Author Beth Cato on Writing Her First Sex Scene

Author Beth Cato and I have been friends since before either of us had a book set free upon the world. I first fell in love with her Clockwork Dagger series, but I’m now obsessed with Breath of Fire, especially book two, Call of Fire, which just came out yesterday. If you like brave women in a steampunk world, check out all her books.

Aware that writing sex is one of my favorite things to do (and arguably one of my biggest literary strengths), when Beth had to write her first sex scene in Call of Fire, she texted me to tell me all about it. I figured I’d embarrass her further by making her write a blog post about the experience …

Writing My First Sex Scene
by Beth Cato

When my heroine Ingrid Carmichael decided she needed to get it on in my next book, I debated her. “What about tearing apart another building? Or slapping down another misogynistic jerk? I can write those things. Those are destructive fun.”

Ingrid was not to be swayed. My book needed a sex scene. Oh boy.

I have nothing against sex scenes. Goodness knows, I snuck into my mom’s romance book stash often enough in my teens to find out what was really hidden beneath kilts. I just don’t usually write the kinds of stories and books that escalate romance to that level. But Ingrid is a demanding lady. From the start of my first book, Breath of Earth, it’s clear that she’s twenty-five, a woman of color, and enraged at how society constrains and judges her. When she meets bookishly handsome Cy Jennings, she is awed at how he treats her with genuine respect. Talk about a major turn-on!

By the time the second book, Call of Fire, starts, they’ve endured hell together and fallen in love. Some seriously bad people are after Ingrid. Capture or death may come at any time. Ingrid wants to live life to the fullest in the time she has left–and that includes sex.

I skimmed over my bookshelves and examined other writers’ sex scenes on a technical level. Seriously, do this. There’s a science to this stuff, and I don’t just mean the biological aspects. I mean the flow. Rhythm means everything. Romance writers get sneered at a lot, but here’s a fact: sex scenes take some serious skill, and a lot of writers (me included) find them to be very intimidating. It’s an intimate act for the characters, and for the author, too.

My characters already had the chemistry, so really, it came down to finding the right pace to move things along through their nervous chatter and the physical seduction. My editor offered some additional comments to help me smooth out the flow, too.

In the scene, Cy lets Ingrid take charge; I let Ingrid take charge, too. She’s a woman who knows what she wants. I’m not going to get in her way, even if I’d rather write about knocking down buildings instead of stripping off clothes.

Excerpt from Call of Fire:

Ingrid dried herself and tucked the towel around her body as she stepped to the door. “Are you still out there?”

“Yes.” His voice was a low rumble right on the other side. “Did you get out of the tub already?”

“Can you help me?”

Hesitant pressure on the door handle made it twitch, but it didn’t open. “What do you need?”

She leaned on the handle and took a deep breath to steel her resolve. “You.” She opened the door a crack.

“Me, Ingrid?” He peered through the opening.

“You. I’m wondering if you can distract me in a pleasant way for a while.”

Through the gap, she saw Cy blink rapidly, his throat bobbing as he swallowed. “Oh.”

At that encouragement, she pushed the door open. Cy stepped back. He wore an expression of calm rapture as he took in the full sight of her in a mere towel.

Ingrid looked down at herself and wondered what he really saw in her, what he’d seen from the first time they met on the Cordilleran Auxiliary steps. She adjusted the towel over the generous curve of her breasts. Naughty pulp novels made seduction look so easy. A kiss here, a moan there, and next thing the couple knew, suspenders and stays were undone and passion occurred in sly euphemisms.

Truth was, her anxious heart thrummed like a Porterman engine at full power. She was desperately, horribly afraid that he still might balk and refuse her in a gentlemanly way, and leave her ashamed to face him for the rest of forever. Or even worse, that something might happen in the building across the way while they dared to take this respite. That’s how their luck had worked over the past week, like a leprechaun’s curse.

“You mentioned that you’ve thought about this,” Ingrid said. “I hope that it wasn’t just in terms of honor, but about especially pleasant things.” She shakily giggled. “Good grief, I can barely talk.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t speak, then.”

With a single long stride, Cy cupped her jaw and brought her lips to his. His touch sent a spiral of heat straight through her core. The rough skin of his thumb stroked her cheek as he tucked a stray tendril of hair behind her ear. She pulled back enough to gaze into his eyes, her breath rapid.

“I’d like to think I know what I’m doing here, but I’m relying on a score of purple novels that no proper lady should’ve ever read and my own rather active imagination.”

Read all about Ingrid and the delicious Cy (I really have a thing for Cy) in Beth’s newest novel, Call of Fire, now available everywhere!

About the book:

When an earthquake devastates San Francisco in an alternate 1906, the influx of geomantic energy nearly consumes Ingrid Carmichael. Bruised but alive, the young geomancer flees the city with her friends, Cy, Lee, and Fenris. She is desperate to escape Ambassador Blum, the cunning and dangerous bureaucrat who wants to use Ingrid’s formidable powers to help the Unified Pacific—the confederation of the United States and Japan—achieve world domination. To stop them, Ingrid must learn more about the god-like magic she inherited from her estranged father—the man who set off the quake that obliterated San Francisco.

