Sharp-eyed readers may have noticed that as of yesterday, not only does LiaB have an actual table of contents, all 78 chapters now have titles. I skipped over the titles while I was posting the chapters, since although many of the titles are vague, some of them are rather obvious spoilers. That's less of an issue now that the entire story has been posted, so I elected to go ahead and add the titles.
Oh, and speaking of spoilers, in this entry I plan to touch on reader feedback and criticism. Which means I need to throw out this warning...
************** SPOILER ALERT ****************
Yep, if you're still reading the story, you might want to wait until you're finished before reading this entry.
There were four parts of the story that I'll mention here as being triggers for negative criticism.
1) Chapters 1-3: The beginning, prior to Pat being sent back to 1980. I'm only bringing this one up because I've gotten about six or seven feedback notes telling me that this part was unnecessary. These individuals felt that Pat needed to be sent back at the very beginning, and the rationale for that was always something along the lines of "in all the great time travel stories, the protagonist gets sent back at the start." This is as absurd as it is inaccurate. Off the top of my head, I can think of one time travel tale, the excellent "Washed Up" by Lazlong, where the protagonist gets sent back at an even later point in the story. Plus, it should be apparent now that the first three chapters served a valuable purpose: they tied directly in to the conclusion of the story.
2) Chapters 21-23: Pat's Big Blowup and his subsequent "dark period" that lasted almost a full year. Oh, the furor that resulted when I first posted those chapters. I got note after note telling me that I'd lost a reader (and the chapter download stats showed that the readership did indeed decrease, at least at the time). Time and again, I was chided for turning my protagonist into an immature asshole, and his friends into petty phonies. That, obviously, was not my intent, although I'll allow that without the context of what was to come, that reaction might have been somewhat justifiable. I had to post chapters 23 and 24 at the same time as a means of damage control, and that segment even generated a discussion thread over on the SOL Forum. Over time, though, opposition to this part of the story has waned greatly, and it's quite noticeable because a new group of readers has emerged who prefer to wait until a story is complete before reading it. Is that absence of negativity a result of improved context, or because later parts of the story are more deserving of criticism? I can't say.
3) Chapters 61-63: The Victor chapters. I won't dwell too much on this one, because I already spoke my mind in another blog entry not too long ago. It's disappointing to me that, for whatever reason, this part of the story just didn't jell with you, the readers.
4) Chapters 76-77: George appears in the rain and tells his story, followed by the disposal of the bottle. This part was more polarizing than anything else; feedback tended toward the extremes. Many of you loved it; some hated it. I had a few readers tell me this part was superfluous, added nothing to the story, and should have been left out. My intent was for it to be a somewhat roundabout way of tying up some loose ends.
Now, I'll step back and look at my own story with a critical eye. What part of the story, in my opinion, was most deserving of criticism when I posted it? Answer: None of the four I've listed here. My vote would go to the end of chapter 33, when Julia unceremoniously dumped Pat. It was too abrupt and out of character for Julia, at least the way I'd presented her up to that point. I regretted that turn of events almost immediately. A few readers did let me have it, but most of you let it pass without comment.
I pretty much painted myself into a corner at that point in the story. There were a lot of things going on: the band getting back together, the accident with Inez's parents, Pat making amends with Evie. Right after that, Pat shared his time travel secrets with Inez and Evie, which of course preceded Pat and Inez finally getting together. There was a strict sequence of events that I needed to adhere to, which caused Pat and Julia's breakup to be far more abrupt and jarring than I really wanted.
Luckily, I believe that this inconsistency was resolved a few chapters down the road, when Julia explained herself to Pat, about how guilt had been her primary motivation in breaking things off. I want to give credit where credit is due here: that scene was conceived by mcguy101, my behind-the-scenes collaborator over the second half of the story.
Enough negatives. Most of you really enjoyed the long buildup (over several chapters) to Pat and Inez finally getting together. Also, I was quite pleased to see that chapter 78, where Pat and Inez learned about their life in the other timeline, was met with almost unanimous approval.
Sometime around the middle of next week, I'll tell you more about my future writing plans. Let me throw out this teaser: Yes, a sequel of sorts to Lightning in a Bottle is on my agenda - although it probably won't be the next thing I tackle.