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Matt's Occasional Writing Blog

The COMMA Act of 2022

"Just call me Bill ... Please."

In a welcome display of bipartisanship, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed the Curtailment Of Misused and Machinated Acronyms Act, or "COMMA." If signed by President Biden, the act would prohibit future legislative acts from being festooned with needlessly long titles for the sake of creating seemingly clever acronyms (such as, FRESHER (Focused Reduction of Effluence and Stormwater runoff through Hydrofracking Environmental Regulation Act of 2013), PROSTATE (Prostate Research, Outreach, Screening, Testing, Access, and Treatment Effectiveness Act of 2013), or WE CARE (Working to Encourage Community Action and Responsibility in Education Act)). Going forward, proposed bills will be titled by the date they are filed and whatever the solution to Wordle was on that day (thus, an appropriations bill introduced on March 5, 2022, would become the "Brine" Act of 3-5-2022). The legislation would also mandate the use of the Oxford comma in all publications.


In a joint statement, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said: "We have to stop this insanity. Nobody's impressed and we're starting to look silly." When asked about the COMMA bill's most controversial feature, the Oxford comma mandate, Sen. Schumer responded, "C'mon, it just makes sense."

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Quote of the Day


"Editing might be a bloody trade, but knives aren't

the exclusive property of butchers. Surgeons use them too." 


— Blake Morrison, FRSL

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Look With Your Eyes (Coming Soon…)

Not as harmless as you think ...

I'm thrilled to announce that I'll be teaming up with Ellysian Press for my recently finished novella, Look With Your Eyes.


What's the story about? 


Deadly squirrels.

Hidden conspiracies.

A bagpipe band.

And North Florida's answer to Miskatonic University.


The story was a blast to write, and I'm really looking forward to working with EP again.

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EDITING--Part II (Working with an Editor)

"Embrace your editor. Give them a big ole hug..."

I've been incredibly fortunate to have worked with some great editors on my books. One of whom has graciously agreed to join me in this post for an interview (because what better way is there to talk about what editors do than to talk to an editor?) So please welcome Mr. RobRoy McCandless, author and editor at Ellysian Press! 


Rob (who writes under the name "R.A. McCandless") was one of the first editors to work through my forthcoming historical fantasy novel, Yonder & Far. Rob is a consummate professional, an all-around great guy, and has quite an impressive bio, as you can see ....


R.A. McCandless has been a writer both professionally and creatively for over two decades. He was born under a wandering star that led to a degree in Communication and English with a focus on creative writing. He's the author of the steampunk THE CLOCKWORK DETECTIVE, winner of the 2020 IPPY bronze medal and BENEATH A FEARFUL MOON, the urban fantasy series TEARS OF HEAVEN, HELL BECOMES HER, and COMPANY OF THE DAMNED. His shorts have appeared in IN SHAMBLES with Kevin J. Anderson, HOLES, NINE HEROES, and GEARS, GADGETS AND STEAM. He continues to research and write historical and genre fiction, battle sprinklers, and play with his three boys.


In this interview, Rob reflects upon writing, explains the magic and mystery behind the editing process, and makes me laugh. Enjoy!




Matt: Tell me a little about your writing journey. How did you become an author and then an editor? What inspires you to write and what keeps you inspired when editing others' writing?


Rob: I was born under a wandering star, which led me on a convoluted path all over the western United States and eventually I landed in California. I was always reading, but also enthralled with the sights, the history, the people, and the experiences. As I turned those pages, and explored those other worlds, I wondered, "What if?" What if I could turn left in Rivendell, away from the view of Frodo and Bilbo, and see what the Elves were doing in a different direction? What if I could ride with Allanon on one of his quests that were only hinted at? What if I could carry a history of Pern to Lessa, or warn Ned Stark?


It's that excitement and journey of "what if" that intrigues me the most. You can play in other people's sandboxes, which is a lot of fun. You can also build your own and see what shape the world will take. It's a really magical time we live in, when a quick spell of WiFi will grant you access to a near endless supply of stories of daring heroes, nights of sorcery, and days of adventure.


