Behind the scenes: Rebel Dragon

Rebels? Dragons? Pearls? Are you wondering how Rebel Dragon, Book 1 of my Aloha Shifters: PEARLS OF DESIRE series came to be? It was a long, fun journey, and I’m delighted to share it with you now. Fair warning: hot alpha shifters, ruthless enemies, and possibly a few spoilers ahead!

Note: you can also read my post Behind the Scenes of the Pearls of Desire series for more background on the inspiration for the series as a whole.

The characters

I had several heroines in mind for this new series, and at times, it was hard to decide which to begin with. But I quickly realized that Jenna Monroe had to be the heroine of Book 1 because of her mermaid blood. Poor Jenna didn’t even know about that part of her heritage, though she quickly discovers that’s what makes her a target of a ruthless enemy. (If you’ve read the Jewels of the Heart series, you probably recognized Jenna’s name. Her half-sister, Jody, was the heroine of Lure of the Tiger). That mermaid aspect is critical to this story. It’s no accident that Jenna is the discoverer of the first of the pearls of desire. And that in turn puts the entire series into motion through a series of actions and consequences none of the characters could foresee.

Jenna is a lot like her sister Jody - a beach baby whose parents taught her the importance of love and joy in a world that is not always as peaceful or kind as we’d like it to be. I love the angle of Jenna as the youngest of her family (a young woman who’s a little tired of not being taken seriously) because that really lets her come into her own in the course of this story. In that way, she’s the perfect match for Connor, as we shall see. In many other respects, Jenna is his opposite, and that’s important too. Every good couple is a mix of similarities and differences that allow them to complement one another - even if they do drive each other crazy sometimes!

Just as Jenna was a natural choice for Book 1, so was Connor, as oldest brother of the Hoving clan - a dragon shifter determined to establish his place in the world (or die trying). I wanted this series to feature a combination of shifter types, and having three sons of a myriad shifter made it possible to make the heroes not only a band of brothers in a military sense, but true brothers, too. That’s the glue that keeps them together through thick and thin - a characteristic that suits shifters perfectly. If you’ve read my Twin Moon and Blue Moon Saloon series, you know I love writing about brothers who experience a certain amount of friction while still remaining close. (See my post on the Pearls of Desire series for more on the myriad shifter idea).

Connor is everything I love in a man - he’s big, tough, and determined, but vulnerable at the same time. He tries so hard even when the odds are against him, as they have been for most of his life. And yes, he’s got a heck of a chip on his shoulder about the strict ways of the purebred dragon world, which forms a great basis for his personal journey throughout this book. Connor’s backstory (son of a deadbeat dad who is not truly accepted by the noble dragon world) allows him to be two things at once: on one hand, a mighty dragon bound for greatness, and on the other, a lost boy from modest means determined to make his mark upon the world. Both those elements are the hallmarks of a great hero, I think. Another detail I like about Connor is his innate respect for women as the son of a hard-working single mother. So while alpha instincts urge him to protect and claim Jenna, he’s also capable of giving her space to fight for her own destiny.

One other “character” I’ll note here is Nanalani, daughter of Kamohoalii, the shark king. Nanalani is purely a figment of my imagination, but the legend of Kamohoalii and his shark shifter son Nanaue is a genuine one from Hawaiian lore (You can read more about it here). If Kamohoalii could have a son, he could have a daughter, too, right? And that daughter could have learned from her brother’s tragedy by begging the spirit of the sea for some means of safely loving a man she admired from afar. That desire, in turn, launched my new legend of the pearls of desire. That’s one thing I love about writing fiction - taking my inspiration from real life (or in this case, genuine legends) to develop something unique and unexpected.

You might be wondering about Cynthia, who has an amazing backstory of her own. It’s a mystery you’ll learn more and more about as the series goes on. And as for those other heroines I mentioned having in mind? Don’t worry - they’re just as ballsy and relatable as Jenna, and you’ll get to meet each of them soon!

The story

The most challenging part of writing this book was meeting my ambition of not only bringing two fascinating characters together, but setting the stage for a truly epic shifter saga that spans five books - the kind where you can sense the gears of destiny moving from page one of Book 1 all the way through to the happy end of Book 5! It was quite a balancing act at times. I also love peppering hints and clues throughout the story, so it took quite a while to weave everything together and make sure the end was a surprise.

