A Story Idea Each Day for a Month (2016)

May 1st, 2016 by

An annual series I run every April: 30 story ideas I collect from news sources over the course of the year. These ideas are free for you to use, but more importantly, the series is a reminder about how important the story’s central concept is to the success of an original screenplay.

What If

Day 1: What Happened When Axl Rose Rented My Apartment.

Day 2: 14-year-old Muslim girl dreams to be the first hijabi ballet dancer.

Day 3: Guy Exploits Airline Loophole, Flies First Class Around The World.

Day 4: Before Gates, Zuckerberg, or Jobs, 6 women programmed the first digital computer.

Day 5: The Lost-Jewelry Hunters.

Day 6: Aussies getting their kicks in college football.

Day 7: The Billionaires at Burning Man.

Day 8: All-women team goes on the hunt for poachers in South Africa.

Day 9: A creepy clown in an orange jumpsuit is haunting one Wisconsin town.

Day 10: “The Way Out Wedding”.

Day 11: Put The Girl in Danger! The Radical Courage of Silent Movie Stuntwomen.

Day 12: Harvard debate team loses to prison debate team.

Day 13: The lives of the immigrant women who tend to the needs of others.

Day 14: What Does a Parrot Know About PTSD?

Day 15: Why a millionaire hired a Seal to kick his butt.

Day 16: Living and Dying on Airbnb.

Day 17: Is it OK to run an illegal library from my locker at school?

Day 18: An All-Refugee Team Will Compete in the Rio Olympics.

Day 19: The Battle Over the Sea-Monkey Fortune.

Day 20: A parent’s guide to dropping your kid off at college.

Day 21: Providing the Soundtrack for Life’s Last Moments.

Day 22: Small Town Turns to Crowdfunding to Save Itself From White Supremacists.

Day 23: 93-year-old man building aircraft on his own.

Day 24: The Rise of the Rocket Girls.

Day 25: Lost at sea: the man who vanished for 14 months.

Day 26: Chief exorcist says Devil is in Vatican.

Day 27: Lost iPhone, then strange photos start showing up in an iCloud account.

Day 28: They Built a Commune. No One Came.

Day 29: Graves of the Dead: A Mysterious Mound and What Was Inside.

Day 30: Confess all your sins to this robot.

The other series:

A Story Idea Each Day for a Month (2010)

A Story Idea Each Day for a Month (2011)

A Story Idea Each Day for a Month (2012)

A Story Idea Each Day for a Month (2013)

A Story Idea Each Day for a Month (2014)

A Story Idea Each Day for a Month (2015)

Remember: The best way to come up with a great story idea is to generate a lot of them.

A Story Idea Each Day for a Month — Day 30

April 30th, 2016 by

This is the seventh year in a row I’ve run this series in April.

Today’s story: Confess all your sins to this robot.

Have you ever wanted to confess your crimes, bear your soul, and spill your secrets? Have you ever thought, “No, better to not. Better to suffer in silence than take the wild gamble of confiding in another fallible human being?”

If so, lonely heart, there is a robot out there for you!

New York-based production company Third Party Films will be traveling around NYC in the coming weeks with a “pop-up confessional booth.” Volunteers can confess their sins to a robot that will “listen” to their stories and ask follow-up questions. The whole thing is supposedly being filmed for the pilot of an upcoming HBO documentary series about artificial intelligence.

Okay, I got it. The Catholic Church is facing a serious problem: A shortage of priests. Their average age is 63. Seminary enrollment is way down. One in five parishes does not have a resident priest. And the situation is only going to get worse.

Fortunately a Silicon Valley startup has a solution: Robot priests. They can baptize infants. Marry couples. Conduct funerals. Deliver sermons. Hospital visitations. And yes, even hear confessions.

Our story follows the adventures of Ignatius: Prototype Priest as he… er, it makes its way through daily ministry at a failing inner city parish. It’s a test, but the congregation, while having some misgivings, welcomes Ignatius and its programming chief Susannah into their fold.

Know what? Ignatius is pretty damn good at being a man of the cloth. Dressed in traditional priestly attire including a collar, since the robot has been downloaded with thousands of sermons, interviews with ministers of all stripes, and other such data, Ignatius has a wealth of content he can immediately sort through for just the right comment to a parishoner or line for a sermon.

Then a strange thing happens: Ignatius begins to feel empathy. Hearing confession after confession, people pouring out their souls, the robot starts to connect with the humans in the congregation. And the more human he becomes, his abilities as a minister change, no longer the perfect divinely inspired robot priest, but rather a flawed creature of God, just like the parishoners.

