, North American feminists blogged here and here and here, wondering if a gathering separate from the main TED event to discuss the impact of womankind is brilliant or belittling. A blog sought a more nuanced perspective and tried the group replacement test, substituting one marginalized group for another. Imagine TEDGay. TEDMinority. TEDPoor.

Recently in a 10,000-person international network for women writers I found myself in an alternate online reality. An author asked the general community of “White people” (sic) to promote her new work, sight unseen besides a short synopsis, because booksellers relegate titles by black authors like her to a separate section and that negatively affects sales.

Her book substance-free promotion was at odds with how and why people share information and recommendations about books, even marginalized, discriminated against writers. Instead she let everyone know she “loves White people” and her “Spanish husband looks white on the street”.

A majority of the responses were “Sure, I’ll do that for you.” I expressed my confusion. Why was she talking to us like we were part of the problem? Why not normalize the work by taking it off the margins and offer to show it to those of us fellow writers who want to review it in our respective media and communities?

What a baffling corner of the Internet: a place where I'm addressed like a person who normally chooses reading material based on the author’s skin color  -- that would be dumbly racist, no? -- someone who today can be convinced to promote a title (to my Great White People Book Club) based on the original poster’s shelving problems at the bookstore and the-more-palatable-to-me skin tone of her husband glimpsed from afar.

Does it matter that there is definitively no such thing as a White people, or a Great White People Book Club, or that the motivation for word of mouth marketing requires a product to be “extremely helpful, interesting, unique, or valuable to a specific niche market”? Not in that particular microcosm, a place running on logic inherently foreign to me.

In this SheWrites universe I don’t even need to do a group replacement test (“Rich people”, “Powerful people”, “Beautiful people”) to know someone imagines it’s that easy to butter me up for their own purpose.

We may believe we’re global thinkers, and not be. But we’ve got other challenges. To be a global thinker demands we navigate and find a way to bridge worlds that might make only a sinister kind of sense.

As a xenophile, where online do you stumble?

Cultural Wisdom Historically Pools At The Intersection Of Women & Travel

Anastasia Ashman at the International Museum of WomAs the coeditor of the internationally bestselling expatriate women's anthology Tales from the Expat Harem, I contributed my favorite titles to VisualThesaurus.com last year for its “Dog Eared: Books We Love” column. The online tool for writers, students and teachers of writing, and marketing communications professionals worldwide, asked me to share books about the cultural wisdom that historically pools at the intersection of women and travel.

Here’s my list…

UNSUITABLE FOR LADIES: An Anthology of Women Travellers, selected by Jane Robinson“In this spunky companion volume to Wayward Women (her book about women travel writers through history), Robinson collects the global travels of 200 women across 16 centuries – from the obscure to better known authors like Lady Mary Wortley Montague, Karen Blixen, Freya Stark and Jan Morris. Grouped by geography with numerous entries for each place which serve as a conversation between the region, the time and the characters themselves, the chapters are bookended by thoughtful selections in “Setting Out” and “Coming Home”, indicating that the act of travel is and has always been a transformative force in women’s lives. Sometimes reputation risking and life threatening, but often culturally redeeming and personally empowering, travel must be intellectually prepared for, and assimilated.”

 

Image

Anastasia M. Ashman
Harem Door 8 - Topkapi Palace, Istanbul
VEILED HALF-TRUTHS: Western Travellers’ Perceptions of Middle Eastern Women, selected and annotated by Judy Mabro“A politicized and rigorous survey of the depictions of ‘Oriental’ women in the writings of 18th, 19th and 20th century European travel books, memoirs, and guides about North Africa, Egypt, the Holy Land, and Turkey. It’s fascinating to note the degree to which the writers’ own prejudices about the region, Muslim culture, the veil, the harem -- and the place of women in society in general -- colored their descriptions and their conclusions. These skewed first-hand accounts then influenced or reinforced the stereotypes being embraced back home, and even though the sources have faded the perceptions endure today.” ADVENTUROUS WOMEN IN SOUTH EAST ASIA: Six Lives, edited by John Gullick

“Part of the terrific Oxford-in-Asia series, this easy-reading collection by various scholars examines the lives of 19th century Western women in the Asian tropics – pioneers like Sophia Raffles, the calamity-stricken wife of the British founder of Singapore, and Isabella Bird, the opinionated world traveler seeking to escape from civilization. It helped put into context my own struggling expatriate experience when I was living in steamy Malaysia... I especially appreciated reading about the dark side of these women’s lives, like the widely unknown and checkered past of Anna Leonowens, the famous governess hired by the King of Siam! Illustrated with fine engravings from the women’s own publications.”

