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Only a Show Worth Binging…

The last show my wife and I found that was worth binging was Ted Lasso. Before that, The Walking Dead (the first seasons, not the spin-offs). Before that? I honestly can't remember a show we both felt like we just had to watch. Suffice to say, "must see t.v." is a high bar in the Lucas house. Recently, though, we came across one that's got us hooked. Yes, we're a couple years late to the party, but Only Murders in the Building has got us planted on the couch for two episodes a night, every night, and looking forward to the fourth season.


A washed up Broadway director (Martin Short), a washed up small screen actor (Steve Martin), and an enigmatic, out-of-work twenty-something woman (Selena Gomez) all happen to live in the same tony Manhattan apartment building, the Arconia. Strangers at first, each with their own complicated backstories and hang-ups, they share a love for a certain true crime prodcast, which brings them together. When a young man is found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot in the Arconia, the trio believes there may be something more to his death than what it appears. They team up to investigate and, since the elder thespians have nothing better to do, decide to record their endeavor as a podcast of their own (eponymously called, Only Murders in the Building). Somehow the hapless team stumbles onto clues and make more headway in homicide investigations than the NYPD.


Martin Short is delightful as always; and Steve Martin and Selena Gomez round out the trio with solid performances of their own. What unfolds over the course of the first season is wry and witty and, in places, emotional. It's a great blend of twists and turns that dishes out just the right size of revelations at just the right times. 


As to that last point, as a writer, I can only admire how deftly the show paces the reveals--whether it's backstory or new twists or exposition. There's a knack to that kind of pacing, and it's very different than plot pacing. The latter concerns the story's flow (which, ideally, should vary, beat to beat, so that the audience feels compelled to follow along but not exhausted). Revelatory pacing is a trickier thing. A lot of modern fantasy fiction suffers from bad revelatory pacing. So many stories are stuffed to bursting with exposition at the beginning ("Ten thousand generations ago, King Malagascter the Malevolent sallied forth under his dark banner to claim the first of the twelve dragonstones guarded by the Saphire Paladins of Scara Notis, who were captained by the bold Lord Aethelban, sworn to protect it by his family's oath to the Archmage Dzzlbintil'dagon ..."). That's not pacing, it's an info dump. On the other hand, a reader needs enough backdrop and storyline to be able to know who's who and what the stakes are in a scene. Finding the sweet spot where the story unfolds organically and understandably is one of the harder parts of speculative fiction writing.


Though it's neither literature nor fantasy, Only Murders in the Building offers a good glimpse at how to find just the right revelatory pace. I highly recommend the show.



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So long, 2023

So long, 2023. Hello, 2024. Out with the old, in with the new. Rinse, recycle, repeat. 


In the time-honored spirit of new years, here's a look back--and forward--at what I've got going in speculative fiction.


In terms of publication, 2023 was good, though not great. 2021 and 2022 each had a novel. 2023 was a year of shorter works getting published. In something of a first, my weird Florida novella, Look With Your Eyes, was released by Ellysian Press. I also had two short stories come out in two anthologies from Raconteur Press: a historical fantasy, The Ass of Stratford (in I Can Explain Your Honor ...) and a Cormac-McCarthy-inspired humorous action piece, No Country for Dumbasses (in He Was Dead When I Got There ...). 


I turned in a pair of novels, though, so 2024 should see some new books coming out. The second installment of Yonder & Far, tentatively entitled "The Tarot Tale," picks up where our favorite fae odd couple, John Yonder and Captain Far, left off on the cusp of the 19th century. More wild adventures, more fortune-telling, more general strangeness in post-colonial Boston. If you liked The Lost Lock, you'll love Tarot Tale. I've also got a stand-alone, low fantasy one-shot tentatively called "God of the Godless" on deck that will be coming out from Montag Press. That one came from a novelette I wrote a while back (Don't Call Me Godless) and I'm very much looking forward to its release.


I also climbed a Mt. Everest of sorts. I had poked and piddled with a weird Florida legal thriller off and one for nearly eight years. Well. This past October, I finally typed "The End" on McJustice. It's the story of a Miami street lawyer on the run from a debt collector who finds himself trapped in a north Florida town where life revolves around a century-long lawsuit, dark secrets, and occasionally murderous alligators. I'm hopeful it'll find a good home because there's a lot packed into it. I've also decided to switch gears back to my first love, epic fantasy. So I've nearly finished an extensive outline (and an opening prologue) for my newest work-in-progress, which, for now, I'm calling The Grenadier. If all goes well, this time next year, I'll have it finished. 


