Category Archives: The Idea Mill

The Idea Mill #37

I’ve been neglecting the blog a bit lately. Some of this is because I’ve been writing tour posts for Viral Blues. I’m trying to trickle these things out a bit this time, rather than crunch over a ten day period.

Fall is finally here, and October is my favorite month of the year. I’m looking forward to it. I’m already surrounded by pumpkin beer and a few other Fall favorites. My Asian pear tree is loaded and I’ve been eating those like crazy.

Viral Blues has already been a topic here, and there will be some reblogs from the sites I visit, but I also need some new content at Entertaining Stories. This brings me back to the Idea Mill.

I write speculative fiction, and require a source of inspiration for my stories. You guys might, too. That’s why I share these articles on occasion. They also tend to give a bit of legitimacy when you decide to push the envelope from here on.

Our first article involves brain reading technology from our old friends Facebook. (Scary enough) Currently this involves implanting sensors on the surface of the brain, but Facebook wants to move beyond that. The technology started off trying to improve the lives of the handicapped.

It seems to involve a kind of predictive text, and the article makes an interesting conclusion that eventually the technology will outpace the human. Could it be that some kind of AI will pay our bills before they arrive? Maybe it will write our next novel, because it can predict what we’re going to come to eventually?

The real loss is invasion of privacy. Our most intimate thoughts could go into a database somewhere. In the hands of Facebook, this is already a nightmare.

Imagine a future world where people start tossing around words like sedition, or treason based upon minor thoughts that flashed through your brain. The article goes on and makes the frog in a pot of water comparison, that we could lose our freedoms slowly and not understand the ramifications until it’s too late.

Elon Musk is involves in a competing project, but his goal is to merge artificial intelligence with humanity. His project wouldn’t just predict our thoughts, the technology would also be able to write to the human brain. Imagine a planet of worker drones with no thought the AI didn’t give them.

There have to be a million novels that could be written about this. Read the article here.

Next, how about some stowaway creatures on the moon. It seems Israel crashed something into the moon. There was an experiment onboard involving microscopic creatures called water bears.

These little guys can survive nearly anywhere, but are unlikely to colonize the moon. The article indicates the experiment was snuck onto the capsule at the last minute. There are no laws or protocols for shipping organisms into space.

That’s where the real beauty of this article lies for a fictioner. Imagine someone like… Elon Musk, operating without regulations and contaminating space vessels or celestial bodies. I seem to remember experiments with bees on Skylab or something. It wouldn’t be too hard to seed a Mars colony with killer bees.

We all know to keep away from large predators. You don’t hug a grizzly in Yellowstone. What about microscopic predators we never give a second though? Put them in space, add some tonnage based upon a different environment with no natural predators, and you could have a crew facing giant blood sucking mites.

Take a space station, like Skylab which actually crashed back to Earth, and you can write a story similar to The Blob, only use gigantic amoeba that were originally an experiment. This is the article.

The final article blew my mind. It isn’t the subject itself, it’s the implications of the story. First the story. There is a piece of music that seems to be some kind of pop tune from the eighties. Nobody knows where it came from, who performed it, or who wrote it.

Thousands of people have spent thousands of hours trying to solve this mystery. If you think about recording studios, artists, agents, contracts, and the idea that someone would normally claim it, this lack of records is baffling.

This is how it went crazy for me. Humans have always saved things. In ancient times, there was the library of Alexandria. Post Gutenberg, we came up with different libraries, including the Library of Congress. We have patent offices, copyright registries, and more.

Today, everything is electronic. There isn’t a paper copy of any story I’ve written. They’re created on a word processor, and the entire process is electronic. ICloud and huge databases are our archives today. And yet, something has gone missing in the background of this song.

Think about deeds, marriage certificates, Supreme Court decisions, all in the future of course, and corruption could be a real problem. One missing line in a contract could change the entire meaning of the contract.

I also remember a bit from Jurassic Park about referring to DNA as lines of code. This is where they revealed using frog DNA to repair the lines. Electronic documents are just lines of code. We view them by feeding those codes to a program that reveals them as documents.

