"Where do you get your ideas?"
Writers (and other artists, but maybe especially writers) often get that question, and possibly even more so when they practice their craft (or art, or trade, or whaterver else you want to call the act of putting words on a page to make up a story) in sci-fi, fantasy, horror or other strange, zombie-filled arenas (Why do you use so many parentheses is another question I get asked a lot).
The answer varies quite a bit depending on your personnality, the way you work and your personal neuroses. Some get inspired by other books, or news, or a stain of pureed banana shaped like Jesus (yes, I have a new baby, why do you ask?). I've heard that Stephen King answers "Cleveland."
The way it usually works for me is what I can describe as a "click" moment. It usually takes me by surprise, when I'm letting my thoughts wander. Almost unbeknownst to me, my brain suddenly latches on to one thought. Many times it's an image, like a man alone in an office building on New Year's eve (to see what kind of story comes from that image, read our next issue, available in march. Awesome. Fits every budget). Sometimes it's a line, like "Alistair was at the country club when the world ended", which was the starting point for one of my favorite stories I've ever written (It's called Alistair's Armageddon, and you can read that one in HBM issue 2, Safer Where You Are. Aweso... alright, moving on).
In any case, when I get that image, or that line, it comes with a thrilling sensation in my chest, the type you get when you have a great present you're waiting to surprise someone with. Contained excitement. That's how I know the idea's good, that I should run with it. Over the years, I've learned to trust that feeling. I don't think I've ever written a story that I was happy about that didn't come first from that "click" moment, at least to some degree.
Then of course there's all the tedious work, ten percent inspiration, ninety percent perspiration, all that stuff they teach you in writing books and seminars. No good writing can come without that (see Alex's post about editing). By all means, edit, work at it, sweat, swear. "Vingt fois sur le métier remettez votre ouvrage", as Nicolas Boileau said. But I don't think I'd be writing if it wasn't for the rush I get from the "click".
(Oh, and I use parentheses a lot because they're fun and my thought process is like an overloaded, super-caffeinated flowchart on crack).
(But I don't do drugs).