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Phantosmia and marine diesel

Phantosmia and marine diesel

Phantosmia – what is it?

Phantosmia is essentially a nasal hallucination; you smell something continually, usually something unpleasant, that isn’t there.

In my personal case, that ‘something’ is marine diesel exhaust. As in ‘I’m standing a few feet downwind of the exhaust of a WWII battleship that’s just started its engine for the first time since the Armistice’ smell of marine diesel exhaust.

Because it’s a fairly rare problem, there’s no real treatment for it that doesn’t sound as if it got imported from the Dark Ages. Additionally, because it’s fairly rare, and apparently varies pretty widely, the literature on it is less than consistent.

No one really seems to have a clue why phantosmia occurs. They’ve put together a lot of commonalities, some of which (brain tumour, or Parkinson’s, anyone?) are pretty scary, and others of which (allergies, stress, depression, sinusitis) are at least generally non-fatal if treated. It’s rare enough that when I went to my doctor and told him I was smelling diesel fumes all day every day, he laughed and welcomed me to the big city.

But it stinks!

Luckily for me, my phantosmia seems to be stress-triggered (I’m working under the assumption that several years later I’d probably have noticed a brain tumour…), and so when my stress levels get to the ‘get the f*** out of Dodge’ level, I get marine diesel exhaust.

Also luckily, for me, marine diesel exhaust is annoying but it’s also a smell I grew up with, so a few days to a few weeks of it isn’t pleasant but doesn’t have me planning to jump under a bus. Strong scents (peppermint, or sharp berries, for example) can cut through it, as can actually trying to sniff something.

I’m working the theory that I get marine diesel stench under stress because at some subconscious level, I associate the smell of a boat’s engine starting up with moving somewhere new and different. Marine diesel exhaust wafting across the yacht was the prelude to getting the anchor up and going for most of my childhood. To appropriate a Monty Python line, it’s a nasal ‘Run away, run away!’ reaction.

Solutions?

Well, there’s not a lot. I haven’t found that saline spray does anything for it, and I confess to no real desire to have my olfactory bulbs removed – generally I have a pretty good sense of smell, I use it, and when I’m not on public transit, I even enjoy it.

I’m working on reducing my stress levels. It’s a project. It’s not a project that’s going awfully well, but I am chipping away at it, in my copious free time.

Whether getting rid of some of the stress will equal getting rid of phantosmia, who knows. On the other hand, lowering stress levels is a good idea in general.

Twitter basics for authors – what is Twitter?

Twitter basics for authors – what is Twitter?

What is Twitter?

First seen / guest blog on Ryder Author Resources

Twitter bills itself as a micro-blogging service. If you’re looking at that and thinking ‘that’s just great, I’ve already got a website, an actual blog, and an Amazon page – I need more things to keep updated like a hole in my head’, keep reading.

Don’t think of Twitter as ‘oh dear god, not another one’ and start thinking of it as an authors’ coffee bar. Or Irish Pub. Or drum circle. Wherever you go to talk shop and meet like-minded people.

What Twitter probably won’t do for you is get you a ton of eager new readers. I’ll be absolutely up-front about that. My following on Twitter is over 9,000, and I sincerely doubt I’ve sold more than a couple of books there. It’s not a place to set a series of ‘hey, my book’s awesome, buy it here!!!’ posts and forget about it, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile.

What Twitter has done for me is find me my cover designer, my logo designer, various reviewers, and a lot of fellow authors with excellent tips and experience to share. It’s where I met the author group I mostly work with for joint promotions and blog hops.

Getting started on Twitter

Start small, grasshopper. Get an account, if you haven’t already.

Head over to https://twitter.com/ and sign up. If you’re creating this account primarily for author-related stuff, do yourself a favour and pick a ‘handle’ (the part that comes after the @) that has something to do with your author name. Don’t use a book or series title, unless you plan to start and keep up a new account for each book or series you launch.

Now set up your profile. You’ll need a short bio, an author photo, or at least something that you’re willing to be represented by (a lot of people won’t follow back blank profiles), and a header image. If you head on over to my profile, https://twitter.com/steel_jo, you’ll see I’ve used a book banner for my header, but you don’t have to. They’re easy to change.

Don’t put your website link in your bio – that takes up valuable real estate and you get a separate spot for it in set-up. On the other hand, if you have a link other than your website that you want permanent pride of place for, get it a shortlink (see bitly.com, for example) and stick it in.

