If a muse is a guiding spirit or a source of inspiration, as Dictionary.com tells us, then my muse must be a nerdy guy who wants to be a hunk. "I can be him," my muse will tell me. "I just need a great body, longer hair, and cat eyes."
My heroes, for the most part, are accounted for: I know exactly who and why they inspired me, but that usually only concerns their physical appearance. The hero of Virgin (June 2011) is based on two different people. He has the face, coloring, and physique of the fellow to your left, and the name and height of another. His personality, however, comes from my muse.
My heroines have often been based on ladies I know personally--never a model or an actress. Sometimes it's planned and sometimes it comes as a surprise, but they are all based in reality in one way or another, though it may be my muse who suggests them to me.
You often hear that muses are fickle creatures; bailing out on you in your time of need, or sending you off on a tangent, but other times, that spirit or imaginative force will take you exactly where you need to go. It may send you to places you've never been, or will sometimes take you back to revisit others. For the most part, the strange aliens, secondary characters, planets, and animals that populate my books come from a source buried deeply in my subconscious in the form of memories.
To illustrate this, a few days ago I was working on the opening chapters of the eighth book in the Cat Star Chronicles series when, for some unfathomable reason, I decided to introduce a species of alien hermaphrodites. Now, this is a concept I haven't explored before, but it triggered a memory that is at least forty years old. I was buying ice cream in a shop somewhere, and to this day, I couldn't tell you if the person behind the counter was was male or female. When I remembered him/her, at that moment, I could not only envision a new character, but a whole new world and its inhabitants.
My muse can also visit my dreams. Last night, I dreamed that I was on a bus with my son, and a tiny little woman got on board. She was very alien-looking, with huge dark eyes, fish-like lips, and very slender, delicate limbs. In my dream, Sam asked me if she was real, and I replied that I was pretty sure she was. I don't often remember dreams, but that mental picture is as vivid to me now as if I had actually seen her with my own eyes, and yet another alien species has come to life.
My nerdy muse will often keep me going late into the night, but other times he will smack me upside the head and say, "Go to bed!" It happens so suddenly that I often crash into bed (it's right next to my desk) fully clothed and sometimes with my shoes on. I usually remember to take my glasses off, but not always. Sometimes I fall asleep, but other times I lie there awake, still thinking about what I've been writing. Being horizontal helps my muse to reach into my mind--a mind no longer focused on how cold my feet are or how heavy my eyelids might be. Most of the time I get up after a bit, write some more, and THEN go to bed for real.
Like right now.
Good night, sweet muse. I'll see you in my dreams.