My mind goes to any of those archaeological adventures we’ve all seen. We need to recover the pieces of X before the bad guy does. I feel like I’m on the verge of a whole new genre here, only my hero could be searching the cloud for missing lines of code that change the way a court decision is interpreted. This would have to be futuristic, but in modern comparison, imagine a few lines missing from the Rowe vs. Wade decision. The entire thing could be interpreted differently.

Maybe the bad guys are hackers who intentionally delete lines of code to change the world to their image of what it should be. Maybe they replace them with words of their choosing… It blows my mind to think about. I hate to give credit to anything in the blockchain world, but the idea that multiple people have a copy makes it nearly impossible to tamper with those records.

Here is the simple article that sent me down this path. Yes, you can listen to the song on one of the links. Whoever it is.

Part of these posts is me hashing out a corny story using all of the posts. Away we go…

Mars is overrun by giant man-eating poodles. The evidence seems to suggest NASA approved a program where all of the colonists were allowed a service animal, but nobody told the colonists. They didn’t bring them to their new home.

Our hero has spent a year trying to find the original mission orders, but suspects they were corrupted somehow. He meets up with someone who has the brain reading technology that allows her to dive deeper into the internet and search for the missing lines of code that will reveal the true orders. The only problem is the poodle-master is writing code into her brain faster than they can repair the changes.

Corny enough for you? Can you see stories centered around any of these articles? What would you do with one of them?

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The Idea Mill #36

It’s been about six months since we visited the old Idea Mill. I’ve save a few articles over that time, but they don’t seem to be showing up as fast as they used to. Then there’s the other fact: I’ve been busy. It’s time to put some of the fun things back into this blog, so we’re returning to the Idea Mill today.

My basis for posting these is that I write speculative fiction. I know many of you do too. This kind of fiction always requires a leap of faith. Because of that, it’s important to base much of what we do on fact. It makes that leap easier to make for our readers. These articles are to kick your Muse, but also ground your story elements in a bit of reality.

Our first one involves how muggles used to protect themselves from witches. They looked upon their homes as defensible spaces. I guess if you were out shopping you were on your own. They did this by building various items into their homes, behind walls, under the threshold, that kind of thing. They hid worn out shoes, which includes an interesting theory about the devil. Desiccated animals were popular, cats being a major target. There is even a tutorial about making your own witch bottle. Hint: Drink a lot of coffee before you start. Read the article here.

You could make a neat character who is kind of an anti-witch. He or she makes things to protect against witchcraft. Of course, eventually, someone figures out this is also witchcraft and turns people against your heroine. I still have those con artists who sell curses and counter curses on the back burner somewhere. They are actually a married couple and work to get people spending with them. They might fit into a future volume of Lanternfish now that I think about it.

Our next article is about an archeological site that is a graveyard of sorts. There are a couple of intriguing graves, including one that appears to have been buried with live horses still harnessed to a chariot. The most interesting one is a young warrior who appears to have died of natural causes. However, he was “killed” again before burial by stabbing him repeatedly and bashing his head in. Here is the link.

I’m sure we can come up with all kinds of undead stories for the young warrior. Maybe he did pass from natural causes, but rose from his grave as something else requiring the re-killing.

The charioteer is just as interesting. What if he volunteered to go to the other side and wage war against the zombie hoard, or vampire uprising?

Obviously, these monster tales take a leap of faith, but it’s cool knowing about the real burial practices that could fit into your story.

Finally, we have the world’s first 3-D printed human heart from the donor’s own genetic material. We’ve known this was coming for a long time. It seem to me I posted once before about this, and it was based upon growing the heart muscle on a framework of spider silk. This one is tiny, but it proves a lot of the science to make it a real thing. Read the article here.

This one screams science fiction, particularly that ten-minutes-into-the-future kind I love. It makes some neat scenery for your Dr. McCoy kind of characters.

I like the idea of people being people, and may be able to work with this to a degree myself. We stop taking care of ourselves, because insurance allows us to grow our own spare parts and store them at the hospital. Go ahead and destroy your liver, there’s a brand new one when you need it. Lung cancer, Ha! I already have the cure in the freezer. Maybe every teenage sports star has a jar of replacement ulnar collateral ligaments in dad’s freezer.

I like to make up my own corny outline for these posts, so here goes nothing:

A young soldier returns from Afghanistan, but dies suddenly of natural causes. He rises from the grave as a vampire and starts giving all the local girls hickeys.

