Posted by: nancycurteman | February 26, 2015

Le Petit-Beurre: A French Traditional Cookie

Bookmark and Share


Le Petit-Beurre (literally “little butter”) is a delicious and romantic little rectangular butter biscuit from France.

The origin of the French Petit-Beurre dates back to 1886, when Louis Lefèvre created an original square butter cookie in his Nantes-based biscuit factory in the seaside city of Nantes. Lefèvre was the first to create a cookie factory in France. Married to the beautiful Mademoiselle Utile, whom he adored, he decided to place both their initials “LU” on every biscuit. To this day, the crunchy butter cookie with its scalloped edges, tiny holes on the surface as if pricked by a needle, and a small browned ear at each corner is commonly called Petit Beurre LU or Véritable Petit Beurre and is the symbol of Nantes.

LU’s biscuit factory today produces about one billion French Petit-Beurre a year. The “pure butter” cookie has become a worldwide success. The recipe has been imitated thousands of times, but never equalled! Petit-Beurre connoisseurs even assert that the traditional LU packets contain 24 cookies to match the 24 hours a day. The modern authentic Petit-Beurre indeed perpetuates LU’s reputation as an entrepreneur thanks to its unique brown golden color, square shape and funny “ears” at the corners. Petit Beurre lovers traditionally bite off those corners first!

The two main characters, Lysi and Grace, in my latest novel, “Murder on the Seine,” devour dozens of these little French delights. Try them. You will, too.

The Mystery of the Pear in the Bottle

What Do Ham, Chocolates and Bayonets Have in Common?

Posted by: nancycurteman | February 18, 2015

How Mystery Writers Use Narrative Distance

Bookmark and Share

In a mystery novel, narrative distance is the difference between the reader’s perspective and the point of view character’s perspective. It can go from the reader experiencing what characters experience (close) to watching them experiencing it (far). There is no right or wrong narrative distance. Narrative distance should suit the story the mystery author is writing. Mystery writers may choose to use near zero narrative distance or a far distance depending on the chapter, scene, or the story.

Far narrative distance puts space between the POV character and the reader. A far narrative distance can make the reader feel like the author is telling instead of showing the story. A zero narrative distance really puts the reader inside the POV’s head. Carried to extreme it can make the reader feel unnecessarily entangled in the character’s emotions.

What should a mystery writer do? The answer is use close or far narrative distance where appropriate in the novel. Here are two examples to illustrate my point—one where far narrative distance is needed and one in which close or even zero narrative distance is appropriate.


Far Narrative Distance

In my novel, Murder on the Seine, I needed a description of setting that my characters would see as they approached a small village in the Pyrenees but that would not need reactions from them that would detract from the story plot:

“Half-timbered stone houses appeared signaling the outskirts of Tare. As they crested a hill the town appeared below them. Cradled in a ring of Pyrenees foothills, it dozed in the shadow of a steep, craggy mountain.”


Close Narrative Distance

In my novel, “Murder Casts a Spell, I wanted my readers to feel the excessive South African heat my character was experiencing without telling the reader my character was hot.

Mandisa reached into an apron pocket, pulled out a lace-trimmed handkerchief, and swabbed her brow and neck. She checked the centigrade wall thermometer and moaned. Thirty-six degrees. Already the corrugated metal building radiated heat like a furnace, and the sun hadn’t even hit its zenith. She gulped down a glass of water, upped the desk fan speed to high and directed the air toward her face.


Mystery writers must let their story dictate their choice of narrative distance. The correct choice depends on the effect you want in each segment of your novel.

More tips:

How to Open a Mystery Novel

Questions to ask before adding details to your Mystery Novel



Posted by: nancycurteman | February 10, 2015

How to Write a Realistic Mystery Novel

Bookmark and Share


Mystery stories must be realistic because in real life we are bombarded with mysteries everyday—in the media, among our friends and acquaintances, among family members and in our own lives. The trick is how to write realistic mysteries. Here are some strategies I’ve used in creating my mysteries.

I begin by introducing my characters in their usual everyday surroundings. Characters may be going to work, to a conference or on a vacation trip or they may be at home reading a good “who dunnit.”

Next, I introduce a problem that disrupts my character’s peaceful world. Since I write murder mysteries, the disrupting problem is always a murder.

