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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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Weird Florida. Secret pagan rites. Squirrels.
The truth is in the trees. 

I'm very pleased to announce that my new novella will be available for pre-order on Amazon soon. Official release date is October 21. 


Norma Sweeney knows something you don't. The professor of folklore at Umatilla University knows, firsthand, that squirrels pose the most lethal, dangerous threat to humanity in all of nature. They are evil, rapacious beasts with a lust for blood. She and a small cadre of squirrel conspiracy theorists (who call themselves the Foragers) hope to someday convince you of what may be the most vitally important secret in the world: that you should be much more afraid of squirrels than you are.


Norma thinks she's found a possible lead that will provide irrefutable evidence of the Foragers' theory. With the help of a failing student athlete, Tyler, she travels to the north Florida town of Oak Slough. There she learns of secret rites and connections to squirrels that will either shed light on this chattering menace--or cast Norma deep into the darkness of the woods. 


A dark comedic thriller, just in time for Halloween, this story with a Southern accent will give you laughs and chills in equal measure. Enjoy! And if you like it, please leave a favorable, five-star review.


- Matt

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Another One Done


I've finally--at long last--finished my current WIP, an idea I'd been half-heartedly poking and prodding and trying out from different angles for over ten years. This last February, the pieces finally fell into place, and I got the story into a rhythm. And now, eight months and 87,000 words later, I've typed "The End" on a really, really rough first draft of what, I like to think, is going to shape up to be a pretty cool novel.


In something of a first for me, this one's a mix of legal thriller and dark, weird Florida. Tentative title is "McJustice." It's what you might get if John Grisham, Carl Hiassen, and Stephen King teamed up together. 


For those who are interested in the writing process, the next step after you've finished your first draft is the first round of self-edits. Because I'm a discovery writer, that means plot points and characters that got changed midway through (and on this one, there were more than a couple) have to become synthesized. Plot holes need to be filled. Slow parts have to be cut or sped up. It's tedious. And I've learned from past run-throughs, you have to wait at least a couple of weeks before starting. Which is hard when you're excited about finally being done.


But until then, I'll pop a cork on a bottle and turn to something else for a couple of weeks. Then it's back to work on McJustice to start the long slog of self-editing ...

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Quote of the Day


"All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream."



- Edgar Allan Poe

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Laugh and the World Laughs with You (Unless You’re not Funny)

At least he gets it.

I've been thinking about humor in novels. Or more specifically, humorous novels. By which I mean, a novel that attempts to make humor its central driving animus. There's a number out there; I've tried a few. And I've only ever found one that worked: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

It's ludicrous, and very British, and was unlike anything else at the time it was published in 1979 (perhaps because it was based on a series of radio episodes). The novel's plot is tissue thin. The world gets blown up, but Arthur Dent (a kind of everyman/fish-out-of-water) and his friend, Ford Prefect (an alien in disguise) are saved when Prefect "hitches a ride" on a passing space ship. A merry band of misfits come together, gallivant about the galaxy, and in between philosophical musings, and ridiculous asides, the story kind-of-sort-of bumps around through time and space. The only thing that holds the book together, besides its binding, is that it's really, really funny (if you like British humor). Again, there's basically no plot, no rising and falling action, no resolution to any conflict. The characters are wooden props, with no interior lives, and not one of them have anything remotely approaching an arc. They're just vessels for absurdity.

And yet it works. Because, again, it's a very funny book.

A lot of writers have tried to replicate this approach, and I haven't found one who's pulled it off. I think I know why.

I try to infuse a little humor into some of my works (Yonder & Far once had a reviewer who said he wasn't sure if I meant my writing to be funny, but he found some of the scenes absolutely hilarious—which I'll take as high praise). Misunderstandings, misdirections, a little absurdity, they can help break tension and an otherwise slow part of a story keep pace with the rest. But I couldn't pull off a whole book around gags and one-liners. Very few authors can.

Why? In my view, it's a challenge inherent in the medium. A stand-up comedian only has to entertain you for about an hour. A comedic movie, a little over an hour and a half. And in the span of that time, some jokes might hit the audience as gut-bustingly hilarious, some might fall a little flat, a few might bomb. But it's okay, the audience is indulgent because their time investment is small—and, perhaps more importantly, it's understood that, by and large, each "bit" is meant to stand on its own. A comedian can transition set-ups quickly, change the scenery, so to speak, in a matter of seconds to turn to the next piece of funniness. To a lesser degree, the same holds true for comedy movies. We'll indulge a loose-hanging plot line if the gags are good enough. Take Caddy Shack for example. The "plot" can be summed up as follows: a gauche condo developer shows up at a country club, rubs the blue-bloods the wrong way, and settles matters with a golf game; some characters come along for the ride (albeit for different reasons); hilarity ensues. Sure, there's a story in there, but that's not why the movie remains in syndication decades after its release. It's Bill Murray trying to kill a gopher. It's Rodney Dangerfield's bevy of one-liners. It's Ted Knight's pompous laugh. It's classic Chevy Chase being classic Chevy Chase. The comic strands are more than capable of holding together the movie.

You don't have that luxury as an author. To hold an entire novel together with humor, you have to pack humor into all 70,000-odd words. You have to keep the reader entertained for days, not just a couple of hours. If comedy is the only strand, it's going to have to be made of steel, which means the jokes have to be really funny. Not just enough to make the reader smile or giggle; the laughs have to keep the reader coming back day in and day out for days. And none of them can land flat.

That doesn't mean a book should eschew humor. If you're an author and that's your "voice," speak in your voice. But I do think writers need to approach humor in stories the way a chef approaches seasoning. Sprinkle in the right amount and you can make a good dish extra special. But if you try to make a meal around cumin, or pepper, or, God forbid, thyme, most people are going to politely decline and move on to something else.


- Matt

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New Short Story in a New Anthology!

Courtroom drama meets comedy in this themed anthology just released from Raconteur Press. Ten stories in all (including an historical fantasy by yours truly). They all have Andrew Spurgle in them, and they're all awesome. 


Available in print and ebook on Amazon.


Your Honor, I Can Explain


Get your copy today; and if you like it, help us out with a five-star review.


- Matt

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