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This is the Award Winning novella from Phillip T Stephens.
The first novel, written for Twitter, is finally available in print (expanded and revised).
When a galactically inept inspector tackles the world’s most elusive AI, prepare for apocalypse. Determined to find missing programmer Alyson Sweetcheeks, Detective Bob unleashes a war between a tech conglomerate, a covert cyber gang, the mob, and a malevolent time-travelling intelligence bent on world domination. Will Bob beat astronomical odds to save the girl, the world, and his chances for promotion?
What inspired Doublemint Gumshoe?
When I published my book Raising Hell, author Rayne Hall advised me to tweet regularly with original tweets. So I started tweeting 140 character original stories, four to five daily, which I did for a couple of years. I kept returning to one character, Detective Bob, who had never solved a case. For instance, he would investigate a body with twelve bullet holes in its back, and conclude it was suicide.
I wondered if I could create a Twitter novel from the character, and after researching to find any examples of other Twitter novels, I realized this would be the first attempt. So, I wrote 12-20 episodes a week for six months. The plot evolved over time, as I threw in more and more wrinkles—cyber crips, aliens, Roku’s Basilisk, grey goo, not to mention send-ups of The Crying of Lot 49 and the movie Chinatown. Being a fan of Hong Kong and Hollywood movies, I took a kitchen sink approach, and to my surprise, it came together.
All that remained in Alyson Sweetcheek’s hotel suite:
One cornflower dress,
one navy dress suit with skirt,
one flash drive, and
six Doublemint gum wrappers.
Six wrappers. Crumpled on the bedspread next to her suit. Silver foil twisting in and out of the iconic paper strip: green arrows over mint green mint leaves on a whirlpool printed in green.
Sunlight drifted past the jacket which was draped over the desk chair—its shoulders straightened and lapels flat. Dust motes danced in the sunlight path like fairies in a daydream.
The hotel notified Alyson’s sister Sally. Sally called Alyson’s boss William Zuckerchange. Zuckerchange called the cops. Any sense of urgency collided with the writing on the police department wall: “We see this shit a dozen times a day.”
Another blonde missing from her room? Low on the list of police priorities. In San Noema a missing blonde was as common as a day without rain, as common as open convertibles on Interstate 5 with occupants risking the sulfur-oxide ambiance to tone their rock star tans, as common as a baby in bluebonnet photos in Texas and even though San Noema is a California city, in Texas missing blondes would be just as common.
Alyson isn’t blonde. Nor dumb, as Bob would discover, but that fact mattered little. As far as the cops were concerned, if a girl wasn’t attached to the wallets of prominent men willing to write five-figure checks to city council campaigns (or the daughters of those prominent men) she couldn’t shake a cop from the schedule.
Instead, they sent Detective Bob.
He skittered across her room. A six-three praying mantis with matchstick limbs and bony fingers probing for clues. He paraded his sleuthing skills in vain. Sally and the hotel manager ignored him to argue over Alyson’s outstanding bill.
Bob’s partner Duffy leaned against the door frame, ankles crossed, an unlit cigarette dangling from his lips. Wrinkles rode his polyester suit, a suit he bought from the clearance rack of the factory-seconds section at Walmart. He struggled to keep his lids open after a night closing down three different cop bars, which might be why his suit looked slept in. Slept in every night since 1966.
Duffy was destined to make captain. The guy who disappeared when the first bullet flew and reappeared in time to claim the credit. And the commendation. Veins crept from his eyes and down his nose. Five o’clock shadow from the Sunday before last. His hands? Not a tremble or shimmer, petrified by the cheapest booze on the shelf.
Bob probed every inch and surface, flipping the pillows, pulling out drawers. He crawled under the bed, hooked the knee of his powder-blue polyester suit on a nail. Tore a hole.
He swore under his breath. “Oh, feathers.”
He stood, brushed the bunny dust and dandruff from his shoulder and continued to probe with his best BIC Pen. He poked through the events guide on the desk, pulled a cloth from his side pocket, wiped the dust from his piano wire glasses, and poked through once more.
Sun from the window glanced off the oily spot at the center of his bald pate, fractured like light hitting a disco ball, and blinded everyone in the room. He swore to solve this case. His first solve (far from his first case). A glance at the cornflower dress and the opened curtains revealed the solution like a prize display. “Alien abduction.”
Sally stepped with the precision of a model, legs firm, bronze, a chain tattoo on her ankle. She alliterated perky and petite, from her five-one frame to the gentle slope under her pink crepe blouse to her trim tempting hips.
“Aliens?” She turned to his partner. “Tell me he’s joking.” She smelled of cinnamon and sugar. Bob wanted to sprinkle her on toast.