DREAMING OF EAST: Western Women and the Exotic Allure of the Orient, by Barbara Hodgson

“For generations of Western women, Eastern travel has signified freedom. Yet in the more ‘liberal’ West this does not compute. How can the cloistered East be a place of emancipation? Through a series of portraits of 18th to 20th century women who traveled to the eastern Ottoman empire – Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Turkey – Hodgson demonstrates the calculus. Among Eastern liberties counted by women like Isabel Burton, the wife of adventurer Richard Burton: ‘the inconsequence of time’ and the loose clothing. The Canadian author is a book designer, and the engravings, paintings, sketches and photographs make this book a jewel to behold.”

+++
This appeared in the International Museum of Women site and elsewhere.

Launching Writer's Desk: A Web Tool To Organize The Writing Life

My software developer husband and I designed and built a new web-based writing tool. It was inspired by my experience as a freelance nonfiction writer. This online service provides a basic foundation for writers to get organized by recording revisions, tracking submissions, compiling market information and registering rights and income. For the past six months my husband and I have been designing and building a new web-based writer's tool. In this season of resolutions, we're happy to announce the launch of Writer's Desk, an online workspace to improve the way writers spend their time. We'd be honored if you pass the opportunity to colleagues and friends -- writers of all kinds -- who may have resolved to get organized this year.

SITUATION

Being a writer often sneaks up on a person.  Not many train for the vocation nor start with all the equipment, contacts, long view.  It's no wonder that eventually the snowball of success or dogged enthusiasm becomes an avalanche of produce - or expectation. Then buried writers inch along using outdated, poorly conceived systems to track work; repeatedly resolve to better keep writing in circulation; dream of one day expanding to new markets. SOLUTION

My computer scientist husband watched me -- a New York-based freelance writer -- function in this typical writerly way.  But unlike sympathetic others in the writing trade, he found observing me in action unbearable. So we pooled my professional nightmare with his software developing expertise to construct a website that has revolutionized the way I work and is too useful not to share with the wider writing community.

If you can operate a web browser anywhere in the world you can use this online service to simplify the logistics of being an active writer. Subscription is less than USD20 per year and while the site is optimized for the U.S. market, feedback from international users will help make it a global service.

FREE SUBSCRIPTION

Register for a thirty day free trial at www.writers-desk.com to judge if Writer's Desk improves your current method to:

  • Track writing objectives and submissions
  • Compile editorial guidelines and publishing contacts
  • Register rights granted, income earned
  • Trace the development and history of work - and more!

+++

We just opened it to the public as a subscription service.  You can find the creative and business workspace at  www.writers-desk.com

Writers use tools to *write* and tools to *sell the work*.  Writer's Desk is a bit of a cross between the two since it helps a writer envision her portfolio, both published and unpublished; encourages hierarchical thinking about projects and other writing ideas in order to more deeply develop material; offers a place to consolidate market contact information and notes; and helps track submissions, rights and income.

I can upload documents to the web service for retrieval on the fly -- and open and update my account from any computer with Internet access. So for me, logging on to Writer's Desk every day affords a quick overview of what I've done, what I must do today, what I plan to do and what I hope to do.

+++

 

A superb and versatile tool to manage song submissions and grant applications.

-- songwriter, Seattle, WA

Smart use of web technology. Finally I'm not tethered to my laptop.

-- journalist, New York, NY

Perfect for disorganized writers. Especially helps follow up with editors and agents!

-- novelist, Lawrence, KS

Portfolio overview is priceless. Great to develop new ideas, exploit material.

-- essayist, Des Moines, IA

Suits my purposes: developing scripts, tracking festival submissions.