Terrified townies start dehydrating their cats and making witch bottles from a YouTube tutorial to keep him out of their homes. They’re safe, but don’t dare go outside. Resources are running out.

A hero arises, and volunteers to fight the vampire in the netherworld. To do this, he has to die and be buried with the weapons he needs on the other side. The only way to bring him back after the battle is by placing a fresh beating heart in his chest. Fortunately, he has good insurance and one is waiting for him at the hospital.

They bury him alive, but instead of a living horse, he gets a Humvee with the motor running, and a .50 caliber machine-gun.

The only way the locals can tell if the job is finished is to watch the vampire’s body for signs of damage. Once he’s thoroughly mangled in the afterlife, they plant him, dig up the hero and stitch in his brand new heart. Happy ever after with some kind of diatribe about how growing the heart was covered, replacing it wasn’t covered, medical bankruptcy etc.

***

I hope something here inspired you with a new story idea, some kind of setting, or scenery you can make use of.

I gave the Idea Mill posts their own category to make for simple surfing. Lookit, right over there in the sidebar.

All you have to do is click the Idea Mill category and the posts will filter down to more of these.

I’d love to hear from you guys. What would you do with one (or more) of these? Have I given you any ideas for your stories. Maybe a line for your notebooks somewhere for future use? Talk to me.

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The Idea Mill #35

We haven’t been down to the Idea Mill for about seven months. To be honest, I’ve been to busy in other areas to do the research. I still have my feeds, but there hasn’t been a lot to get excited about. There was the vampire burial of a baby, but we’ve had vampire burials on here before.

For those who are new to the Idea Mill, I believe speculative fiction needs a strong dose of reality behind it. We’re going to ask for a leap of faith, but we don’t want to ask for too many. These items are creepy on their own, and can add an air of realism to the stories we might write.

Let’s jump into our first topic. I won’t call it an article, because I never found a specific one. I’ve been researching what is called the Third Man Factor, or Syndrome. In a nutshell, there are many stories of someone being near death describing someone who helped them out. Later it was revealed that nobody was ever there.

These tales date all through history, from Arctic exploration to the Twin Towers. It’s actually kind of a stupid name, because human plus apparition equals two, but there it is. Here is the Wikipedia Entry for Third Man Syndrome.

This works really well for our paranormal tales. If I were to write it, I’d probably write it from the apparition’s point of view, only revealing that fact as my twist ending. How about a werewolf who is tormented by his human self while in lycanthrope form? You could play it for laughs almost like Play It Again Sam. What would you do with Third Man Syndrome?

Our next article is about Giant Hogweed. This is an invasive species that makes a few stinging nettles or even poison ivy look like amateurs. It causes “painful burns, permanent scarring, and even blindness.” It removes something from your skin that allows the sun to cook you like bacon. There are some graphic photos in the article, so I know you’ll want to look. Read the article here. This stuff even destroys the soil where it grows.

I see this as hazardous background to a story, any kind of story actually. Stress, tension, and pressure add something to every story. Why not have your detectives recover a body from a grove of this stuff. Even a temporary loss of vision could put your cop in a bad position when the bad guy comes looking for him.

Moving into the speculative arena, how about planting this stuff outside the treasure cave? Weapons tipped with Giant Hogweed sap, etc. Like I said, maybe not a main player, but useful just the same. Maybe you want to rub it all over someone’s jockstrap. What ideas do you have?

Finally, we have wifi being used to see behind closed doors. Let’s face it, wifi is everywhere now. Apparently, it can be used to spy on people, but not like you might think. This isn’t about your computer camera. It involves observing the radio waves and seeing how they distort around movement.

The article gives a neat depiction about a glass house with a wifi lightbulb inside. It seems as though they need to read the wifi signal from several different angles, kind of like triangulation. After that, they can map your house and determine if you are inside. Read the article here.

Obviously, in speculative fiction we can ramp this up. I have an idea of some kind of infrared vision with more detail. Imagine using drones to take a reading on the building, then the stalker can watch what happens inside. Maybe he sells the fact that you aren’t home to thieves. Maybe he has more nefarious things in mind. Maybe your private moments become the next internet viral video.

