Subscribe to Paula's newsletter

* indicates required

Paula Altenburg

1 2 3 9

Writing a love scene is the worst

It’s no deep, dark secret that I love bacon.

Or that I hate writing love scenes.

Love scenes should be tastefully done. I’m not a huge fan of graphic language. Having said that, graphic language is difficult to avoid. Otherwise, the cute euphemisms can make a scene sound as if it was written by a fifteen-year-old girl. Too much graphic language, and an image of some sweaty old dude on a typewriter in a dark attic, penning a letter to Penthouse, springs to mind.

I think we can all agree those are both disturbing images.

So. If you’re writing contemporary romance, or books with romantic elements, a love scene is hard to avoid. If I write them last, they’re in danger of being too clinical. I have to be inside the characters’ heads, and understand their emotional states at that specific point in the story, in order to make them work. I’ll avoid them for a few scenes, maybe even a few chapters, but I definitely have to write them before the next major turning point.

That might just be me. It is what it is.

But how do I make a love scene into an actual emotional connection between two characters, or at the very least, elicit an emotional response?

A. I know their states of mind. What do they want out of sex? Human beings are complex. They always want more than the physical act, even if the act is their primary goal. Is it about dominance? Burning off excess energy? Wanting to connect with another person? What do they believe the act will give them when it’s complete?

B. Linda Howard does a great workshop on the 12 stages of intimacy, but I have a background in anthropology, so I prefer to go straight to the source her material came from. Zoologist Desmond Morris wrote Intimate Behaviour back in the 1970s and this book is an amazing resource for how (and why) primates interact. Every writer should read it, regardless of genre.

C. I stay in the POV character’s head. I know what they want, but for the most part–unless they’re a total selfish jerk–they’re trying to figure out what their partner wants.

D. There are a whole lot of writing techniques that go into drafting the scene–show, don’t tell; use of powerful words; building emotional tension; goal, conflict, and disaster–you get what I mean. It takes a lot of hard work to make a scene seem so simple.

E. At the end of the scene, whatever the POV character’s state of mind is at the first of it–whatever they believe they want out of it–I make sure they either don’t get it or get more than they expected.

Conflict. That’s what a romance is about. Internal and external.

And, to show what I mean, here’s the first love scene from my latest contemporary romance, Branded with a Kiss:


He guessed that took the last remnants of mystery out of the evening. Shy, sweet little Alayna Brand had come here looking for sex.

Patterson had a difficult time connecting the dots in his head. The other night, everything about this girl had shouted innocence at him. He’d planned on getting to know her. On taking things slow. This was his friend’s sister, after all. Plus, she was a good deal younger than him. He normally pursued women with more age and experience behind them, and with few to no expectations.

But she’d knocked him ass over kettle, as James T. was fond of saying, and her wide eyes sheared away the last bit of willpower he owned.

She scrabbled behind her with one hand and grabbed her bag off the floor near the sofa. She fumbled inside it and emerged with a handful of packets she then dumped into his hand. He blinked a little at that. It seemed she planned on being busy all night—or at least until just before dawn broke, since she’d seemed intent on keeping her presence here a secret between the two of them.

Good thing she was hoping for more than one round. He had his doubts as to how long the first one would last. When he’d caught sight of her in the parking lot in that short skirt and with those long, bare legs, he’d lost his ability to think.

Then, when she’d kissed him…

He’d wanted to back her up against her car and take her right there. He had his horse, Rudolph, to thank for saving him from himself. And right now, he could do better for her than an old, sagging couch that was too short for either one of them, or the worn rug on the floor. He had a king-sized bed that was made for his height, and just right for all kinds of fun and games.

He tucked the condoms into the pocket of his unzipped jeans. His discarded shirt lay on the floor. He sat back on his heels to admire the sight she made between his thighs while he tried to regain some control. Her cheeks were flushed. Her hair was a puddle of honey. She looked well-kissed, with swollen red lips and brilliant blue eyes that glittered in the soft light of the lamp. One strap of her sundress had ridden off her shoulder, exposing the pink-tipped breast he’d teased with his teeth and tongue. The skirt of her dress bunched at her hips.

He’d never seen anyone as pretty.

He stood. Taking her hand, he encouraged her to her feet. She slid the strap of her dress into place, covering her breast, as he led her into the darkened bedroom. She paused at the side of the bed.

“What would you like me to do?” she asked.

Her voice came out so softly, little more than an eager breath of excitement. He ran his hands under the skirt of her dress. He’d been hard most of the evening already. The promise of an entire night spent exploring what made her hot too had him close to the edge.

“I believe I should be asking you that question. Ladies first,” he forced himself to say.

“I want you to surprise me,” she said, a spark of challenge in her eyes.

