And often, I can't tell you. But this week, the birth of one was easy to track because I was so concerned that I had shut off the part of my brain that's receptive to new ideas as I tried to finish my novel.
I was in Canada and reading The Globe and Mail. There was a very long story on a young sheriff who was killed when he answered a call on a noisy houseparty. I read it thoroughly, but there was very little about a crime in it. Mostly it dealt with the town's sorrow over a man with an eight month old child dying in a remote part of Canada.
Flash forward two days, and I'm back in Detroit on a bus and a woman across from me is reading Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. I wondered what kind of story would this woman like? She was in her sixties, no makeup, plain clothes, but enthralled by that magazine and suddenly the entire story took hold of me. She'd like a story about a young police officer who died needlessly. In my story, he won't be the same guy at all. Already I know he won't be a father and it'll happen in Michigan, where I'm on firmer ground.
Now this is not saying the story will work, or that it will be good or that it will find a home, but it will get written. I'm mostly glad that my brain is listening again.
Can you usually track where your story ideas come from?