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Matt's Occasional Writing Blog

Happy Birthday, America!

Baby Back Ribs a la Lucas

Happy Fourth of July, everyone! In a country which has the freedom of speech as its "first right," it's not suprising that the good ole' U.S. of A has generated a rich bounty of writing since its founding. So in the spirit of the Fourth, here are my four favorite American books, by Americans, for or about America:



1. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave: the ultimate story of overcoming and triumph, one of Douglass' autobiographies, and one of the best ever written. There are passages that are absolutely haunting, despite the span of years.


2. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin: Franklin is a fascinating figure. You would think the autobiography of this polymath would be stuffed full of sweeping ideas or profound witticisms. There's a little bit of that scattered throughout, but its focus is mostly on his personal aspirations, plans (he always had them--and he recounts them all, successes as well as failures), reflections, and even some grudges he held. Honestly, Douglass' and Franklin's autobiographies could stand as bookends of American writing.


3. John Adams, by David McCullough: sweeping, insightful, layered with detail (but not overtly academic), this is a masterfully done biography that sheds much light on an overshadowed man.


4. The poetry of Emily Dickinson: I've never cared for poetry, to be honest. But my late mother was an enormous fan of Dickinson (she even wrote a book about her poetry), and, perhaps for that reason, I have a soft spot for this death-obsessed New Englander. Intermixed with all the metaphysics she wrestles with are sweeping, natural reflections, New England sensibilities, and religion, all of which, I think, put her finger on the pulse of America in the mid Nineteenth Century.


What's some of your favorite American writing?


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Quote of the Day


"As are your repeated imaginations so will your mind be, for the soul is dyed by its imaginations."



- Marcus Aurelius

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Quote of the Day

"Ah, Grendel!" he said. He seemed that instant almost to rise to pity. "You improve them, my boy! Can't you see that yourself? You stimulate them! You make them think and scheme. You drive them to poetry, science, religion, all that makes them what they are for as long as they last. . . .


If man's the irrelevance that interests you, stick with him! Scare him to glory!"



- Grendel, by John Gardner



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The Zen of Bowling (which kinda-sorta has something to do with writing)

This guy is in his nirvana. 

Most folks have had an occasion to attend a work-related seminar or course. They can be ... hit and miss. To keep things fresh, some instructors will try to weave their personal hobbies into their teaching. I've seen it quite a few times. "How axe throwing made me a better orthopaedic surgeon." "Crochet tips for the airplane mechanic." "Karate's lessons for civil lawsuit mediators." (One of these is actually real). Don't get me wrong. Hobbies are great. Everyone needs a hobby. But why this compulsion to machinate one's favorite past-time into teaching about one's work?


The answer, I think, is that most folks like to share the things that bring them joy. And since for most folks work can sometimes (oftentimes? most times? invariably?) be a drudge, perhaps it's only natural to want to try to air-drop a little outside happiness into it. 


In this post, I'm going to take that inclination one step further--and mix one fun hobby with another.


I like to bowl. Ever since I was 5 and my father would take me to the church league on Friday nights (staying up until midnight, granny-shooting 6 lbs chipped up alley balls, getting four quarters for the arcade--what's not to like?). I actually took a bowling class at FSU. I've kept up with it, on and off, over the years. Right now, I'm bowling between 140-150 on average. That's after bowling about once a week, week in and week out, for the past year and a half. And in that time, I have twice hit what had been a lifelong goal: breaking 200 (this last time, I hit it right on the nose; if I hadn't whiffed on picking up the ten pin on 2 consecutive frames, I could have pushed it over 220). Anyhow, hitting that benchmark twice got me to thinking about writing.


Twice I've had the privilege of publishing a novel with a press. Each offer felt like I had hit a milestone; each experience was richly rewarding. But there was a LOT of failure (gutter balls, if you will) along the way. Draft manuscripts that went nowhere, scenes that fell flat, characters who never came to life, prose that made me wince.


The thing is, that still happens, tiny successes notwithstanding. Like in bowling, I still make plenty of misses in my rough drafts. But here's the other thing: those misses aren't as bad as they used to be. If I miss the ten pin a little high, well, that's better than cleaning out the gutter. I need to tweak something, not change my whole approach. So, too, with writing. The problems I catch in editing a finished ms (and there's always ample plenty of them) may require a great deal of work, but they don't require a rewrite of the whole manuscript. That's improvement. And improvement leads to bigger and better milestones. More 200 games, fewer missed spares.


Here's hoping you make all your spares. 


Happy writing,



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Mythbehaving Podcast

Check out the latest episode of the Mythbehaving Podcast with yours truly on the hot seat.



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The Mountain is a Fantasy Finalist

I'm pleased to announce that The Mountain was named as one of six finalists for the fantasy category in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards.



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It's Book Release Day!


I'm thrilled, pleased, and delighted to announce that Yonder & Far: The Lost Lock is now available in print and e-reader. It's my first book with Ellysian Press, and it came out great!


Here's the link: Yonder & Far


Thanks so much for giving it a read, and if you like it, please leave a review wherever you can. Enjoy!


- Matt

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A Lil’ Lotl

"I can see into your soul."

A few weeks ago, I was blissfully unaware of what an axolotl was. But thanks to a naturally curious and highly enterprising 10-year-old son, we're now the proud owners of one. Meet Mango. He(?) is the newest addition to the Lucas family, and what a unique pleasure it is to have him.


For those who may be unfamiliar with these critters, Wikipedia defines the axolotl as "a paedomorphic salamander related to the tiger salamander ... unusual among amphibians in that they reach adulthood without undergoing metamorphosis." Mango enjoys cold water (you have to keep the tank under 70 degrees), moonwalking on the slick floor (you can't have gravel in the tank; apparently their little feet are delicate), and staring with his little, unblinking black eyes straight into your soul.


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The Lost Lock Now Available for Pre-Order!

Now Available for the Pre-Order Price of $3.99 (until May 17)

I'm very pleased to announce that The Lost Lock (Book 1 of Yonder & Far) is now available for pre-order on your Kindle reader! The special pre-order price of $3.99 will be good until the book releases on May 17. Get your copy now at the link below...




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My Three Faves of Fae

My upcoming release, Yonder & Far: The Lost Lock, revolves around the fae (fairies, fair folk, wee folk, fey ... you get the idea). Not the spritely little brogue-tongued critters that Arthur Conan Doyle chased after. No, the fae in Yonder & Far are more akin to their more ancient conceptions: incomprehensible and dangerous beings who move among humans in mysterious ways. As a genre, fantasy has borrowed heavily from the accumulated store of folk tales, poems, epics, and stories of the fae. The Yonder & Far series is no exception.


So I thought I'd list my three favorite novels that feature the fae.  


#3 Faerie Tale by Raymond E. Feist: Growing up, I happened across this book in a bookcase in our house. Underneath the seemingly generic title is a dark and compelling story that I finished in a week. Ever since, I've been on the lookout for river stones that have had their middles worn through (which I've had no more luck finding than a four-leafed clover).


#2 The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly: Dark but heartful, I very much enjoyed this tightly paced novel.


#1 Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susann Clarke: 782 pages of historical fantasy delight--and at the end, I wanted more. The premise is simple enough: 2 gentlemen usher in the return of real magic in England at the height of the Napoleonic Wars. But that magic is, in many ways, tied to the fae, who are as wild as they are wicked. The book is infused with richly imagined scholarship, including more than a hundred footnotes to the prose (some readers found them discursive, but I loved them). In many respects, Yonder & Far is something of an American tip-of-the-hat to Ms. Clarke's imagining of what would happen if the fae became tangled up in our history.


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