"Where do you get your ideas?"
Such a common question, and I usually respond with my favorite answer to everything: Brainstorming.
Now, granted, there are ideas everywhere; a story in the newspaper or something on tv might trigger a great idea. But lots of times, my ideas have come from brainstorm lists.
Here's one way I do this. I make lists of jobs I think are really cool, locations I'd love to visit, people I think are interesting, that sort of thing. I also list my favorite books and movies, examining what I really like as a reader, and jot down everything I can think of.
Then, I start asking the "what if" question. What if artifacts started disappearing from an archaeological dig in Guatemala? What if a man with a rotten past temporarily forgot it? And what if clues to his past took him to Savannah, Georgia and Tuscany, Italy? And what if this same guy sees a mirror image of himself lying dead in an alley? (Ok, so maybe that's not a common "what if" question; I'm just odd).
The key to everything, for me, is brainstorming. It's how I work things out. And when I get ideas, I know I'll forget them if I don't write it down somewhere. I've jotted down plot ideas and notes for other books on scraps of paper or notebooks I put aside and when I find these ideas later, I'm always amazed that a) I thought of them in the first place, and b) that those ideas haven't popped up in my mind since. That's been one witness to me that just because I think of something once doesn't always mean I'll think of it twice. I have to write it down.
Incidentally, lists are also a great journaling device. My sister makes lists, and I copied her idea once, ages ago. I listed all of my kids' favorite foods, movies, books, and toys. It's such a fun window into the past. The memories come right back and I can see my kids playing all over again.
Brainstorming lists! Try it!