She tugged on his jeans, sliding them down his hips. He sprang free, his erection thrusting hard against her breast, bringing a gasp to her lips. She straightened. Then she wrapped her hand around him, one gentle finger exploring the rounded tip. The slide of her palm as she moved it up and down, the way he’d encouraged her to, made colorful lights sparkle against the backs of his eyelids.

“Okay. The first time was going to be really fast. He could at least make it memorable. Thank God they had all night for him to redeem himself. He stooped and found one of the condoms she’d given him. Tearing it open, he quickly rolled it into place.

“Turn around,” he said. “Bend over the bed.”

She did as he instructed her, glancing back at him over her shoulder. Her hair splayed in a fan across the blankets, and he spread her legs a bit wider apart with his knee. He flipped her skirt up and smoothed his palms over the round, perfect cheeks of her ass. He’d had a lot of practice peeling women out of thongs and he put it to good use. She arched her back in anticipation, bracing herself against the mattress with her forearms. He placed one hand under her belly to steady her, and holding himself in the other, bent his knees and guided his erection into position. With one hard, single thrust, he was inside her.

And, oh God, it was every bit as good as he’d imagined.

She cried out. At first, he assumed it was from excitement. On the third thrust he caught the faint sob she couldn’t quite stifle.

His ears had to be playing tricks on him. She’d been as ready and eager as he was. He thrust again, but more gently this time. Her whole body trembled, her belly clenched tight against his palm supporting her weight, although she uttered not one word of protest.

Or encouragement either.

His brain tried to explain to the rest of him what had just happened. It took two more thrusts before he received the full message. By then, it was too late. He came on a wave of pleasure mixed with a sense of things gone terribly wrong. It might have sucked a bit of his soul from him too.

He withdrew, his heart hammering. She had a death grip on the blanket covering the bed and her face was turned away from him. Her shoulders were shaking.

Incapable of speech, he grabbed his jeans off the floor and stalked into the bathroom, where the evidence confirming his suspicions made itself plain. He cleaned up, hauled his jeans on, then stared at himself for a long time in the mirror. He’d just taken a virgin from behind, and with a total lack of finesse. He didn’t think he’d ever disliked himself more.

And then he was furious.

I don’t have a whole lot of experience, she’d said.

He stalked back into the bedroom and sat on the side of the bed, waiting wordlessly while she took her turn in the bathroom. When she came out, she had her dress rearranged and smoothed into place. She’d tidied her hair and washed her face. She looked young, and innocent, and composed.

All of which fed his rising anger.

She looked young. She looked innocent.

And as for composed

Good for her. That wasn’t at all how he was feeling.

He was slow to anger by nature. When his temper boiled over, however, as it did now, it turned into a heat-seeking missile in need of a target. He had a few things he planned to get off his chest and she was going to listen. She’d been so disrespectful—to him, coming here the way she had—but more importantly, to herself.

Tonight shouldn’t have happened this way.

Why me? He wanted to ask, but he didn’t. He was afraid he already knew the answer and right now wasn’t a good time to hear it.

“What the hell were you thinking?” he demanded instead.


On the surface, this scene appears more about straight-up sex than love. It’s a “coming of age” story, and the heroine, Alayna, is looking for her first experience. She neglects to mention that to Patterson, the hero. Patterson is older than Alayna, and he’s looking for a little more. Alayna really isn’t a one-night-stand kind of girl, which Patterson knows. Patterson is definitely a one-night-stand kind of guy, and Alayna knows that. Patterson doesn’t know Alayna wants to be that kind of girl with him. Alayna doesn’t know that Patterson is interested in her for a more meaningful relationship. He’s ready to settle down and she’s not.

The characters dictate the language that drives the love scene. In the male POV, it tends to be more graphic, although not always. Depending on the heroine’s personality and life experiences, the language I use might be a little more…polite. Or maybe not. It’s up to them.

In the end, regardless of how I end up writing the scene, I try to keep it true to the characters when I’m in their POVs. And I will always prefer bacon.

If you have any tips of your own for writing love scenes, or preferences for reading them, feel free to share!

I can’t get enough of cowboys

I have a new release coming from Tule Publishing on September 21st.

Branded with a Kiss is the second book in the Sweetheart Brand series, based in Sweetheart, Montana. (Sweetheart, btw, is named for a variety of cherry—your trivia tip for the day.) It’s available for preorder! au

Those of you who read Her Sweetheart Brand (book 1) may or may not remember Damon Brand’s friend Patterson Campbell. Patterson is sitting at the bar during the cherry festival dance, using his cellphone, when Damon stops to talk. What Damon doesn’t know it that Patterson is trying to reach Damon’s youngest sister Alayna.

When Patterson does connect with her, it’s not until a year later and it really doesn’t go well:

“Why wouldn’t you return any of my calls?” Patterson asked.

His father was still watching. Either Patterson hadn’t noticed or he didn’t care.

