My Favorite Failure? -- by Jane Kelley

Who can choose a favorite anything? This question is impossible to answer for a parent of many children or an author of many books.

Failures are just as difficult––maybe because there are more of them. I've filled dozens of journals over the years. A few of those pages have made it into print. Most haven't. A character named Meredith actually appeared in three different works-in-progress, all of which are still buried in the scrap heap.

One persistent little fellow managed to rise from the dead. His name had changed from his early life, but his outrageous behavior was the same. So was his desire to be a super hero and save the day. And now his book sits on my shelf.

Fabulous cover by Jessika von Innerebner
I first wrote about Clint McCool shortly after my debut MG novel was published. Back then, his antics were too much for me. Just like the fictional grown-ups in his life, I had no idea how to control his manic energy. In fact one editor's comment on an early version was that he exhausted her. Zing, zong, zing! Clint McCool had way too many ideas––and so did I.

Luckily a wise editor Bonnie Bader suggested that maybe 300 pages of brain flashes were a little much. She asked me to turn the middle-grade novel into a chapter book. With those limits, Clint McCool was saved. When the publisher wanted a second book, I had plenty of escapades from that longer version ready to go. In Sol Ray Man and the Freaky Flood, I even got to use another of my favorite characters--Clint McCool's former babysitter.

Illustration by Jessika von Innerebner

Clint McCool and Mrs. Brussels were lucky. I doubt that poor Meredith will be. I don't dwell on the books that might have been. And yet many of my personal disappointments have provided subtexts for my novels. Nursing those losses has forced me to think deeply about them. That made them excellent grist for my mill.

You never know when a character from a failure will spring into action and, like Clint McCool, save the day.

In fact, my current work in progress relies upon that.

Eventually, I hope, it will be my new favorite failure.


  1. This is so, so true! Love that the strict limits of a chapter book helped you bring Clint McCool make it into the world!

  2. Great reminder that what "fails" in one format can succeed in another. Lately I adore and worship chapter books - I really don't want 300 pages of ANYTHING!


Post a Comment