The news this week has been awash with new details surrounding the disappearance of famous aviatrix Amelia Earhart on July 2, 1937. Those details while not exactly brand new, are being brought to the public eye because of a history show scheduled for this weekend. Why are not only Americans, but people around the world so interested in answers to her disappearance? One simple answer is it stimulates our imagination. What defeated this woman who many were convinced was unstoppable after her trip across the Atlantic in 1928?
As a writer, I find circumstances like this perfect fodder for my devious, ahem, inquisitive mind. Wouldn’t it be fun to write the end to her story? Take the facts and twist them into an alternate history. A half dozen theories exist, as do hard-to-decipher clues. Finding Amelia has become a pastime for investigators spending millions of dollars to find the one definitive clue to prove what happened to her and her navigator Noonan.
A writer could concoct an adventure novel where the reader wonders if each step in the journey would be Amelia’s last. Or it could just as easily be developed into a political thriller, considering some of the following details. Mrs. Roosevelt liked and encouraged Amelia, so much so she convinced her husband, the president, to set the government in motion to support her flight around the world. America colonized (with four people) tiny islands in the Pacific where the government could build airfields. They eventually built a runway on Howland Island for Earhart to have a place to land. It is interesting a civilian pilot could get the government to use their resources to support a private venture. Of course, the government had various reasons for doing so, that looked further down the road to strengthening our power around the world, but they also did it to spite other countries like Britain that didn’t want to allow Earhart to land on their islands in the Pacific. And then there is the photo and claim that the Japanese captured her after she crash landed or even shot her down. That suggests a dozen more questions about why the Japanese, who knew she was making the flight (she originally had planned to land in Tokyo when going east to west on her first attempt) would not tout their rescue of her. If true, why hide that they knew what happened to her since this occurred years before we went to war? The stories a writer could weave from real life.
A few years ago at a mystery conference, I had the opportunity to listen to Ric Gillespie, a veteran of historical aircraft recovery, a pilot, and one of those mounting expeditions to search for answers to Amelia’s demise. From his voice, enthusiasm, and meticulous details, I could see the drive inherent in mankind to solve great mysteries. That drive is exactly what makes a strong character in a novel. What if Amelia had been your friend or sister or lover? How hard would fight to uncover the story of her flight?
People frequently ask where writers get their ideas. Just look around and listen to the stories of real life. The story of Amelia Earhart has everything a good mystery, drama, or thriller needs. Perhaps someday it will have an ending…but until then, perhaps we can write our own.
You might wonder why I personally have an interest in the story of Amelia. Partially natural curiosity, but also because she was the first president and a founding member of an organization I belong to, the 99s, an international women pilot’s organization. A 99s scholarship exists today with Amelia’s name to advance flight training and education of licensed pilot members.