When Lee and Fenris are kidnapped in Portland, Ingrid and Cy are forced to ally themselves with another Ambassador from the Unified Pacific: the powerful and mysterious Theodore Roosevelt. But even his influence may not be enough to save them when they reach Seattle, where the magnificent peak of Mount Rainier looms. Discovering more about herself and her abilities, Ingrid is all too aware that she may prove to be the fuse to light the long-dormant volcano . . . and a war that will sweep the world.


Breath of Earth author Beth Cato talks historic San Fran earthquakes and … foxes?


Author Beth Cato creates steampunk worlds of mystery and excitement, starting with her Clockwork Dagger series and now with her new book, Breath of Earth, released yesterday.

Beth has created SUCH an amazingly beautiful (and terrifying) world of earthquakes and magic in Breath of Earth. Her heroine, Ingrid, is strong and vivacious with the occasional weaknesses and romantic reveries of all young women. Cy is a delicious, Southern dreamboat as her brave sidekick. The action never stops, nor does the mystery. This book is a real thriller for fans of steampunk, adventure, tough chicks, and gorgeous writing.

Let’s sit down for a quick chat with Beth and see what she has to say about her newest steampunk duology …

Earthquakes are magical (and deadly) in Breath of Earth. What’s your personal experience with them, and why did you choose to focus on earthquakes in this book?

I’m a native Californian, so I have plenty of personal experience with earthquakes. The first and most devastating one occurred when I was three years old, in the bathtub, with the epicenter of the 6.2 quake only about 40 miles away. It pretty much obliterated the nearby city of Coalinga. My mom and grandparents used to live there, so we drove to see the devastation. Buildings had their walls sheared off and resembled dollhouses. From then on, I was fascinated by earthquakes.

A few years ago, I mulled over ideas for a new steampunk series. I realized that no one had explored the 1906 San Francisco earthquake from that angle, so I resolved to take on the challenge!

beth-headshotOver the past few years, you’ve acquired award nominations and many accolades for your Clockwork Dagger series. What has been the most surprising thing about having a dream come true?

That strangers have read my works. I’m like, “Whoa, someone other than my mom and my husband has read this?” I don’t know how long it takes to work past that stage of disbelief, but I have been a published novelist for almost two years at this point and I am still baffled by it all.

I love that Breath of Earth is a bit sexier than your previous series. What made you decide to heat things up in your newest opus?

I wanted to write about a strong woman who was very different than Octavia in my Clockwork Dagger books. Octavia is very frank about the human body because of her experience doctoring, but she is also quite proper, too. I wanted to set Ingrid apart and make her a distinct person. Along those lines, she’s a very passionate person in most every way. She has a knack for surprising me even though I’m a heavy duty outliner!

What is your favorite thing you’ve EVER written?

I have a story called “The Souls of Horses” that is set against a more steampunk American Civil War. It had the most “almosts” of any of my stories at all the major magazines. It broke my heart. I loved this story, and it was rejected at about a dozen places until it was finally accepted for Clockwork Phoenix 5. The story is the only one of my works to be called out in a starred review on Publisher’s Weekly, and even Ellen Datlow recommended it on Twitter. Vindication! Here’s hoping it can get some nice attention in the upcoming award season.

Fantasy movie cast: Who’s playing brave, snarky Ingrid and sexy, sexy Cy?

I haven’t seen a good actress to play Ingrid! For that, I blame Hollywood and its lack of diversity. For Cy, I could envision a younger Viggo Mortenson. I should also add that his appearance was inspired by Daniel on Stargate (movie and series) who was a teenage crush of mine.

"Ms. Cato, I answer your call."

“Ms. Cato, I answer your call.”

What’s it really like being a published writer? Give us the honest truth, good and bad.

It’s exciting, humbling, and depressing all at once. I have actual FANS, and not just the kind attached to my ceiling. My publisher is fantastic and my publicist is magical. On the flip side: I have had signing events where all of one person shows up. I still get tons of rejections on my stories and poems. Writing and editing and waiting for feedback is the same as ever: utterly terrifying. My cat pees on the carpet.

Is Breath of Earth a duology? Trilogy? Do you know exactly where the series is headed and where it will end up? No spoilers haha …

It is a two book deal, but I think I’ll need three books to wrap up the arc. That means Breath of Earth needs to sell well so I can write another book! The second book is written and I’m awaiting edits; I have ideas about the major events for book three and where I want action to take place, but I am still reading through a lot of research material. As for an evil hint: foxes are excellent predators.



If you could hand Breath of Earth to anyone, alive or dead, and have them read it, who would it be?

Well, when it comes to selling books and expanding readership, there is really only one person who wields that god-like power: Oprah. So yep. I’m going with Oprah.

I gave Breath of Earth five big, shining stars on Goodreads, so pick up your copy today by heading HERE. Learn more about Beth (and get some amazing recipes) by visiting her website,