That's the driving force behind what I read, what I write, and how I edit. I'm still in the process of finding my own author's voice, although I think I've done a good job of learning and growing as I've progressed. I'm very much interested in helping other authors find their voice, and seeing that voice heard.


Matt: Talk a little bit about your editing process at Ellysian Press. What happens "behind the curtain," so to speak, as a manuscript is transformed into a book?


Rob: First, we find the right wand that we'll wave over the manuscript. Wands are fairly important, but some people stop there.  Not Ellysian. We carefully match specially harvested pixie dust with each wand to ensure the greatest magic that will morph the manuscript into a wonderful book!


Altogether, it's lots of effort, working directly with the author to balance between their voice and what a reader will expect or have trouble with. We signed authors because they bring something special to the table, and they have a story to tell.  It's very important that during the process, that story and that voice remain intact. Some publishing houses aren't as respectful of their authors, and that's never good for the industry.


The important part is working with the author, making suggestions and corrections but having them ultimately responsible for the edits. They are, after all, the talent, and that's exactly what we're trying to showcase to our readers.


Matt: What are some common pitfalls newer authors sometimes fall into? Conversely, what do you think makes a story stand out?


Rob: For myself, it was thinking that I was only telling the story for me, and that my view of the world was the only one that mattered. That's fine if I was keeping the book for myself, only sharing with friends and family, with no intent for pure strangers to ever pick it up.  My good friend, mentor, and editor once told me that if a reader doesn't understand, that's the writer's fault. That's a tough pill for some authors to swallow, but it's true. If you're going to be published, and push your work out for others to read, then the story needs to be understandable. Anything that breaks a reader out of your world is bad, no matter how much you love it, or how much you want to logic and handwave it away. Sometimes, that takes a lot of extra work to smooth out the rough patches.


By contrast, stories that stand out to me aren't necessarily ones with an wholly new, original premise. That's not necessarily a hard thing to do, but to sustain that premise, and make it interesting, can be really tricky. It's great that you've come up with a society of 16 different genders. That is certainly interesting. But how will your reader relate to all, or any, of that, if that's the whole of your story? What I want, as a publisher, is a good story well told. For a good, recent example, check out Amazon's "Reacher" series. Nothing new here whatsoever. But it's a solid story, well told, that is enjoyable. That doesn't mean we're looking for a paint-by-numbers carbon copy of what's already been done. The lesson of "Reacher" is an interesting character and a solid plot are good recipe for success.  If you're a talented writer, with a good head for dialogue, and some fun plot-turns, that's when the hook is set and you're reeling me in!


Matt: Do you ever find that your editing work shapes your writing, or vice versa?


Rob: The worst that being an editor has done to me is that it impacts my pleasure reading. As I'm reading, I'll start to edit lines, and I have to make myself stop. It's a super annoying habit, and it's tough to let go of. I recommend a few good slaps to the cheeks, or a couple shots of whisky. Not good whisky either. Try the stuff that can also be used to remove varnish.


For myself, it's not the process of editing that impacts my writing, but the reading/experiencing of other people's works. You give 100 writers the same simple story to write, and you'll get 100 completely different versions. That's what really gets to me. The turn of a phrase, flipping of a trope, or the use of a character in an unexpected way. I LOVE that stuff.


Matt: What do you see down the road for you as a writer, as an editor, and for Ellysian Press?


Rob: Nothing but excitement. We've signed some incredibly talented authors, including yourself (Matt Lucas), and their works are amazing. I've been very privileged to read their early drafts and provide assistance through the editing process. Fantastical worlds of magic mixed with science, amazing journeys from sailing ships on the high seas to spaceships in the depths of the stars. There's so much good stuff coming down that I'm fair to bursting with all of it.


Matt: What are some tips for writers to make the editing process successful?