Officer Duffy pursed his lips tighter than a nip/tuck with Botox. He pulled his iPhone from his jacket and ran his fingers across the screen. “No alien activity reported.” He pleaded in silence, “Don’t say murder. Please don’t say murder.”
Bob ran his hands through the few strands of hair left to comb. “Murder then. It must be murder.”
Phillip T. Stephens attended the Michigan State writers’ workshop. He taught writing and design at Austin Community College for 20 years. His writing and art appear in anthologies, literary and peer-reviewed academic journals. His novella Doublemint Gumshoe won silver in the 2021 Electric Eclectic fiction awards, and his novel Seeing Jesus (soon to be re-released) won three indie publishing awards. He writes five days a week at Wind Eggs.
He and Carol live in Oak Hill, Texas where they built a habitat in the shade of their oaks to house foster cats for austinsiameserescue.org. They found new homes for more than three hundred abandoned pets.
While this post focuses on writing blogs, website content, social media and emails rather than stories and books, much of the following could be adapted by authors and publishers of books.
As independent authors, our ability to write such is of paramount importance to our promotional and marketing strategy. Yet the way you write could be alienating those who are not quite as apt as you or me at reading.
A couple of years ago, I had a wonderful comment from a person who suffered from dyslexia about a post.
Although his comments were primarily about the content and not the presentation of the post, he mentioned he found my post far easier to read than many, if not most.
Curiosity got the better of me.
Why I wondered, could he read and understand my posts, when he struggled to read so many others?
Over the next few days, he and I conversed, by email, about his reading on a personal level and Dyslexia in general.
Before I carry on and explain the outcome of our conversations, I think as writers we should all know and understand what dyslexia and some of the most common reading difficulties are. So, I am including the following few paragraphs & bullet points, (which I cribbed from the internet), for clarity.
A formal definition of dyslexia used by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development states,
“It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge. “
Unsurprisingly, the International Dyslexia Association defines it in simple terms. “Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability. Dyslexia refers to a cluster of symptoms, which result in people having difficulties with specific language skills, particularly reading. Students with dyslexia usually experience difficulties with other language skills such as spelling, writing, and pronouncing words.”
In contrast, Irlen Syndrome is a perceptual processing disorder, meaning that it relates specifically to how the brain processes the visual information it receives. It is not a language-based disorder and phonics-based instruction will not help someone with Irlen Syndrome improve in the same way it will help someone with dyslexia improve their reading skills.
At its core, Irlen Syndrome is a light sensitivity, where individuals are sensitive to a specific wavelength of light and this sensitivity is what causes the physical and visual symptoms that people with Irlen Syndrome experience.
People with Irlen Syndrome have difficulty reading not because their brains have difficulty connecting the letters they see with the sounds those letters make, but because they see distortions on the printed page, or because the white background or glare hurts their eyes, gives them a headache, or makes them fall asleep when trying to read.
Unlike dyslexia, difficulties experienced because of Irlen Syndrome can reach well beyond just reading. People with Irlen Syndrome have difficulty processing all visual information, not just words on a printed page, so they often have trouble with depth perception, driving, sports performance, and other areas not generally connected with dyslexia.
Alexia is a form of dyslexia, but dyslexia is developmental, meaning that it does not happen from an occurrence such as a stroke or traumatic brain injury.
Alexia is an acquired reading disability because of an acquired event such as a stroke. It is most common for alexia to be accompanied by expressive aphasia (the ability to speak in sentences), and agraphia (the ability to write).
All alexia is not the same, however. You may have difficulty with the following:
Recognizing words ● Difficulty identifying and reading synonyms ● Difficulty with reading despite your ability to sound out pronunciation of words.
Although you can read words, it is too difficult to read for very long ● Blind spots blocking the end of a line or a long word ● Focusing on the left side of the paragraph or page ● Double vision when trying to read ● Reading some words but not others. Of course, this makes reading impossible.
A stroke survivor with alexia that can read larger words, but cannot read tiny words such as “it,” “to,” “and,” etc. ● Any combination of some of these traits.
My conversations with, (I shall call him ‘Jay’ during this post), led me to take a close look at how I was presenting my blogs, what made them so different and, could I improve them further?
It turns out the style I chose… I was going to say developed, but that sounds arrogant. So, the style I was using at the time was to write in small(ish) chunks, using relatively short sentences and paragraphs, as I have so far in this post.