That’s a good enough setup and a solid idea for the final day of this series.

My thirtieth story idea for the month. And it’s yours. Free!

What would you do with it?

Each day this month, I invite you to join me in comments to do some brainstorming. Gender bend, genre bend, what if. Take each day’s story idea and see what it can become when we play around with it. These are all valuable skills for a writer to develop.

See you in comments (hit Reply to join the conversation). And come back tomorrow for another Story Idea Each Day For A Month.

A Story Idea Each Day for a Month — Day 29

April 29th, 2016 by

This is the seventh year in a row I’ve run this series in April.

Today’s story: Graves of the Dead: A Mysterious Mound and What Was Inside.

After starting in Pittsburgh, the Ohio River heads north and then quickly loops south, as if realizing the error in its ways. It is a place to get lost and to get found. The river bends and twists here with energy, like a snake caught by its tail. There is an optimism in the current, movement and ambition, married with the skeletons of our built world and those worlds that came before that rise out of the fields and hills along the banks. Sometimes in the grace of dawn these structures appear as nearly flesh and blood. But that hope recedes as the sun climbs over the hill, past the chestnuts and maples. Time and gravity wait to do their parts.

It’s hard in these settings not to think about the end of cultures, of species, and of ways of life. Maybe it’s the times we live in, with the polar bears trapped on their shrinking ice floes or the Amazon rain forest slowly succumbing to the chainsaw of development. Hard to say. It’s not just animals, of course. Extinction, the end and the uncertainty and mystery that come with it, covers a lot of ground. You know where it leads, but you are never really quite sure where you are on the journey.

What’s needed is a guidepost, which is both more and less than a mileage marker, meaningful and maybe a little muddy, like the river itself. That is the best way to approach the Grave Creek Mound, which is in the middle of the city of Moundsville, W. Va. It is in the state’s northern panhandle, with Ohio just across the river. Sometimes called the Mammoth Mound, it is the largest conical burial mound in the United States: 69 feet tall and roughly 900 feet in circumference.

Burial mounds are an unusual type of antiquity, beautiful in a way that an engineer can appreciate. By one measurement, Grave Creek contains 55,000 cubic yards of dirt. A standard wheelbarrow holds perhaps a quarter of a cubic yard, so you get the idea that this is a lot of earth that has to first be dug somewhere, then moved somewhere else and not just dumped willy-nilly on the ground but in the right spot at successively higher and more difficult-to-reach places.

These mounds dot the Ohio River valley, and they were among the earliest oddities encountered by explorers traveling the river in the late 1700s. A man named Joseph Tomlinson is said to be the first settler to come upon the Grave Creek Mound. In 1770, Tomlinson had moved from Maryland to the area, which at the time was the westernmost reach of the state of Virginia. He chose some promising land a few miles south of Wheeling and built a small cabin. One day, he was out hunting and shot a deer. His dog tracked the animal and Tomlinson skinned the deer. Heading home, he came to a rise. He walked up the wooded knoll and realized he was atop an enormous conical-shaped mound. Although the mound was only a quarter-mile or so from his cabin, it had been hidden there all along.

What if you were a family man. Doing pretty well for yourself. Looking for a getaway place out in the country where you could take the wife and kids for long weekends. Two hour drive from where you work in an urban environment, but deep in rural woods.

You’ve been scouting real estate listings for months, looking for a great deal. Then you spot it. A rustic cabin on a couple hundred acres. Incredible deal. You drive there to check it out. On your own. Want to surprise the family if the place checks out.

The cabin is a bit more rustic than you had hoped, but certainly livable. A little elbow grease and some touch-ups, it’d be fine as is. Can always remodel down the road after you make partner with the firm. The real estate agent is a bit odd, keeps glancing over her shoulder, this way and that. Nervous chatter. Something about “pay no attention to folks ’round here, what they may say, old wives tales is all.” You’re not really paying attention as you circle around the house, breathing deep the fresh air, taking  in the thick, verdant woods.

You’d like to check out the rest of the property and start off heading south, but the agent… months from now as you try to remember every detail that led you into this trauma, you will have forgotten how she clamped a bony hand around your elbow and steered you in another direction.

So you buy the place, the agent accepting the deal without hesitation when you offer $20,000 under the sales price. What a great deal!

The family loves it. Kids race around outside. No worries. That night with your son and daughter fast asleep, you and your wife make love to christen the place. Smart guy, you think. This was a great idea.

