Posted by: nancycurteman | January 10, 2017

The Tenderloin, San Francisco’s Juvenile Delinquent

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lsAffectionately nicknamed the ‘Loin, San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, bordered by Union Square on the east and the Civic Center on the west, and Mission Street on the south, Pine Street on the north, is one of the most densely populated areas in the city. Over 30,000 people are crowded into 60 square blocks. Many of the people are homeless. A large number of Tenderloin dwellers are outlaw types. The area has always been a magnet for drug dealers, prostitutes, hustlers and people who like to walk on the wild side. It has a history of vice—gamblers, bootleggers, speakeasies and pornographic movie houses. In fact, the famous Tessie Wall opened her first brothel in the ‘Loin at 211 O’Farrell Street in 1898.

There is an upside to the Tenderloin’s bad reputation. It is the one area of San Francisco that has not succumbed to gentrification and rents have not skyrocketed. This has brought in new immigrants including Indians, Arabs, Vietnamese, Chinese and Moroccans. Many of these newcomers have opened restaurants making the Tenderloin a good place to find authentic Southeast Asian food. Other inhabitants include African-Americans, Latinos, Filipinos and Russians. The large migration of Vietnamese prompted the city to designate a section of the Tenderloin as “Little Saigon.”

The architecture of the area is similar to working class neighborhoods in mid west cities consisting of three and four-story buildings with exterior fire escapes dangling from the walls. It is said these buildings house the world’s largest collection of single-room occupancy hotels

The Tenderloin’s claim to fame is that it is the most dangerous district in San Francisco. However, it can also claim some famous inhabitants. Academy Award winning director Frank Capra lived in the Drake Hotel in the 1920s. The Cadillac Hotel was home to Jerry Garcia. Mohammed Ali hung out in the Tenderloin. Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck and Gary Mulligan played at The Black Hawk in the ‘60s. Dive bars and night spots abound in the neighborhood along with O’Farrell’s the Bay Area’s most famous strip joint. The historic gay bar, Aunt Charlie’s still exists today.

The Tenderloin is worth a visit, but you may not want to pass through it alone at night.

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Haight-Ashbury: San Francisco’s Hippie Village

Posted by: nancycurteman | December 30, 2016

How to Avoid Over Describing

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Excellent description is a gift to readers. It enables them to enter the world an author has created. Over description clogs a book’s pages with useless words that prevent reader participation in the story resulting in boredom. Here are some points that will help to distinguish the difference between good description and empty rhetoric that will enable you to avoid over describing.
  • Description is not simply a decorative feature to fill pages and an author’s desire to sound like a literary giant. Tone it down. Good description provides imagery but doesn’t become flowery.
  • Be careful to sort out the telling details from the lifeless ones. A barrage of unnecessary description can make salient details disappear
  • Description is not meant to provide a reader with a picture that matches exactly the picture the writer has. Give readers leeway to envision the scene. Your description needs to be open-ended enough to evoke images in the reader’s mind.
  • Description must have purpose or leave it out. It should move the story forward or slow down the pacing, reveal character and heighten emotions and senses.
  • Ideally description should provide insight into a character’s inner life, motivation, drive.
  • Description is most effective if it comes from a character’s viewpoint, is colored by that character’s perspective and is part of the action.
  • Description should be subtle and blend with dialogue and character actions. “Nearly home … ” The house materialized through the cloud cover in the distance. She forced her exhausted legs forward, teeth shattering, chest aching. “I can make it.”
  • Give unique salient details that enable your reader to imagine. Not: The child wore a sad expression and a dirty dress. Try: The child’s sad eyes were the first thing Susan noticed, that and the torn hem of the dirt-stained dress brought tears to Susan’s eyes
  • In describing a person don’t simply describe clothing, a painful mark of immature writing. Reveal less obvious details. Not: She wore a white sweatshirt, workout pants and running shoes. Try: The white sweatshirt she wore was frayed at the neck and cuffs. Her shoes had no laces and her running pants dragged the ground as she shuffled along the path. She was overweight.
  • Use lots of nouns and verbs and few adjectives and adverbs.

Good description enhances a story. Over description destroys it. Avoid over describing.

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Posted by: nancycurteman | November 26, 2016

Haight-Ashbury: San Francisco’s Hippie Village

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A visit to Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco’s hippie village, is a trip back to the ‘60s. A stroll down Haight Street will evoke reminders of the hippie counterculture. Here you’ll find fragments of “flower power”—incense-burning, tie-dye-clothing, peace-and-love vibes and maybe a evidence of acid-dropping. In the ‘60s, Haight-Ashbury now called Upper Haight, was a haven for cultural revolutionaries who preached “Turn on, tune in, drop out.”

It was a time of major social change. In the middle of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement the hippies preached peaceful revolution. The heart of the movement lasted from about 1964 to 1968 and culminated in 1967’s Summer of Love. During the period over 100,000 young dreamers affectionately nicknamed “flower children” converged on the village to protest against the Viet Nam War and what they considered the materialism of mainstream society. They were joined by artists and psychedelic rock musicians including Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead as well as Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.