I hope your past year was filled with successes and that the one to come brings you all the prosperity and joy you hope for. Thanks for stopping by the blog, and thanks for reading my work.




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Merry Winter Solstice!

Today (or more specifically, tonight at 10:27 p.m. EST) marks the winter solstice. It's the day of the year when, even in Florida, sunlight comes at a premium. Old Sol doesn't make it nearly as high in the sky as usual and skirts off into the horizon more quickly than ever. Shadows grow longer. The air grows cooler (yes, even in the subtropics, we get a little chill).


Here's what Almanac.com has to say about the winter solstice:


The winter solstice marks the official beginning of astronomical winter (as opposed to meteorological winter, which starts about three weeks before the solstice). The winter solstice occurs once a year in each hemisphere: once in the Northern Hemisphere (in December) and once in the Southern Hemisphere (in June). It marks the start of each hemisphere's winter season. . . .

This is all thanks to Earth's tilted axis, which makes it so that one-half of Earth is pointed away from the Sun, and the other half is pointed towards it at the time of the solstice.

We often think of the winter solstice as an event that spans an entire calendar day, but the solstice actually lasts only a moment. Specifically, it's the exact moment when a hemisphere is tilted as far away from the Sun as possible. . . .

The word solstice comes from the Latin sol "sun," and sistere "to stand still." So, loosely translated, it means "sun stands still." Why? The Sun's path across the sky appears to freeze for a few days before and after the solstice. The change in its noontime elevation is so slight that the Sun's path seems to stay the same or stand still.

For thousands of years, ancient cultures across the northern hemisphere have marked the winter solstice in December. One of the most famous monuments in the Western world, Stonehenge, was built to commemorate the setting sun on the winter solstice. The ancient Romans threw parties, and hung wreaths, and exchanged candles for Saturnalia, a weeklong feast tied to the solstice. Those who celebrate Christmas with lights in their yard and a bright, merry tree in their family room are, indirectly, observing the winter solstice.


Whatever holiday you may celebrate and however you mark the days, may this day be filled with joy and wonder and light.


- Matt


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Look With Your Eyes

It is a rumored, but as yet undocumented fact, that the eastern gray squirrel is among the most rapacious, bloodthirsty animals ever to walk the earth.


You're scoffing. Of course you are.


Because you've been fooled. Just like everyone else. . .



What better way to enjoy the holidays than by unraveling a conspiracy theory you never knew you needed to unravel? North Florida weirdness, dark comedy, and a little touch of horror. Get your copy of my new novella today. And if you like it, please be sure to leave a review.


Happy Holidays!


- Matt



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Review of a Review (How Has Big Publishing Changed American Fiction)

How Has Big Publishing Changed American Fiction (reviewing Dan Sinykin's "Big Fiction: How Conglomeration Changed the Publishing Industry and American Literature.")

By: Kevin Lozano (Nov. 1, 2023, The New Yorker)

An interesting review in The New Yorker of a recent book about "big publishing." As always, I don't endorse the views of the article's author (or, for that matter, the book he's reviewing). But the conglomeration of the book publishing industry is an interesting—and, recently, a hotly litigated—topic.

From the piece: 

Today's publishing house is closer to a hedge fund than a tastemaker. Every book that it acquires is a bet on profitability. The financialization of the acquisition process functions like an index of risk, creating a "system in which homogeneity . . . is encouraged" to minimize bad bets. This system affects all houses, no matter their size. Every season, Big Five publishers are incentivized to pursue best-sellers, authors whose works can scale into a franchise or a movie. Meanwhile, independent publishers and nonprofits such as W. W. Norton and Graywolf Press seek to carve out their own niche in this ecosystem by focussing on books with small but ardent audiences (poetry, the literature of marginalized voices). Sinykin sidesteps the question of whether this system has made books worse. He wants to demonstrate something trickier: how the process of authoring a book has become subsumed by a larger and larger network of interests, changing what it meant to be an author. . . .

In casting a spotlight on the many players—editors, publishers, agents, booksellers—whose coördinated labor is required to create a book, Sinykin makes a compelling case that books are not produced by a single author but through a collective effort. But does that mean that the corporation itself should be thought of as an "author," as Sinykin suggests? At times, he seems to overstate the "systematic intelligence," the machinelike efficiency, of the publishing houses under whose imprints books appear. As a parade of industry executives testified in the course of the P.R.H. antitrust trial last year, a certain amount of randomness defines everything about literary success. No one ultimately knows which books will make money, let alone make it onto the classics shelf. The editor Daniel Menaker once compared the acquisition process to a bad night at a casino, saying, "You put your money down and most of the time you lose." In this respect, at least, nothing about the math of publishing has changed in the conglomerate era.