Alayna, however, was cautious and remained civil. “You’d already said all I needed to hear.”

“You stood me up for the cherry festival dance. I deserve to know why.”

She kept her jaw from flapping open, but it took serious effort. The ego. The nerve. He’d asked her to go to the dance with him before their disastrous sexual encounter. “You didn’t really expect me to show up.”

“Damn straight I did.”

The way his gaze flicked from hers for a brief, guilty second suggested otherwise.

“I didn’t show up,” Alyana said, fighting hard to display nothing but pride, “because upon reflection, you were right. I do need to use some common sense. The men I date these days treat women as equals. They accept that I know my own mind.”

She took advantage of his inability to find a response to brush past him and dive into the front seat of her car. As she backed out of the parking space, he had his hands in his pockets and a dark frown on his face.

Alayna’s not really the ‘forgive and forget’ type. She makes him work for it:

Patterson was twenty-nine years old and could think of a million things he’d rather do than discuss his love life with his father. But his father was also his boss, and the boss half was expressing a valid concern. He tried to think of what he could say that would satisfy James T. on both fronts, and yet not end up exposing laundry Alayna wouldn’t want aired.

“She and I had a misunderstanding last year,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck. “She’s still a little angry with me about it. Let’s just say she’s not the type of girl who’s willing to forgive and forget and leave it at that. You’ll have to trust me when I tell you I’m doing my best to make amends. And I’m confident she’s interested too,” he added, “so you can rest easy on that front. There won’t be any reports to file.”

James T.’s expression grew more severe. It appeared he wasn’t at all reassured by the explanation he’d been given, but accepted that it was the only one he was likely to receive. “Did she read the staff handbook?”

“She did.”

“Did she give you the message?”

Patterson weighed the merits of honesty. “Yes,” he conceded.

“She’s not a toy, son. Or a prize you can win. What if she decides not to forgive and forget?” his father asked. “Are you going to be a man about it and let her go?”

He’d cross that bridge when—if—he came to it. “Of course.”

“Then why don’t you start practicing right now. I might have some experience in the begging forgiveness department, and a little goes a long way, so pace yourself, boy. Give her some space. A thoughtful gift sometimes helps.” James T. clapped him on the shoulder. “Now help me get these steaks on the grill, or pretty soon you’ll have twenty hungry people mad at you, too.”

Patterson hated to admit it, but James T. could well be right. It wasn’t as if his current approach was gaining him any headway with her. He’d love to understand her better, but she made it almost impossible for him to get close enough. Every time he thought he’d made progress, she backed away.

So. Give her some space and a thoughtful gift. He could do that.

“One more question,” James T. said, interrupting his train of thought. “Then I’ll let it alone.” Smoke rolled off the grill as fat from the first steaks started to sizzle. He searched his son’s face, then went straight for the jugular. “Is she the one?”

“I can’t say for certain,” Patterson said, unable to contain his frustration. “You’re making it damned hard for me to find out.”

There are five books planned in the Sweetheart Brand series, and I’m working on the third book right now. It features Claire Brand, another of Damon’s sisters, and Ben Nichols, Patterson’s partner in crime. The Sweetheart Brand books are all about redemption and the main theme is forgiveness.


I know. They sound amazing, right?


On Writing Romance


I was on the radio earlier this week (thank you, News 95.7 and The Sheldon MacLeod Show !) promoting my Spy Games series and one of the questions was about romance writing and why I chose it. (My husband once asked me the same question, btw–“Shouldn’t you *be* romantic?!?”)

But honestly, that’s not what interests me the most in my writing.

My contemporary books come in with a fairly even mix of romance and plot. I’m as interested in my characters’ daily lives as I am in their developing relationships.

(And I don’t only write romance. I have a dystopian fantasy series—previously published as the Demon Outlaws, now rewritten and with brand-new covers!—coming in the fall of 2017, and they have much more plot to them now. They’re no longer classed as romances.)

I have a background in social anthropology however, and it’s the snapshot in time that fascinates me about romance novels in general, both from a macro and micro perspective. For example, romance novels track the feminist movement. When I started reading them in the 1970’s, heroines were secretaries and nurses, and submissive to the more powerful heroes. We then saw the rise of the “bodice rippers” which showed women asserting themselves more. Now heroines are CEOs, doctors, pilots, (and spies!) and the relationships are more of a partnership. There’s room in these books for the alpha hero, but also the beta. These trends are reflected in the other genres, but I write contemporary romances so I’m talking about what I know best.

Culturally, romances also show glimpses into today’s society and what’s happening in daily lives. They reflect what’s relevant to the Real World. Characters are using Blackberries. (ßThat’s meant to be a dated reference. Who uses Blackberries anymore?) They’re traveling to popular destinations. We now have same-sex romances and multi-cultural romances. You see a lot of romantic suspense involving Navy SEALs. A few years ago, they were all searching for Osama bin Laden… I got tired of those so I wrote about Canadian spies. (If you want to know why, then read more about me here. It turns out I have useful knowledge!)