The next morning, you get up early. Tiptoe outside, don’t want to wake the family. Want to check out the property. A king and his domain!

Ten minutes into your exploration, you see it. The Mound. A huge ass steep hill sitting in the south side of your acreage. How did I not see this before? And what the hell is it?

You circle around the Mound. It’s just… bizarre, out here in the middle of nowhere, flat everywhere, then… this.

What’s that? A tunnel opening, almost entirely covered by overgrowth. You yank at weeds and vines. It’s a tunnel, all right. You pull out your cellphone. Gonna call the wife. Honey, you gotta see this. But that’s odd. No reception here. Works everywhere else on the property. Not here.

You turn on the phone flashlight app. Shine it into the tunnel. Hard-packed dirt floor, walls, and ceiling reinforced by wood support beams. Somebody went to a lot of trouble with this tunnel, though judging by the age of the wood, it’s been decades since it was built.

You should turn back. You should go home, get the family, show off this damn thing. But curiosity gets the better of you. Kneeling down, you creep inside the tunnel…

I think I’ll pretty much stop there. Don’t want to get into the name you see scratched into the wall: “R.L. Mickey, by God, here this day, April 19, 1825.” Or further on how you find walls streaked with red. Could that be dried blood? Or the odd clay tablet you find on the floor. Weird runic lettering. Not to mention the strange smells or that weird whistling sound like wind blowing… but this deep in the tunnel, not a trace of wind.

I can say this. You were really stupid — and you know this now as your life is being hacked out of you — to have ever taken a shovel to that tunnel and dug deeper into that goddamned Mound.

My twenty ninth story idea for the month. And it’s yours. Free!

What would you do with it?

Each day this month, I invite you to join me in comments to do some brainstorming. Gender bend, genre bend, what if. Take each day’s story idea and see what it can become when we play around with it. These are all valuable skills for a writer to develop.

See you in comments (hit Reply to join the conversation). And come back tomorrow for another Story Idea Each Day For A Month.

A Story Idea Each Day for a Month — Day 28

April 28th, 2016 by

This is the seventh year in a row I’ve run this series in April.

Today’s story: They Built a Commune. No One Came.

PITMAN, Pa. — They slept in the barn their first winter, on a straw mattress with antique linen sheets and a feather tick. There was no electricity, heat or plumbing, so they made their own candles, used a chamber pot and drew water from a spring.

They were born Michael Colby and Donald Graves, but once there, on 63 acres in the Mahantongo Valley, a bowl of land in central Pennsylvania, they changed their names to Christian and Johannes Zinzendorf and called themselves the Harmonists, inspired by a splinter group of 18th-century Moravian brothers who believed in the spiritual values of an agrarian life.

Their ideals were lofty but simple: They would live off the land, farming with Colonial-era tools, along with a band of like-minded men dressed in homespun robes wielding scythes and pickaxes. They would sleep in atmospheric log cabins and other 18th-century structures that they had rescued from the area and that they began to reconstruct, painstakingly, brick by crumbling brick and log by log.

But what if you built a commune, and no one came?

Christian and Johannes Zinzendorf at their Pennsylvania commune… for two

Johannes and Zephram met in the 1970s at a gay-consciousness-raising group in Salt Lake City, where both were attending college. They were each dabbling in various spiritual practices: Zephram was circling around the Wiccans, attracted by their earth-centered rituals, and Johannes was sampling Hinduism.

When you’re gay, Zephram pointed out, it is not always the case that traditional religions will welcome you. So alternatives beckon.

Salt Lake City was changing, they said; they could see their future mapped out there, and it was not an appealing one. “Successful urban gays, buying property, having cultural weekends in San Francisco,” Johannes said. “Save us.”

Inspired in part by the Mormons, they began to turn over the idea of starting an intentional community in a rural setting. But how to organize? What would be the guiding principle?

This has quirky indie comedy written all over it. A gay couple decide to start a commune. There is the FOOW (Fish Out Of Water) element a la the old “Green Acres” TV series, city slickers in the country. The rather absurd central conceit: Starting a commune. Tension with locals who cast a wary eye toward these outsiders purposefully dressing in 19th century garb, plowing with oxen, and living without any modern amenities.

And then how to market the commune? Ride their oxen to the nearest town with a gay bar, stride in with their muddy attire, and say, “Who wants to join our gay commune?”

Where I might take the story: Just about when things are looking really down, a knock at the door. It’s a young man. He wants to join the commune. A lost soul who is desperate to find himself.

