It’s All In the Detail by Paula Altenburg

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Settings are something that, in a story, are a crucial element, and part of the reader’s sensory experience, but for the most part should be unobtrusive. You want the reader to feel as if they’re in the same time and place as the characters, but you don’t want the setting details to overshadow the story.

Don’t ask me how this happened, but over the past four or five years I’ve found myself firmly planted in the American West. I’ve written Demon Westerns in a dystopian future. I’ve got a paranormal “Cowboys and Aliens” alternate history story coming out soon.  And my current release, Her Secret Love (#3 in the Secrets of Cherry Lake series from Tule Publishing), is a contemporary romance set on the shores of Flathead Lake, Montana. (Check out those images. My husband wants us to move there.)

I’m fairly confident my love affair with the West began the same way as that of most western romance fans—by reading Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour. (How can those author names not appeal to romance readers?)My father recently gave me his entire Louis L’Amour collection—heaven. I tell him they’re Harlequin romances for men. I mean, come on. There’s always a strong woman character who needs a helping hand from the hero, but who can ultimately stand on her own.

The problem for me as a writer, however, is that I’m seriously setting-challenged. I’m an abstract thinker and not at all visual. I can’t read a map. (I once wrote an entire book with the locations upside down and backward from what they are in reality. So far, no one’s noticed.)Descriptive details bore me. And I live on the East Coast of Canada, surrounded by the Bay of Fundy and the Atlantic Ocean. We have a large dairy industry here, but if you try to compare our farms to Montana ranches…no.

This is what my world looks like:


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Here’s my personal experience with the American West:
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And in my head, here’s what I think the West looks like:Paula5

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Mix those with the chase scenes from Mad Max: Fury Road and I’m sure you can understand the challenge I face.

There are details about the world we each live in that, in our heads, are universal truths, but in reality, are anything but. When my youngest son began university, we took a few of his friends from Oman to see Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia. They kept asking if we could stop the car so they could explore the boggy wetlands that surround the Atlantic beach areas here. They live in the desert. They’d never seen wetlands before.

Cherry Lake, Montana might be a fictional town, but the location is not. Every time I had a bird chirp in Her Secret Love, I had to look up what kind of bird it might be. The trees are different. The grass is different. I had no idea what the seasons might be like. They turn at different times from what I’m used to. Sunrise and sunset aren’t the same. Not to mention, school starts so much earlier in Montana than it does here.

There are four books and one novella in the Secrets of Cherry Lake series.  (Small Town Secrets is free on if anyone wants to check out the series.) That’s four authors who all had to coordinate setting details for the town and its inhabitants. We were lucky in that one of our authors, Jeannie Watts (The Secret Bride), is actually from the area. She’s the Tule Publishing resident expert on All Things Cherry Lake.

Writing this series was a lot of fun. Creating Cherry Lake was a great learning experience, too. I hope to write more stories in this particular setting.

Cinderella's CowboyAnd I hope readers will enjoy the Secrets of Cherry Lake as much as we enjoyed writing about them.


If you want to learn more about the Montana Born books offered by Tule Publishing, I’m giving away an e-copy of Cinderella’s Cowboy by USA Today Bestselling author Roxanne Snopek:

Sometimes princes look a lot like cowboys…

Chad Anders doesn’t know why mousy Cynthia Henley trips all over her tongue when she’s around him. Nor does he understand his undeniable attraction to this good girl. Wild and sexy is his type, like the dream-girl he caught a glimpse of years earlier he’s never forgotten.

Cynthia’s superpower is invisibility, especially with men. It’s better for everyone that way. Besides, she’s got a cat. She’s okay. But when playboy-rancher Chad hires her, she’s got a chance to shine. Professionally, at least. Until she learns of his fascination with a mysterious dream-girl, who was actually nothing more than a shy teenager on an ill-advised dare all those years ago. Cynthia knows she’s no man’s dream-girl and never will be.

But there’s magic at the ball. Princesses glow in the starlight, princes appear out of nowhere, and, sometimes, they look a lot like cowboys…


Guest Blogger


  1. I have been reading Secrets of Cherry Lake series and really enjoying the books.

  2. Your a new author for me. Adding name to the list. Looks like it would be a nice place to live. Love the pics.

  3. I have to look into this series! Thanks for sharing about it with us!

  4. Hi everyone! It’s so nice to be here. Janine, I’m glad you’re enjoying the series. Thank you! 🙂 And Kim and Colleen, you’ll love it. The other authors (and their stories!) are amazing.

  5. Love your post, Paula, and so interesting to see glimpses of your world – and your mind! I’m looking forward to reading Her Secret Love. 🙂

    1. Thank you, Jane. I hope you like it! I love Jess. She’s complicated. 😉

  6. Welcome Paula, you are a new author to me so will be adding your name to my list. Setting is sometimes important to me because I am very visual and imagine the characters in the setting.

    1. Hi Connie, Setting is so important. I like to feel I’m in the story, and it helps ground me. 🙂

  7. I had already downloaded SMALL TOWN SECRETS, but haven’t yet started reading it. Soon.

    1. You’ll love it, Donna! Roxanne did a great job introducing the town and the characters.

  8. Hi Paula, you would be a new author to me. My dad was always reading westerns and watching them on TV when I was growing up and I think that is why I enjoy reading a good western today. Its in my blood.

  9. I’m still laughing about your map being upside down for an entire book and No One Noticing, Paula!!! I’m tempted to go thru all your books just to find out which one it is. ??

  10. Sounds good. Looking forward to checking it out.

  11. Would love to read these boks, you sound like your writing is so important to you as it should be thank you for a chance to rad a mew author.

  12. You are so right about setting. I just started a book where the setting wasn’t mentioned in the first 20% of the book and I almost didn’t read it then a name and place were mentioned and I was comfortable enough to finish the book. If it hadn’t been an author I have read for a long time I probably wouldn’t have gone on.

  13. I always buy a book if it says “Montana Born” on the cover, so now I’ll add the Cherry Lake series to my Kindle. Thanks for the visual photos too. Made your post fun!

  14. Hello, Paula, and welcome to the Junction! His entire collection of Louis L’Amour?? Be still my heart! 😉

    1. I know!!! Right?!? And thank you for the welcome. 🙂

  15. You are a new to me author, but I look forward to reading your new book. I agree with you, I love it when I can get lost in a book and can picture myself in the city or country the book is set in.

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