Do use hashtags in your bio – not enough to overwhelm it, but two or three are fine and make you easier to find. Write horror? Try something like ‘writing #horror, living da dream’. Like marathons? Hashtag it. The hashtags make you searchable. Rumours keep running around Twitter that the hashtags are no longer necessary, but I’ve been there 8 years and I haven’t seen any actual footprints of that particular change, so for a whole extra character, I’d hang onto them.

Hashtags are also the basis for Twitter chats, where you can tweet with people real-time. Learn more about that here.

Is this thing on? Nothing’s happening

Yes, it is, and now you’ve got, or possibly tweaked, your account, let’s get stuck in.

Twitter is all about how many people you follow, and how many people follow you. It’s not like Facebook, where ‘friending’ someone you don’t know and have never met makes you a stalker.

So, if you just started your account, let’s head out to find you some people to chat with. Two options: up at the top right, you’ll see a ‘search’ option. If you know some people, type them in there and follow them. If you don’t, then type ‘#amwriting’ in there. You’ll see a page come up with ‘top’, ‘latest’, ‘people’, etc. Head on over to ‘People’ and follow some of the people whose bios make you grin. Once you run out of those, try another search – I write #scifi, so I’d type that into search and repeat the exercise.

Don’t get upset if not everyone follows you back – some of them will, and that’ll get you started, and it’ll give Twitter something to work with for that section on the right-hand side of your profile headed ‘People to follow’.

As a regular exercise for Twitter, I recommend taking twenty minutes each weekend, and finding 50 or so new people to follow. The following weekend, unfollow all the folks who haven’t followed you back, rinse, and repeat.

Get Tweeting

Following people is all very well, but if you never add any content, followers evaporate fast, so start Tweeting. Top right on your profile, right by the search option, you’ll find the ‘Tweet’ button.

Tweets can contain text (obviously), photos, .gifs, and polls. The character limit is currently 280. Let’s start simply and give you a tweet to ‘pin’ on your profile.

Put together something you’d like people to see as soon as they land on your profile (don’t repeat your bio), something like an intro to your work. ‘Hey, nice to meet you, I’m exploring what happened in #Oz after the Tin Man found his #heart – come and meet the cast!’ plus a website link, for example.

Once you click ‘Tweet’ it’ll show up on your profile. Usually, things you write, or retweet, show up in reverse chronological order, so your older Tweets vanish pretty quickly. To keep a Tweet at the top of your profile, click the little downwards-pointing arrow at the top right corner of the Tweet. You’ll see ‘share’, ‘copy’, ’embed’, and ‘pin’ options. Click ‘pin to your profile’.

It’s considered polite to retweet pinned posts if you’re visiting someone’s profile – it gives their tweet a boost, and lets them know you’re alive, while putting content in your feed. Win-win. Change out your pinned post fairly regularly – at least once a month. Your followers should get a notification when it changes, which gets it a bit more traction than your run-of-the-mill ‘Whoops, there goes my #coffee’ posts.

Pro tip – Twitter lists

So you’ve found Jensen Ackles’s profile, and followed him, and you’re watching Twitter with baited breath for the moment he follows you back. Sorry, ain’t never going to happen. Doesn’t mean you can’t follow him, but you don’t actually have to follow him or have him follow you to see what he’s posting on Twitter.

Enter lists, my favourite thing on Twitter after the .gif wars.

You’ll notice, in your Twitter profile or the ‘Home’ view, you’ve got the search box, a little round photo of you, and the ‘Tweet’ button in a row up the top right? Click once on that round photo, and you’ll get a drop-down menu. Second on that menu is the ‘Lists’ option.

Lists are collections of people whose content you want to see. You don’t have to follow people you add to a list, and they don’t have to be following you.

Lists are important, because once you pass about 200 people you’re following, your Twitter ‘Home’ feed updates so frequently you’ll never catch up on everything that happened while you were at work.

However, if you add people whose posts (Tweets) you really want to keep up with on to a list, you can browse whatever they had to say once you’re at home with your feet up.

I keep a list of people who post useful marketing tips, a list of my close friends, a list of people I publicise with – you get the idea.

Be a real person

Even if your Twitter account is primarily for your writing, don’t just blast your books there. Be a person. Tweet about the asshat who barged in line and kept you from your vital coffee and how you went mutant zombie killer on her ass before you woke up with your cheek stuck to the Starbucks table. Tweet about your pets, or your travel plans, or what you’re reading, or how much editing sucks.

Retweet other people’s posts. It gets you good cess, and inclines them to help you out by doing the same (that pinned post is really helpful for busy people – it give them something of yours to retweet without having to skim down twenty retweets in your feed).

