editor

Ex-Wired Editor Arikia Millikan Launches LadyBits Media Group For Tech-Savvy Women

Screen Shot 2013-11-16 at 3.16.57 PMGlad to attend the San Francisco launch by Arikia Millikan, who's on a global trajectory since leaving Wired magazine. The evening cosponsored by Michael Gold at TechDrinkUp and Christian Perry of SFBeta at Monarch (yes, that's a trapeze above the bar) introduced a new media group founded by Millikan where tech-savvy women create the content they want to consume.

As Millikan describes it, LadyBits is a collective of tech journalists and a media experiment to source, commission and edit writing of interest to tech-savvy women -- a new layer between the writers and the publishing venues (which mostly serve the interests of tech-savvy men).

You can expect a curated collection of "literary musings about technology, science, business, culture, sex, and politics by writers who actively engage in intelligent discourse about how technology is shaping the future of our civilization".

I'll be contributing to LadyBits, which you can see here at Medium: LadyBits On Medium. They'll also be expanding all over the web, including at Refinery 29 and Popular Science.

Requests That Get A Yes

I get a lot of requests related to my Expat Harem book and other productions that I wish I had the time to say yes to.

Sometimes I get requests that I would have said yes to if the requester had spent a little more time setting it up. Make it really easy!

 

I heard from a travel writer developing a story about her own cross-cultural family experiences who needed expert sources to flesh out her query to an unnamed publishing venue. She gave me four questions to answer.

Four questions is a lot to ask, but her email gave me even more things to wonder.

Which venues she was pitching and by when did she need my answers?

I wondered why she was seeking an expert quote for a personal story (expert quotes in a pitch usually point to experts you're going to interview if you get the assignment). That would be like using my material to land an assignment to write about her own life! If she were to be assigned the piece, was she planning to interview me in more depth? It would have been good to hear that she only needed a one sentence answer for  -- any of -- those questions.

An expert would want to see how she was going to be described in the query. This could be done by telling me why I am being approached. For instance, "because you wrote about your Turkish in-laws in the Expat Harem book and in Cornucopia magazine." Or, it would be nice to be asked to point to a description I prefer.

Assume people want to help.  Just cover your bases and keep the ask as small as you can, so they can.

P.S. Be gracious when someone says no. When I let this travel writer know I wouldn't be able to help her out and explained what questions her pitch brought up for me, she let me know how sorry I was going to be for not doing what she asked.

The Accidental Anthologist: Creating A Literary Harem

All the editions of Expat Harem bookTurkey often makes the news for suppressing its authors. Ironically, as an American expatriate in Istanbul I found my voice -- by creating a literary harem of my expat peers. My third month in Istanbul I found my way to an American women's social club. Milling among the crowd at the consul general's residence, I introduced myself by describing my writing project.

"At 40? You're too young to write a memoir," snorted a white haired librarian as she arranged second-hand books on a card table.

"Istanbul's such chaos, I'd be surprised if you can concentrate," thought a freckled socialite in tasseled loafers.

My memoir was going to happen. It had to. It was the cornerstone of my survival plan.

 

MY BRILLIANT CAREER WAS PORTABLE. I moved to Istanbul in 2003 so my Turkish husband could take a job in mobile telecommunications. Even though I lacked a formal proposal for my high-concept travel memoir charting the peaks and valleys of what I was calling “an adventurous life,” I already had a literary agent waiting to champion it. I was thrilled my spouse would be developing the kind of advanced cell phone software that excites him and that emerging economies demand. Yet my international move required a defense strategy.

"I'm not going to waste a minute sitting in language classes, diminishing my facility with English," I informed him.

"Whatever makes you happy," he replied.

In my mind I'd be on an extended writer's retreat, free from the daily distractions of our “real life” in New York City, where we had met.

I'd be an asocial expatriate writer who would one day emerge at the border clutching my passport and a masterpiece.

This exotic vision had been percolating since I'd last been an expat—in Malaysia. I’d spent five years rotting away in the tropics like a less-prolific—and more sober—Somerset Maugham.

Foremost to decay in the equatorial heat was my personality—the core of my writing voice.

In steamy Southeast Asia, my first long-term stint overseas, language and cultural barriers prevented me from expressing even the simplest aspects of my identity. When I told people I was a writer they'd reply, "Horses?"

 

I WAS DECOMPOSING at time-lapse speed. Vintage handbags and L.A. sandals sprouted green fungus overnight, while silvery bugs infested my college texts and a decade of diaries. I was also mistaken for a very different kind of Western woman in Asia, like when a crew of Indonesian laborers working at my house wondered when I was going to drink a beer and take off my shirt.

