My idea for Nirvana Cat came from an advertisement that I saw on John Joseph Adams' blog. Adams advertised an issue of the magazine Shimmer that would contain steampunk fables involving animals.
For those who do not know, steampunk takes a pre-electrified 1800's setting and adds technologies or fantasy elements to it that were not originally there. For instance, William Gibson and Bruce Sterling tell the story of an 1800's mechanical (nonelectric) computer confronted by a primitive netrunner with the first virus--The Difference Engine.
I love nineteenth century fiction. Mostly I read mysteries and historical fiction set in that era. However, I did not like Shimmer's word count restrictions or compensation, so I decided that I would likely not submit. But I still wanted to write a story.
I started with John Stuart Mill, the economist who founded modern libertarian thought--the idea that if someone does an activity that does not materially harm anyone else, that he should be allowed to do the activity even if 99% of voters do not like the activity. I thought I build a moral conflict around this idea.
I researched Mill and found, to my surprise, that he was the Indian Correspondent for the British East India Company, the head policy maker for the company's rule of India. The British East India Company was a 250 years old! It ruled a country. This was cyberpunk, brought to life, in 1857.
In looking at some interesting years in Mill's life, I found that the Sepoy Rebellion in 1857 in India ended the Mughal Empire and practically ended the company. Also, Mill's wife died shortly after this time. The only other piece that I wanted to find was a branch of science to exploit as a device to drive the story.
Wasn't Gregor Mendel doing research at about this time? Maybe he could produce a genetically engineered animal to wreak havoc. I found another excellent result. In 1857 Gregor Mendel was two years into his experimental breeding program on peas.
The stars were aligned.
Those are the pieces of the story. Picking these elements and deciding how they might be used took quite some time.
This was where the story came from. But this was just the place where the real research started!