Posted by: nancycurteman | April 30, 2016

How to Perfect Pacing

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Pacing is the manipulation of time and controlling the rhythm and speed of events in a story. However, when we look in depth at pacing we see that it isn’t so much about the occurrence of specific events but more the way those events are presented. An event consists of a build up, an action and an aftermath of the action. These elements will vary with each genre.

The build up is about decision-making, planning, and preparation. In a police procedural or suspense story it may be quite long. This is the section where we would create moral conflict in the mind of the main character and where we create fear and worry in a reader. However, in an adventure story this section would take up far less story space.

The action is what a character does or experiences that advances the plot. This element may be fast-paced or slow paced. For example in a mystery novel, thriller or adventure story the pace is usually fast while the pace of a suspense novel will be slower in order to build fear of what will happen.

The aftermath is the reaction or change in characters or plot due to the action. This section might thrust your character into an immediate new obstacle or it might take a bit of time to analyze the emotional impact on that character. In a romance novel this section will be longer in order to show the depth of sorrow, misunderstanding or love resulting from the action.

Attention to the role of these three elements will help perfect your pacing.

Here are a few additional suggestions to keep your pacing at a level that will hold reader interest:

  • Start a scene where the action starts.
  • Add backstory in small pieces within the context of the current story event.
  • Keep characters in motion when they are talking or thinking—twisting shirt buttons, scratching, chewing gum, pacing.
  • Write some scenes that are not wild and wooly action. Give your reader a rest.


Pacing can be tricky, but it’s as essential as character development and setting. Give it the same level of attention.

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Posted by: nancycurteman | April 16, 2016

Plants as murder Weapons in Mystery Novels

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Plants make excellent murder weapons in mystery novels because they are perceived to be innocent, innocuous and mild-mannered. In general we don’t think of plants as being dangerous and capable of violence. This view of plants is what makes them such good murder weapons. Here are some examples of pretty plants with evil capabilities.

Nightshade is a plant with lovely green leaves and delicate lavender bell-shaped flowers. Its nickname is belladonna meaning beautiful woman. Nightshade has another more sinister attribute, tropane alkaloid, a deadly poison. Legend has it that when Agrippina the Younger hired the serial killer Locusta to kill the Roman emperor Claudius, she used nightshade

Hemlock resembles Queen Ann’s Lace with its feathery carrot-like leaves and umbrella-shaped white flowers. It is acutely toxic even when absorbed through the skin. The most famous case of hemlock poisoning was that of Greek philosopher Socrates in 399 BC. The 70-year-old was forced to take the hemlock for the crime of heresy.

St. Ignatius Bean is a tree that bares berries that contain strychnine, a toxic, colorless alkaloid. The infamous Dr. Thomas Cream killed at least seven women and one man, possibly many more, between 1878 and 1892 by giving them strychnine as medicine, both in the US and England. Rat poison comes from this plant family.

The prunus family of plants includes peaches, plums, apricots, almonds and cherries. Cyanide resides in the pits of these plants. Agatha Christie used cyanide as a murder weapon in her novel, The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side.

Curare is a large-leafed vine that grows in the South American rainforest. Indigenous tribes of the Amazon basin used curare-laden arrows to kill their enemies during tribal war.

Foxglove contains digitalis, a treatment for heart problems. In larger doses, it is also a poison that can lead to death.

Oleander is a common outdoor woody shrub found in warmer climates. It is so toxic that ingestion of a single leaf could cause the death of a small person.

So when you’re ready to commit a literary murder, go out in nature and pick your poison.

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Posted by: nancycurteman | April 4, 2016

How to Use the Classics to Inspire Your Writing

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The classics have long provided inspiration for authors. In fact, almost all story plots have been done before. If you think about it, there are only so many basic story themes. Universal human themes like love, tragedy, hope, joy, betrayal, and good overcoming evil are always relevant. These universal themes are basic to the classics. Look for them in the Bible, ancient myths (Greek, Roman), Shakespeare and even fairy tales. The classics can provide a foundation for modern authors. Their themes and plots can be moved across time and place. What makes a novel unique is not the story but how it is told. Modern authors can make a variation on a classic plot unique by introducing a fresh perspective. Here’s how:

  • Change the point of view. The story of Cyrano de Bergerac would be quite a different piece if it was told from the point of view of Roxane instead of Cyrano.
  • Change the setting. Think how different the plot of Romeo and Juliet would be if the story was set in San Francisco in the sixties. Would Juliet be a hippie?
  • Change the genre. Would Aristophane’s Lysistrada work as a mystery or science fiction piece.
  • Change race or nationality. How would the plot work if Romeo was African-American and Juliet was Caucasian?
  • Give the main character a handicap or mental issue. Suppose Achilles came home from the Trojan War with PTSD.
  • Change the sex or age of a character. How would the story change if Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple was a college student or her Hercule Poirot was a woman?

