Lara Dunning blogged about using writing prompts to mine story ideas (they don't always work for her). I find using prompts to be intriguing, but I find that for them to work I typically need to pound a number of ideas together until I get something that has that niggling hook that grabs my attention.
Yuri's Butterflies is one of those stories that took a couple of different ideas and pounded them together until I came up with something. It started with an article in The Economist, "Reputation Management: Glitzkrieg". The article stands out because it's one of the few articles written in second person and it describes how one might buy respectability. The idea of a drug kingpin, or down-and-out dictator was intriguing to me and the way they might use or rather abuse their power seemed like an interesting character.
I mixed this with the world I'd first started with an addictive substance called dust that created illusions. I realized that the world was an alternate current day world with the addition of this fantastical element and that it would fit well as a backdrop for exploring a drug kingpin who is trying to become respectable.
This mixed a little bit with a recent New Yorker article, "The Art of the Billionaire", I'd read profiling philanthropist Eli Broad. It was an interesting article and didn't play significantly with the story, but it did provide information about the way that principal donors work with large art organizations.
Lastly, one of my favorite parts about Tad Williams Otherland series was the garden that Mr. Sellers kept at his house. I liked the sense of wonder filling this garden and the ministries around it and I always looked forward to these portions of the story. I hope I captured a little bit with the illusions of the butterflies.