The subject of the review is obviously blinkered toward the large (frequently international) corporate entities who operate the "Big Five" publishing houses (Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, Hachette): "Before conglomeration, Sinykin asserts, writing a book 'was a completely different experience.' Once, a would-be novelist's chances of being published depended on 'how easily you could get your book in the right editor's hands.'"

I have no reason to doubt that's an accurate historical summary. But a couple of points come to mind. First, aside from the wonderful advent and subsequent ubiquity of word processing programs, writing a book is pretty much the same experience as it's ever been. You sit down at a desk or table, you have thoughts, you put them in order, and then you put them down on paper. To be sure, how you go about publishing that book (so that an audience will find it and read it) has changed dramatically.

Which leads me to my second point. The publishing process has indeed undergone dramatic changes—some of which have nothing to do with the "systematic intelligence" of the Big Five Publishers. There has been a great democratization in publication. Independent publishing (whether self-publishing or through small and micro-presses) has grown tremendously from its pejorative "vanity press" beginnings. Need proof? Exhibit A: what you're doing right now. This blog is a form of publication. And you, dear reader whoever you are, are reading it. There's more content available for anyone to freely read than at any point in human history. If your authorial goals revolve around good old fashioned financial remuneration, there's all sorts of new trails being blazed in this new landscape of independent publishing. Exhibit B: fantasy author, Brandon Sanderson's completely independent publication of four novels, a project that yielded over $20M in the first 72 hours it was launched and broke the record for the most successful Kickstarter launch ever.

Mr. Lozano's review never broaches this technological upheaval in publishing. But in his defense, the subject was probably never mentioned, or, at most, briefly glossed over, in the book he was reviewing. If so, that's a shame. Because publishing books is indeed changing, and not all the changes are for the worse…

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Free Novel Giveaway (Coming Soon)

It was nearly twenty years ago that I sat down and started what would become my first completed novel. A middle-grade anthropomorphic adventure set in a land that only vaguely resembles Florida, A Roar in the Pinelands is a 100K-word love letter to the forests and fauna of my home state. It's got danger, it's got high stakes, it's got pitched battle scenes between alligators, bobcats, bears, and raccoons. I shopped the book around way back before email submissions were a thing (if you think responses from agents and publishers takes a long time now, think what it was like to pitch a manuscript by snail mail). Though I ended up self-publishing, the manuscript interested an editor at Levine Books enough that I got a detailed letter and edits on the manuscript back from them--which was a really cool "validation" for a guy just getting started.


A lot of writers are a little embarrassed by their first novel drafts. Writing is, after all, a craft, and first attempts at a new craft will rarely look as good as future (better) attempts. But having looked this over recently, and with the benefit of more than a decade of practice, I don't think it's all that bad. There are some amateurish mistakes, some things I'd do differently, but the story holds up. And it's fun! If you liked the Redwall books by Brian Jacques, you'll probably like Pinelands.


So ... in the spirit of Thanksgiving (and in the hopes that some folks might find this entertaining), I've decided to make the book available, for free. Here's a taste of what's coming. If you like it, I hope you'll let me know and check out some of my other speculative fiction. 






Chapter One

Flight of the Osprey


High above the night wetlands, buried within a lightning cloud, a lone osprey beat his soaked wings in a flurry. His taloned feet scrambled beneath him, clutching only a swirling vapor of suspended rain. Muffled by the din of the thunderstorm, the young bird grunted in rhythm with each downward flap:

"Oomph. Umph. Umph—Har-umph. Har-uuumph!"

Wind and rain. Thunder and lightning. Mile after mile, the white and black-spotted bird had been whipped to and fro by howling gales and blinded by the deluge of rain. His wings were a blur of motion. But it was all he could do just to stay aloft and hold himself steady.

"Umph. Umph. Humph!"

He let out a long, frustrated groan. His shoulder blades burned from strain, a headache racked his skull, and he was certain to have caught a terrible cold by now. Worst of all, he feared, his feathers must have looked like a frightful mess.

"Humph. Blast it all. Har-ermph! Har-umph! Har—Cripes! Whoa!"

A sudden blast of cold air knocked the gangly bird around sideways. Frantically, he fought his way back into a level flight, his heart now racing in his chest. Once steadied, he blew a sigh of relief.