Join a few chats, if you can. If you see an interesting news article, use the Twitter share option – or if there isn’t one, you can usually copy and paste the link into a Tweet.

The golden rule is something like 5% blasting your stuff and 95% everything else. You can play with that a little – if you blog, for example, I recommend retweeting older posts that are still relevant once in a while – it gives your feed content and boosts engagement with your website, but make sure it’s not a constant stream of ‘my books are awesome, buy my books!’.

Oh, and do check your Tweets *before* you post. There’s nothing like typos in a post designed to showcase what a great writer you are to make people wonder, and there’s no ‘edit’ function in Twitter – you wear it or you delete it, and even deleting can’t make it unseen by anyone who’s already viewed it. It’s worth taking a few seconds to proofread.

Have fun!

Ryder Author Resources

RAR is the author’s secret weapon in all things branding, marketing, and book review-related. Check out their site for who they are and what they do! www.ryderauthorresources.com

English, the ‘universal language’

English, the ‘universal language’

Bordering on English

I’m seeing a lot of noise online recently about English, the ‘universal language’. And it makes me laugh.

I invite these optimists to try travelling from York to London in the UK and ordering a Maccy D’s. Come to that, try asking if you can wear thongs into a restaurant in Newcastle and in Sydney. I guarantee two very different responses, but I’d only bother standing by with a camera for one of them.

This is because English has several oddities out of the gate. It’s spoken widely, and suffers from all the inconsistencies normal to wide geographical spread. Put a Scouser and a Texan together at an open bar without an internet translator and watch the fun.

English is built from a smattering of Celtic overlaid forcibly by Latin, in turn overlaid by Saxon and then Norman French, meaning it takes part of its vocabulary from the largely Germanic North, and a lot of it from the Romance languages to the South.

Have a look at some untweaked Chaucer (c. 1343 – 1400), the first person to actually write in English, rather than French or Latin. At that point in time, actually writing literature in English would be roughly comparable to someone now writing a work of philosophy in text-message shorthand…doable, but something of a freak of nature.

Whilom, as olde stories tellen us,

Ther was a duc that highte Theseus;

Of Atthenes he was lord and governour,

And in his tyme swich a conquerour,

That gretter was ther noon under the sonne.

Ful many a riche contree hadde he wonne,

What with his wysdom and his chivalrie;

He conquered al the regne of Femenye,

That whilom was ycleped Scithia,

And weddede the queene Ypolita,

And broghte hir hoom with hym in his contree,

With muchel glorie and greet solempnytee,

And eek hir yonge suster Emelye.

The Knight’s Tale

Certainly you can unfocus your brain a little, and stare at it, and you can make it out without too much trouble. If you have some grounding in Classic Mythology, you can cheat and fill in any blanks (cheat. There’s another good word, etymologically. ‘To escheat’, a shortening of Old French ‘escheat’.) If you feel particularly technical, you can even take a red and a green pen and highlight the words that are clearly Saxon in origin, and which are clearly Latin / French.

Let’s take one of the words there (just one, in the interest of having a post that doesn’t equal a full-length novel). Let’s look at contree. Obviously, modern English, ‘country’. Or you could say ‘nation’. Or, hang on, what about ‘county’? Doesn’t ‘county’ have anything to do with it? Starting to feel a twinge of sympathy for those who have to actually learn this language the hard way? I do. You’ve already got two completely different words meaning pretty much exactly the same thing and a third that looks really, really similar.

Among other oddities from its mixed heritage, English has nearly twice the vocabulary of most languages, with most estimates pinning it at somewhere near 1 million words. Given that the majority of English speakers actually commonly use about 5,000 words of that, and even a highly-educated university graduate only about 20,000…that’s still a lot of variation for a second-language speaker to try to master.

For example: fish is a plural noun. Except when it’s not. Anyone want to take a stab at why and when you can actually say fishes? What’s the difference between a belfry and a belltower? Come to that, which English-speaking populations can you insult by calling them a bellend, and which will just look at you blankly?

As practical choices go, picking English as the ‘universal language’ scores a resounding E for effort. It’s hard to pronounce, regional dialects vary wildly, and the vocabulary is, if possible, more enormous even than the number of grammatical irregularities.

