My usual reply is that I have this idea tree in the back yard, and stuff grows on it, and when an idea is ripe I kind of walk out and pluck it and see what kind of juices it runs. I guess it's as good as any.
But they really are everywhere. You trip over ideas in the street. Often literally.
You find them in waiting rooms - I was waiting in my accountant's office for a tax appointment earlier this year and he had - don't ask me why - a copy of a 1948 Bellingham Herald lying in his waiting room. And there was a story in there - quick, truncated, jouralistic - but with so much breathless potential in it that I had the receptionist take the paper to the back and photocopy that story for me. I haven't done anything with it - yet. There's time.
I just dug out a couple of photos I took of weird signage, many years ago - one of them advertises "Antiques Old and New" (I'm itching for a good definition of a new antique, and I smell a time travel story...) and the other announces, "Parking Lot For Sale" (Psst. Really. Want a parking lot? GOing cheap - and just THINK of the potential revenue. You own it, you can charge what you want to park in it. Bring your first-born, Princess, if you want to park your coach in this lot...)
And then, this morning at breakfast, I'm sitting there looking at a wall where the work of a local artist is showcased. There's a painting there which shows a middle-aged woman in a pink nun's habit who is holding an owl half-hidden by the foliage of what looks like a lush jungle. The expression on her face is partly eager, partly terrified, partly excited. What would the Reverend Mother of the convent of Our Pink Lady be doing with that Maltese Owl? A tortured plot born of "Nunsense" and "The Maltese Falcon" begins to take outrageous shape...
I dream 'em, too. I've actually sold at least one story which was to all intents and purposes an actual DREAM from beginning to end. Occasionally I'll even serial-dream, waking up from a point in the dream-story which my subconscious obviously doesn't want to let go and makes me go straight back into it where we left off when I go back to sleep the next night.
I've eavesdropped on conversations which I have shamefully taken out of context and made completely unrelated stories out of.
There's a strange house on the way to Fairhaven which has curclicued cast-iron bars on every window, has a turreted roof, and always looks brooding and vaguely abandoned in daylight - I wonder what lives there and whether it emerges after dark - the place actually BROKE MY CAMERA when I tried to take pictures of it, literally, I had to take the thing in to be fixed straight after that and of course... none of the pictures... ever came out... eerie, dont'cha think?...
I've sat in restaurants staring at a patron at another table and making up entire lifetimes worth of stories about him or her (I've dined in the same restaurants as a female equivalent of Indiana Jones, an emeritus professor of fossil ichtyology, a feral child raised with wolves who was being slowly reintegrated into civilised society, and many other interesting people... whose real-life existences were probably considerably more prosaic than any of that. But they had the kind of face or the kind of smile or the kind of attitude which SUGGESTED things, and off my strange mind goes, pursuing possibilities.
What was that...? Oh, wait. I think another fruit just came to ripeness on the idea tree out back. I'll just go get it, shall I? You guys just talk amongst yourselves.
(I'm not listening. Really. Trust me...)