Once my characters are involved in the problem, they begin to look for a solution e.g. the perpetrator of the dastardly deed. At this stage of the story I introduce one obstacle after another. I allow characters to overcome one obstacle then trip them up with another, more challenging problem. Sometimes I complicate this process by adding conflicts within their environment or within themselves. To plump out my mystery, I like to add side problems to my characters’ repertoires of misery such as relationship, personality or value issues. All these challenges continue until the climax of the story which usually involves endangering my sleuth. Overcoming this last most serious obstacle and the secondary issues ends the story. This is the basic plot line.

In summary, mystery novel writers need to show that their characters have goals and are overcoming obstacles in pursuit of those primary and secondary goals which relate either directly or indirectly to solving the murder. These strategies produce a realistic mystery novel.

More tips:

How to Write “Killer” Scenes in a Mystery Novel
How to Write Gripping Mystery Novel Scenes

Posted by: nancycurteman | January 31, 2015

The Mysterious Link Between Paris and an Ancient Fishing Village

Ile-de-la-CiteThe mysterious link between the beautiful modern city of Paris and an ancient fishing village is shrouded in the dense fog of a long-ago time. Over two thousand years ago, a Celtic tribe of fishermen settled on an ideal island in the middle of the Sequana River that runs through the center of Paris. The Celtic tribe called their village of thatched-roofed, mud huts, Lucotocia, a pre-Celtic word meaning marsh, a perfect description of the swampy land on which they lived. Later the Roman conquerors renamed the village Lutetia or Lutèce.

This small village was the origin of Paris. The modern name for the Sequana River is the Seine. Lucotocia Island today is called Cité and is the heart of modern Paris with famous sites like Notre Dame Cathedral, Police Headquarters and the beautiful Sainte Chapelle.

There’s more. The name of the Celtic tribe of Lucotocia was Parisii which means Boat People. This name fit because the only way villagers could travel to and from their island home was by primitive boats. What is the significance of the Parisii tribe? You guessed it. The origin of the name of the city of Paris, one of the most important world capitols, comes from the humble Parisii people.

Historians have only scratched the surface of the mysterious links between Paris and these ancient Celts but the research into the mystery continues.

You can visit the Île de la Cité in my newest novel, “Murder on the Seine

More about the Paris mystery

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

Posted by: nancycurteman | January 20, 2015

Contrived Writing in Mystery Novels

Bookmark and Share

KillerIdeasForSafeTravelA common criticism mystery writers hear from editors is that some scenes in their novels seem contrived. What does “contrived writing” mean? What does it look like in a writing piece? What can authors do to prevent it?

Simply put, contrived writing means something happens in a story that has no realistic connection to anything in previous scenes in the novel. In other words, a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly resolved by an unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability or object. A story is contrived if its plot has twists and turns that aren’t properly set up.

Here are some examples of contrived writing editors find in mystery novels:

  • A woman is kidnapped and locked up in an isolated cabin. A detective breaks down the door and rescues her. No explanation of how he found out where the kidnapper had hidden her.
  • A killer chases a mild-mannered bookkeeper through a quiet neighborhood. Suddenly the bookkeeper stumbles on a gun lying in the street. He grabs it and shoots his pursuer. No explanation of the origin of the gun or whether the bookkeeper knew how to handle it.
  • On a clear day, a vicious dog is about to attack a kid. Suddenly lightning strikes the dog and saves the kid. What?

Stories are contrived when the plot is too external– when it feels too much like the author is manipulating her characters and events to make the plot turn out the way she wants.

Mystery writers can avoid contrived writing by laying the foundation for events that are to come (foreshadowing) so they don’t appear to come out of nowhere. Don’t just plop a character in a specific place to advance the plot. To make a story ring true, take the time to create authentic characters and be sure that all their actions are authentic. Make sure it’s the decisions the characters make that effect how the plot plays out.

Authors can avoid contrived writing in a mystery novel by asking two questions: “Would this character really say or do this?” “Would this really happen the way I’ve written it?”