Of course, as far as writers go, that makes English a whole bundle of fun with occasional streaks of psycho. You can do nearly anything in English. (Well, you all knew I was going to end up talking about writing.) You can turn up ten or so synonyms for pretty much any word you care to use (or not use. That’s what synonyms are for.) And if you care to dig yourself into regional slang for some character colour…well, the Urban Dictionary is a writer’s boon there. If you weren’t planning on slang to start with, you’ll almost certainly end up wanting some after ten minutes in there.  Not to mention if you put any two grammar nerds into a bar with a pitcher of beer, you can get five different opinions on something as basic as when and where to put a comma (Oxford commas, anyone?).

Basically, English as a universal language is a moderately shitty choice. Why do I blaspheme? Well, because language, at its most basic, and basic is really what you want as a universal interface, is a means to communicate easily and clearly. Yup, really. I can lose most native speakers in three sentences if I make the effort. English has weird pronunciation, which varies wildly depending on region. It has a massively complicated grammar structure. And don’t forget that huge, doubled vocabulary. As far as simple, clear, universal communication goes…well, some of the Eastern writing systems might, possibly, throw more of a wrench in the works, but only by a whisker.

The art of war, or, the non-PC novel

The art of war, or, the non-PC novel

So you don’t agree with it. So what?

OffendedI see a lot of blogs, tweets, and statements about how offensive some people find books that contain (insert rant of choice here – bad language, violence, sex, religion … you name it). Look at this one again. People find a book offensive. To the point where they feel they can’t just put it down; they have to try and make sure that no-one else can read it either. Because it offends them so deeply.

Libraries are being told to ban books. Does this raise any concerns for anyone? Would it concern anyone more if I mentioned that these dangerous books include … Harry PotterThe Hunger Games? Huckleberry Finn?

I mean, we’re not talking about The Communist Manifesto here.  We’re not talking books that overthrew the worldview of the Western world, like Kepler’s Astronomia Nova, or even Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible. We’re talking fiction books.

At this point I start getting little twinges of disaster scrabbling around my hindbrain. Here’s a pop quiz. Can anyone think of a period in the last 100 years when books, including fiction books, and literature with liberal, democratic tendencies and attitudes, and writings, e.g. Jack London’s Call of the Wild, were rounded up and destroyed to keep them out of the hands of the impressionable population?

Anyone? I’ll tell you. It started on 10th May 1933, when numbers of students and citizens decided that in the name of patriotism, some material was against the principles of their culture and ran the risk of sowing dangerous ideas in the populace.

But … but … banning books that shock or anger people from libraries is nothing like that!

Yes. It is. It’s exactly like that.

It’s an offence against free speech. It’s making someone else’s choices for them. And it prevents the spread of an idea. Even a stupid, fictional idea. After all, what starts with a ban on Harry Potter can, all too easily, spread to a ban on Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. That one definitely contains some dangerous, shocking ideas to some under-educated percentage of the population.

So here’s the shocking thing about books. They’re meant to spread ideas. Think of every book like a little chunk of amber. Each contains a preserved idea, whether from yesterday or 2,000 years ago. Most of them are just beautiful things to amuse yourself with for a few hours. Others, still beautiful, contain the DNA sample that brings back the dinosaurs. It doesn’t mean you get to destroy the one you don’t like because you don’t like it. What if someone else decided that the idea you like, about the guy who walked on water, should be banned and destroyed, because it starts wars?

Scene it here?

Scene it here?

Making a Scene

So, yeah, right, a scene. Loosely defined as the smallest unit of book building, built of many of the sub-units of book building known as mugs of coffee.

Essentially, I see a scene is the smallest piece of your book that can be self-contained. It can be a paragraph or even a sentence, but if you lift it out of context and hang it on your wall, it can be read as a piece. Most of my scenes are a few paragraphs to a few pages.

They’re also something I tend to focus on when I’m editing, because they’re, in a word, achievable. If I look at 100,000 words and tell myself that all that has to be coherent, de-adjectived, copy-edited, proof-read and thrilling in a few months’ time, well, that way leads to ‘Author Not At Work’ syndrome, not to mention ‘Drunk Author Tweeting’. A few paragraphs to a few pages, though? Easy. Get ‘er done before dinner. Do that for a couple of months, and *BAM* edit done.

Right, but why focus on scenes again, aside from my motivation issues?

Well, basically, because we’ve all read ‘those’ books. They can be great books (I’m going to cite the Wheel of Time series here), but you find yourself at about page 423 thinking ‘Why the hell didn’t an editor come through here with a flamethrower?’ or ‘These eight books could have been a trilogy’. Sure, those 423 pages may have been full of well-structured, well-developed stuff. But was it all actually stuff necessary to the story, or did the author, in the process of writing, bolt a jacuzzi, a sunbed, and a whole ten-room mansion on the top of the Ferrari?

