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by Jim and Perihan Masters
This year, our fiction slot has been filled by Habibullah at the Ottoman Court, a crime series set in the court of Süleyman the Magnificent, the mid-16th Century Ottoman Turkish Sultan. Habibullah, the eccentric detective hero, is a foreign-language translator for the Sultan's Imperial Council.
However, we also dedicate a portion of our writing lives to non-fiction (on Turkish subjects), which helps, now and then, to pay for our harmless extravagances. The non-fiction category includes Turkish travel brochure and language-related writing in English, or Turkish, or both. My wife, Perihan -- who, besides being joint creator, leads me, sometimes forcibly, through the more thorny thickets of the Turkish language -- is my collaborator in this work.
With an eye towards drumming up more non-fiction business (and in hopes of finding a publisher for our own Turkish Language Guide on CD), we developed and sponsor the MSNBC award-winning "The Learning Practical Turkish" website. The LPT website is intended for language lovers who like their lessons with a little bit of sugar, to help make the medecine go down.
Just before we embarked on a three-month U.S. vacation this year, the website paid off when Lonely Planet Publications contacted us to collaborate on a Turkish Language Phrasebook.
Lonely Planet Publications, you ask? LP, as it's fondly known, publishes tourist guides and language phrasebooks for most of the countries you or I would ever care to visit -- and some we wouldn't. And LP Guides and Phrasebooks are, well, jazzy. They even warn you of 'problems' you may encounter. For example, the LP Guide to Turkey warns the traveler to beware of obnoxious carpet hucksters near the Selçuk bus station during the height of the summer tourist season. Now, we live 25 minutes from Selçuk, and, by God, it's true: those hucksters are nuisances. Whenever we have to go to Selçuk during the summer tourist season, we give that location a wide berth!
Anyway, Sally Steward, the Lonely Planet's Publishing Manager in Australia, visited our website in April '98 and left us an enticing e-mail message.
Dear Webmaster,Well, we were tickled. We've been fans of the LP Guide to Turkey since we first saw it. (A dear friend had even favorably reviewed it on our website long before Sally ever contacted us). But, alas, after we had responded enthusiastically to Sally's message, LP's business plan changed and the deal fell through. So, a little disappointed -- but humbly gratified at having been considered in the first place by such a prestigious publishing house -- we went our separate ways.
Then, quite unexpectedly, 15 days before our U.S. vacation departure date, Sally contacted us again by e-mail, and the deal was back on!
Dear Jim,Once again we were delighted at the prospect, but what about our vacation plans? Could we complete all the work LP wanted before we left? We quickly checked the sample Word files Sally had sent along with her e-message, and it was clear that we'd need more time -- as much as a month more. So, if we wanted to take the job on, we'd have to do it while travelling.
On the plus side, I had just bought an IBM 380ED Laptop, for communicating with friends during our trip; and the Internet would work just as well between the USA and Australia as it did between Turkey and Australia, wouldn't it? So we put our faith in cyberspace and returned the signed electronic contract that Sally sent us by fax -- and dove into the deep end. It was during the fax setup for the contract transmission that we heard Sally's voice for the only time.
"H'lo, Jim and Peri."Once begun, our Turkish Phasebook writing went smoothly -- even on the layover flight to Zurich, and also on the flight the next day to the States. (Swissair permits in-flight use of laptop computers except during takeoff and landing.)
When we arrived at my sister's home in Maryland, I logged on through her Internet connection and easily exchanged mail with Australian Sally. [I did that via my geocities.com electronic-mail account, which I had set up while still in Turkey. This free geocities.com account worked especially well since I set both my Turkish accounts to forward mail automatically to it. And I could/can access that account (for the cost of a local telephone call) from anywhere in the world. As an additional safety precaution, I also established a free hotmail.com e-mail account before departure. That account came in handy, too, when at one point in the middle of July the Geocities Internet servers 'went to sleep'...]
After a week in Maryland, during which time we delivered several completed sections of the LP Turkish Phrasebook, we packed up again and headed down the second leg of our journey to South Carolina. Peri and I both like trains, so we took the overnight from Washington, DC to Clemson University, South Carolina. (You meet a friendly kind of person on a train, especially if you're heading south -- whichever country you're in.) And thanks to the IBM laptop, we even got in a couple more hours of work -- before the computer's battery ran out!
When we arrived at my cousin's home, we found she had a local Internet connection too. So again, I was able to connect to my Geocities account and to exchange mail with Australian Sally. After a few days with my cousin (whose name is also Sally), Peri and I took up residence in a flat we had rented through the Internet -- with Cousin Sally's help -- from Turkey.
During the remaining two and a half months of our 'vacation,' we had a happy time cementing old family ties, rediscovering the Carolina mountains and seacoasts, and shopping and shopping and shopping. And almost incidentally (because it was so problem-free), we completed the Turkish Phrasebook commission -- as if Lonely Planet Publications were just down the street from wherever we happened to be.
In fact, from the day we had started work on the commission, it had 'taken us' to three different continents in three different time zones. And in the process, our 'bosses' at LP had never even seen our faces and had only heard our voices once!
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