So, how did I ever come up with a dragon shifter love story set in Paris, complete with vampires, gargoyles, and cunning wolves? How does the Foreign Legion fit in? And what exactly is a Fire Maiden? You’ll find out all that and more here as I go behind the scenes of Fire Maidens: Paris.
I love me a hero from the wrong side of the tracks, which fits Tristan in many ways. Most dragon shifters mate for life, but his parents split up, and he grew up with an absentee father and a quirky mother who constantly moved from place to place. That and a stint in the French Foreign Legion makes Tristan yearn for a place to truly call home, and where better than Paris?
Why the Foreign Legion? Well, they’re legendary, for one thing - the Foreign Legion is known as the roughest, toughest military in the world. Personally, I love working with international groups and there’s no military more international than the Légion étrangère. That also gave me the excuse to move the series around Europe, following each of my heroes and heroines. Clever, eh? Finally, I have a thing for military heroes making the transition to civilian life, and I love the “band of brothers” dynamic they develop.
So it goes without saying the Tristan can hold his own. But as the son of a struggling single mom, he’s got huge respect for women, too. This makes him perfect for Natalie, who is vulnerable as a person new to Paris and a woman coming off a bad relationship. She’s strong, though, even if she shows it in her own gentle way. Like Tristan, she has a lot of heart, but unlike him, she’s not afraid to show it. Each are reluctant to start a new relationship, so there’s that tension even while the sparks between them fly!
In many ways, Natalie is a pretty ordinary young woman, and that’s intentional. I wanted to show how the most ordinary of us can rise above artificial limits imposed by ourselves and others - limits we don’t even see sometimes. On the other hand, Natalie has something none of us have - royal dragon shifter blood, which makes her a Fire Maiden. These are descendants of the legendary dragon queen Liviana, and as such, they harbor great powers. Most are humans with no idea they carry shifter blood until destiny brings them “home” to their ancestral cities, where forces of good and evil will do anything to control the Fire Maiden and her slumbering powers.
Wouldn’t it be cool to find out that “plain old you” is actually descended from a legendary royal family? Cool, but dangerous, as Natalie quickly discovers.
Tristan and Natalie might be the stars of Fire Maidens: Paris, but since I love stories with a rich set of characters, this book has quite the supporting cast. Of course, you only meet two of the main heroes at a time in this series (unlike previous series where all the heroes are on the stage together from Book 1). On the other hand, there are the Guardians of Paris, and they were a blast to write. Every shifter type has its particular characteristics, and those come through loud and clear in Hugo, the loyal wolf lieutenant; Alaric, the proud dragon alpha; Morfram, the creepy leader of Paris’ law-abiding vampires; and Albiorix, the grim gargoyle. How did I get the idea of bringing in gargoyles? Why, Notre Dame, of course! (More on that below.)
It was important to me that the Guardians are imperfect, and that the line between good and evil is ambiguous at times, as in real life. In this case, the Guardians’ hearts are (mostly) in the right place, but their decisions are often calculated, even ruthless. That makes for a certain degree of tension between the Guardians, which also adds to the book. Poor Natalie! Can you imagine running from vampires only to end up facing a bunch of old curmudgeons like the Guardians? Lucky for her she has Tristan - oh, and Hugo on her side. Hugo, the scarred old wolf, is the (much) older man I could totally run off with. That is, if he weren’t absolutely, totally in love with his mate, so I have to admire him from a distance instead. He’s still sexy as hell, not to mention loyal, honest, and a little mysterious. In many ways, Hugo was Tristan once upon a time, and Tristan - well, I can totally see him maturing into a man like Hugo someday!
Finally, the cast of characters wouldn’t be complete without Madame Colette (yes, the name is inspired by the author - look her up!) and Bijou the cat. I figured I needed one of those typically french matrons in the story - judgmental about everything but good at heart. Bijou, meanwhile, was partly inspired by the huge popularity of Keiki, the kitten who made her first appearance in Lure of the Bear, with supporting roles in all the books that followed. Cats are such characters, aren’t they? And Bijou is just as hard to please as Madame Colette, which really comes through, I think. Poor Tristan! You’ll hear more about Bijou below in my list of favorite scenes.