Rob: Embrace your editor. Give them a big ole hug and view them as your best friend in the whole world when it comes to your book. An editor's job isn't to steal your voice or make your life miserable—those are just perks. Instead, what any good editor wants is a collaborative process with their author, discussing elements, looking for all the places where a rough manuscript can be fine-tuned into a full-bore race engine of entertainment. Any editor wants the same—the writer's success. If you grasp that, throw your arms around them and just lean into the process, you'll find that the entire thing works so much better.




Many thanks to Rob for taking time out of his busy schedule. To learn more about his work, check out:







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EDITING—Part I (Self-editing)

There's a metric ton of information out there about "the process" for writing a novel. Lots of approaches, lots of ways to stay motivated, lots of sometimes competing suggestions. Some people swear by outlines; others declaim that only the muse-in-the-moment will lead you to a completed novel. I've finished four novels and a novella (and a handful of short stories)--by no means do I consider myself an expert or especially knowledgeable, but I've picked up a couple of things along the way. For what it's worth, I would consider myself about 85% a discovery writer ("pantser") and 15% an outliner ("plotter"). Which is basically the inverse of what I was when I finished my first novel. Whatever process one uses to get to "The End," and however that process may evolve over time, there are two constants: (1) you've got to keep your butt in a chair and write words in order to write a book; and (2) you're going to have to go back and edit those words--a lot. 


I'm going to focus on the second constant. 


Editing is where you confront the hard reality that not every line you spun was literary brilliance. In fact, if you approach it honestly, you'll probably be embarrassed at how bad some of what you wrote really is (I've lost count of the number of times I've gone over a line I wrote and wondered, "what does that even mean?"). That's the point of the process. Because I work with a publisher, I'm going to break my editing process down into two parts. This first part focuses on how I approach self-editing. I'll post a second part that addresses how one works with an editor later.


Depending on who you ask, there are three--or four, five, six, or seven--levels of editing. The precise taxonomy of the editing process can get a little wonky, but for purposes of self-editing a work of fiction, I'll keep it simple and make it three: (1) Structural Editing; (2) Line Editing; and (3) Proofreading. Each is done separately and in order.


First, in structural editing, I'm looking at the "big picture"--are there plot holes? Are character arcs progressing? Is the conflict clear? Is the pacing good? Are characters acting "honestly" and organically given who they are? Because I am more of a discovery writer, this part of the process keeps me busiest. As I go back over a manuscript, it will be littered with highlighted notes for me to change things earlier in the story based on things I discovered later. A scene that was originally written with three undead knights attacking the protaganist might work better with one annoying, wise-cracking ghost. Often, this is where my 110K words gets trimmed down to 95k. Because one of the shortcomings of discovery writing is that you don't always see a dead-end until after you've written it, I'll end up with scenes or exposition that ends up cluttering the story. So, for me, there's always a good amount of deletion going on in this stage.


With line editing, as the name implies, I am focused more on each line and paragraph--are there too many dialogue tags? Is there a better way to phrase this description? Have I used the same word three times in the same paragraph? I'll often read aloud as I do this to make sure everything "sounds" right. 


Last of all comes proofreading. This is what your seventh grade English teacher kept dinging your homework for. Misspelled words. Superfluous commas. Run-on sentences. Inexplicably changed names. Think of it as quality control for all the little rules and conventions that, if you break them, you'll yank your reader right out of your story. To some extent, I'll often do some proofreading while I'm line editing. But it's important to do a final pass-through the entire manuscript (don't try to just spot-check it--trust me).


Each of these editing levels is imperative if you're going to turn a rough draft manuscript into a book. What makes this particularly challenging in the self-editing process is, well, that you have to do it all yourself. Which means, first, you have to tamp down your gushing joy at having completed a novel that will surely sell millions of copies. And, second, once you've curbed that enthusiasm, once you're relegated yourself to weeks of further work on your "completed" story, you have to try to pretend you didn't write the words and lines you'll be carving up into pieces. It's tough. Like I said, it's my least favorite part of the process.


