As a former television news reporter, I’m observant by nature. I’m always listening, taking in my surroundings (and yes, sometimes, eavesdropping) because you never know when the makings of a good story are in the works. From the coffee shop to the grocery store, no one is immune from inspiring the next, great (or villainous) character.

Often, I need look no further than my own family to get a dose of inspiration. There’s a joke in my family, don’t say anything around her or you’ll see it in a book. That’s because I’m sitting at family gatherings, laptop open and taking notes. Like the time a relative popped in what we thought was her wedding video. It turned out to be the bachelor party video, which revealed her new husband in some extremely compromising positions with two strippers. While the house erupted in chaos (she collapsed in tears, her mother fainted) I pulled out my Blackberry and started taking notes!

Who needs an active imagination when you have a family as colorful as mine. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I still pull out my creative cap to pen the story, but often the foundation is rooted in reality.

Sometimes, it’s strangers, like the couple that sat next to me on the plane recently. They hugged and loved on each other the whole ride. Then as we began our descent, she began crying as she hugged him tighter. At the gate, she cried harder, as they went their separate ways. At baggage claim, I saw why she was crying as the happy woman and two kids greeted him. I watched, fascinated, as he swept them into his arms and proclaimed, how much he “missed his wife and kids.” Since I couldn’t follow them home, my mind began churning, creating their backstory. And when I glanced over at the sad woman watching the happy family just as intensely as I, her story started forming as well.

This couple, and their clandestine affair, have no idea that they spawned a story in the mind of the woman who sat next to them on the plane.

But that’s how the mind of a writer works. We’re always looking at the ‘what ifs.’ So be careful as you take that next trip, or go in for your morning latte. You may end up in book.