"Easy there, Screech," the osprey said to himself. "Hold it together. One more crosswind like that and you'll have a lot more to worry about than crinkled feathers!"

Screech stretched his wings to their tips and watched as the storm enveloped him.  A shiver ran beneath his feathers.

"Lousy storm. I should've walked," he muttered miserably. "Would've been in Rootburrows hours ago. 'Course, once I get there, they'll probably just have me fly out again. 'Go get the doctor, Screech.' I get the doctor. 'Turn back around, Screech,' he says. Not even a 'what's new?' or 'how's the fishing been?' or a 'thank you very much.'  'Fly here.' 'Fly there.' 'Go fetch so-and-so.' Hmph. I ought to tell them all to deliver their own stupid messages from now on."

But as soon as he said this, he felt a guilty flush in his face.

"Then again… little Isabelle needs a doctor, and I've got to make sure they all stay put until he can get to her. I just wish he would've given me a little more to go on."

Screech went over the harried events and snatches of conversation he had caught over the past few days, but, as was often the case, grasped little meaning from the messages he was asked to deliver.

"Geesh, but he didn't seem the least bit surprised when I told him Isabelle was ill. Didn't even blink."

Screech let out another long sigh, spraying water from his beak, and shook his head.

"Got enough to worry about making it to Rootburrows in one piece. Back to it!"

His jaw set in determination, Screech Osprey, the Swamp's messenger bird, tucked his head into his body and braced himself for a long, hard flight.




It was a rather close bedroom, even by rabbit standards. Low ceiling. Smooth, dirt floor a few paces wide. Four windowless walls held together by a sprawl of tree roots. Hardly any furniture worth mentioning except for a bench against the wall closest to the doorway, and next to it a little, rickety stool. On top of the stool was a bowl filled with mostly uneaten vegetables. Near the center of the room a bed of gray moss fitted into a frame of oak branches. Starlight seeping in through the ceiling provided the room's only illumination, casting a pale glow upon two marsh rabbits who sat crouched over the bed.

Night after night, Anna and Javier-Ortiz DeConejo found themselves here in their daughter's bedroom standing vigil. The little rabbit, no bigger than a toadstool, lay on her back in the middle of the bed. Her ears hung limply on either side of her head. Her chest heaved in loud, rasping breaths. Matted white fur covered most of the girl's body, but gaping patches had fallen out, leaving her skin exposed around the joints and tail. Her stomach was so bloated that it kept her paws hoisted painfully in the air. The toys Javier had made for her, a ball of palm leaf strands and a smiling possum carved from a piece of driftwood, lay on the floor, untouched and forgotten.

The baby tossed about in a violent fit.

"There she goes again," said Anna, her voice trembling.

Javier remained silent.

"She's dying.  I know it. I just know it…"

Anna reached down and tenderly stroked her paw against Isabelle's forehead. It was hot to the touch. A pained expression passed over the infant's face. Her eyelids fluttered, but she did not waken.

"What are we going to do?" asked Anna.

Javier rubbed his temples and replied softly:

"Anna, we must be patient. And wait for the doctor."

"For how long?" she hissed. "Eight days, she's been like this. Eight days of fever.She hasn't held down a scrap of food. Javi, this can't go on much longer."

"I know."

"I've tried everything: orange peels on her chest, mud baths, wrapping her legs in palm leaves. Even your mother's awful kudzu tea. Nothing works. We've done everything we're supposed to. So, why isn't she getting better?"

Anna clutched her husband's paw and fought back the tears that were brimming in her eyes. The sound of raindrops falling against the ceiling gradually filled the room. Javier drew his wife into a hug, at which Anna finally broke down and cried.

"I'm sorry. I'm just so scared." She sobbed against his shoulder.

"Come now, mi amore. Don't cry."

"I couldn't take it if we lost Isabelle. I just… couldn't."

"We are not going to lose her," Javier whispered into her ear. "Isabelle has a strong spirit. She just has to keep fighting a little longer until the doctor can get here."

"If he ever gets here."

"Anna, he has never missed a house call."

"Well, he picked a great time to start! How long ago was it you sent for him? A week? The least he could have done is given us a message by now, a word… something…"

A stream of teardrops from the corners of her eyes flowed all the way down to the tips of her whiskers where they fell silently to the floor. She covered her face with her paws and cried in muted sobs, careful not to make too much noise for fear of waking Isabelle. When she looked up, Javier was standing before her, his paws resting on either of her shoulders.