More Tips:
How to Write “Killer” Scenes in a Mystery Novel
How to Write Gripping Mystery Novel Scenes

Posted by: nancycurteman | January 10, 2015

10 Ways to Solve the Search Engine Optimization Mystery

Bookmark and Share

thIt’s easy to solve the Search Engine Optimization mystery. SEO is simply a process that enables people to locate your blog site and topics online. An effective SEO procedure will rank your site higher on search result pages and produce more frequent appearances of your site/topics on those pages. Here are some simple strategies to help you navigate the mysterious world of Search Engine Optimization:

  1. Decide on your blog topic and stick to it. Web crawlers lose track of frequently changing blog titles. My blog topic is Global Mysteries with a clarifying subheading, Travel the World in Mystery Novels.
  2. Incorporate a key word from your blog topic in every post you make. My key words are either mystery or travel.
  3. Include your key word in blog post titles. Here are a couple of titles I’ve used: “Mystery Novels, Why so Popular” and “Stonehenge and the Amesbury Archer Mystery.”
  4. Place your key word in the first paragraph of your piece, and several times in the body of your post. Include the key word in your tags and your category list. By the way, lose “uncategorized” from your category list. Web crawlers can’t use it.
  5. Cross link between other posts on your blog site that provide similar information. Embed the links directly into your post. Or add a phrase at the end of your piece like “More Information” or “More Tips.” List similar blog posts under it.
  6. Link to other blog sites like yours. On my site I have a blog roll that lists other interesting travel and writing sites. I also have a list of resource sites. I often embed hyperlinks to other relevant sites in the body of my blog posts.
  7. It’s helpful if other sites backlink to you, but it’s not something you can control. Try commenting on other sites. Those sites may backlink to yours. Doing guest blogs is also helpful.
  8. Updating content keeps search engines crawling back which gives additional weight to your site. Try for at least one post a week.
  9. Images can also help hold the reader’s interest and can lead them to click other content on your site, as well. I’ve had several clicks on my images only.
  10. Link to social networks like Facebook. Google+ and Twitter. The more exposure the better.

Remember, Search Engine Optimization allows you to market your blog site at no cost to you.

Check out Website Grader to find out how well search engines are finding your site.

Other Tips:

4 Ways to Use Blogging to Promote Your Mystery Novel 

Market Your Novel For Free


Bookmark and Share


Everyone has both positive and negative personality traits. That’s part of what makes each personality unique and interesting. So why do many writers tend to paint their characters either perfect or beyond horrid? These characters are unrealistic and thus boring. Readers want characters with whom they can identify—characters who have both positive and negative sides to their personalities. It’s easy to depict protagonists who use their strengths to advantage. It’s more difficult to write about characters who find ways to use what might be a real challenge to an advantage. It’s fascinating for readers to see how a character’s negative traits affect his psyche and actions. Here are five negative traits that make mystery novel characters more interesting:

  • Nosiness. What better way to search out clues and culprits than nosing into everyone’s business. Sure nosiness is annoying, but it’s essential to good sleuthing.
  • Bossiness. Don’t we all hate the person who is always telling us what to do? However that take-command attitude would be advantageous in thwarting a home invasion, attempted carjacking or kidnapping.
  • Finickiness. Picky, picky. Why so particular? On the other hand, what an excellent character trait for a crime scene investigator!
  • Pigheadedness is irritating. However, a good sleuth should pursue the solution to a crime with the stubborn tenacity of a pit bull.
  • This kind of person questions every thing you do ad nauseam. But this is a great trait for detective because no clue or unusual behavior will go unnoticed.

Clearly writers need to give their mystery protagonists negative traits that can be used to their advantage. Important caveat: Be sure to write these traits into your characters everyday lives. Make the traits annoying to the other story people with whom they come in contact. Have your characters try to eliminate the annoying habits. Do this and you will have a sympathetic character your readers will love.

More Writing Tips:

Perfect Characters are Paper Characters
Developing Characters is No Mystery
5 Ways to Make Your Characters Tap Into the Emotions of Your Readers

Posted by: nancycurteman | December 24, 2014

Murder on the Seine, Nominated 2014 Most Popular Mystery

Bookmark and Share

Murder on the SeineHi Everyone,


I’m delighted to share with you that my novel, Murder on the Seine, has been nominated as the 2014 most popular mystery by the Preditors & Editors Readers Poll. I’d love it if you would take a moment to go to their site and vote for me. Here are step-by-step directions to make it as easy as possible for you:


  1. Go to
  2. Scroll down to Print/Electronic Mystery Novel published in 2014
  3. Click next to Murder on the Seine
  4. Scroll further down the page.
  5. Type your name in the box labeled “Your Full Name.”
  6. Type your e-mail address. (Preditors & Editors does not keep your e-mail address on file. They just need it to confirm your vote.)
  7. Type a comment if you wish in the box
  8. Important: Type in the authorof the book pictured below the white comment box. Try not to click on enlarge it if you can read it on the small book. (Do not type my name in that box.)
  9. Click on submit vote

Important: You must finalize your vote by opening an e-mail from and clicking on the link under:  TO CONFIRM YOUR VOTE, visit this URL.(DO NOT REPLY TO THIS EMAIL). (If you don’t see this e-mail within a day, check your spam). This is to avoid spamming and double votes.