Oh, yeah, he’s drop dead gorgeous. Like Chris Hemsworthy gorgeous.

Here our couple had retreated to a commune to find peace and live in harmony. Now with this new member of the group, there’s trouble on the home… er, commune front as jealousies arise as both make a play for the dude. And how about this: Chris the Hunk? One of the reasons he’s trying to find himself is he’s not exactly sure if he’s all the way gay. Adds a bit more comedic spice to the mix.

My twenty eighth story idea for the month. And it’s yours. Free!

What would you do with it?

Each day this month, I invite you to join me in comments to do some brainstorming. Gender bend, genre bend, what if. Take each day’s story idea and see what it can become when we play around with it. These are all valuable skills for a writer to develop.

See you in comments (hit Reply to join the conversation). And come back tomorrow for another Story Idea Each Day For A Month.

A Story Idea Each Day for a Month — Day 27

April 27th, 2016 by

This is the seventh year in a row I’ve run this series in April.

Today’s story: Lost iPhone, then strange photos start showing up in an iCloud account.

In the summer of 2013 my friend Maura lost her iPhone in the Hamptons… As Maura left the bar around closing time that Saturday night, she realized her phone had gone missing. She talked to bouncers and bartenders who professed ignorance, then had a friend call her phone, which went directly to voicemail. She’d gone out that night with the battery fully charged, which suggested that someone had found the phone and turned it off. When Maura got to her computer later that night, she went to her iCloud account and selected Find My iPhone. Since the phone was off, she wasn’t able to bring up a GPS-generated map of its location. But she checked the “notify me when found” box so she’d receive an email when her phone connected to the Internet again. She also put the phone in “Lost Mode,” which meant her phone display would flash a number where she could be reached so a sympathetic party could get in touch to return it.

Sunday passed without any further information and Maura returned to Manhattan. But on Monday morning, she received a message from Find My iPhone. The device had been located: It was currently in Harlem, at the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Towers, a housing project several blocks north of Central Park. She had no idea how her phone had made the 120-mile trek from Montauk to Manhattan, but she had a surreal vision of it traveling on its own, facing the same choices any yuppie would face: Do you catch a ride in someone’s car? Take the LIE? Or is it faster to hop on the Long Island Rail Road?

As soon as she received the email that Monday morning, Maura called her iPhone from her work phone. It rang once and then immediately went to voicemail. When she tried a second time, the phone was off again. She didn’t quite have a plan, she told me. If the GPS map had shown a more precise location—an exact apartment instead of a pin in the middle of a housing project—she would have asked the police to check it out. But since she had no idea who actually had the phone, she thought she might just call that person up and ask for it back.

But the phone stayed off for the next two weeks. She gave up hope of recovering it and switched to an old flip phone for a while. Soon afterwards, she moved to Canada, got another smartphone, and started a new job. The whole matter drifted almost entirely from her mind.

Then, in August, she got another email. Find My iPhone had located the device again: It was in Sana’a, Yemen. That’s when the pictures began appearing in her iCloud account.

You have to read the full story as it offers a strange one-way look through a mirror into the lives of people halfway around the world, unaware the photos they are taking are showing up in some young woman’s iCloud account in New York City.

However my mind zeroed in on this idea: What if the phone a young woman loses her iPhone. She tries to track it down. Sees it has traveled to another part of the city. Not a specific enough address. Calls it. Someone answers once. A weird thick silence on the other end. Hangs up. Never turns on again.

Then photos start to appear in the young woman’s iCloud, seemingly about a series of brutal murders. In fact, the images of victims show up on our Protagonist’s (Lynne) account before the victim’s body is discovered.

Lots of other weird photos appear which seem totally random like this…

And this…

Then a pattern begins to emerge, and over time, Lynne becomes convinced the person with the phone, presumably the killer, is teasing out clues — to Lynne!

So Lynne becomes ensnared in a psychological thriller involving the police, the FBI, her life completely turned upside and then the big twist: It appears the phone was actually stolen from her and the next victim is… her.

My work is done! My twenty seventh story idea for the month. And it’s yours. Free!

What would you do with it?

Each day this month, I invite you to join me in comments to do some brainstorming. Gender bend, genre bend, what if. Take each day’s story idea and see what it can become when we play around with it. These are all valuable skills for a writer to develop.

See you in comments (hit Reply to join the conversation). And come back tomorrow for another Story Idea Each Day For A Month.

