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What else would you call these?

Titles. They are perhaps the first thing a potential reader sees when scanning a bookshelf or scrolling through an online store. With font-sizes approaching triple-digits, a title is even more important than a cover. 


I got to thinking about titles lately with a stand-alone fantasy book I have that's now in editing with Montag Press. I had a working title that I've never been crazy about (neither was my editor); now we're batting around some alternatives. It's a tricky business coming up with a title that both captures your story and markets your book. Sometimes a title hits you and it just sounds ... right. For me, Look With Your Eyes and Yonder & Far were settled and set in stone pretty early on in the creative process and never changed. The Mountain was more of a challenge to name (and, truth is, if I could've come up with something better, I would have). As for the current book in editing ... well, let's just say it doesn't seem to like its name so far. We'll get it pinned down, though. :)


There are so many different approaches to titling a book. You can do the iconic, one-word grab. Dune. There's a title that, even apart from the story, seemed destined to invoke something timeless. Others carry a stray phrase, something that only gains context from the story--To Kill a Mockingbird, for example--which intrigues and invites a reader to pick up the book. A title might harken the salacious (there's a host of recent books out with "F*ck" wedged into the title). Umberto Eco titled his masterpiece historical fiction novel, The Name of the Rose, not from anything to do with the story, but because he liked how it sounded (the Name of the Rose movie directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud actually wove in an ending line that tied the title in quite smoothly). 


Next to writing the hated back-cover blurb for a novel, there may be no harder exercise of summation and marketing than titling one's story.

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Seeing One’s Book on a Strange Shelf

Check it out.

It's always a thrill when you see one of your books on a strange shelf. All the more so when that strange shelf is at your local public library. I was pleasantly surprised to see The Mountain available for public reading in South Tampa's Jan Kiminis Platt Library. It's keeping company with such luminary works as The Last Party and The Story of My Teeth. :)

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In Praise of the Oxford Comma

Commas do indeed save lives.

I am no grammarian (as my editors will attest). I didn't major in English. But I have always, and continue to have, strong feelings about the existential importance of the Oxford (serial) comma's use in the English language. In that spirit, enjoy ...


From O'Connor v. Oakhurst Dairy, 851 F.3d 69, 75 n.5 (1st Cir. 2017):


Before leaving our discussion of serial commas, we would be remiss not to note the clarifying virtues of serial commas that other jurisdictions recognize. In fact, guidance on legislative drafting in most other states and in the Congress appears to differ from Maine's when it comes to serial commas. Some state legislative drafting manuals expressly warn that the absence of serial commas can create ambiguity concerning the last item in a list. One analysis notes that only seven states—including Maine—either do not require or expressly prohibit the use of the serial comma. See Amy Langenfeld, Capitol Drafting: Legislative Drafting Manuals in the Law School Classroom, 22 Perspectives: Teaching Legal Res. & Writing 141, 143-144 (2014); see also Grace E. Hart, Note, State Legislative Drafting Manuals and Statutory Interpretation, 126 Yale L.J. 438 (2016). Also, drafting conventions of both chambers of the federal Congress warn against omitting the serial comma for the same reason. See U.S. House of Representatives Office of the Legislative Counsel, House Legislative Counsel's Manual on Drafting Style, No. HLC 104-1, § 351 at 58 (1995) (requiring a serial comma to "prevent[ ] any misreading that the last item is part of the preceding one"); U.S. Senate Office of the Legislative Counsel, Legislative Drafting Manual § 321(c) at 79 (1997) (same language as House Manual).


From Bryan A. Garner, Garner's Modern English Usage, p. 982 (5th ed. 2022): " … including [the Oxford comma] never creates an ambiguity, whereas omitting it fairly often does."


And, last of all:



I love cooking my pets and my family


Don't be a serial killer


Use serial commas and love cooking, your pets, and your family






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"I'm a very organized and rational and linear thinker, and you have to stop all that to write a novel."


- Hilary Mantel

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Best. Podcast. Ever.

It's always a pleasure getting to chat with author and social media expert, Jenn Nixon, and author and editor, RobRoy McCandless. Especially when it's about book-writing. We had a delightful half hour of meanderings, banter, and chicanery discussing our writing process, the slog of marketing, and how awesome parents are.


Be sure to check out the latest Mythbehaving podcast on Spotify, featuring yours truly, Jenn, and Rob.

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Wake up and run.


"Without change something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken."


― Frank Herbert, Dune

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Novels, novellas, novelettes

People have a tendency to classify things--animals get tagged and sorted by biologists, languages are divvied up in philogy, geologists spend their days stratifying the earth. Stories, it seems, are no exception.


In fiction, most folks have a ready understanding of what a novel is. On the surface, it might be a thick tome in leather binding or a pulp paperback sitting in a spinner rack, but everyone knows what's going to be inside the covers. A lengthy story with protagonists, antagonists, rising and falling action, a subplot or two, that's going to take the typical reader a few sittings to get through. 


But there's a range of shorter fiction writing out there, works that don't run the length of a novel. Over time, there has come to be a commonly recognized delineation between different kinds of shorter fiction based on word count. So we have the ... 

Novella: 17,500 – 40,000 words
Novelette: 7,700 – 17,500 words
Short Story: Less than 7,500 words


(* You could add to this list, "flash fiction," which is a short story under 1,000 words)


Most people have a pretty good intuitive idea of what a short story is. It's a piece of fiction that you can sit down and read in one sitting. Usually it will entail no more than 3 or 4 scenes. Rarely will a short story venture far from a primary character (it's a hard trick switching point of view between multiple characters with only a 7,500-word runway). But novellas and novelettes aren't terms that are frequently used outside of writing circles.