Ask yourself how your idea differentiates itself from a classic story, and then go for it.

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Posted by: nancycurteman | March 21, 2016

Turkey’s Ephesus: From the Neolithic Period to The Turkish Era

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7411749-Celsus_Library-EphesusEphesus was an ancient Greek city located on the coast of Ionia near present-day Selcuk in Izmar Province. The area on which the city was inhabited as far back as the Neolithic period (6000 BC). Ephesus is the best-preserved ancient city in the Eastern Mediterranean area. It has been destroyed and rebuilt over the centuries. It weathered the Bronze Age, a Hellenistic period, Roman and Byzantine eras and finally the Turkish era. A visit to the Ephesus archaeological site is a walk through history.

Curetes Street is the main street of Ephesus. Hadrian Temple is one of the most beautiful structures on the street. Built before 138 AD, it was dedicated to Emperor Hadrian who visited Ephesus in 128 AD. Four Corinthian columns support the curved arch entrance. A well-preserved relief of Tyche, goddess of victory can be seen on the arch. Inside7044598-Hadrian_Temple-Ephesus the temple are friezes depicting ancient characters and stories—Medusa, Androklos shooting a boar, Dionysus, Athena and others. Of special interest are the friezes that depict the tale of the origin of Ephesus.

The house of Virgin Mary is purported to be the last home of Mother Mary. Outside the house are 3 fountains that Christians believed to provide health, love and wealth. There is a wall of wishes. If you write your wish on a piece of paper and a5908159-House_of_the_Virgin_Mary_Ephesusttach it to the wall it is sure to come true.

The beautiful Celsus Library was built between 117 and 135 AD as a tomb for the governor of the province. He was buried in a crypt beneath the library floor. The library was large enough to hold 12,000 scrolls. Sadly, it crumbled under an earthquake during the late tenth century and the books were lost.

Toward the end of Curetes Street is the Hercules Gate that dates back to the second century AD. Only two sides of the columns remain but it’s an interesting site.

Ephesus is a must-see site for a peek back in ancient times.

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Posted by: nancycurteman | March 12, 2016

7 Dubrovnik Gourmet Delights

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th-2Dubrovnik, Croatia is one of the loveliest cities in the world. Must-see sites include the 13th century city walls built as a defense against the Turkish invaders. The walls enclose all of the Old Town, another must-see site with its beautiful Onofrios Fountain, Sponza Palace and the regal Cathedral of the Assumption. For a wonderful view of the city from above, take the Cable Car ride to the top of Mount Srd. For a view at sea level, relax with a glass of wine in a small restaurant on the serene City Harbor.

Touring makes you hungry and that’s what this post is really about, Dubrovnik cuisine. Dubrovnik is a seacoast city and its seafood is delicious pared with fresh vegetables. The common ingredients of Dubrovnik gourmet delights are parsley, lemon, paprika peppers, garlic, and olive oil. Here are some specialties you’ll want to try as you visit the extraordinary Dubrovnik sites.

Burek is a pastry dish made with flakey thin pastry. It is often embellished with cheese or meat. A quick pick-me-up for the busy tourist.

Ajvar is a red pepper paste mixed with eggplant and garlic. It’s delicious as a garnish for meat, chicken and pasta salads. Spread some on sandwiches and pack them along in a bag lunch.

Paski Sir is a hard, salty cheese made from sheep’s milk. It is served as an appetizer or a dessert. It’s Croatia’s most popular cheese. Pick some up and nibble it as you walk along the city’s famous walls.

