by Margaret Chiu Greanias 

Since 2020, I’ve been distracted. By the pandemic. By my kids being home twenty-four seven (hello distance learning!). By the election.

My creative energy, like my time, has been sapped. But one thing that invigorates me, even during times like these, is the promise of a new story idea. Yes, this is why I love Storystorm.

Today, instead of focusing outward for a source of inspiration, I’m focusing inward—on our own failed and discarded stories.


If you’re like me, you have tens if not hundreds of partially written and even finished stories. These may range from stories that never left your computer (or notebook) all the way to stories that went on submission but were never acquired. They are stories that are still unfinished puzzles, stories that were never quite right, stories that weren’t marketable enough, stories that never found the right champion. They are the stories we shelved, never intending to read them again.

But WHAT IF one of these stories has:

  • a character you love but just wasn’t in the right story?
  • a side character that deserves a story of their own?
  • a fantastic world that doesn’t shine because the others story elements didn’t work?
  • a concept or problem that still resonates with you?
  • a phrase, a metaphor, some dialogue, or a description—perhaps insignificant to the failed story—that could become the nugget of a new story?
  • a story element, when woven together with other elements from other failed stories, that could be made into an entirely new story?

Just because a story didn’t work as a whole doesn’t mean it has no value. These stories are mineable. Elements from these stories could be the inspiration for something new, something fresh, something fantastic.

My picture book AMAH FARAWAY, publishing next year by Bloomsbury, began as a failed story. The central concept, one of the growing relationship between a girl and her long-distance grandmother and ancestral culture, is close to my heart. It’s the story of my own experience growing up with a grandmother who lived in a different country. Our necessarily infrequent visits always began with shyness and always ended with not wanting to say goodbye.

The failed story was called GRANDMA ROBOT. It involved a girl, her stand-in robot grandmother, and her actual grandmother who lived very far away. I wrote it, revised it, and re-wrote it many times. But I could never get it quite right (now I see why—another benefit of re-reading these long-filed away stories).

Several years later, I was determined to write a story in a format based on the poem “Lost Generation” by Jonathon Reed. Read forward, the poem has a pessimistic tone. But read in reverse (from bottom to top), the tone transforms. The effect is amazing, and I get chills whenever I read the poem.

My idea was to write a story using a similar format. The first half would be the forward read, and the second half would be the reverse read. I thought for months about what kind of story would fit this structure. Finally, I remembered the central concept behind GRANDMA ROBOT and…

AMAH FARAWAY was born.

A child gets to know her Taiwanese grandmother during an all-too-rare visit. AMAH FARAWAY is an intergenerational story in a unique format. In the first half of the story, Kylie keeps Amah at arm’s length. The story peaks in the middle with an invitation from Amah which Kylie accepts. After this, the story lines reverse, and their relationship transforms!

So, take another read through your failed yet mineable stories—there may be a promising story idea waiting to be discovered.

Margaret Chiu Greanias writes stories with heart for children. She is the author of MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS (illustrated by Lesley Breen Withrow) and the forthcoming AMAH FARAWAY (illustrated by Tracy Subisak). Even though she wrote her first terrifically terrible book at age 9, it wasn’t until age 46 that she became a published author. She currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, three children, and a fluffle of dust bunnies.

Visit her online at, or on Twitter @margaretgreania, Instagram @margaretgreanias and Facebook.

Margaret is giving away a non-rhyming picture book and a copy of MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS from Running Press Kids.

Two separate winners will be randomly selected.

Leave one comment below to enter.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below.