This is a question that comes up frequently. Where do you get your ideas? Are the characters in your book "real"? Which all comes back to where do you get your inspiration? My hairdresser used to ask me every time I went to visit her. For her, it's amazing that I can come up with names and places and situations. For me, it's second nature.
I draw inspiration from a moment in time. Something I see. Someone I see. My stories generally revolve around that one moment in time. Imagination is a beautiful thing, and it creates a story around that moment. My heroes/heroines don't come from big screen heartthrobs so much as an identifying characteristic I see in someone I know, or while people watching.
Here are examples of story origins, examples that show up only briefly in the final product.
Touched by the Sun - Pompeii, and the Holy Grail. The "moment" was connecting the two after watching a Nova show on volcanos, and then an Indiana Jones movie. A light bulb went off when I realized St. Paul had been in southern Italy a believable period of time after the Last Supper.
Living Canvas happened because of a picture I bought (like the one on the book cover). I bought it because I could see myself sitting in that painting. It was very like a place I'd spent a lot of time at growing up, staring over the water. It was peaceful. The concept of inserting myself into a painting brought on memories of Night Gallery, a T.V. show I watched growing up, and somehow the two meshed together to become the story.
Mist on the Meadow started with a "moment of grace." Something that caught my eye that made the world stop spinning for just a moment: a buck standing at the edge of the woods on a winter day, huffing so that it's breath made a cloud in the early morning air.
Heart for Rent, with an Option started with a walk through a french market in... France. The fresh produce, the tangy, freshly-ground spices. The town of Aix-en-Provence.
Return to Hoffman Grove. I'm going to embarrass myself if I tell you the moment from this book. It's there, in the book. I had a Facebook conversation with my former tennis coach which sent me reminiscing down memory lane and there it was, front and center, a random memory from my time on the tennis team.
I've purposely left out Intimate Distance, mainly because I wrote that during a very dark period in my life. There is a moment, but I'd rather keep that one to myself.
This is the place where I remind you that although I draw on personal experiences when I formulate my books, they are not autobiographical (except, maybe, for that one moment). I read a quote recently where people tend to assume authors write about themselves, unless you tell them that something is autobiographical, in which case they tend to NOT believe you. My stories are made up. They're all in my head. Fiction. I sometimes include "truth is stranger than fiction" moments, which have made people call me out with "that would never happen" (but it did). I had one friend blush after reading Living Canvas because she said she pictured me as Audrey. Nope. Not me. Yes, I traveled to the places I wrote about, but no, I did not meet a handsome stranger during my journeys and end up living happily ever after.
Don't get me wrong, I am living my happily ever after, but the Big Guy doesn't make an appearance in any of my stories. I'm keeping him all to myself.