There's one thing I've learned, though. There really is no better self-editing tool than time. For me it's about three to four weeks. After I've finished a novel, I celebrate with the family, say "congratulations" to myself--and then I set it aside. During that time, I try to write something else, clear my head of the story, get into something totally different for a while. Once about a month has gone by, only then, can I go back and read that manuscript with a fresh set of eyes--eyes that won't gloss over problems or proofreading errors.


It's certainly not the most glamorous aspect of the writing process, but it's vital. Far more enjoyable is the process of working with an editor--which I'll get to in my next post.


- Matt

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GHOSTBUSTERS — Afterthought

Ghostbusters Afterlife dug up a nice piece of nostalgia from my childhood, pulled the corpse from its coffin, and made it flop around in a barnyard while mouthing unfunny lines from its dead, withered lips. Yeah, it was that bad.


The story has a basic "next generation" setup. Egon Spengler has died, alone, in a ramshackle farm in the middle of nowhere. I would have cautioned spoiler alert, but if you don't pick up who it is and what's happening in the first ten minutes of the film, you're just not paying attention (for which you should be commended). Apparently, Egon had an estranged daughter, who, in turn, has a 15-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl, Phoebe, the latter being something of a replica of her late grandfather. They're also poor, apparently. The family is evicted from a pretty nice looking apartment, drives in a new-looking car to Egon's farm (now theirs). Phoebe discovers a ghost in the farm, who leads her to her grandfather's underground lab. Paul Rudd, a seismologist who is substitute teaching in summer school gets hooked in with the family. Ghosts start to appear in the little farm town. The kids and a really annoying sidekick take it upon themselves to take up the ghostbusting trade. And the last 45 minutes basically replicates what happened in the last 45 minutes of the original Ghostbusters movie.


The story was ... well, there was no story. The entire script was a patchwork of scenes machinated together for the sole purpose of having kids do "ghostbuster stuff" in a rural setting. The dialogue was horrendous. There was nothing resembling an authentic human relationship between anyone, at any time, in any part of the movie. The acting felt flat, but I pin that more on the terrible script than on any of the actors. It was, in short, a bad movie.


The premise was a good idea. And the special effects were fantastic. But they can't make up for a seriously flawed script. Which made Ghostbusters Afterlife not much better than an afterthought.

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Scream (2022)—It’s Pretty Bad

Run ... to another movie.

I've never been a fan of horror movies. And I grew up in the 80's. For whatever reason, slasher flicks just never did much for me. 


But when Scream (the original) came out in the 1990's, I gave it a shot and was pleasantly surprised. Sure, it had a typical horror movie's plot line (you've got a killer; you've got a bunch of teenaged potential victims; they run and, well, scream, and most of them get stabbed in various inventive ways). But the movie had a solid cast. It poked at the genre a little bit (all in fun), which gave it just the right amount of comedy. And it served up a neat twist in the end. I liked it. Apparently, lots of other folks did, too.


So, of course, Hollywood monetized the bejeezus out of it. And that is all the new Scream (2022) is--the last squeeze on the husk of a profitable franchise.


The premise is basically the same as the original. A group of teenagers who are, we are told, friends (you'd never know it from the acting) find themselves in the sights of Ghost Face, the masked killer who once plagued another group of teenaged friends in their small town. The story of the first group of friends became the subject of a film-within-the-film franchise called Stab. That movie (Stab) became serialized to the point of weariness, which kind of plays into the actual movie's plot, eventually ... assuming you care. 


The new kids immediately suspect the killer is one of their number--because they're all friends, and that's what friends do. Indeed, Gen Z of this little town is pretty darned sanguine about getting murdered. They sit on couches and chairs and type on their phones and riff off horror movie tropes and get killed. Eventually, the original crew of kids who were stalked by the first Ghost Face (Cox, Arquette, and Campbell), all grown up and a little grayer, get roped in to help deal with this new(ish) threat. Maybe you'll care about what happens to everyone. Maybe you'll be surprised that there's another "twist" ending machinated like a pretzel weave into the stumbling plot line of this movie.


