That is one of the most common questions I get, along with, “Will there be more vampire books?” (Probably not) and “When are you going to write the third book in the My Lady series?” (Probably never. They didn’t sell and publishing is, after all, a business.)
Where do I get my ideas? Well, a lot of them seem to come out of the ether, but I think it’s really a subconscious process. I read a LOT, mostly history, biographies and memoires, and all those words and images get into my deeper mind, and some kind of synthesis thing happens that seems magical. Or I may be playing with the dogs, or fiddling with polymer clay, and a snatch of dialogue or a scene comes to me, or even a mere flash. I scribble it down, and always regret it if I don’t. Ideas are fleeting–you think you won’t forget them, but you do.
When I’m planning a particular book, or just a chapter of that book, I use my very favorite all-time brainstorming tool. I make lists of twenty. Full credit for this idea goes to Brian Tracy, the motivational speaker. I ask myself, “What are 20 things I know about this character?” (It always surprises me how much I know about a character who has been hanging around on the fringes of my mind.) Or “What are 20 things that could happen in this book?” The technique can be applied to virtually anything you want to do; the possibilities are quite literally endless. Here’s the important (VERY important) part. You have to let yourself go. No matter how ridiculous the ideas seem at first, put them on your list. Absolutely no judging! The first five or six or nineteen will probably be really stupid. (Once, when I was creating a character, the first item on the list was: “She could jump off a cliff”) Keep digging, keep practicing. This technique is an acquired skill. If you persist, you will discover things you never would have come up with in any other way.
How to get started? Well, how about, “What are 20 ways I could use this list of 20 idea?”