What kind of science fiction based horror can you make out of this one?

We usually end these with some kind of corny story outline based upon all of the elements I’ve presented. Here goes nothing.

Our main character is the number one suspect in the disappearance of an underage girl. His workplace told him to stop coming in until further notice. He spots a sequence of drones circling his house. When he looks outside, the police are taking up positions based upon what they learn from wifi spying.

He slips into the cellar and out into the dark before they bash down the door. If he can only find the girl it will clear his name. He wanders into the woods, where he gets tangled up with a patch of Giant Hogweed.

Burning from the sap, and in danger of losing his vision, he wanders deeper while calling out the girl’s name. His skin blisters and bleeds in the sunlight of the following day. His vision is nearly gone, and he’s near death.

The girl shows up and leads him out of the woods to a medical facility. It turns out the girl was never there and he imagined her the whole time.

At this point, I could turn this into an arrest and struggle tale, or have him return to the Giant Pigweed, rewounding himself so he can ask the girl where she is. This would be a tale of madness and mental anguish.

Think you can come up with something better? Be my guest. Use one, or all of them. Tell me about it in the comments. The more the merrier.

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The Idea Mill #34

This one is going to be a bit different than other Idea Mill visits. I usually save links and try to get three unique stories to post about. Today I have two, and I’m combining them into one concept.

If you’re new to these, I write speculative fiction and that involves asking “what if.” I think it’s important to base spec fiction in reality wherever you can. These stories help build a bit of foundation that we can use to build our speculative story.

This time, I don’t even have links. This stuff is everywhere and is very current news. This is why I’m constructing the post this way. If I wait, it might not be as current.

You must have all seen the stories involving Cambridge Analytica and the misuse of Facebook data. I know Facebook stockholders are aware of it. In a nutshell, these people pirated the data to make targeted events during the last election cycle. If you believe all the stories.

We live in an age of data. The world is full of massive databases that contain everything from our banking information, our preferences online, where we eat, where we buy groceries, and more. Surf for a new book to read, someone is tracking it. Follow a clickbait article with a titillating story and it’s been logged. I know if my wife looks at anything on her laptop, my Facebook ads change and show me options to her search. Made it kind of hard to surprise me for Christmas.

This is what we already live under. Enter the new database that we’re contributing to. This one is fun… there’s no harm in fun, right? It’s almost taken on a party atmosphere. Here’s how it works:

You take a swab and wipe it around the inside of your mouth. Then you mail it to a company who will analyze it and send you an idea of your genetic heritage. Usually it proves that Mom really did know what she was talking about as far as your ethnicity.

Keep in mind, your results are going into a database somewhere. Keep in mind that one of the largest databases in the world was just accessed inappropriately and misused. Now we have a solid foundation to start speculating. What if…

What if the Nazis had access to such a database. Think how much more efficient their genetic purging could have been. Genocide went on before the Nazis, and it’s still going on today. Don’t tell me it will never happen on such a large scale again.

We can also take this into the speculative realms. What if aliens made a cold clinical decision and used this database to collect whatever they prefer and destroy the rest.

Keep in mind that your heritage is only one thing a DNA test can reveal. How about one of the cancer genes? Maybe the hacker is big insurance, and they start raising the prices on those who have one of these genes. Maybe the general population develops a new prejudice against someone with one of these genes. You no longer have to worry about cancer killing you… your neighbors will do it long before then.

Maybe the database starts influencing reproduction. Insurance refuses to cover children from matings they didn’t pre-approve. Maybe it’s not so deep, what if humans start checking out potential mates on the database before getting involved with someone? We already run background checks and credit checks on potential partners. This isn’t all that far fetched. My own wife and I spend part of date nights on our phones these days. Humans aren’t as connected on a personal level as they were twenty years ago. Nope, not getting involved with her because she’s going to lose her teeth by the time she’s fifty.

Take it up a notch, and have one spouse cave to the pressure of breeding with an approved partner. A mutual agreement would certainly lead to a marital breakdown. A secret affair can also add a mountain of stress.

Maybe there is a trend toward a certain genetic combo that poses a workplace hazard. Could employers start demanding DNA tests as part of the hiring process? Maybe it reveals a reasonable percentage of people with that gene are prone to thefts.