Here is what Jericho Writers says about the novella and novelette:



Novellas tend to follow a linear structure with the main action centred on the protagonist's development. This could be an inner conflict that is resolved or simply explored, rather than a series of events. Due to brevity, there isn't the scope for several sub-plots or settings although some elements of the novel may have some complexity.




If the novella is the younger sibling of the novel, then the novelette falls somewhere in between a short story and a novella.  


With a word count of around 7,500-19,000 words, the novelette borders both the top end of a short story and the length usually acceptable for a novella. As with the short story and the novella, writers may be constricted in terms of the number of characters they can use and the amount of plot development they can include.  


The plot will probably be linear and uncomplicated with few, or no, sub-plots. One or two characters will feature – not a cast of hundreds. It will have a defined focus and will be complete as a story. The novelette enables writers to give more flesh to the bones of their short story, though the writing still needs to be concise. 



I've found novelettes and novellas an enjoyable pastime for fiction writing. In fact, that's been my focus lately. Look With Your Eyes was my first published novella. I've had a couple of novelettes included in short story mags. True, these kind of stories don't enjoy the popularity they used to (although trends can always change), but they're so much fun to write. You can experiment, work with off-the-wall ideas you'd never sink into a full-blown novel, because there's not nearly the same time commitment. The focused attention these forms demand is good for me (you can't chase rabbits down holes when you're limited to 50 or 60 manuscript pages).



Stories have always come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Today we have some handy labels to keep track of them.

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Podcast Appearance

Spoiler alert: toasters don't split easily.

Apropos of my day job, I was interviewed on the family law podcast, How to Split a Toaster. It was a nice chance to have an informal chat about some of the more important aspects of appeals in family law cases. Who totally deserved to win a "golden panther" award in high school but didn't? You'll have to listen to the episode to find out. 


- Matt

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Quote of the Day

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."


- President Theodore Roosevelt (from his speech, "Citizenship in a Republic," delivered at the Sorbonne, Apr. 23, 1910)

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The Joy of Mad Libs

Because they never get old ...

Our younger son has gone on a Mad Lib tear lately, where he and I are doing 3 or 4 a day. I had forgotten how much fun these can be. It's not just the liberal replacement of bodily functions for ordinary verbs. It's the whole ridiculous, co-creative process. There's an art to picking Mad Lib words for maximum absurd comedy. You want randomness, of course. But the more specific your words can be, the funnier the result. If you pick "foot" when you're asked for a noun, you might get something funny. But if you pick "my brother's big toe knuckle" for that noun, I can almost guarantee a laugh.


Just for fun (and because we were running out of Mad Libs), I decided to try my hand at authoring a Mad Lib. It's really just an exercise in flash fiction scene writing. You get an idea for a quick scene that will be told almost entirely as exposition; then just remove certain key words. You don't want to overdue the number of blank words or else the underlying story concept will get lost. But you also want to give plenty of opportunities for hillarity. Since our younger son has also been getting into Dungeons & Dragons lately, I decided I'd meld the two interests into the first (of hopefully several) Mad Libs centered around a fantasy roleplaying adventure game that sort-of-kind-of parodies the classic D&D. 


He had a ball when I read the responses! So in the interest of spreading the fun, here, good reader, is the D&D-ish Mad Lib yours truly created. Try it out with a friend or family member and enjoy!



a Role-playing Game Fill-in-the-Blank

that has nothing whatsoever to do with Dungeons & Dragons or Mad Libs

by Matthew C. Lucas



It's Friday ____________________ [time of day], which means it's time for your favorite weekly ____________________ [noun], Castles & Carnivores. You and three of your ________________________ [adjective] friends have gathered at the Castle Master's, ____________________ [someone's name], house to start a new C&C adventure! There's plenty of ________________________ [food] and ______________________ [drink]. Everyone's got their dice, their character sheets, and their ____________________ [plural noun].  Your three friends already have their characters, a warrior, a wizard, and a thief. Now it's your turn to _________________________ [verb] a character of your own.


First, of course, you have to come up with a name for your ____________________ [adjective] adventurer. After ____________________ [verb ending in -ing] long and hard about it, you settle on ______________________________ [ridiculous, made-up name].


Next, you need to roll __________ [number], __________ [different number]-sided dice to determine your character's traits. You roll the dice and write down the scores on your character sheet. Your strength score is pretty good; but your intelligence score is downright __________________________ [adjective]. Your dexterity, constitution, and charisma scores are all __________________________ [adjective]. What a/an __________________________ [adjective] combination of traits! 


Now you have to decide your character's class. What do you want to be? A gallivanting bard who sings magic into being, a holy cleric who can summon the gods? Or perhaps a _________________________ [adjective] ____________________________ [job or occupation] who can _______________________________ [verb]?  After talking it over with the CM and your fellow adventurers, you decide that _____________________________ [same ridiculous, made-up name] will be a _____________________________ [job or occupation]. That's just what your party needs to explore the ___________________________________ [adjective] dangers and discover the hidden __________________________________ [plural noun] of the world of C&C.


Last of all, you need to outfit __________________________________ [same ridiculous, made-up name] with some ___________________________________ [adjective] adventuring gear for your first C&C adventure. After rolling a single, __________ [number]-sided die, your CM informs you that you have _____________ [number] pieces of _________________________________ [kind of metal] to buy gear with. You study the list of what's available and buy your character a cloak and a set of boots, __________ [number] feet of rope, a dagger, some torches, a/an ___________________________ [noun], a/an ________________________ [noun], and, most important of all, a polished steel _______________________________ [weapon].  Now you and your party are ready for your first C&C adventure!


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