People are always asking me where my story ideas come from. Since I live on the coast of Maine, where people understand fishing analogies, I tell them that I'm always casting my net out. When I read a magazine or news story or when I watch news on TV or when I go out to dinner at a restaurant, I imagine how this person's conversation or that news event might work in a story.
Often I bring in small fish that I have to throw back, that is, ideas or characters that don't work out into plots. Sometimes, though, I pull in keepers. I'll find the perfect hero for a story, then perhaps a situation to put him in, and I'm off.
Here's an example of what may be a keeper.
The other night I attended the kick-off gala for a new program sponsored by the local Humane Society. I'd heard about programs with prisoners training dogs before, but this is the first time we've had one in Maine. At the gala they presented a video of successful programs in other prisons around the country. As a dog lover, I couldn't resist, and as a writer, I was fascinated by the tough inmates and their reactions and growth along with their canine charges. A vicious murderer who'd been on death row and a tattoo-covered career criminal turned to mush with puppy kisses and tail wags. Their dogs learned to come, to heel, to sit, and other canine good manners. The men learned to show positive emotions, to praise, and to care. Officials at the prisons in the films reported that because of the Prison Dogs programs, their facilities had less violence and guards and inmates interacted in more positive ways.
K-9 Corrections, as this Humane Society program is dubbed, aims at teaching at-risk prison inmates in a medium-security facility and at-risk homeless dogs from the shelter the skills to become safe members of society. A local trainer with extensive experience and expertise in positive reinforcement methods will train the prisoner-trainers. The dogs, as in other programs, should learn faster because of the intensity of the program, living with their trainers 24/7.
A successful outcome will have dogs and their trainers graduating in ten weeks. The prisoner-trainers will have learned responsibility for another being, compassion, patience and dog training skills. The dogs will become adoptable by learning obedience and house manners and by passing the AKC's Canine Good Citizen test. Then lucky families will be able to adopt well-trained, socialized dogs, and prisoner-trainers will receive another dog to train.
So I'm thinking of a possible story. An intrepid and beautiful dog training expert helps redeem shelter dogs and hard-case inmates. I write romantic suspense, but I don't want to derail the training program by having one of her prisoner-trainers stalk her. Perhaps there's another prisoner who was wrongly convicted (Think Harrison Ford in The Fugitive.) and who hides in her van as she leaves the prison grounds. At first he forces her to help him, but then…well, you know what happens. ;-)
Think this one's a keeper? Or should I throw it back?
In any case, while I'm creating, I'm getting out my checkbook to help support this admirable program. If anyone is interested in learning more about K-9 Corrections, you can visit http://www.humanesocietyofknoxcounty.org.