These are big ticket issues that work in some kinds of fiction. They play on the idea of what we are afraid of, which is always a good idea in fiction. There is also a possibility of taking it down to a smaller level and telling a good story too.

What if some family fun revealed a secret nobody was supposed to know? A bigot could make for a good character arc. Pride makes a great thing to toy with in our stories. He or she despises some kind of race or ethnicity. A DNA test reveals the character is of that heritage at least partially. First thing would be to despise his parents and blame them. Maybe he runs away and goes on a journey where he finds himself and discovers some errors he’s made during his life. Maybe he finds family members he never knew he had. Maybe the employees he’s been making work overtime, and denying benefits to, are his nieces and nephews.

Obviously a family member who was the result of an affair could be pretty dramatic too. What if this revelation changed the line of succession to the throne of some country? Or maybe it’s a huge inheritance? You could play this for laughs, or make it dangerous and dark. What do you mean Uncle Bob can’t inherit Grandpa’s company?

I’m not contributing a corny story this time. I wanted to rush out the foundation stories from the news and speculate a bit. What could you create using these two current events? I’d love to hear it.

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The Idea Mill #33

It’s been a while since we strolled down to the old Idea Mill to see what it’s been grinding out. For those of you new to these posts, they are the kind of things that might feed your Muse. As a speculative fiction author, I choose things that are a bit strange.

Our first story is from India, where an electrician unearthed the carcass of an animal. Not just any animal either, this one appears at first glance to be a dinosaur. That’s cool, you might say, except this one has flesh on it. Anything that’s been dead for 65 million years or so should not have anything that isn’t fossilized.

There is some speculation in the article that it’s an aborted goat fetus. I don’t buy it, because that tail is pretty long, it appears to have canine style teeth, and there is one point where you can see through the sinus cavity. It was less than a foot long which seems to eliminate a dog of some kind. You can read the article for yourself. It has the picture, which I will not steal from them.

If you need a story with dinosaurs in the modern world, this is your foot in the door. This article likely spread pretty wide regardless of what it turns out to be. I believe fiction folks should try to stay close to the possible before asking readers for that leap of faith. A quick reference to the discovery in India and you’re off to the races. Maybe this can be used to explain the disappearance of the lost colony of Roanoke. Fictionally, find a few more of these all over the world and you’re set.

You could make them alien in origin too pretty easily. Ancient sailors used to plant food animals on islands they might return to one day. Maybe the aliens did this too, and they’re going to return.

Next we have a strange burial of a bunch of cauldrons. They were placed in a semicircular ditch and buried. Keep in mind that cauldrons were likely extremely valuable way back when. Valuable enough to be passed down from daughter to daughter. Iron was not something easily available, so access to it would not have been an everyday occurrence. I have no evidence to support my theory, but a cauldron was likely a major investment for a family back then.

There is some speculation about a feast in the article, which you can read here.

What would lead multiple families to part with such a valuable item? Keep in mind that cauldrons are also something referenced in witchcraft. Could this have been some kind of Christian oppression? Are there the ashes of women in them from their burnings at the stake? Could this have been the site of a powerful ancient ritual, the result of which rendered the cauldrons unusable? These might be good stories to tell.

What if the story is of the recent discovery? Could there still be some ancient magic living around this site? Maybe something best left undisturbed? Maybe the only way to keep the demon down is to put the cauldrons back… in exactly the same way they were originally placed. This could lead to some fun puzzle solving for your characters.

Our next story might not fuel everyone’s Muse, but I dig it. It’s about rosewood being given a new status on the CITES list. It’s becoming endangered. This is an important wood for stringed instruments, and now musicians are worried about crossing international borders, in some cases with instruments that are hundreds of years old. This has led to illegal logging, smuggling, and over 150 deaths. Check out the article here. The culprit is a desire for rosewood furniture in China.

People love unique settings and situations. Smugglers, killers, and jungles are great things to pepper into an adventure story. Add a few dangerous animals, maybe some tiny dinosaurs from the first article and take to the jungles. Maybe your adventurer is a musician and you can add a unique element to the character. Tie it back to China by rescuing a few Asian rhinos.