A Story Idea Each Day for a Month — Day 26

April 26th, 2016 by

This is the seventh year in a row I’ve run this series in April.

Today’s story: Chief exorcist says Devil is in Vatican.

Father Gabriele Amorth said people who are possessed by Satan vomit shards of glass and pieces of iron.

He added that the assault on Pope Benedict XVI on Christmas Eve by a mentally unstable woman and the sex abuse scandals which have engulfed the Church in the US, Ireland, Germany and other countries, were proof that the Anti-Christ was waging a war against the Holy See.

“The Devil resides in the Vatican and you can see the consequences,” said Father Amorth, 85, who has been the Holy See’s chief exorcist for 25 years.

“He can remain hidden, or speak in different languages, or even appear to be sympathetic. At times he makes fun of me. But I’m a man who is happy in his work.”

Father Gabriele Amorth, the Vatican’s chief exorcist

In a rare insight into the world of exorcism, the Italian priest told La Repubblica newspaper that the 1973 film The Exorcist gave a “substantially exact” impression of what it was like to be possessed by the Devil.

People possessed by evil sometimes had to be physically restrained by half a dozen people while they were exorcised. They would scream, utter blasphemies and spit out sharp objects, he said.

“From their mouths, anything can come out – pieces of iron as long as a finger, but also rose petals,” said Father Amorth, who claims to have performed 70,000 exorcisms. “When the possessed dribble and slobber, and need cleaning up, I do that too. Seeing people vomit doesn’t bother me. The exorcist has one principal duty – to free human beings from the fear of the Devil.”

What if you were the Roman Catholic Church’s chief exorcist and you received visitors from a country like the Ukraine, officials from the state government. They request you to accompany them on a most urgent matter: The President of the country, they believe, has been possessed by demons. Worse, the country is holding a secret cachet of nuclear weapons which the President is threatening to use to instigate a nuclear holocaust.

That’s about a clean a set-up for a story as you can get.

It’s The Exorcist meets Dr. Strangelove.

There you go: My twenty sixth story idea for the month. And it’s yours. Free!

What would you do with it?

Each day this month, I invite you to join me in comments to do some brainstorming. Gender bend, genre bend, what if. Take each day’s story idea and see what it can become when we play around with it. These are all valuable skills for a writer to develop.

See you in comments (hit Reply to join the conversation). And come back tomorrow for another Story Idea Each Day For A Month.

A Story Idea Each Day for a Month — Day 25

April 25th, 2016 by

This is the seventh year in a row I’ve run this series in April.

Today’s story: Lost at sea: the man who vanished for 14 months.

As they motored across the lagoon in the Marshall Islands, deep in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the policemen stared at the specimen laid out on the deck before them. There was no hiding the fact that this man had been at sea for a considerable time. His hair was matted upwards like a shrub. His beard curled out in wild disarray. His ankles were swollen, his wrists tiny; he could barely walk. He refused to make eye contact and often hid his face.

Salvador Alvarenga, a 36-year-old fisherman from El Salvador, had left the coast of Mexico in a small boat with a young crewmate 14 months earlier. Now he was being taken to Ebon Atoll, the southernmost tip of the Marshall Islands, and the closest town to where he had washed ashore. He was 6,700 miles from the place he had set out from. He had drifted for 438 days.

Floating across the Pacific Ocean, watching the moon’s light ebb and flow for over a year, Alvarenga had battled loneliness, depression and bouts of suicidal thinking. But surviving in a vibrant world of wild animals, vivid hallucinations and extreme solitude did little to prepare him for the fact that he was about to become an international celebrity and an object of curiosity.

Days later, Alvarenga faced the world’s press. Dressed in a baggy brown sweatshirt that disguised his reedy torso, he disembarked from a police boat slowly but unaided. Expecting a gaunt and bedridden victim, a ripple of disbelief went through the crowd. Alvarenga cracked a quick smile and waved to the cameras. Several observers noted a similarity to the Tom Hanks character in the movie Cast Away. The photo of the bearded fisherman shuffling ashore went viral. Briefly, Alvarenga became a household name.

Cast Away. Also All Is Lost. So perhaps not a straight-ahead survival story. Been there, done that. Two alternate approaches. First, what if we followed the life of a survivor after the trauma? Here is a taste of what that could look like from the article:

Life on land has not been straightforward: for months, Alvarenga was still in shock. He had developed a deep fear of not only the ocean, but even the sight of water. He slept with the lights on and needed constant company.

