Posted by: nancycurteman | October 21, 2014

How to Create Character Bios

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akillerideaReaders love to know how authors created their characters. When I do a book presentation I always get character questions like: Did you base this character on a real person you know? How did you decide on a character’s name? How did you figure out your character’s personality traits? These questions arise because stories are less about what happens and more about who things happen to. Most characters face real problems that readers experience, so readers often identify with story people and want to know more about them. Lysi Weston and Grace Wright are the two protagonists in my Lysi Weston mystery series. Here are two examples of their character bios that I presented at my last Library book signing.

  • Lysi Weston-

Weston was born and raised in San Francisco, California. Her parents were professors of classical literature at San Francisco State University and named her Lysistrada, Lysi for short. Lysistrada is the title of Aristophanes’ comic play written in 411 B.C. about a woman who gets tired of the Greek men of her city fighting in the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. She persuades the women to withhold all services from their husbands and lovers as a means of forcing the men to negotiate peace. She succeeds. Lysi’s last name, Weston, is from my maiden name West. Lysi fancies herself a sleuth because her uncle was a San Francisco district attorney and because she took classes in law enforcement at university. Lysi dreamed of being a homemaker supported by an adoring husband. She married right after college graduation and divorced her abusive husband after a few years. She put her life back together and became an independent, self-sufficient, career woman. This background information helps explain Lysi’s conservative nature.

  • Grace Wright

Wright was born and raised in Harlem, New York, the daughter of a Puerto Rican Mother from El Barrio and an African-American Father. Grace’s real name is Maria Rosa because her father wanted to name her after Rosa Parks of Civil Rights fame and her mother wanted to name her after the Virgin Mary. Grace insisted on taking the name of both her grandmothers—Grace. Grace’s father, a reformed gang member, owns a bookstore. He still has a reputation for being tough and has continued to own the Harlem streets since he was sixteen. As a result, Grace had gang member friends who respected her because of her father. This is the source of Grace’s worldliness. Grace spent summers in Mississippi with her paternal grandmother and learned to cook from her Puerto Rican grandmother. University-educated, Grace speaks formal English but can express herself in Harlem slang and in a soft Southern drawl. This background information helps explain Grace’s comfort in an executive board room or on a Harlem street. I present this type of bio for each of my most interesting characters. This additional information helps my readers understand my story people and how they face their fictional world.

More Tips:

Developing Characters is No Mystery

5 Ways to Make Your Characters Tap Into the Emotions of Your Readers

Secret Pasts Make Sympathetic Story Characters

Posted by: nancycurteman | October 14, 2014

The Arénes de Lutèce: A Roman Amphitheatre in the Middle of Paris

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An ancient Roman amphitheatre sits in the middle of Paris in the 5th arrondisement—the Arénes de Lutèce.

At the end of the first century A.D. the Romans constructed the Arénes de Lutece on the slopes of Mount Sainte-Geneviève near Lutèce, the ancient village of the Parisi people after whom the city of Paris was named. The Romans built the amphitheatre to house circuses, sporting events and theatrical productions by contemporary playwrights such as Aristophenes and Plautus. Seventeen thousand spectators once attended spectacles in the amphitheatre including gladiator fights. You can still see the cages where the animals were kept under the stands. Bleachers surrounded more than half the arena’s circumference. Slaves, the poor, and women sat in the upper bleachers. Roman dignitaries sat in the lower seats.

Today the Arènes de Lutèce is part of every day Parisian life. You can even see Parisians playing football, pétanque or other games in the middle of the ruined arena, just like their Roman ancestors did centuries ago. The Arènes de Lutèce is a public park, accessible by a passageway through the building at 47, rue Monge. Over the entrance is a big cement gladiator helmet that harks back to an earlier time. A visit to the Arènes de Lutèce makes you feel like you’ve been transported back into another era


More About Paris:

Montmartre Shouts and Whispers

Au Lapin Agile: A Place to Frolic With the French

Le Pont Neuf: Setting for a New Murder Mystery

Posted by: nancycurteman | October 5, 2014

Too Much Description, Too Much Explaining

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Our goal as authors is to enable readers to “experience” a story. Description is one of our best tools for enhancing reader experience. Not long drawn-out information dumps that slow story pace but short, vivid descriptions that evoke emotion.