Please note, I’m not knocking jacuzzis. Or ten-bedroom mansions, come to that. They’re great. But are they what the Ferrari needs to be, well, as Ferrari-like as possible?

Scenes are good to look at because you can read them easily as a piece, and ask yourself some basic questions to determine if they’re vital, fascinating, or a jacuzzi.

Question #1 – does that scene need to be there?

If not, can I put a big red line through it without leaving a plothole, a continuity hole, or missing a vital bit of character development? Is it, in fact, the kitchen sink on the Ferrari of my storyline?

Question #2 – does that scene, if it’s really bothering me but does appear to be vital, need to be where it is in the story?

Would it stop sending me Code Yellow alerts at the other end of the book? Sometimes you write something, and it is actually great and a vital bit, but your subconscious had a hiccup and spewed it up on a page about fifty pages too early. Or too late.

Alternatively, would that scene make more sense if I (yes, sometimes, really) add some set-up so it makes sense? Because sometimes, when I’m writing, something that’s absolutely crystal clear to me, the author, is absolutely not crystal clear to a reader. Why is that damn planet so important that they’d send an entire fleet there? …well, it’s rich, it’s central, it’s famous… did you tell your reader that?

If you’re looking at your scene, and it’s not, technically, vital storyline advancement, you can’t think of anywhere better to put it, but you still feel it’s doing something useful, you’re on to the last item on the checklist:

Question #3 – is the scene serving as character development (or general society / atmosphere development)?

Because while dumping 400 pages of nothing but backstory, society dev and character dev on your reader is likely going to get your book used as a doorstop, yes, you do need some of that good stuff in there. Otherwise, why is the reader going to give a damn if your protagonist saved the unicorns / galaxy / right to personal freedom?

In short, if you’re staring at a scene in your book and you can’t make an argument for its survival under any of these three reasons…most likely you can pull the plug on it. ‘I thought it was hilarious’ is not, necessarily, a good reason to include it.

Look on the bright side. If you delete it, you don’t have to edit it. And your readers will thank you for it.

Twitter chats and how to find them

Twitter chats and how to find them

WTF are Twitter chats, anyway?

Twitter chats are based on hashtags. If you’ve spent more than five minutes on Twitter, you’ve noticed that Tweets fly past with #amwriting, or #IDGAF embedded in them or stuck on the end.

Sometimes, a hashtag is just that – a way to find related content across the whole wide Twitterverse. Need inspiration? Search for #quoteoftheday and you’ll find as many Tree of Life moments as you can stomach. Want to find out what #Jlo’s been up to? There you go. Feeling like a walk on the dark side of life? #INTJ.

A Twitter chat is when a group of Twitter users schedule a time to discuss something together under a specific hashtag. They tag all their Tweets with that hashtag, and people online and looking at that hashtag can see what they’ve said and respond.

Why should I take part in Twitter chats?

It’s a great way to meet like-minded fellow-travellers and learn new things. As an indie author, I haven’t met a lot of readers on Twitter, but I’ve met many writers, marketers, artists, and subject matter experts – quite often, via a chat or a hashtag. If you participate in chats, you may make friends and gain followers, both directly through the chat and if someone retweets your nugget of wisdom.

Basically, exposure, exposure, exposure.

What are some good Twitter chats for writers?

Excellent question. Another good question is ‘How do you define good?’. Personally I like chats with plenty of participation that aren’t so rigid that I feel awkward chiming in, so here are a few to drop by and try.

  • Sundays, 6 PM – 7 pm GMT: #happywritingchat does pretty much what it says on the tin – writers having fun and writing irresponsibly.
  • Mondays, 9 PM – 10 PM GMT: #sparklybadgersunite is a chat for writers of all stripes to meet up and discuss what they’re working on, what they’re reading, and what they’re watching. It’s informal, fun, and occasionally degenerates into epic .gif wars.
  • Wednesdays, 2 AM – 3 AM GMT: #bookmarketingchat is a chat focussed on (you guessed it) book marketing.
  • Wednesdays, 1 AM – 2 AM GMT: #authorconfessionchat – it’s good to experiment with new writing ideas, and to confess your results. #authorconfessionchat also runs daily author challenges; check out the schedule for each month on the moderators’ profiles and have fun!

If you search for five minutes on Google, you’ll find a lot more, but these are active as of early 2019 and well worth an hour. You’ll meet new people and have a chance to try some writing challenges.

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