A wolf shifter striving for redemption and a woman turning into a shifter. How exactly did this story come about? Read more here for a behind the scenes look at the “making of” Fire Maidens: Rome!
The story & characters
Fire Maidens: Rome is unique among my books since it starts off with a heroine who is thrust into the shifter world when she unexpectedly begins shifting. I really wanted to start the story off with a bang, and a morning stroll through Rome’s Villa Pamphili park made a lightbulb go off over my head. From that initial idea, I gradually developed the heroine’s full character and backstory.
I wanted Lena to have a strong connection to the city, and to make her fit to be a Fire Maiden through her values and line of work. And gradually, Lena emerged from my imagination - a woman who is tough but not pushy, kind but not a pushover, and super capable without being a superhero. She faces challenges with dignity and determination - something I especially admire in my mother. You can’t control what fate throws at you, but you can show how classy you are in the way you meet those challenges. I hope that comes through as a subtle homage to someone I owe so much to.
Sergio was already introduced in Fire Maidens: London, but the details of his character only become clear in this book. His family’s mafia background was one of the earliest elements I established in outlining this story. That’s partly because I love redemption stories and partly because there’s nothing more forbidden than a man like him falling in love with a princess-like Fire Maiden!
There are many dark elements to Sergio’s backstory, but his wolf holds out hope for a better life - and maybe even love - even when his human side isn’t so sure. Like most of my other heroes, he has an underlying respect and admiration for women, based on the contrast between his loving mother and the male figures in his family he despised. That allows him to be the kind of tough-yet-vulnerable and utterly supportive hero I love.
Another given in this story was the ongoing threat of the Lombardis, but they’re too clever to reveal themselves or their nefarious plans early in this book. That’s where Vicente comes in - he provides a clear, sinister presence for the story to build upon. Vicente is a constant reminder of everything Sergio despises, with just enough mystery to make him fascinating. He’s actually one of those characters who seems to write his own story, in fact. I started with a fairly straightforward “bad guy” and ended up with a deeper character shaped by his own struggles.
Amber, on the other hand - well, she started and ended as a one-dimensional character! That’s not because I didn’t want a more complex character, but because some people really are that superficial and self-absorbed. You know the type, right?
Marco, on the other hand, is the kind of dark, mysterious stranger who makes your heart thump. He’s a loyal friend, a battle-hardened soldier, and a man scarred by love. But I’m getting ahead of myself! His story is next: Fire Maidens: Portugal!
On Location in Rome
In many ways, I could have written this story by relying on vivid memories of a trip I made to Rome several years ago. After all, the monuments and flavor of the city hasn’t really changed. But the “refresher trip” I made specifically for this story gave me countless details that really made this story come to life. For example, I happened to book a hotel high on Gianicolo Hill for that “refresher” trip. Breakfast was served on a rooftop terrace with exactly the views described in the book - a view which included nearby Villa Pamphili park and a gorgeous villa with a crenelated tower. So that immediately gave me an atmospheric corner of Rome to base parts of the story in.
Naturally, the main sights of the Eternal City all feature, too, from the Spanish Steps to Isola Tiberina and Lena’s quirky Trastevere neighborhood. However, as a history buff, I wanted to explore outside the city limits, something I hadn’t had a chance to do before. However, I actually went to the Parco degli Acquedotti on the outskirts of the city more for personal reasons than to scout the location for this book. (If you’ve read the bonus scene to Fire Maidens: Paris, you might have noticed I have a thing for aqueducts!) But as I explored that lovely area by mountain bike, I couldn’t help picturing a full-fledged battle taking place, both on the ground and in the air. It really is a perfect location, something I would not have realized had I not been there with shifters on my mind.
Of course, I’ve never had to escape from evil shifters by running along the top of an aqueduct, but I have walked along the top of the Pont du Gard, the aqueduct in southern France featured in Fire Maidens: Paris. So that gave me a sense for how scary it really is up there, which I hope comes through in the book.
Finally, I’ll bounce back to Rome’s Gianicolo Hill with that lovely villa with the crenelated tower. I loved that house so much, I briefly considered making Sergio a dragon shifter, because it seems like the perfect residence for a dragon of noble blood. But of course, that doesn’t fit Sergio at all. However, it does suit a man like Leonardo D’Accardi, and in the end, I was able to tie together several story threads at that beautiful villa. That’s one of the things I enjoy most about writing fiction - I get to make special places like that part of my hero & heroine’s lives and live vicariously through them!
If you’re curious to see more on these locations, watch this on location video to see the real-life places that inspired scenes in this book. Enjoy!
My favorite scene
I have several favorite scenes, but I’ll narrow them down to two for now. Interestingly, both are set in locations I happened to come across (versus those I’d planned on visiting ahead of time). The first is the fight at the aqueducts. I really enjoyed biking around the aqueducts that day, and I spent most of that afternoon picturing it as a site of heated battle. So that is one of my favorite scenes, not only for the amazing setting but also the epic action, with dragons zooming through the arches, Lena balancing on the narrow strip on the very top of the aqueduct, and wolves locked in battle on the ground.
My other favorite scene is the one in which Sergio visits Lena in her Trastevere apartment. Again, setting is important, because it packs in so many realistic details of Rome, from the snippy old widow with her yappy dog, to the creaky stairs and peeling paint of the building, to the views over the terracotta rooftops of the ancient neighborhood. But I also love that scene for the sizzling undercurrent of attraction between Sergio and Lena. That combines with the tension caused by the danger Lena is in plus the nagging presence of Signora Donatelli, the snippy landlady. All in all, that scene packs in a heck of a lot. Even if you don’t register every single detail when you read, they all contribute to making that a rich, memorable scene.
So, those are two of my favorite scenes. What are yours?
Biggest changes from early drafts to final edition
The biggest change from early draft to final edition of Fire Maidens: Rome is that I was considering making this a menage story with two brothers along the lines of Romulus and Remus, the wolf brothers who founded Rome. Which would have been LOT of fun as well as a departure from the strictly one hero/one heroine stories I’ve written so far. But somehow, I couldn’t get away from Sergio as being a lone wolf. Also, of the original wolf brothers from the legend, Romulus actually ended up killing Remus, which is definitely not what I wanted! So I decided to keep this story to a single couple. That doesn’t mean I won’t write a menage or reverse harem someday, though. I don’t have specific plans yet, but stay tuned to hear what I have cooking in the future!
Another change is that my original vision set the final fight in the Colosseum, with Sergio and Vicente pitted against each other, gladiator-style, in front of an audience. That would have been great, with dragons swooping overhead and other shifters springing out of hidden trapdoors and such. However, I ultimately decided against that for three reasons. First, as you may know, the Colosseum doesn’t have a fighting floor anymore. It collapsed centuries ago, revealing the maze of underground lanes once used to move props, animals, and gladiators around. So there’s not actually a good fighting surface available these days apart from a small platform at one end. Second, since the Colosseum is right in the middle of the city, it would be hard to pull off a full-scale shifter fight that no humans noticed, no matter how much magic was at work. Finally, I really fell in love with the aqueduct park outside the city for the amazing structures as well as the relative privacy that location offered.
One final change was a smaller one. My original outline included more of a side story of forbidden love between Domenico (son of Dante, the old Guardian dragon) and the woman he secretly pines for (a servant in the Guardian’s headquarters). But this book already had plenty of supporting characters and intrigue, so I decided to downplay that dynamic and save their little love story for La Dolce Vita, the bonus epilogue to this book. You can get that by subscribing to my newsletter, which keeps you up to date on new releases and special deals, as well as giving you access to dozens of free bonus scenes. To get your free story, just click here.