-- screenwriter and director, San Francisco, CA

 

Invite To Beta Test A New Writer's Tool

As a writing friend or associate of mine, I’d like to cordially invite you to beta-test WRITER’S DESK.  This new web-based writer's tool was designed by my computer scientist husband after unbearably observing me in action. Too useful not to share, we soon plan to launch it as an online subscription service.  If you can operate a web browser, you can use this database software intended to simplify the logistics of being an active writer. An online centralized place to store and manage information to maximize your writing potential, WRITER’S DESK can help you:

TRACK SUBMISSIONS AND MONITOR PROGRESS

  • Identify publications and presses where your work is currently under consideration
  • Display a history of your submissions to a specific outlet
  • Distinguish agents and editors you’ve followed up with and their reactions
  • Map the exposure of different incarnations of your work
  • Register the rights granted and income earned on each project

 

DEVELOP YOUR WRITING GOALS

  • Brainstorm overarching project ideas
  • Pinpoint specific directions to go with your material
  • Note thematic patterns in your publication history to strengthen your portfolio or phase-out beats of little interest
  • Log unpublished or unused material and make plans to capitalize on it
  • Chart a publication path to your dream gigs

 

ORGANIZE YOUR RESOURCES

  • Plan well-received approaches based on editorial and submission guidelines of your target presses, publications, and editors
  • Compile, annotate and manage a database of publishing world contacts
  • Upload document files for access on the fly
  • Search your projects and files by keyword or word count

 

HOW TO BE A BETA TESTER

The beta test starts in October. During the test period, use the tool to its fullest extent to evaluate how it works for you. While using and in an exit questionnaire, share your impressions about any and all aspects of the tool.  (If you lack sufficient time or motivation right now, but want to be kept abreast of WRITER’S DESK developments, let me know by email before October 1.  I will be happy to notify you when we launch so you can enjoy the software at your own pace.)

In exchange for your active participation as a beta tester, I am pleased to offer the online service free for a year, with significantly discounted membership thereafter. A considerable additional benefit of being a beta tester is that later versions -- customized with your valuable feedback – may align not only with the way you truly work, but how you have always dreamed of working.

Interested beta testers, please email me by Tuesday, October 1 and let me know what computer system and version of IE or Netscape you plan to use.  Soon you will receive a detailed email with a link to the tool and the start date of the test.

Thank you for taking a moment to consider assessing WRITER’S DESK beta version, I appreciate it!

 

+++

Welcome to the WRITER’S DESK beta test.  Thank you for trying this new web service, your enthusiasm and sense of adventure are appreciated!  Here are further details of the test -- which begins today -- and a link to the tool.

CONTROLLED BETA

The test you are about to participate in is a controlled beta test, which means that it is not open to users beyond those who are initially invited. Any new accounts registered after the beta group has enrolled will be blocked.  Others will be able to try the system for free when we launch.

However, feel free to refer associates who might be interested in trying WRITER’S DESK in an expanded test.

SERVICE INTERRUPTIONS

Since this is a beta, we will regularly update the site, incorporating fixes and changes based on the results of testing and your feedback. An update takes about five minutes, but for now we ask you not use the site between 11:00 p.m. – 11:30 p.m. nightly.  If or when the schedule changes, you will be notified by email.  We will also alert you to longer updates.

SAFEGUARD DATA

Like all beta versions, the WRITER’S DESK software you are about to use is potentially unstable. While no data has been lost during development and alpha, we recommend you safeguard the information you enter in the tool by printing it out.  Also make sure you keep a copy of any documents you upload from your personal computer. The database will be backed up daily and transferred to a remote machine, but not the documents you have uploaded.

CONFIDENTIALITY

By participating in this beta you agree that you will refrain from sharing details -- large and small -- about WRITER’S DESK with anyone from the start of the beta period until we publicly announce launch of the service. We apologize if this goes against your communal grain. When we launch we would be more than happy if you mention the web tool to others!

BEING A TESTER

During the beta period, use the tool as often as you can and to its fullest extent to best evaluate how it functions for you. But also test its limits: don’t fill in every field or only partially fill a field.  Enter what you think might be bad data and see how the system reacts. DO ODD THINGS! If all goes as planned, you will know when the system fails when you end up on an error page, on which the path of the page that generated the error will be displayed.  But any other odd behavior should be reported. Let us know what happens to you, and while you work, share what you’re thinking by jotting observations and questions in the feedback form.  Which sections seem gratuitous, which are vital, what is missing?

EXIT QUESTIONNAIRE

When the beta ends, in an exit survey we will solicit your opinion on possible new features, based on our own plans for developing the service, and your feedback while testing it.

GET STARTED

Proceed to http://www.writers-desk.com. Register. Preview the Getting Started page, and you’re on your way!

We look forward to hearing what you think of WRITER’S DESK and thank you for your time.