I’m not really sure how the stalker idea popped into my mind, but it worked well to create that sense of creeping danger in the background of this book. Another prominent theme is renovation work on the plantation house and grounds, which brings together a ragtag group of shifters and helps them form a true community. That comes in part from my love of old buildings and the process of restoring them in a way that captures their character. I sure would love to live at Koakea, wouldn’t you?

Having a rival dragon - a well-established and respected purebred dragon - was also a key point that took its place in the story outline in early on. But above all, the story is driven to its ultimate confrontation by Connor and Jenna’s parallel need to prove themselves. And, as in all my books, the heroine plays a key role in saving herself and her destined mate. I use color-coded, sticky notes to help me plot out each story, so once I had those key points in place, it was mainly a question of connecting the dots between. Some of those connections took longer than others, but eventually I had the story you can see today, from the lively set of the Lucky Devil to the beach at Koakea and the underwater adventures of a heroine on a journey of self-discovery and love.

My favorite scene

My favorite scene in this story is fairly easy to pick - that’s the up close and personal training sessions in which Connor teaches Jenna hand-to-hand combat. Yes, this is a little fantasy of mine! A little sweat, a lot of innuendo… All those touches that start as pure business and quickly slide over to simmering desire… Whew! That was a favorite, for sure. A close second would be the cute “armadillo” exchange Connor and Jenna have after he walks her home that atmospheric night after she spots the pearl for the first time.

Real-life inspiration

I can’t seem to resist inserting little details of favorite places and legends from my travels into my stories, so I’ll point out a few here. One is the Hawaiian legend of Kamohoalii, the shark king, as I mentioned above. Then there’s the story Connor tells Jenna as he lights a bonfire to keep evil spirits at bay that first time they make love. You’ll find a lot of such holdovers of these pagan rituals in modern day Switzerland and Germany, where some villages still hold traditional parades or scaring of the demons ceremonies. You can read about some examples here and here. It’s quite a sight, and actually inspired the culminating scene in Fire Maidens: Switzerland!

Finally, there’s Connor’s house which is built into and around a natural lava tube. The inspiration for that comes half a world away from Maui in the Canary Islands. There, you can visit Tahiche, the home of Manrique, a visionary architect who loved incorporating the natural landscape into his structures. You can’t visit Tahiche (now a museum) without wishing you could live there, so I’ve done the next best thing by letting Connor live in his own dragon-friendly version of the real thing!

Biggest change from early drafts to final edition

Some stories pop out of my imagination in a relatively sharp burst of creative energy. Others, like this one, lie stewing on the back burner of my mind for a long time, so it’s hard for me to pick out what changed over time from that early mix of ingredients. One late change to Rebel Dragon was the addition of Anton, a rival dragon Connor confronts in the first third of the book. As a reader and author, I love being able to see shifters in their animal forms, so this was an opportunity for Connor to show his inner dragon fairly early on.

The funnest late additions are the little tweaks to side characters I make in my final editing rounds. By the time I’ve written a whole book (and Rebel Dragon is my longest yet), I get to know each character inside out, so I always go back and make sure their primary characteristics come through early on. That helps create a rich cast of characters you’ll love to follow. Like Dell, the happy-go-lucky lion shifter… adorable Chase, the shy wolf… mysterious Cynthia, who challenges Connor as alpha of their new shifter clan… and gruff, dependable Tim, Connor’s bear of a brother. I can’t wait to bring you their stories in the next books of this series!

Cross-links with other series

Fans of my Jewels of the Heart series will have witnessed how that series helped nudge this new one into being, so there are many cross-links even though every book can be read as a standalone. If you haven’t read Lure of the Dragon and the other books of Jewels of the Heart, put them at the top of your reading list, because they will help you appreciate some fun nuances you’ll enjoy spotting in the background!

Most prominent here, of course, are Kai and Tessa of Lure of the Dragon, Cruz and Jody of Lure of the Tiger, and Boone and Nina of Lure of the Wolf. I love giving them all cameos and seeing them enjoying their happily ever afters! At the same time, though, I have to give the new characters space to establish themselves, too, so that’s always a trick to balance.