Brodet is a stew made with a variety of fish flavored with lots of onions and garlic. A heavier fare for lunch or dinner.

th-1Ispod is a Croatian specialty and should be part of your Dubrovnik experience. This local delicacy consists of dishes baked under a metal dome called a Peka. It is a traditional method of cooking meats and vegetables. If you plan to try this treat, you’ll need to give restaurants up to 3 hours advance notice to prepare it.

Dubrovacki Rozata is Dubrovnik’s most famous dessert. It is a crème caramel pudding often immersed in a sweet brandy or liqueur. A lovely way to end your day.

Malvasija Marin Drzic is a dry white wine created from grapes grown in the Republic of Dubrovnik. A perfect accompaniment for Dubrovnik seafood specialties.

Don’t leave Dubrovnik without sampling these celebrated dishes.

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Posted by: nancycurteman | March 3, 2016

Corfu: Island of Music and Myth

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th-4The beautiful island of Corfu in the northwestern corner of Greece is a land of music and myth. Nana Mouskouri, the great Greek singer, praised the island of Corfu in her melodic rendition of “Roses Blanches de Corfu,” “White Roses of Corfu.” Perhaps she was singing about the lovely inns like the White Rose House outside Corfu Town.

Homer immortalized Corfu in his epic poem, the Odyssey. Legend has it that his hero, Odysseus, made the island his last stop before returning to Ithaca

Corfu has a long history. Artifacts from the Paleolithic period (40,000 to 30,000 BC) have been found in a cave at Gardiki. From 395 AD to 1267, Corfu was part of the Byzantine Empire. Over the years the Venetians, French and British each occupied the island. It became a part of Greece in 1864.

The old quarter of Kérkyra, the capitol city, is a treasure trove of ancient buildings constructed by the various nations that ruled Corfu. The old quarter is a UNESCO World Heritage Preserve. It nestles between two Venetian fortresses with its arcades facing the Spianáda or Esplanade.
Tourists delight in strolling through its little streets lined with pastel-hued, multi-storied buildings slatted Venetian-style shutters. Here you will find ancient cellars surrounded by stone staircases, old Venetian walls and hidden gardens. The Liston, modeled after the Parisian Rue de Rivoli, with its Napoleonic-French style arcaded terraces and fashionable cafes runs along one side of the Spianáda. This is a great quarter to relax in a café, sip a local drink, people watch and ponder Corfu’s colorful past and present.


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Posted by: nancycurteman | February 21, 2016

6 Must See Sites in Barcelona, Spain

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Barcelona, Spain’s beautiful jewel on the Mediterranean Sea is a tourist’s dream. The city has so many inviting places to see and things to do. If you only have a short time to explore you may have to narrow your choices. Here are 6 sites you won’t want to miss.

Güell Park

Antoni Gathudi, the celebrated Spanish architect, had a whimsical side to him. One of the best manifestations of this fanciful side of the great man is Barcelona’s famous Parc Güell. The park, with its numerous walking trails, is a fine example of Gaudi’s love of Catalan culture. As you travel the trails you’ll see everything from mosaic collages to mushroom-shaped chimneys. Housed in a beautiful pagan-style building is Sala Hipóstila, a mock indoor marketplace. On the steps leading up to Sala Hipóstila you’ll see tiled lizards. Rest for a moment on the mosaic snake-like bench, believed to be the longest bench in the world. Before leaving the park, visit the Gaudi House Museum where you’ll see the artist’s sketches and sculptures.

Gothic Quarter

The Gothic Quarter is an old part of the city. Here you can explore Barcelona’s medieval architecture. In the Plaça Sant Jaume, the central plaza, you can relax with a local beverage and people watch or be entertained by street performers.

La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia is Gaudi’s magnum opus. It is a towering Gothic church with spires that are 558 feet high. The exterior is lovely with its tree-like buttresses and detailed façades. th-2The inside is just as beautiful with its stone columns and jewel-like stained-glass windows. Gaudi started the church in 1882 but did not finish it before his death.

Picasso Museum

Picasso fans will love the Picasso Museum. The museum displays Pablo Picasso’s early less distorted paintings through his more whimsical paintings and sculptures from the end of his career. The museum holds several thousand Picasso pieces along with some works of other artists such as El Greco and Rembrandt.