Finally, we have a story that Russian Cosmonauts swabbed the outside of the International Space Station and found bacteria. The speculation is that this is an alien life form. There is a chance that it’s a contaminant from Earth and it’s capable of surviving in space, but where is the fun in that? You can read the story for yourselves.

I like this one, because it reminds me of Jason Fogg’s origin story. You can read it in my first Experimental Notebook. There are all kinds of possibilities for something coming from outer space. Start your zombie apocalypse right here folks. Maybe a new kind of plague, or one that’s happened before, that now has a new explanation.

Maybe you prefer limiting the outbreak to the International Space Station. One of the important pieces of a good horror story is isolation and being a long way from help. How about being quarantined in space with people who now want to shake your spinal fluid into a cocktail before dinner?

One of the fun parts of the Idea Mill is laying down some plot points of a story that is based on all the articles. I’ve got to tell you this isn’t an easy group to use in one story, but I’ll give it a shot.

A young botanist is sent to the jungles to make a count of the rosewood trees. She runs into smugglers, but there is something wrong with them. They are terrified of the small dinosaurs that are picking them off like plagues of locust. One of the smugglers takes her to the site of a meteor crash. This reveals a seeding of some sort that brought the dinosaurs to our planet… once again.

Lots of running bleeding and shooting later, she discovers a site that’s been looted by treasure hunters. The only way to get rid of the dinosaurs is to repeat an ancient ritual and bury the cauldrons in a specific pattern. However she must run the looters down to determine what patterns the cauldrons were buried in. Can she do it in time, before the dinos spread all over the globe? Ticking clocks etc. Oh, and let’s add some stress by making her a concert cellist who damaged her hands to the point she cannot play. This will give her something to struggle with against the ethics of protecting the trees that provide her lovely instruments.

So what would you do with these as inspiration for your own stories? Do any of them trip your trigger? Share some ideas in the comments, I’d love to read them.

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The Idea Mill #32

The articles are pouring in rapidly now. We had a drought of decent grist for the mill for months. This time I am holding five new articles. This post will address three of them, and I’m fairly sure the next Idea Mill won’t be long in coming.

For the new readers of these posts, I set a bunch of push feeds to send me articles that relate to my interests. Some of them get pretty repetitive, but some of them feed my Muse. These can lead to new stories, or morph into elements in those stories. I share them here in hopes of kicking your own Muse in the pants.

There is an added bonus of that small slice of reality. I like to base my speculative fiction in as much reality as possible. That way, when I ask for a leap of faith, it’s isn’t a death defying jump. Weaving a few of these things into a story helps set the stage for that leap.

Here we go. Our first article is a strange medical phenomenon. It seems a man became a father. A DNA test proved he was not the father, which is something that happens. What is weird is that his brother fathered the child. (Also been known to happen.) Where it goes completely off the rails is that he has no brother.

To make this even better, the baby was conceived in-vitro. This adds all kinds of intrigue and blame to a story. The poor woman was impregnated by someone else’s sperm. Except that isn’t the case here. It turns out the man is a human chimera. At one point, he was a twin. His twin brother was “absorbed” and fused with the remaining fetus. The father of the child is an amalgamation of two different people. The parts that father babies actually belonged to his secret brother.

The article gives hints of others in similar situations. It even gives some interesting possible physical indicators that can play right into character descriptions. Read the story here.

This alone would make for a great family drama. “You’re not my father,” takes on a whole new meaning from a bratty teen. Because of who I am, I would take it in a different direction, somewhere out near the Twilight Zone. Have the guy go through the stages of grieving. Let the brother assert himself in a split personality kind of way. Maybe the brother is a better man, a better provider, a better lover. Drive the poor guy into a deep hole. Find a way to let readers know the poor guy is being absorbed, just like his brother was.

What would you do with it?

Next we have The Radium Girls. The United States Radium Company was a highly successful business about a hundred years ago. They made clocks, watches, and gauges for aircraft. Their claim to fame was the fact that the numbers and pointers glowed in the dark. This was the result of radium based paint. The Radium Girls were factory workers who applied the paint.

I remember the old-timers in my family being deathly afraid of wristwatches that glowed in the dark. This is because radium is a deadly radioactive substance. The Radium Girls were told it was safe, and encouraged to lick their paintbrushes to obtain finer points for detailed work. The girls even played with the paint, applying it to dresses, fingernails, etc. I can just see one of them painting a radioactive seam up the back of her legs to simulate nylons of the day.