As authors we often fall into the trap of over describing and explaining.

We worry that readers will not have a clear picture of a place or a good understanding of a character’s feelings or reactions unless we pile on the adjectives, adverbs and explanatory comments. This is a formula for failure because it takes the reader out of the story and into the world of the narrator.

The best way to ensure unobtrusive description is to paint an image through the eyes of characters. Simply describe what they see, feel and react to as they go about their story lives. Character actions and dialogue are the best vehicles for vivid description.

Have faith in your readers. Allow them to picture their own version of events. The fact is they don’t care about what you see and think about a scene. They care about what your character experiences. Let your characters’ actions portray their environment and emotions. This is what propels the story forward.


More Tips:

6 Ways to Avoid “Information Dumps” in a Mystery Novel

4 Do’s and Don’ts of  ”Show, Don’t Tell.”

Posted by: nancycurteman | September 27, 2014

20 Chapter Endings to Keep Readers Reading

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th-1Every chapter and scene should end in a way that makes the reader want to continue reading.  The last sentence can determine whether a reader will turn the page or put the book down. Here are 20 examples of ending sentences that are sure to motivate a reader to turn the page and keep on reading. Try adapting some of these sentences to your story.

Something was very, very wrong.

What happened next, he never saw coming.

Realization crashed over him like a tidal wave

Bloody Hell

Why hadn’t she thought of that before?

Who was she protecting?

Now it might be too late.

It was what she said next that sent a chill through his body.

It wasn’t what he said but what he didn’t say that shocked her.

He slammed on the brakes but it was too late. *

To his horror, he suddenly realized why he was there. *

She picked up the phone and gasped when she heard the voice from her past. *

“No,” she begged. “Please don’t—” *

How could this happen? *

He thought he had made his point—but then he read the last sentence again. *

Oh no. Please, no.

What she saw would change her life forever.

Who could he tell?

She had to find the answer.

Did anyone see her?

Can you think of more great ending sentences to keep readers reading? I’d love to add them to this list.

More Tips:

How to End a Mystery Novel
How to Write Endings for Mystery Novels

* indicates sentences generated by Fremont Area Writers.

Posted by: nancycurteman | September 18, 2014

Larry’s Steakhouse: Something for Every Palate

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Last week my husband and I traveled to upstate New York for his high school reunion. We stayed in Batavia, a small city in Genesee County. Our last evening before returning home we wanted to celebrate with a special dinner. As if by serendipity we found the perfect venue, Larry’s steakhouse.

The moment we walked through the door, IMG_1017a hostess greeted us with a welcoming smile and showed us to a table, shared the house specialties and presented us with a menu. Lori, our delightful server gave us plenty of time to peruse the menu selections that included such gourmet dishes as Larry’s legendary hand-cut steaks with all the trimmings (choices from 10 ounce sirloins to 22 ounce Porterhouses). There were seafood delights like Asian glazed salmon and crab stuffed haddock or Larry’s special Bourbon Street penne pasta topped with a mouth-watering mélange of blackened shrimp, scallops, chicken, sausage and Cajun butter. On the lighter side, we found a variety of fresh hand tossed salads—Caesar or Pear & Goat Cheese with an amaretto- poached pear.

Lori was helpful, efficient and answered all our menu questions. She also had a great sense of humor. Stephen Mullen, the owner, even stopped by our table to chat for a few minutes.

Besides the attractive dining room, the restaurant has a small banquet room appropriately called the Batavia Room. Every Thursday night during the summer owner Stephen Mullen provides acoustical music on his outdoor patio to enhance to dining pleasure.

Located at 60 Main Street in Downtown Batavia, Larry’s Steakhouse has a relaxing ambience and the staff is friendly and welcoming. Try it the next time you’re in Genesee County. You won’t be disappointed.

Posted by: nancycurteman | September 10, 2014

Le Pont Neuf: Setting for a New Murder Mystery

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Since the setting for my soon-to-be-released Lysi Weston mystery novel, Murder on the Seine is Pont Neuf in Paris, France, I decided to share a bit about the history of the celebrated bridge.

The Pont Neuf or new bridge is the oldest bridge in Paris. In 1550, Parisians requested that King Henry II build the new bridge to relieve medieval traffic congestion on Pont Notre-Dame. The Pont Neuf was not completed until the reign of Henry IV, who inaugurated it in 1607.

