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Final thoughts on Lightning in a Bottle (part 1)

July 30, 2014
Posted at 1:22 am

I plan to post a series of three blog entries where I'll wrap up Lightning in a Bottle. (If I combined it into a single entry, it would be quite long.) In this entry, I'll provide some background information about the story and how it came about. In the second entry, I'll discuss and summarize reader feedback, good points and problem areas. In the last entry, I'll discuss my future writing plans.

I've stated more than once that I started writing LiaB about seven years ago. To give perspective, here's a rough timeline, as best as I can recall:

July 2007: Started writing chapter 1.

October 2007: Got to chapter 5 and stopped. I enlisted the help of two editors, who looked over those five chapters. I entered a busy part of my life and put the story aside without posting it anywhere.

Sometime in 2009: Wrote the "Pat tries out for the high school baseball team" segment that would eventually become part of chapter 14. That crazy sequence where Pat ducked out of baseball practice to fool around with Diana behind a hill, before making a mad dash back onto the field to try to catch a fly ball? Believe it or not, that scene came to me in a dream. I felt a need to write it out as soon as I could. However, at the time, I couldn't muster up the interest to write any more.

June 2012: On a whim, I sat down and began to write chapter 6. To my amazement, I found myself highly motivated to keep cranking out the chapters.

October 2012: I had written up to about chapter 20 at this point. Convinced that I had a decent chance of finishing the story, I located an editor or two, and began posting chapter by chapter.

July 2014: 78 chapters (and an epilogue) later, I finished the story. (It actually took far longer than I expected)

I'm posting this to encourage other authors who may have long-abandoned stories hidden away on their hard drives or elsewhere. Don't be afraid to dust them off and take a shot at continuing them. You may surprise yourself.

Moving on to a different subject, I'm sure many out there are wondering how LiaB relates to me personally. I know that whenever I read a do-over story, my first impulse is to wonder to what degree the author is vicariously re-living his/her youth in an alternate, idealized fictional timeline.

I am not Pat O'Malley. Pat is a fictional character, as are all the major characters in the story. Now, to be sure, I do have a few things in common with Pat. I'm a Rutgers grad. I'm also a diehard Phillies fan (and man, do they ever suck this year). Many of Pat's values are quite similar to mine.

But looking at the other side of the coin, my professional life is far different from Pat's. Except for my college years, I've never lived in the state of New Jersey. I've also never even set foot in the state of New Mexico. I've also never been part of a band. In fact, my musical training is limited to a few years of piano lessons during childhood.

So, LiaB is a fictional story about a fictional character in a fictional do-over. I can't imagine what it would be like to write one's own personal do-over story, putting your own regrets, your own demons out there for all to see. There's at least one story I know of on SOL where I believe the author did just that, and that author has my everlasting respect.

For me, one curious effect of writing LiaB is that it completely changed how I listened to music. Whenever a song came on the radio from the '70s or '80s, I would ask myself, "Is that a Lightning in a Bottle tune?" I would close my eyes and try to picture this imaginary band covering the song. That's pretty much how the set lists for LiaB's gigs evolved.

Before closing, I have one more interesting music-related anecdote to share, and it concerns the very last song mentioned in the story. I suspect that many readers out there are not familiar with "Stars", by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. (Here's the video: ) I first heard that tune shortly after it came out a couple of years ago, not too long after I resumed writing. When I listened to it that initial time, my first thought was, "Inez vocal." With the epilogue going right up to the present time, I was able to slip that song into LiaB's most recent gig.

In a few days, I'll talk about reader feedback, good and bad.