Of course, this didn’t end well. It led to a giant lawsuit, destruction of the company, and a whole lot of pain and suffering.

The fact that this happened, means the research material is out there somewhere. Here is the article, but it’s one of those clickbait style things. This builds a solid foundation for that leap of speculative faith we were just discussing. Want to write a superhero story in a dieselpunk environment? How about Radium Girl? She cleared the trenches in France, and cured trenchfoot all at the same time.

There have been some radioactive assassinations in fairly recent history too. Maybe you prefer more of a radioactive Unibomber type story. Radium could be a basis for that too. Glow in the dark chocolates anyone?

We’re going to wrap this up with the most dangerous object on Earth. It’s called the Elephant’s Foot, and it’s a blob of material from the Chernobyl meltdown. Spend 300 seconds around it, and you have two days to live. This thing is so hot it melts concrete and sand. Hey, it will get less dangerous over time. In 100,000 years maybe they can paint watch faces with it. Read the article here. I should mention the last two articles have some interesting photos.

This is like a gift to thriller writers. Someone making off with this thing, or even a piece of it, gives you an automatic maguffin for your super spy to chase after. You wouldn’t even have to sell the dangers very hard. You can start right out kicking ass and bedding babes on your way to preventing a nuclear ice cream truck from driving through the city. Spreading radioactive love as it drives past schools and call centers. (Okay, maybe park it overnight by the call center, and a timeshare office too.)

I’ve done my part for radioactive murder. Reference Practical Geology in my second Experimental Notebook. Maybe granules of this thing make a good catalyst to create lush green worlds out of distant space rocks. We fire them off today, and by the time colonists arrive it’s a garden of Eden. Maybe Radium Girl brings it to life and she and her blob save humanity from the terrorists. What would you do with the Elephant’s Foot?

Part of these posts involve me coming up with a shtick using all the stories. I’m thinking thriller today. Our hero’s mother was one of the original Radium Girls. This caused a problem with her pregnancy, and our hero has the pale markings of a human chimera. Maybe he has two different colored eyes too.

After a long military history, he settled down and started a family, only learning of his chimera status after his child was born. This leads him down a rat hole of self doubt and split personality issues. He’s recalled into service when terrorists get their hands on the Elephant’s Foot. He embarks on a global chase for the maguffin, all while battling with his internal brother, who turns out to be the extra manliness he needs to save the day.

What would you do with these snippets of history and news?

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The Idea Mill #31

It’s been a long time since we visited the Idea Mill, here on Entertaining Stories. I’ve kept my eyes open for articles, and they haven’t been all that good lately. In typical fashion, I  always wait until I  have three – but two good ones show up at the same time, leaving me with four.

If this is your first visit to the Idea Mill, I  have a category in the sidebar where you can check out the previous posts. I  use push feeds to send me news about things that might help my fiction. Think of them like Muse food. I  can’t possibly use them all, and maybe something will bring your own Muse to the table.

Our first article involves humans returning to the moon one day. Scientists have long speculated there might be underground lava tubes on the moon that would make a great location for a human colony. A team of Japanese and American scientists proved the theory, and they even identified a suitable location.

In speculative fiction, you can always change things up to suit yourself. Maybe you want Mars instead; shouldn’t be a huge leap of faith. Maybe you want some basis for a fantasy where one of your races lives in underground colonies. This could be a starting point for your research.

I really like the image in the article that shows a huge underground cell holding a city the size of Philadelphia with plenty of room to spare. If you think of Earth’s atmosphere as being similar to an ocean, then why couldn’t you fill the entire cell with oxygen and allow the inhabitants to moon-hop without space suits? I think I could sell that in a story. If you get plants to grow, they might even help with the oxygen. You can read the article here.

That giant cell where the people must live is also a perfect setting for horror of some kind. Help is a long way off, and you can’t just run away.

Our next one involves a new finding that the squirrel fur trade may have helped spread leprosy in medieval England. I think what amazes me the most is the idea there even was a squirrel fur trade. I mean squirrels never seemed to make much of an impact on the red carpet decades ago when fur was in fashion. Marilyn Monroe never posed snuggled inside a squirrel fur stole and nothing else. I can see trade like this spreading diseases way back then. They didn’t have some of the regulations, FDA, and other folks watching over them.