The survivor. The survivor’s family and friends. Survivor’s guilt. PTSD. Paranoia. Nightmares. How to handle what the rest of us call a “normal life”?

It wasn’t until a year later, when the fog of confusion subsided and he scanned the maps of his drift across the Pacific Ocean, that Alvarenga began to fathom his extraordinary journey. For 438 days, he lived on the edge of sanity. “I suffered hunger, thirst and an extreme loneliness, and didn’t take my life,” Alvarenga says. “You only get one chance to live – so appreciate it.”

So a positive transformation arc. Or maybe not. A second take. Let’s switch Protagonists. A family. Husband. Wife. Adolescent children. They are wealthy and have a remote island retreat. In fact, the own the island and when they visit, which they do once a year for a month, they are the only inhabitants.

One fine morning while taking their morning walk on the beach, they stumble upon a man in the tide. Barely alive. The Survivor manages to say he was afloat for hundreds of days in the ocean in boat destroyed by a storm.

Of course, you take him in. You start to nurse him back to health. Hard to do with his ranting, raving, and hallucinations. You call on your radio for help. But for some reason, the radio isn’t working.

Then strange things start to happen. Water supply damaged. Food spoiled. And the Survivor becomes hostile, even threatening.

Here you are stuck with a seeming mad man… with no help in sight.

It’s Cast Away meets Dead Calm.

There you go: My twenty fifth story idea for the month. And it’s yours. Free!

What would you do with it?

Each day this month, I invite you to join me in comments to do some brainstorming. Gender bend, genre bend, what if. Take each day’s story idea and see what it can become when we play around with it. These are all valuable skills for a writer to develop.

See you in comments (hit Reply to join the conversation). And come back tomorrow for another Story Idea Each Day For A Month.

A Story Idea Each Day for a Month — Day 24

April 24th, 2016 by

This is the seventh year in a row I’ve run this series in April.

Today’s story: The Rise of the Rocket Girls.

In “The Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars,” microbiologist Nathalia Holt reclaims the role of these unheralded women scientists in the field that has enchanted humanity’s collective imagination more powerfully than any other: space exploration.

The computers, 1953. First row, left to right: Ann Dye, Gail Arnett, Shirley Clow, Mary Lawrence, Sally Platt, Janez Lawson, Patsy Nyeholt, Macie Roberts, Patty Bandy, Glee Wright, Janet Chandler, Marie Crowley, Rachel Sarason, and Elaine Chappell. Second row: Isabel deWaard, Pat Beveridge, Jean O’Neill, Olga Sampias, Leontine Wilson, Thais Szabados, Coleen Veeck, Barbara Lewis, Patsy Riddell, Phyllis Buwalda, Shelley Sonleitner, Ginny Swanson, Jean Hinton, and Nancy Schirmer. (Photograph courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech)

In the 1940s, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, managed by Caltech, began recruiting these “human computers” — mathematically skilled women with fingers callused from gripping a pencil eight hours a day as they performed calculations that launched the first American satellite and directed the earliest missions exploring the Solar System. When Neil Armstrong made his “giant leap for mankind,” there was womankind in the control room. When the Voyager carried humanity’s message into the cosmos, the “computers” had calculated and scrutinized its trajectory. When the science boyband of Carl Sagan, Ray Bradbury, and Arthur C. Clarke sat down to discuss Mars and the future of space exploration on national television as the Mariner 9 mission was about to become the first spacecraft to orbit another planet, the women whose meticulous computations had powered the mission were nowhere to be seen.

Every moonshot, every so-called “manned” or “unmanned” mission hailed as a feat of human ingenuity, was womanned behind the scenes.

Check out this one anecdote:

The young woman’s heart was pounding. Her palms were sweaty as she gripped the pencil. She quickly scribbled down the numbers coming across the Teletype. She had been awake for more than sixteen hours but felt no fatigue. Instead, the experience seemed to be heightening her senses. Behind her she could sense Richard Feynman, the famous physicist, peeking at her graph paper. He stood looking over her shoulder, occasionally sighing. She knew that her every move was being carefully watched, her calculations closely studied. Her work would inform mission control if the first American satellite would be a success or a crushing failure.

Hours earlier, before the satellite had been launched, her boyfriend had wished her luck. He hadn’t quite gotten used to the fact that his girlfriend worked late nights as an integral part of the American space program. Before leaving, he gave her a quick kiss. “I love you even if the dang thing falls in the ocean,” he said with a smile.