"I just hate not knowing," she said.

Javier's ears gave a thoughtful twitch. He petted Anna on the cheek and wiped her eyes.

"I don't much like it either. Tell you what: I'll run up to Lookout Rock and check our messages."

"Javi, no. With the weather outside—you'll get sick."

"It's only a little shower, and the rock's not all that far away. Who knows?  Maybe the doctor's sent us a formula for a cure. Or maybe he's let us know when we can expect him."

The twinge of hope that sprang across Anna's face was impossible to conceal. Javier smiled.

"I won't be long."

He started for the doorway when he felt his wife grasp his paw from behind. She embraced him tightly, and then gave him a kiss.

"Be careful, Javi. And hurry back."



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Go Noles


What does the FSU/UF rivalry have to do with writing?


Doesn't matter.


Go Noles.

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Quote of the Day

"Read, read, read. Read everything -- trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it.
Then write. If it's good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out of the window."


- William Faulkner

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Editing …

It's like a Choose Your Own Adventure

I've written several posts on editing (usually when I happen to be stuck doing it). Which, for the foreseeable future, is what I'm stuck doing. I'm in full-time editing mode this month and next. With two books under contract with two different publishers and a recently finished manuscript, I've got over a quarter million words to edit. Yay.


Though it really is a slog, it's such an important slog. Especially for discovery writers, like me. I've got characters whose story lines and arcs end up doing 180's, subplots that go by the wayside or pop up out of nowhere, people's names changing ... It all has to get smoothed out. I read a post in a writer's forum where another writer described the first draft as a "bum rush" just to get the words down. Others have called it "The Incredibly Sh**ty First Draft." I'm somewhere between those two. But because I figure out the story as I write, editing takes up a lot more bandwidth and time than for those who take the time to plot out their stories ahead of time.


So how does play out practically? Multiple reads, multiple goals.


After I've finished "The End" I have to wait a few weeks. Then I do the first pass. The first pass is a read-through/rewrite from beginning to end. The only goal here is to get the plot lines smoothed out and the plot holes filled in. So in McJustice, my current work in progress, a character who started out as a short, shrewd redneck of a man turned into a tall, no-nonsense woman; a love interest that became critical in the last third of the book now has to get developed in the first two thirds; a whole bunch of names have been changed; etc., etc. This pass takes the longest. I'm not even through chapter 6 out of 32. It'll probably take me through the end of the year.


Then, the second pass. The second pass is where I'm (hopefully) happy with the plot. I might move some scenes around, might flesh some parts out a bit or cut others back. Mostly, though, I'm looking to make the prose and the flow of the story better.


Finally, the third pass. This is the final read-through. By this time I'm pretty tired of the story. In fact, I'm usually sick of it. But now I've got to look for grammar, misspellings, inconsistencies (did a character who had a pistol at the beginning of the scene somehow find himself unarmed by the end? Could so-and-so really run from one end of town to the other in the time it took for such-and-such to perform a certain act or deliver a certain line?). All three passes are vitally important and can't be short-changed.


But, judging from the photo above, I'm in esteemed company.



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You'll never look at a squirrel the same again...

I'm very pleased to announce that my new weird Florida novella, Look With Your Eyes, is available for e-readers and is on sale for $2.99. Hope you enjoy, and as always, if you like it, please leave a glowing, 5-star review.




"Stirring and disquieted, Look with Your Eyes is a compelling and quick read with an imaginative premise. Lucas' apt employment of wit makes this rollercoaster of a thriller like a story you've never read before."

- Maxwell Gill, Independent Book Review


"Look with Your Eyes is a weird and wild jaunt into the of-beat--and hopefully fictional--world of anti-squirrel conspiracy theories... Imagine that Lara Croft's frumpy, grumpy, Snickers-addicted aunt goes on a road trip into the North Florida hinterlands with a less doughy version of Bluetooth from Animal House, and that'll give you a taste of the funny, bizarre, and harrowing tale that Matthew Lucas has assembled like a precarious pyramid of acorns..."

- Keith R. Fentonmiller, author of Fait Accompli: The Water Nymph Gospels, Book 1


"In a tight and taut little bundle, Matthew C. Lucas crafts a narrative that challenges the very basis of our most innate fears, asking a simple but telling question: why are we afraid of what we're afraid of, and why the hell aren't we more afraid of squirrels?"

- Paul d Miller, author of Albrecht Drue, ghostpuncher and Albrecht Drue: Paranormal Dickd

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