Pont Neuf was considered the first of the modern bridges in Paris and the most famous. It was the first stone bridge without houses crowding along it and was fitted with paved areas to protect people from mud and horses. Bastions along both sides of the bridge allowed pedestrians to step aside to avoid being run down by carriages. The bridge was christened New Bridge because King Henry IV insisted it not be lined with houses like all the older bridges as he wanted nothing to obstruct his view of the Louvre Palace.

At the point where the bridge crosses Ile de la Cité, the boat-shaped island in the middle of the Seine, stands a bronze equestrian statue of King Henry. He was nicknamed le Vert-Galant because of his appetite for love and his collection of mistresses. Legend has it there were 73 of them including many one-night stands. King Henry had other claims to fame. To this day the French call him “Le Bon Roi Henri,” the good king and for good reason. When he ascended the throne as a protestant he converted to Catholicism saying, “Paris is worth a mass” and soon after signed the Edict of Nantes bringing an end to the religious wars in France. In addition, he cared for the common people and famously promised a chicken in every pot.

The bridge had its problems from the very day it was constructed. Gangs hung out near it and robbed and murdered people who crossed. For a long time, the bridge even had its own gallows conveniently located to execute the many culprits captured in the area. In my novel, the victim is murdered on Le Pont Neuf.

Watch for Solstice Publishing’s release of Murder on the Seine in a couple of months.

More About Paris:

Montmartre Shouts and Whispers

Au Lapin Agile: A Place to Frolic With the French

Posted by: nancycurteman | September 2, 2014

How to Write Great Settings: Some Do’s and Don’ts

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thCreating a setting for a novel is more complex than simply describing the location where the story action occurs. Setting is more than a word picture of a place. It should influence plot and character action. Setting can be the primary motivational factor in a novel, forcing characters to behave in certain ways. To ensure setting does it job, view it as another character and give it the attention it deserves. Here are five do’s and don’ts for creating great settings:


  • work from the general to the specific when creating a setting.
    -Describe the country, city or neighborhood before describing the shop.
    -Describe the house exterior before describing the kitchen.
  • provide specifics. They make the plot, characters, and character actions more real.
  • describe sub-settings within your chosen setting
    – The inside of a car.
    – The bar in a nightclub.
  • work from the concrete to the abstract smells, feelings, atmosphere
  • use dialogue to reveal setting.
    – characters can tell each other about specific attributes of a setting
    -The manner in which characters speak and their use of vocabulary as well as the rituals and traditions unique to a certain place can reveal setting, e.g. southern drawls, Harlem slang, October Fest
  • indicate the season of the year and time of day the scene occurs
  • add sensory detail by describing what a character sees, hears, smells, and feels.


  • describe setting at the beginning of every scene or chapter. Incorporate it into action.
  • write long descriptions of setting. Sprinkle your descriptions throughout the scene.

Careful attention to setting is as important as careful attention to character development.

More Tips:

Great Settings Make Great Mysteries
8 Uncommon Settings for Your Mystery Novel
7 Ways Authors Can Create Realistic Settings



Posted by: nancycurteman | August 25, 2014

Basque Country: The Culture and The People

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Basque Country anes-pvd the people who live there have a unique history and culture. I’ve set my new novel in this interesting locale as well as in Paris. Basque Country is such a fascinating place I decided to share some interesting facts about this somewhat mysterious region. In my first post I wrote about the history of the Basques. This time I’ll share a few things about their current culture.