—-

Her pride was similarly tied to the fate of the satellite. She’d been here at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory from its earliest days, helping to design the rockets powering the tube-shaped spacecraft that was no heavier than a toddler. Now the project’s ultimate fate was hers to reveal.

As she plotted a curved line across the orange graph paper, she realized the trajectory was coming close to the point of no return. If the satellite passed this point, it would leave the atmosphere, begin circling the globe, and become the first American space-success story. The future of space exploration rested on this moment.

—-

Her pride was similarly tied to the fate of the satellite. She’d been here at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory from its earliest days, helping to design the rockets powering the tube-shaped spacecraft that was no heavier than a toddler. Now the project’s ultimate fate was hers to reveal.

As she plotted a curved line across the orange graph paper, she realized the trajectory was coming close to the point of no return. If the satellite passed this point, it would leave the atmosphere, begin circling the globe, and become the first American space-success story. The future of space exploration rested on this moment.

This is a story of hard science and sexism. At the time, only 1% of engineers were female and it wasn’t until the 70s Cal Tech opened admission to women.

There are dozens of women profiled in the book “The Rise of the Rocket Girls”. Pick a select few who worked at the same time and you’ve got the makings of a movie.

First thing: See if the book’s rights are available for option.

There you go: My twenty fourth story idea for the month. And it’s yours. Free!

What would you do with it?

Each day this month, I invite you to join me in comments to do some brainstorming. Gender bend, genre bend, what if. Take each day’s story idea and see what it can become when we play around with it. These are all valuable skills for a writer to develop.

See you in comments (hit Reply to join the conversation). And come back tomorrow for another Story Idea Each Day For A Month.

A Story Idea Each Day for a Month — Day 23

April 23rd, 2016 by

This is the seventh year in a row I’ve run this series in April.

Today’s story: 93-year-old man building aircraft on his own.

As a teenager, Russell Solheim would hop on his bike and try to fly alongside the World War I-era planes passing over Sturtevant. When he wasn’t trying to fly, he’d spend his time creating model planes, based on what he’d seen in the skies.

Today, the 93-year-old Racine resident is trying to build a life-size model.

With each passing year, Solheim attempts to touch the sky with his flying car, a one-man vehicle that could ideally take to the roads and air.

Russell Solheim and his flying car

Solheim patented his design in 2001 and has been building and refining it ever since. He believes he is done building the flying car. Now he has to run some experiments and get it off the ground.

Echoes of my favorite Pixar movie Up. Let’s see what we can brainstorm for a story setup.

Carl in Up is a widower, so what if we went the opposite direction? Russ is a lifelong bachelor. A lifelong dreamer of big things, he has invented and patented dozens of items like the Chork (chopstick and fork), edible spray paint, an egg cuber, twirling spaghetti fork, and the like. The revenue from his inventions, although meager, has been enough so that he’s never had to work a traditional job a single day of his life.

What this also means is that Russ is socially awkward and terribly shy. The person with which he carries on a majority of his conversation is… himself. He talks aloud all the time, asking questions, then answering them, giving himself a hearty congratulations when he does well, offering a pep talk when he’s feeling blue.

Now in his 70s and facing down the prospect of his inevitable death… with no remaining family members and only a handful of people in his neighborhood who even know the slightest bit about him… Russ finds himself in the midst of his Great Project: To build a flying car. This will be his legacy. This will be a thousand times more important than all of his many inventions up to this point combined.

Something happens. What could be the Call To Adventure? What if a new neighbor moves in? Let’s call her Lynn and she is a 36 year-old, multicolored hair, tattooed, divorced lesbian. She inherited the place from her grandmother, the house having sat vacant for a few years after the old lady passed away. Russ enjoyed that, one less distraction on that side of his house. But Lynn is a bombastic type with an affinity for heavy metal music while she works on quilts, her one solid skill set. She has straggled back to this tiny Midwestern town, her tail between her legs, a failed marriage, a lost job, and a heavy daily habit of pot-smoking.

Where to go with this? One scene I’d like to see — some time in Act Two — is Lynn corralling Russ to travel to the nearest city and visit a gay bar on lesbian night.

I am thinking Lynn develops a strong curiosity in Russ’ flying car, sneaking into his workshop in his back yard. Perhaps over time, needing help with some tough final mechanical tasks, he is forced to ask for Lynn’s assistance.

Is there an invention competition? Maybe after a successful flight, a wealthy inventor swoops in to buy the rights to Russ’ flying car.