But you probably won't. Because the acting is almost as bad as the script. With the lone exception of Jenna Ortega (as Tara Carpenter), everyone in this film is just going through the motions. Who knows? Maybe that was purposeful. Because if there's one thing Scream (2022) assaults you with, relentlessly and agonizingly, is how consciously "meta" it is. It's so very aware of itself, and its genre, and the conceit of highbrow art within its genre, and telling its audience about its awareness of itself, that no one involved in its making bothered to put together an actual story. 


Which makes this "requel" of Scream both tired and tedious.

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"Looking at you, 2022 ..."

We've been through a lot this past year. Some parts were rough (keeping the kids in masks that they oh so much loved wearing). Other parts were a bit bewildering (remember when walking into a bank while wearing a mask was very much frowned upon?). All in all, though, I'm counting myself blessed. My family's stayed healthy and even expanded thanks to the addition of a little terrier mutt from Texas we named Sky. 


Looking back, I'm also thankful for what I was able to get done in writing. The Mountain, the decade-long work-in-progress, the quarter-million-plus-word behemoth, came out in May from Montag Press. Seven years of writing, a year to find a publisher, two years of editing (it took a lot of editing) and design work culminated in a successful release. It would have been nice to have thrown a launch party, but like many things during this pandemic, that had to be scaled back to social media announcements and "atta-boys" from family, friends, and fans (all of which were greatly appreciated).


Yonder & Far, the historical fantasy due to be released in 2022 by Ellysian Press, went through the first couple of stages of editing. I've got a follow-up novel in the same universe about half-way finished, but I set it aside (for the time being) to finish some other projects, such as ...


(1) I started, finished, and edited a novella (that's still being shopped around), which was a first for me. I've written short stories, written novels long and short, but never had a story end up in that gray area in between (most folks in writing circles consider anything between 17,500 and 40,000 words to be novella length--basically, it's something between a really long short story and a really short novel; a famous example is the gothic novella, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyl and Mr Hyde);


(2) I resold a previously published short story, Coin, to a "Best of" anthology; and


(3) Best of all, I am within inches of the finish line of my current WIP, which had a tentative title of "Godless" but that's probably going to get chucked for something else. I came so close to finishing it before the year's end! All that's left for the first draft is to finish out the final scene (half done), write the epilogue (another first for me, I've never done one of those before), insert a brief scene in the middle that I had outlined based upon later developments in the story, and then ... a ton of editing. But finishing out a first draft is always a big milestone and will assuredly be celebrated in the Lucas household. No book ever got read all the way that didn't get written all the way. (yeah, I know, pretty banal; cut me some slack, it's still early morning on New Year's Day). I'm hopeful to have this finished and polished by the middle of next year.


What's coming up? I'm liking the historical fantasy vein, so I'll certainly finish out the Yonder follow-up (tentative title is "The Parson's Prayer"). I've also started outlining and poking around with an idea set in 1700's Prussia ... 


As for the blog, I'm going to try to post at least once or twice a month (hello, New Year's resolution!). I'm thinking about devoting a post to "the writing process" since I get asked about that a lot. There is definitely a process (though different folks approach it differently), and mine has developed enough that I trust it to see me through from start to finish on a work. I'll probably also put up a couple of more reviews.


2021 is done. Here's looking at you, 2022. I hope you and yours have a very happy and healthy New Year.


All the best,



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Season’s Greetings!

"I should probably think about automating..."

According to something someone told me they found on the internet, a physicist somewhere computed the trip specs of Santa Claus's annual worldwide appearance. There's some assumptions, of course, about numbers of households, proportions of "nice" versus "naughty" children, etc., but they worked out some interesting back-of-the-napkin calculations that really put his workload in perspective. If each child received just one package of legos, Santa's sleigh would have to haul 321,300 tons--or four times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth. And the reindeer (that payload would require a team of 214,200 of them) would need to fly at a speed of 650 miles per second, which is 3000 times the speed of sound. How Santa manages a plate of cookies at each stop is a feat in itself.


So although things may seem busy, gotta keep perspective.