  1. Please don’t give up immediately if there is a glitch. Sometimes the website “gets a catch in its get along.”


Thank you in advance for taking a few minutes out of your busy day to vote for my novel, Murder on the Seine.

Posted by: nancycurteman | December 18, 2014

Copyright Infringement

Bookmark and Share

60293-Royalty-Free-RF-Clipart-Illustration-Of-A-Confused-3d-Blanco-Man-Character-Looking-At-Large-Question-MarksCopyright infringement is complicated, confusing and a little scary. What if I accidentally write a sentence in my novel that someone else had written in another novel before mine? I’m not a lawyer but I am interested in copyright laws, so I did a bit of research on the topic. A general definition of copyright infringement is using someone else’s creative work without their permission. It is illegal to copy large sections of someone else’s work without their permission even if you provide appropriate citation. The operative words here are “large sections.” According to United States copyright laws, copying one sentence from a piece of writing is not illegal. Copying ideas or writing similar passages is also not illegal. Still a bit confusing?

In order to understand copyright infringement we need to understand the concept of Fair Use. Fair Use is intended to set standards for borrowing small portions of a previously written work, but never the complete work. However, Fair Use prohibits borrowing even small amounts of a work if it can cause financial harm to the original writer or if the lines are considered the heart of the work.
As authors, our best bet is to avoid the quagmire of copyright infringement by making every effort to ensure that our writing is original.

Posted by: nancycurteman | December 9, 2014

What Do Ham, Chocolates and Bayonets Have in Common?

Bookmark and Share

What do ham, chocolates and bayonets have in common? The answer is the city of Bayonne, France. Bayonne, known as Baïona in Basque, is situated in Basque Country on the French side of the Pyrenees. Half-timbered houses with green and red trim, the colors of the Basque flag, augment the feeling that you are in Basque territory. In fact, the city was a center of the Basque separatist movement. Indeed, graffiti expressing a separationist desire in the locals can still be seen. The French government has all but stamped out dangerous tendencies towards nationalism.

Chocolate Bayonne is celebrated as the chocolate capital of France. Exth-1iled Sephardic Jews brought chocolate to Bayonne and helped to introduce the chocolate industry into France. Chocolate boutiques abound in Bayonne, each with its own specialties.

Ham Bayonne is synonymous with ham. The famous jambon de Bayonne even has a protected appellation. To make true jambon de Bayonne, fresh hams are rubbed and covered with salt from the Adour River Basin, then put into a salting-tub. After several days they are washed to remove the excess salt. Finally, the hams are hung in a curing room, where they lose some of their weight and slowly dry—it takes from nine to twelve months to cure a Bayonne ham. Local air and wind play an important 220px-Sceau_jambon_de_Bayonnerole in the flavor of the hams during the curing process. To verify the authenticity of a ham, look for the Lauburu, the Basque cross, branded on the rind with a hot iron.

Bayonets Bayonne was the center of cutlery manufacturing in the 16th century. An armaments industry developed in the city, giving the world the “baïonnette” (bayonet). The exact origin of the knife is not clear. Some claim the bayonet was developed in 1640 on rue des Faures (Blacksmiths’ Street). Others claim Bayonne peasants engaged in a military conflict ran out of powder and shot, and rammed their long-bladed hunting knives into the muzzles of their primitive muskets to fashion impromptu spears. Whatever the claims, Bayonne is always at the center.

In my novel, “Murder on the Seine,” I explore the remnants of the separatist movement and my characters dine on jambon de Bayonne.

More Tips:

Where is Sare, France that is?
Le Pont Neuf: Setting for a New Murder Mystery
Basque Country: The people and Culture

Older Posts »



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,547 other followers