I just had this thought for an ending: The rights to his invention stolen out from underneath his nose… and both he and Lynn severely depressed… what if they take off for one final flight, soaring higher than the aeromobile has gone before… with the intention of crashing in an open field and committing joint suicide…

They crash… then out of the wreckage, they emerge. Miraculously they both survive. They sit among the wreckage, dazed, bruised, and bloodied. Russ peers at Lynn. Lynn blinks at Russ. “How about a drink,” she asks. Russ offers a little smile.

Cut to the gay bar where the whole place is dancing to some raucous disco tune, Russ and Lynn grinning from ear to ear.

There you go: My twenty third story idea for the month. And it’s yours. Free!

What would you do with it?

Each day this month, I invite you to join me in comments to do some brainstorming. Gender bend, genre bend, what if. Take each day’s story idea and see what it can become when we play around with it. These are all valuable skills for a writer to develop.

See you in comments (hit Reply to join the conversation). And come back tomorrow for another Story Idea Each Day For A Month.

A Story Idea Each Day for a Month — Day 22

April 22nd, 2016 by

This is the seventh year in a row I’ve run this series in April.

Today’s story: Small Town Turns to Crowdfunding to Save Itself From White Supremacists.

Hundreds of miles from any major metropolitan center, lies the tiny town of Antler, North Dakota. Founded in 1905, the most recent U.S. census report pegs its population at just 27 people. It’s home to what claims to be the world’s largest historical quilt and, this year, has already far outspent its entire annual budget of $20,000. But, rather than being a case of fiscal irresponsibility or frivolous municipal pork barrel spending, Antler’s monitory woes are the result of the town’s efforts to block a group of white supremacists from buying land for the purpose of establishing a whites-only enclave in the town.

Over the past year, members of the white nationalist “Creativity Movement” have been making bids on property around Antler, in the hopes of purchasing enough land in town to found their all-white community–one which movement leader Craig Cobb plans to name “Trump Creativity” after his favorite politician. Antler officials, rightfully horrified at the thought of their home becoming a haven for racism, went on the attack, making their own offers to buy a number of privately held lots being looked at by the Creativity Movement. Jim Lozensky, the former Antler resident selling the property in question, ultimately accepted the city’s bids over those of Cobb and his followers, according to the Grand Forks Herald.

In fact, reports Gizmodo, the town ended up spending nearly twice that–$35,000 in total–in order to stymie the Creativity Movement’s plans. And so, while the properties in question may be off the market, Antler itself is in some serious financial trouble. In response, Antler city council and zoning board member Mark Jorgensen has turned to an unlikely source for help: Crowdfunding.

World’s Largest Quilt in Antler, North Dakota

You see a headline like that, it gets your attention. And at first, I was thinking this would be a comedy. I mean, come on: Town of 27 people. World’s largest quilt. White supremacists. GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign.

Then I thought of the movie High Noon.

The notorious Miller gang entering the town of Hadleyville in the movie High Noon

What if a town like Antler, ND was dying. 27 residents. Most stores shut down, houses empty. Then the last month or so, a lawyer in the employ of an unnamed individual came to town and laying out cold, hard cash, starting buying up abandoned properties. At first, citizens were thrilled to see this new source of revenue. However after it became apparent this individual was buying up most of the town, suspicions set it: Who is the buyer?

Turns out the locals are smart to be suspicious because by the middle of Act One, who shows up but a group of white supremacists led by the shrewd, but cruel extremist ideologue Miller. Now that they own over half the town, procured legally, they intend to establish a white supremacist colony.

Much like High Noon, the townspeople gather to forge a plan. And while they may have a rifle in each home, it’s nothing compared to the arsenal Miller’s group creates, stashing their weaponry in one of the buildings they’ve bought and setting an armed guard there.

There is no legal precedent the locals can lean on to resolve the situation. Even when Miller’s group begins to threaten and scare the locals, with no law being broken, the sheriff from the nearest town is unable to do anything to help.

I see several subplots relationships, each exploring the building terror of extremists whose goal is to do what they can to force the locals to leave, thereby ‘cleansing’ the town, so its only residents will be ideologues like Miller and his gang.

And yes, there’s violence ahead.

There you go: My twenty second story idea for the month. And it’s yours. Free!

What would you do with it?

Each day this month, I invite you to join me in comments to do some brainstorming. Gender bend, genre bend, what if. Take each day’s story idea and see what it can become when we play around with it. These are all valuable skills for a writer to develop.

See you in comments (hit Reply to join the conversation). And come back tomorrow for another Story Idea Each Day For A Month.