Palau de la Musica Catalana

Palau de la Musica Catalana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a great example of Art Nouveau. Exterior mosaic pillars and sculptures depict famous musicians lake Bach and Beethoven. Once inside the Palace of Catalan Music look upth-1c3c40018-1. You will see a massive stained glass central skylight. Artistic representations of popular Catalan music are on display throughout the building.

Santa Maria del Mar

A visit to this basilica is a walk through history. The basilica of Santa Maria del Mar is the icon of 14th century Catalan Gothic architecture. I
t began as a small chapel in 303 A.D. The cornerstone of the present temple was
laid in 1329. You will see 15th century stain glass windows
and art pieces from early centuries.

There’s much more to see in fabulous Barcelona. If you have time, consider taking some of the many scenic tours available.

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Posted by: nancycurteman | February 11, 2016

4 Ways to Keep Dialogue Interesting

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As authors we all know dialogue plays several roles in mystery novels—character exposition, speed up pace, imparting information and showing mood—to name a few. It is critical that this important writing tool does not become tedious and monotonous. Here are 4 ways to ensure dialogue is interesting, productive and easily readable.

th-1• Use said. Said is a safe word to use as a dialogue tag because it’s almost invisible to readers. They tend to skim right over it.

• Use a verb other than said. Just be sure it is a verb that can speak. Characters can’t Shrug, blink, smile, nod, or sniff actual words.

Incorrect: “I have a cold,” John sniffed.
Correct: “I have a cold.” John sniffed.

Use Action Sentences. Use them to refer to dialogue not as dialogue tags. They can come before or after the dialogue. Here are a couple of examples.

Action before dialogue: John sniffed and pulled out a handkerchief. “I have a cold.”
Action After dialogue: “I have a cold.” John sniffed and pulled out a handkerchief.

• Dialogue at the end of a sentence. Avoid beginning a sentence and adding a line of dialogue at the end. The result will be a run-on sentence.

Incorrect: John sniffed several times before he pulled out a handkerchief and spoke, “I have a cold.”
Correct: John sniffed several times before he pulled out a handkerchief and spoke. “I have a cold.”

Changing some of your dialogue tags to action tags provides a smoother flow to your writing and can add more information about your mystery plot, character and setting. 

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Posted by: nancycurteman | January 28, 2016

5 Ways to Present Setting Through Point of View Characters

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In mysteries, setting can be presented through the point of view character. Of course there is a place for narrative summary in describing scenery and as a way of managing transitions that take place over an extended period of time. But the story moves better when you keep narrative summary to a minimum and emphasize the impact of setting on your scene’s point of view character. Let’s look at 5 ways that can be done. Let’s use a forest as our setting:

Character senses: What he sees, hears, smells, touches, tastes
Mary had never seen so many shades of green. The melodic chirping of birds drew her to a pine tree. She crushed some of its stiff needles between her fingers and held them to her nose. Christmas! After a sweet treat of wild strawberries she fell asleep on a patch of grass.

Character actions: What he does
Mary grabbed John’s hand and pulled him down the path that led into the tall pines. She picked a red wildflower and stuck it in John’s lapel then led him to the patch of wild strawberries she’d discovered. They sat together under a pine and feasted on the berries.

Character dialogue: What he says
“See John,” Mary said. “Didn’t I tell you it was beautiful? Look at the pine trees and the wild flowers.”
“You’re right,” John said. “The trees and flowers are beautiful, but you mentioned strawberries. I’m hungry.”

Character interior monologue: What he thinks
John grimaced. Pine trees. Birds. Wild flowers. Not my bag. No way will I tell Mary.

Character emotion: What he feels
John looked at Mary. She’s more beautiful than all the trees and flowers in this forest. If only this moment could last forever.

These are simple examples of complex concepts to make the point that setting can be presented through the point of view character. As authors you can apply the concept to more sophisticated setting descriptions.


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Posted by: nancycurteman | January 9, 2016

“Lethal Lesson’s” Library Debut in California

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For those of you in the area, I will début “Lethal Lesson” on January 21 at 12:30 p.m. in the Fremont Main Library in California. I’ll give away recipes for Polish foods mentioned in the novel. I’ll provide Polish cookies to nibble. There will be a drawing for a free copy of my novel. Hope some of my Global Mystery friends can come to see my Power Point presentation. You may pick up some marketing ideas for your own novels.

Lethal Lesson


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