Need a fantasy character who hasn’t been done to death? Tired of burley woodsmen and handsome princes? How about a squirrel fur trader? How about a bunch of orphans who catch squirrels to survive? Could there be a fur trader’s guild in your fantasy city? Maybe even a guild war when opossum fur starts becoming more economical?

Learn about the spread of disease by squirrel fur trading at this site.

Our next article involves an idea that’s been floating around for a long time. Mosquitos carry a lot of diseases that are harmful to humans. They are also hard to control using current methods, because the old methods were so devastating to the environment. When I first read about this, the idea was to introduce a deadly mosquito venereal disease into the larger population in hopes that it would kill them all off. That idea never went away, it seems. Today it’s back with a new hair-brained basis. The FDA has approved a method of using sterile male mosquitos to introduce into the wild. In theory these would mate with the bad mosquitos (apparently the bad ones are always females) leaving all the eggs as duds.

Now, if this could actually happen, repeated treatments could lead to an extinction of the bad mosquitos. Their method cracks me up, though. They will produce these mosquitos in a lab, then hand separate the males from the females, before boxing them up to ship to areas where Zika and yellow fever are prominent.

If they’re going to use labor to hand separate the mosquitos, I almost think they’d be better off to send that same labor into the swamps with fly-swatters. Anyway, you can read the article here, then we’ll speculate about it.

Maybe you caught on to the term in the article about weaponized mosquitos. If they can manipulate the little buggers to this extent, it isn’t much of a leap to turn them into biological weapons to use against humans. Some of this might even play into my next novel that I’m going to call Grinders. (I need to give it some thought.) Maybe you write thrillers, and can pit the CDC against a terrorist cell utilizing weaponized mosquitos to carry out its evil plans. Maybe you want to project this out a few years and have the Endangered Species Act trying to protect the now-endangered bad mosquitos. It could be CDC vs the Endangered Species Act, while the terrorists are getting away.

Like I said, I hold some of these articles for months, then always seem to get two at the last moment. This time is no exception, so we have one more. Where the mosquito article bordered on mad science, this one moves right in and sets up shop. Scientists have been merging human and rat brains in a laboratory. They even have a cute name for the human parts called organoids.

This one plays right into my Grinders novel, and I already have rats involved. The article explores the idea of ethics and rights if the animals are part human, and questions what kind of consciousness they might have. I’ve got news for them, all animals are conscious to a degree. They all protect their babies, understand the need for food and water, and many are much more incredible.

Writing a courtroom type story that’s reflective of the Scopes Monkey Trials, one where eventually a rat testifies, seems like low hanging fruit to me. It could be good, but it’s just not what I write. I can see a plague of intelligent rats causing all kinds of problems. Maybe they set up street gangs and start taking lunches from school children. They form organized raids on restaurants and bakeries. Maybe they even fight back by using swarms of biting rats to kill those who oppose them.

It wouldn’t take much of a stretch to use other species if you have the science behind this project. You could go all Michael Chichton on the story. Read the article right here.

One of the fun parts, and it gets harder with four articles, is to rough out a story using all the articles. I have space, a medieval fur trade, and two modified animals to deal with…

A colony of humans is living on the moon in a fully functional underground city. They are dependent upon Earth for many of the things they need for survival. These people are dependent upon a line of super intelligent rats to help them delve deeper into the lava tubes. The rats can explore places we cannot go, and assess whether it’s worth digging through to the next area.

It’s cold on the moon, and the rats want something warmer than their natural fur. A shipment of squirrel fur arrives from Earth, and a cottage industry is born – making fur coats for rats. The fur is infected with a virus that is deadly to humans. The best hope is in the form of modified mosquitos that will transmit a cure for the disease. However, the cure is deadly for the rats.

While the ship carrying the cure is on its way, the rats rise up to destroy the humans before they can destroy the rats.

That’s it, some ideas to kick your Muse in the pants; check. A corny outline to have some fun with; check.

I’ve got to say the last two have me thinking, and I think the Research Sirens are on their way to the writing cabin.

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