Three years later, in cosmopolitan Istanbul, I was a resurrected ambitious American prepared for my future. I imagined a successful literary life abroad—supported by a defensive version of expatriatism. "This move won't turn my world upside down," I cockily assured worried friends and relatives, who recalled my anguished Kuala Lumpur days.

Now I was all about the work. My plan to avoid alienation in Turkey was foolproof.

Istanbul, a hilly metropolis of 12 million, made Kuala Lumpur look like the sleepy river town it is. I couldn't envision navigating a car on its traffic-logged streets or squeezing into public minibuses or straying too far alone without a translator. I couldn't wait to hole up at home with my computer, DSL connection and a view of the Bosphorus.

Upon my arrival I joined an expat social club for some English speaking company. There I met the scolding librarian and the socialite. I also ran into an upbeat Michigan writer named Jennifer Gökmen, a 10-year émigré also married to a Turk. She had no doubt I would write my memoir. We both needed some writing support so we created a workshop with a handful of other American women.

Within weeks, the memoir stalled as I struggled to map my entire existence... dear god, what's the arc of my life? Maybe that caustic librarian was right! My resistance to Turkey started to wear down.

Jennifer and I began playing with a proposal of our own: an anthology incorporating essays about our Turkish lives.

I was bursting with that kind of material. The cultural gauntlet I faced on my first trip to meet the family. My glitzy Istanbul wedding. Inspired by the original harem of the 15th century Ottoman sultans, where foreign-born women shared their cultural wisdoms, new arrivals comparing notes with old hands, we figured we formed a modern version: the Expat Harem.

And that’s when the harem walls closed in.

 

SILENCED BY WHOOPING COUGH: I contracted a mysterious and ancient ailment of the pharynx. Local doctors unfamiliar with the diagnosis prescribed medications for asthma and antibiotics to treat a lung infection, neither of which I had. I passed the cough to Jennifer. For the next six months we were both homebound, hacking to the point of incontinence, succumbing to every little flu. I avoided anything that might incite a new round of spasms, like conversation and laughter, the coal smoke emanating from rural shanties, chills from the ancient city's stone walls, gusts of autumn blowing down from the Black Sea. The only thing Jennifer and I were suited for was speechlessly working, and we only wanted to think about the anthology.

"Embedded here, we're destined to be alien."

I brainstormed in an email to Jennifer, pointing out the dilemma of life abroad—even for those who want to blend in to local culture, it’s near impossible. Our cultural instincts will forever lead us to different choices— from simple aesthetics like lipstick color to complicated interpersonal communications.

Topkapi Palace harem door by A.Ashman

"The Expat Harem is a place of female power," she shot back, linking us to an Eastern feminist continuum little known in the Western world.

Harem communities offered women the possibility of power—in the imperial harem, they offered the greatest power available to women in this region. These women had the sultan's ear, they were the mothers of sultans. Several harem women shadow-ran the Ottoman empire, while others co-ruled.

Giddy with our anachronistic metaphor, I replied.

"Ethnocentric prison or refuge of peers—sometimes it's hard to tell which way the door is swinging!"

Like a secret password, news spread as we called for submissions from writers, travelers and Turkophiles. Fascinating women from fourteen nations poured their stories into our in-boxes. They shared how their lives had been transformed by this Mediterranean country in the past 50 years, moments that challenged their values and their destinies as nurses and scientists, Peace Corps volunteers and artists.

These women's tales were not universally known.

Many had never before been published and all were minority voices in a Muslim country with a reputation for censorship.

 

ALTERNATE REALITIES flooded over me: eerie Sufi pilgrimages to Konya, the intimacies of anthropological fieldwork on the Black Sea, glimpses of '70s civic unrest in Ankara, a wistful gardener's search for the perfect Ottoman rose in Afyon. Many represented a depth of involvement with the country I couldn't imagine: harvesting dusty hazelnuts on a brambly hillside, trying to follow the 9/8 rhythms of a clapping Gypsy, sharing space on a city bus with a dancing bear in the Technicolor 1950s.

I whispered to Jennifer, "Compared to these women, I'm a cultural wimp!"

Their struggles to assimilate nudged me to forgive my own resistance, and inspired me to discover the country, the culture and the Turkish people.