Oh, and Liam! He’s that guy every girl can fall in love with even if she knows she shouldn’t. Cute, fun, funny, the life of the party, and sexy as sin. But inside, he’s got big issues that will keep him from ever settling down. Unless, of course, exactly the right girl comes along to tame his wild heart, which is exactly what happens in Book 2, Fire Maidens: London. No spoilers here, though - you have to read the book!
The story and setting
Whew. You can probably tell that the cast of characters pretty much wrote their own stories! Whatever details they didn’t whisper into the creative corner of my mind came from the setting of this story - Paris! The City of Lights is a no-brainer as the setting for the first book in a series based around glamorous cities of Europe. I’ve always loved the city, from the first time I visited at age ten to my most recent trip with my teenaged kids. Paris is not just historic - it’s dynamic!
As I mentioned, setting a suspenseful romance in Paris means a book pretty much writes itself. It goes without saying that I had to set a scene at the Eiffel Tower, so - boom! - what better place to stage a dragon fight? Then there’s raunchy Pigalle, where I really did count twenty-six sex shops within a few blocks on my last visit. Finally, the spooky catacombs begged to host the final confrontation between the forces of good and evil in this book. The scenes in between fell into place naturally, as if by themselves. I love it when writing goes that smoothly !
Natalie’s cramped little chambre de bonne is based on the apartment a friend rented during her semester abroad in Paris (we squeezed three people in there for a few nights back in our student days), and Tristan’s penthouse is the dream place I gazed up at one afternoon from the Jardin du Luxembourg, one of my favorite Paris parks. I also discovered a fancy but aging villa on an easy-to-overlook side street near Pigalle which became the inspiration for Alaric’s mansion. Sometimes I feel I could set an entire series in Paris just after one afternoon of exploring. However, I did use a little creative license in the final fight, in which I combined Paris’s eerie catacombs (with its artistically arranged piles of bones) with a spooky crypt in Rome (complete with desiccated mummies).
Vampires were an automatic villain for me, because somehow I associate Paris with vampires. Don’t all those cobblestoned streets and alleys seem like a perfect lurking place for them? (For you vampire fans, don’t worry - I acknowledge that there are plenty of law-abiding vampires in Paris! But a couple of rogues can cause a heck of a lot of trouble, especially when they join forces with an overly ambitious she-dragon.) Then there are the Lombardis, the ruthless dragon clan that will drive the action in the rest of this series. So in a way, Book 1 sets the stage for the rest of the series - something you’ll see front and center in Book 2, Fire Maidens: London.
Note: Watch this on location video to see the real-life places that inspired scenes in this book!
My favorite scene
That’s a hard one, because I have several. I love watching Natalie quietly explore Tristan’s apartment on the first night of her stay and quietly interpreting what the place says about the man. I love their breakfast on the rooftop terrace with Madame Colette banging pots and pans downstairs. Then there are the big scenes that sweep me away to Paris every time - dragons swooping around the Eiffel Tower and shooting flames through the tunnels of the catacombs.
But I love the little moments, too, like the morning scene when Tristan is trying to sleep in and Bijou is making noise at the bedside table, demanding to be fed.
*“What do you want?” Tristan demanded.
Bijou looked up smugly as if to say,* Guess.
I’ve been there, believe me. You too? And really, it’s the little things that suck you into a story and make it that much more real, don’t you agree?
Otherwise… Well, like I said, I have lots of favorite scenes. What about you? Which would you pick?
Biggest change from early drafts to final edition
The terrible fire at Notre Dame occurred just as I was finishing this story, and that brought about a few last-minute changes to the book to reflect the sad reality. Other than that, the main change from initial concept to final paperback was the combination of villains who worked together. I couldn’t quite decide whether to make the villain a vampire, the Lombardi dragon clan, or beautiful, bitchy Jacqueline. In the end, I went with a combination of all three! Hopefully, that kept you on your toes as you were reading and made the end hard to guess.
Oh, and for a long, time, I couldn’t decide whether to make Liam a dragon or a lion shifter. The solution to that problem is a story for another day - and another book: Fire Maidens: London. No spoilers here!
Cross-links with other series
This Fire Maidens: Billionaires & Bodyguards series is closely linked to both my Aloha Shifters series. You’ll know that if you read (or re-read) Rebel Alpha. The connection between the Aloha shifters and the Fire Maidens gang is elaborated on in Aloha to Paris, a short story that’s part of my free, exclusive “newsletter rewards” library. There are dozens of books and bonus scenes there! You can get access by signing up here.