Unlike this following paragraph…
This differed from most blogs and posts on the interweb which were, (and still are), long blocks of continuous sentences and sub-sentences, forming large paragraphs with very little line spacing or breaks. This may be a ‘style’ welcomed by universities and those writing technical/medical/professional and some literary journals. I have seen many papers which follow this style. I have even read a few and I must agree it makes for extremely uncomfortable reading. To read such a document, one must concentrate fully and focus on each word of each line. Whenever the eye moves from its forced liner motion, even for a moment, is when the reader finds some difficulty in returning to the exact location they were at previously, often meaning one must, annoyingly, re-read sections already read. Like you have possibly just done when reading with this last long drivelling, over-worded paragraph I have written in just such a manner to illustrate my point that it makes for uncomfortable reading, even for those of us blessed with good eyesight and adequate skill. A point which I hope I have now made adequately clear with this paragraph which is representative of many blogs.
Writing in this form creates such a large block of words it becomes challenging to separate them into clear concise ‘bite-sized‘ and manageable ‘lots’ of information.
This is one of the areas of written presentation which was highlighted to me by Jay.
I already used a style of writing which broke long paragraphs into much smaller ones, whenever practicable, but I was not aware of the impact doing so made on the reader. From then on, I broke paragraphs down even further than I did ‘pre-‘Jay’
I was also made aware of unnecessarily long sentences, sentences with too many superfluous words.
This simply meant cutting out all those unnecessary words to make sentences read far more precisely and clearly.
Eliminating irrelevant words.
You see, this is not fictional or creative literature as when writing a novel, or even a short story. This is describing and sharing thoughts, ideas, information, and data. Another skill set entirely.
Authors often discover this when having to write a precise about their latest book, like the back-cover blurb, an agent’s query letter, synopsis, or copy text for promotional activity.
We all know, or at least should, that mixing sentence lengths makes for a better reading experience. But so does spacing and breaking them up as I have done in most of this post.
Please do not get me wrong.
I am not solely writing or directing my words specifically to those with reading difficulties, but I am looking to be as inclusive as possible and not simply because I am attempting to be politically, or socially correct.
I do it because I want as many people as possible to read my words. That is why I write.
Looking at how one presents their posts on the screen does not take much effort. Neither does adjusting one’s style to make it clearer and easier to read… for everybody, including you and me.
To finish, look at this Git-Hub virtual reality page. It shows how we can best comprehend the way those suffering from dyslexia and associated reading difficulties may see the written word.
My lesson, following those conversations with ‘Jay’, is,
“We can all learn from others, even those we may have previously considered had nothing to give us. After all, I never thought a dyslexic could teach an established author how to write clearer, even better.
How wrong I was.”
Thank you for reading another of my Ramblings. Please subscribe to this blog if you will.
I am open to all comments and try to reply to them all personally.
I’m Charlotte, writer of The Naïve Princess, The Crystal River and Trouble at Tarpon Springs.
I used to live in the north, as the people of the south call them. Winter was way too long. The chill crept in late August nights, then sprung like a mountain lion nipping at your fingers and toes. More layers upon layers, became a planned event.
I was fortunate to be tucked into the Niagara Escarpment, (Lake Ontario) an hour from Toronto and twenty minutes to the breathtaking Niagara Falls, which one could never tire of.
Up near Lake Huron, the Grey Bruce county, feet of snow might surprise you when you throw open the shutters. But an hour the other direction was Lake Erie, which gets its big wintery dump as well.
“What the F,” is an expression I’ve used often, although mostly at some crazy folk on US 19 where I live now, also known as Death Valley by local hospitals.
For decades, I dreamed I’d be a snowbird and planned my retirement on those dreams. Life, as we all know, does not go as planned. Sometimes we are lucky and all the ducks are in a row and others it is tipsy turvy and we are left scratching our head.
My life took me on a wild journey. I was standing at a Y junction and it was continuing as is, which meant I couldn’t moan or complain as it was the choice I had made, or go on the road less travelled and take a huge leap of faith and jump headfirst into chaos.
So here I am, I am not a snowbird, I live here on the Gulf Coast of Florida. I’m busier than I have been in a long time. I haven’t had much time to write as of late, but as my schedules change, then I’m getting my fingers back to the keyboard, much like I’m doing right now.
The latter was my choice. The great thing about choices is that you are not cemented into those choices. That’s the thing about roads, they have detours, U-turns, side streets, highways, etc., and you can change direction at any time.
So that is what I have done. I didn’t want to be a snowbird any longer. I wanted to call Florida, my land of inspiration to a lot of my books, home. I used to come here often and I started telling my family and friends that I was heading to my office for a couple of weeks to work (write). But as I said about life’s mysterious plans, I didn’t expect to take the turn that I did.
How have you lived your life? Have you kept a steady path or have you followed a wild journey?
Most importantly: Are you living your life to the fullest? Are you? The you that you are meant to be?