  • The classic beret we associate with the French was first worn in the Basque region and then exported to France. Basques wear their large berets with pride.
  • A Basque, Ignatius Loyola, founded the rigorous religious order, the Jesuits in 1534.
  • Basque architecture is rather unique. The traditional buildings of have a low roof, half-timbered features, stone lintels and are typically painted in red, white and green. Edmond Rostand, author of Cyrano de Bergerac lived and worked in a Basque house.
  • The Basque flag consists of a white cross over a green saltire (a heraldic symbol in the shape of an X) on a red field. images-1The colors of the Basque flag are red, green, and white. The red color of the field means Biscay, the historical Basque homeland. The white St. Andrew’s cross means the independence of the Basque Country. Green symbolizes the oak tree of Gernika, symbol of Basque freedom.
  • There are many food specialties in Basque country. Gateau Basque (cake) is a traditional dessert made up of almond flour with a filling of either pastry cream or preserved cherries. The soft, crumbly sable dough is flavored with a little rum and baked in tart rings. Piment peppers taste a bit like peach and sea brine, and are quite spicy. Piment peppers are delicious on Bayonne ham which is an air-dried salted ham that takes its name from the ancient port city of Bayonne. The ham has to be produced from one of eight clearly defined breeds of pig reared in an area from Deux Sevres to Aveyron and Aude. The production of the ham is strictly specified and regulated. All the Bayonne is ham marked with the gateau-basque-1Lauburu, the Basque Cross. Izarra is a popular liquor from Basque Country. The almond-flavored Yellow Izarra, is a 40-proof alcohol made from 32 herbs. For a peppermint taste, there is Green Izarra, made from 48 different herbs and is stronger than 48 proof. It takes 15 months to produce Izarra plus another six months to mature in the barrel. Basques drink it straight, in cocktails and to flavor chocolates and other desserts.

I write about the unique and remarkable Basque history and customs in my upcoming new novel.

More about Basque Country

Where is Sare? France That Is

Basque Country: The people and Culture

Posted by: nancycurteman | August 17, 2014

Basque Country: The people and Culture

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Basque Country and the people who live there have a unique history and culture. I’ve set my new novel in this interesting locale as well as in Paris. Basque Country is such a fascinating place I decided to share some interesting facts about this somewhat mysterious region.

  • Basque Country is comprised of 7 provinces and straddles the border of two countries. Four provinces are in Spain and 3 in France. French Basque country borders the Bay of Biscay and encompasses the western foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains.
  • The origin of the Basque people is not exact. One theory is that of Professor Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe. He believes they came “out of East Africa 50,000 or so years ago and passed through the Middle East.” It’s generally agreed that the Basque did not mingle with people outside their own group maintaining their unique nationality. Blood-type frequencies support the Basques claims of ethnic uniqueness. They have the world’s highest frequency of type O and RH negative blood.
  • The Basque speak Euskara, a non-Indo-European language, unrelated to any other language in the world. As is the case with the people themselves, the origin of the language is controversial. Some researchers believe it dates back to the Stone Age.
  • Throughout history, Basques have developed a reputation as fierce defenders of their territory. They held off would-be conquerors including Romans, Vikings, Visigoths and Muslims. In modern times they fought to maintain their independence from Franco in Spain. Basques have always dreamed of an independent state.
  • Though Roman Catholicism has been the dominant Basque religion. They also have roots in paganism. Their ancient religion focused on Mari, an early Basque goddess. This goddess worship probably influenced their adoption of matrilineal inheritance laws and the subsequent high status of women in Basque society, in law codes, as well as their positions as judges and inheritors.

In my next post I’ll share some interesting facts about modern-day Basque society.

More About Basque country:

Where is Sare? France That Is

Posted by: nancycurteman | August 7, 2014

10 Things You Need to Know to Write a Great Book Blurb

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thumbnail-2.aspxThe purpose of a blurb is to attract the interest of perspective readers. It must be short, succinct and enticing. Before you write your blog, determine the market for your novel then check out book blurbs in your genre on bookstore shelves and on Amazon. Here are 10 things you need to know to write a great book blurb.

A book blurb should

1. open with a hook line related to your particular genre.

2. name the main protagonists and antagonist.

3. state a goal or problem. Hint at obstacles, conflicts, and stakes, but don’t reveal the plot.

4. not be cluttered with the names of secondary characters.

5. be written in the tone of your book—funny, dark, romantic, mysterious

6. contain a couple of emotional words—dangerous, vicious, tragic, intrigue, murder, betrayal, love

7. not contain a “spoiler!” It’s meant to create curiosity not satisfy it.

8. be written in third person present tense.

9. be between 100-150 words long

10. end with a phrase or question that entices readers to read the book to find out what will happen.

Remember, the blurb is one of the most important selling points of your book along with the cover. Would be customers first look at the book cover then flip the book over and read the blurb. So put considerable time and effort into perfecting your blurb.

More tips:

How to Write a Query Letter for a Mystery Novel
How to Write a Synopsis of Your Mystery Novel

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