Stories come at different times and places for me--in the car, in the shower, while walking, even while standing around at parties. On a couple of occasions, stories have come to me in dreams. But it's very rare for me to write one as soon as the idea comes, and I don't keep an "idea notebook." Not writing ideas down is an exercise in self-preservation. I get a lot of them, but only a small percentage are any good, so I tuck them all into a kind of mental file. The bad ones eventually self-destruct in there, like the tape from Control at the beginning of every Mission Impossible episode. The good ones don't do that. Every now and then, when I open the file drawer to peek at what's left inside, this small handful of ideas looks up at me, each with its own bright central image.
With "The Langoliers," that image was of a woman pressing her hand over a crack in the wall of a commercial jetliner.
It did no good to tell myself I knew very little about commercial aircraft; I did exactly that, but the image was there every time I opened the file cabinet to dump in another idea, nevertheless. It got so I could even smell that woman's perfume (it was L'Envoi), see her green eyes, and hear her rapid, frightened breathing.
One night, while I was lying in bed, on the edge of sleep, I realized this woman was a ghost.
I remember sitting up, swinging my feet out onto the floor, and turning on the light. I sat that way for a little while, not thinking about much of anything . . . at least on top. Underneath, however, the guy who really runs this job for me was busy clearing his workspace and getting ready to start up all his machines again. The next day, I--or he--began writing this story.