Failure If You Let It: A Tale of Extreme Revision by Laurel Snyder
This week, My Jasper June is finding its way into the hands of young readers for the first time. This makes me unbelievably happy for a lot of reasons. But among those reasons is a terrible truth—the fact that My Jasper June was a total and complete failure. An absolute disaster.
Not THIS book, the book with the beautiful green cover, the book that begins, “The heavy doors of the school swung open…”. But the first book I titled My Jasper June, about two girls named Leah and Jasper— in a secret place called The Vine Realm. The book I wrote five years ago. THAT book was a dismal mess.
I’d known for a long time that I wanted to write it—My Jasper June. The title had been stuck in my head for years. And the premise, a story of two girls in need, two girls who find each other at the exact right moment. Two girls who hide away from the world, and all their grownups, in a secret kudzu-tangled place. And one day, I sat down, opened a Word document, and the words… flowed out of me, like magic.
I wrote it more quickly than I usually write. I told myself that this was because I’d been imagining Jasper and Leah for so long. I told myself that I’d already written the book in my head, really, and just needed to type it, get the story down on the page. It took me two months, and when I was done, I sat back, stared at THE END, and felt incredibly excited.
Then I sent it to my agent, and she called me on the phone to say something she’d never said to me before. That I should stop working on it, shelve it. She said the book wasn’t good. She said she didn’t think it was the story I wanted it to be. Specifically, she said that the magic in the book (in that draft, Leah discovered Jasper had actually time-traveled from the past) was a problem. That it undermined the stakes of the story, made it hard for the reader to care.
I was devastated, heartbroken. I felt like these girls I loved had been snatched away from me. I felt like I’d failed them, neglected to weave a story they could inhabit. But I trust my agent completely, and in a decade of working together, she’d never said anything like this to me before. So I did the deed—moved the “My Jasper June” document into my junk file, and took a long hot shower.
Honestly, it took a long time to write after that. I spent the following months watching reruns of The West Wing and volunteering to shelve books at the school library. I mourned Jasper and Leah as if they had died. But as happens, time passed and I felt better, so that another story welled up inside me, about nine kids and a magical green boat. I spent the following two years writing Orphan Island. And that turned out pretty well.
But then Orphan Island was finished and published, and it was time to write something new again, and I found I could NOT move forward. My mind kept wandering back to Jasper and Leah, back to the Vine Realm. And I wondered—might it be possible to try again? Could I give them a new story, a better story? Could I fix something so broken? It felt sort of like dating an ex-boyfriend after many months apart, and I wondered if I’d been away from My Jasper June long enough that our past issues wouldn’t get in the way, resurface.
I decided that I would try, but that if it was going to work, this needed to be a NEW book, and not a remix of the old one. I stared at the screen of my laptop, at the icon for my junk file, and made myself a promise. That I would begin fresh, with a basic concept, two girls, and nothing else. I would lose the time slip, and I would never ever look at that original draft again. Or at least not until the book was published.
I sat down and began to write.
It took much longer this time, and I could feel right away that it was working. Jasper and Leah felt so real to me, and I carried them wherever I went, for about a year. I was nervous, but optimistic. This wasn’t really a revision, but a whole new book. And yet, the fact that I was doing it, recreating The Vine Realm, stepping back into Jasper and Leah’s world, erased my sense of failure. The experience made it feel like anything was possible. As if nothing—no messy disaster of a book, no idea for a story—could ever really die.Maybe, I thought, all the stories I’ve ever created and abandoned are still waiting for me somewhere…
As of September 3, My Jasper June exists in the world. Leah and Jasper walk and talk and tell their secrets to young readers, and I celebrate that fact. l am so proud. That I didn’t give up on them. That I learned something new about how to hold on, how to believe in myself and my stories. I’m so grateful for what this book taught me: that failure only happens if you let it.
And you know what else? Maybe then, I’ll pour myself a strong cup of coffee and open up my junk file, revisit the mess I made. And feel good about it. Grateful. Ready to learn the next lesson, whatever it might be.
Laurel Snyder is the author of picture books and novels for children, including National Book Award nominee Orphan Island and the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award winner Charlie & Mouse. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she currently teaches in Hamline University’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program. She lives in Atlanta with her family and can be found online atwww.laurelsnyder.com.
About the Book
Laurel Snyder, author of Orphan Island, returns with another unforgettable story of the moments in which we find out who we are, and the life-altering friendships that show us what we can be.
The school year is over, and it is summer in Atlanta. The sky is blue, the sun is blazing, and the days brim with possibility. But Leah feels. . . lost. She has been this way since one terrible afternoon a year ago, when everything changed. Since that day, her parents have become distant, her friends have fallen away, and Leah’s been adrift and alone.
Then she meets Jasper, a girl unlike anyone she has ever known. There’s something mysterious about Jasper, almost magical. And Jasper, Leah discovers, is also lost.
Together, the two girls carve out a place for themselves, a hideaway in the overgrown spaces of Atlanta, away from their parents and their hardships, somewhere only they can find.
But as the days of this magical June start to draw to a close, and the darker realities of their lives intrude once more, Leah and Jasper have to decide how real their friendship is, and whether it can be enough to save them both.