Now I could use the editing skills I had been suppressing since I was an infuriating child who returned people's letters corrected with red pen. From the comfort of my home office-with-a-foreign-zipcode, I was able to shape other writers’ stories. The anthology rewarded me for postponing the memoir, by laying the foundations for a more insightful next book. The joys of collaborating with writers from my home office clarified confusing aspects of my character—like how I am a prickly introvert who nevertheless craves connection with people.

One late winter day Jennifer and I stopped coughing and sold Tales from the Expat Harem to Doğan Kitap, a prominent Turkish publisher.

"That's more like it," snapped the librarian when I next saw her at a club meeting, my reputation somewhat rehabilitated in her eyes.

Four decades’ worth of expatriate self-discoveries earned its shelf space, more than my own 40-year life story would have.

"It's a love-letter to the country. I put it on my house guests' pillows!" shared the smiling socialite.

The anthology became a #1 English-language bestseller in Turkey and was recommended as a social and cultural guide by National Geographic Traveler and Lonely Planet.

My literary career and conflicted mindset about life abroad now had a promising new cultural context in the expat harem.

 

I FOUND MY THEORETICAL HOME. I arrived an insular writer afraid of losing my voice. In a temporary silence, Turkey suggested an empowering metaphor. It seems the country not only connected me to a worldwide band of my global nomad and expat writing peers, it provided a place to flourish out of restriction -- and raised my voice in the cultural conversation.

[This essay first appeared in JANERA: The Voice of Global Nomads, January 2008]

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What surprise context has your location provided you?

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[18 months, 2 expat writers, one feminist travel anthology with three editions. Our first book! A bestseller. How'd we do it? Read the story of making Tales from the Expat Harem]

Publishing And The Digital World Citizen

I once opened a can of ebook whoop-ass on Stephen King. “No interactivity, no extra benefit for readers!” I scolded the usually imaginative novelist back in the go-go days of Y2K. From my desk on New York’s Silicon Alley where I had the publishing beat at an internet industry magazine, King’s self-publishing experiment The Plant – a flow of static installments lacking flexibility, community and collaboration – was a lackluster leap of faith.

I was used to doling out tough-love to content owners peering across the digital divide. After previous stints in media and entertainment, intellectual property rights and audience concerns were also familiar to me but my exuberance came from a new media clean slate of the expat sort.

I'd just parachuted into the dotcom boom from Southeast Asia.

For five years my Malaysian office was minutes from Kuala Lumpur’s Multimedia Super Corridor, a futuristic zone advised by Bill Gates and Intel’s Andy Grove. Like the rest of the Newly Industrialized Nation, I was plagued by weekly power outages and wrote by candle light. While my attention span shrank to the length of a Compaq battery life, expatriate skills included patience to wait one month for a government-issued phone line. Waiting for internet access expanded my endurance to a couple of years.

When I finally got online the possibilities of global and real-time connection revolutionalized my estranged expat life.

A decade later I’m dipping into the professional fray from 6,000 miles to the East. I’ve been a writer and producer of cultural entertainment in Istanbul since 2003, and continue to live here. My first book Expat Harem took a conventional route: lit agent, Turkish and American publishers, road trip book tours, an electronic release for Expat Harem on Kindle (aff) and Sony eReader. My second effort — an edgy nonlinear memoir of friendship — requires a complete rethink. (Three months to set up our 49-day 10-state road tour across America, three years to recover from? Wouldn't do that again!)

Geographic disadvantage demands I compete in my home market virtually. With the economic crisis, collapse of traditional publishing and fresh hope pinned on the social web, my global audience is also now virtual.  I’m shifting to new school thinking in distribution, promotion, and sales.

Like internet access equalized my ‘90s expat reality, now social media closes the professional morass as my Tweetdeck columns resonate thought leadership across publishing, technology, and marketing. (Follow my Twitter lists of  300+ publishing professionals and 200+ interactive media people, transmedia visionaries, digital storytellers and marketers.)

I’ve got Web 2.0 and 3.0 plans for my second book -- see Digital Book World, the publishing community for the 21st century -- not only because as a contemporary author abroad I must connect with readers and offer dynamic interaction with me and my material, but because as a digital citizen I can.

Building community around the healing power of friendship – the memoir’s heart — promises to bring my writing world even closer to who I am and what I care about, making where I am viable. Exactly where I want to be.

Have you been culturally or geographically challenged in your career? How has the playing field shifted today?

A version of this essay first appeared in former editor of Writer's Digest Maria Schneider's Editor Unleashed, 2009.

See more images relating to this story here and here and here.

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!

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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.

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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!

 

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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.