Even the romantic relationships themselves are snapshots. “Falling in love” is the first step to a lifelong commitment. Women’s Fiction (a separate genre) often follows what happens next in human relationships–or perhaps the murkier, messier side of them.

I know I have a lot of writer and reader friends out there. What’s your take on romance? Why write it? Why pick one up to read?

Why would you not?

Thank you to Syd Gill Design


About books, and spies, and silly questions

I have news!

I just signed a contract with Tule Publishing for the second book in a contemporary romance series based in Sweetheart, Montana.

Welcome to Sweetheart, Montana!

The Sweetheart Brand will follow the Brand family (clever, right?) I first introduced in Her Sweetheart Brand, which is Damon and Jess’s story. It’s available now:

Book 2, Branded by a Kiss, is about Damon’s sister Alayna.

And Patterson.

Poor Patterson….

These are redemption stories. There is nothing I enjoy more than torturing a man and each hero has to work hard to prove himself if he wants to win the girl. Alayna might be shy, and unwilling to take chances, but she does know the value of her heart and she plans to protect it. Meanwhile, Patterson’s is about to take a serious beating.

Back to our originally scheduled program.

My fourth Spy Games book, Her Spy at Dawn, is coming soon, so today I want to introduce you to Dan and Alycia.


These are two of my more complex characters. They have a past history, complicated by a mutual tragedy, possibly with a bit of betrayal involved, all of which leads them to places in their lives where they both feel they’ve come out the other end stronger for it.

That is, of course, until they run into each other again. Who knew calm, cool, collected Dan had all these issues, while Alycia? She’s always been fiery-tempered, so one would expect hers to be deeper—and one would be wrong.

Dan and Alycia have to figure out that they really aren’t the same people anymore, be willing to forgive and forget, and learn to love all over again.

So let’s get to know them a little:

  1. Me: Dan and Alycia, you parted ways back in university. I’ll leave the details for the story, but tell me—what’s the attraction these days?

A: Dan has all this calm, quiet confidence. He’s all action and very little talk. When something needs to be done he does it, and it’s really rare for him to make a bad decision. (Casts him a sly, sidelong look.) But I think it was his striptease that really tipped the scales in his favour.

D: (Raises eyebrows.)The striptease was all it took? Because for me, it was the way you said, “Give me” and “More.” (Turns to me.) Alycia has a social conscience. She believes in things. She’s also far more resilient than I gave her credit for. While I like her confidence in me, I love that she can take care of herself. What can I say? I like strong women.

  1. Me: Alycia, I hear you have control issues.

A: I wouldn’t call them issues. I certainly don’t have a problem with them.

D: I don’t have a problem with them either…especially when she’s saying, “Give me” and “More.”

  1. Me: Dan, rumour has it you’ve killed a man.

D: The rumour is wrong.

A: (In an aside to me.) Read into that what you like. Dan’s very good at evasion.

  1. Me: (Clearing throat.) Moving on… Alycia. Boxers or briefs?

A: Boxer briefs.

  1. Me: Dan. Bikini or boy shorts?

D: What are boy shorts? (Turns to Alycia.) Are those the lacy little things that ride up like a thong, but still sort of cover your cheeks? (Grins.) Yeah. Those.

  1. Me: If you could have a super power, what would it be?

A: Mind control, like Professor X or Jane Gray. But I’d only use it for good, not invading privacy.

D: She’s lying. She would completely invade people’s privacy. She’s an RCMP investigator. She invades privacy for breakfast.

A: He’s right. I still want it as my super power.

Dan: I’d want invisibility and I make no promises as to how I’d use it.

A: He’d only use it for good. He’s predictable that way. He’s like a white knight in tarnished armour.

  1. Me: If you could change one thing about each other, what would it be?

A: Nothing. He’s perfect.

D: (Taking her hand and gazing into her eyes.) I can’t top that so I’m not even going to try.

Me: Oh! That is aDORable!!!

A: (Rolling her eyes but not letting go of his hand.) Again with the evasion, and again, read into that what you like.

  1. Me: One final question. Tell us a secret about yourself that doesn’t appear in the book. No spoilers, please.

A: I own more than yoga pants and panties to spend my leisure time in. I’m looking at you, Author.

D: I don’t own either yoga pants or panties. I’m thanking you, Author.

* * *

If you’d like to learn more about Dan and Alycia’s story, you can read the first chapter of Her Spy at Dawn here. If you want to check out other books of mine that are already available, follow me on social media, or sign up for my newsletter to hear about new releases, you can find everything you need on my website.

And if you have any questions of your own for Dan and Alycia, or me, you can leave them in the comments section.

Thanks for stopping by!


1 2 3 9