For me, there's been the usual bustle at work heading into the holidays, and picking up presents, getting a tree (which, per ounce, is now almost as expensive as platinum), trimming it, visiting family, etc. It can be a challenge what with Florida's weather--78 degrees can feel kind of balmy when you're lugging a Christmas tree off your car roof. But all of it is a blessing, and I'm thankful for all I have.


I've also been able to work in a little writing since the last post. Yonder & Far, a historical fantasy set in Boston in 1798 is going through its final, final edits with the editors at Ellysian. The cover has also been worked up and looks great. Look for a cover reveal here soon, and the book should hopefully release in the first half of 2022. I really like how this one has shaped up. My recently finished novella, Look With Your Eyes, is currently under submission. A dark, humorous suspense tale set in north Florida, I'm hopeful this will find a good home. Finally, my work in progress, Godless (working title), is rounding the bend towards the finish line. Yesterday, I finished the penultimate chapter of the rough draft. There's a final chapter and an epilogue to go, a couple of scenes to flesh out, and then, my least favorite part of writing, the self-editing stage. Don't get me wrong, I love editing--when it's with an editor. But the self-editing part of writing has always been a slog for me. Word count on Godless will probably come in at around 95-96k words. So that slog will take some time.


Wishing you  and yours a safe, happy, and blessed holiday season,


- Matt

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DUNE IN REVIEW (the Good, the Bad, and the Awful)

Could you brood a little more?

It's not often we get out to sci-fi movie premiers, but the Missus and I teamed up with another couple to check out the latest film adaptation of Frank Herbert's 1965 classic, Dune. Two and a half hours later (and with the tinnitus still ringing from the Dolby surround sound), here's the Good, the Bad, and the Awful of Denis Villeneuve's attempt to mash a wonky, complicated, pseudo-psychedelic 188,000-word novel into big screen, mass entertainment....


The Good


The cinematography in Villeneuve's Dune is fantastic. The settings were sprawling, beautiful, and at times, haunting. No doubt much of it is computer-generated, but still, every scene is intricate, and well-crafted, and carefully thought out--from the varying art styles in textiles to little details that only serve to pay homage to trifles in the novel (repeated closeups of a mounted bull's head trophy were a nice air kiss to Herbert's book). And if you like big machines, if you've ever gone to a monster truck show and said to yourself, "If only they could do this with space ships," well, strap yourself in, my friend, because believe you me, a $165 Million budget can whip up some thumping big machines and blow them up big-time. And since that's pretty much become the "spice" of modern sci-if movies, the sheer volume of metal and explosions in this film will all but guarantee it will be a money-maker.


The Bad


Villeneuve had a talented cast playing beloved, complicated characters. But apparently he gave them all the same direction: brood. You can almost hear him shouting in his director's horn: "I want those frowns to hurt, people!" Every actor on the screen, from every planet, great or small, came across the same--broody men and women brooding on their broodiness. Even the knife fights looked mopey. 


And some of that may have been a function of the script, which served up a heaping helping of flat blandness. In some places, the lines were just outright silly (note to screenwriters: when characters find themselves in a confined place that is literally exploding all around them, it is completely unnecessary to have one of them calmly suggest, "Let's get out of here."). It's all the more a pity because you could tell the actors were trying really hard to wring the most out of what they were made to work with (Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica deserves a "Bread Upon the Waters" award (if there were such a thing) for putting together a solid performance despite mediocre material, not unlike Bryan Cranston's surprisingly moving character in that 2014 Godzilla remake).


The Awful



The soundtrack. Oh, dear God. Hans Zimmer picked out a harmonic minor chord and pounded on the poor thing for two and a half hours. It was like Peter Gabriel's Zaar, amped up to 11 and set to play on an endless loop.


To Wrap-Up ...


So overall, the movie was "meh."' Which is a huge improvement over David Lynch's god-awfulness. But like the prior version, this version is going to be incoherent for anyone who hasn't read the book. Maybe that's the rub. Maybe Dune is just one of those stories that only works as a novel.

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