The Haight-Ashbury neighborhood is considered the birthplace of the hippie movement marked by peaceful protests and psychedelic experimentation. John Phillips of The Mamas and the Papas, wrote a song celebrating the “flower children.” It became a world hit. Scott McKenzie recorded the beautiful “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” and released it in 1967.

On October 6, 1967 the “flower children” staged a mock funeral titled “The Death of the Hippie.” The era was officially ended.

Today Haight-Ashbury is among San Francisco’s most affluent districts. Tourists can visit comedy cafes like Crepes on Cole where Robin Williams, Dana Carvey and Whoopi Goldberg entertained in the 1980s. They can tour boutiques, vintage-clothing shops, book stores, Internet cafes, hip restaurants and beautifully restored Victorian homes. They can purchase remnants of the Haight-Ashbury’s past at shops like Dreams of Kathmandu and the Love of Ganesha. The Grateful Dead house at 710 Ashbury Street is a must see.152281-004-7e218754
Hungry, stop for bangers and mash at Mad Dog in the Fog or crepes at the Squat ‘N’ Gobble or if really starving try the All You Knead but bring a doggie bag.
After a busy day, consider crashing for the night at the Red Victorian Bed and Breakfast, a throwback to an earlier time. Rooms are decorated in themes such as Flower Child Room

On the second Sunday in June you won’t want to miss the celebrated Haight-Ashbury Street Fair.

Upper Haight encompasses the neighborhood surrounding Haight Street between Stanyon and Masonic. The famous corner is named after two early San Francisco leaders, Henry Haight and Munroe Ashbury.

In Haight-Ashbury, many remnants of the era still remain—people in brightly colored tie-dyed clothing, sandals, dashikis, Native yank jewelry, headbands and long beaded necklaces. The village is still a feast for the senses. You’ll hear live guitar music on street corners, see peace signs in shop windows, smell pot wafting from somewhere and maybe get a free hug.

San Francisco is indeed a collection of villages. Haight-Ashbury is one of the most unique.

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Posted by: nancycurteman | November 12, 2016

How to Avoid Wordy Writing

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Wordy writing, sometimes called overwriting, can destroy a good plot by drowning it in excessive detail, repetition, stilted speech and redundancy. Overwriting stops story action. Simplicity is the key to avoiding wordy writing. That’s not to say vivid descriptions and skillful phrasing aren’t important, they have their place in your novel but use them sparingly. Here are some suggestions to avoid wordy writing:

•Limit your adjectives and adverbs. Good writers use strong nouns and verbs.
•Avoid overuse of participles (words ending in ‘ing’). Use them to vary sentence structures but in moderation.
•Write realistic dialogue. Don’t write character conversations that are stilted or too formal. Dialogue should consist of short sentences and sentence fragments pared with interruptions, beats, actions and some tags when needed for clarity.
•Metaphors and similes can enhance a story but too many will derail a reader from the basic plot. Use metaphors and similes when you want to make an important point only.
•Don’t use needlessly complex words or phrases. Stick to plain, easy-to-follow language. Readers are not interested in your Thesaurus.
•Use only enough technical and historical event descriptions to enable your readers to gain a feel for your plot. Don’t bury them in forgettable vocabulary and background.
•Use only as much description as is relevant to your plot. Don’t embellish or wax poetic. Include only what’s needed to paint a picture of your character or setting.
•Don’t use two or three descriptors when one will do.
•Don’t drown your reader in long detailed backstory for every character.
• Describe location as part of the point-of-view character’s experience, not as a separate author narrative.

Avoid wordy writing and opt for simplicity. Your readers will thank you.

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A well-written novel is a story not just a collection of disconnected events. In a story events flow through a character’s plan to achieve a goal. She will meet obstacles as she works to achieve her goal. These obstacles must not  pop up out of nowhere. This will poison your novel. Obstacles must relate to the character’s efforts and they must impact on her plans or produce some kind of growth in her. Magic and divine intervention should not play a role in overcoming a long, exhausting series of obstacles.

Disconnected events do not show how a character achieves her goals. They force a protagonist to face and overcome one obstacle after another without showing a path to progress. The character simply reacts. She must also plan, evaluate and adjust her plan then move forward to tackle the next obstacle. Allow your character’s plan to fail occasionally due to external circumstances or her own weaknesses or inappropriate application of her skills or strengths.

Make sure your novel consists of scenes that flow and are connected to previous scenes. A collection of disconnected events is not a novel.


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Posted by: nancycurteman | October 9, 2016

Sydney Ducks on San Francisco’s Barbary Coast?

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th-2What do ducks from Sydney, Australia have to do with San Francisco’s infamous Barbary Coast? To answer this question we will first need to learn a bit about the history of this unique San Francisco neighborhood.

One author in 1886 described the Barbary Coast this way:

“The Barbary Coast is the haunt of the low and the vile of every kind. The petty thief, the house burglar, the tramp, the whore monger, lewd women, cut-throats, murderers, are all found here.”
From Lights and Shades of San Francisco by Benjamin Estelle Lloyd, 1876

Encompassing parts of Chinatown, Jackson Square and North Beach, the old Barbary Coast stretched from Montgomery to Stockton along Pacific Street with branches on Kearny and Grant Avenue. One of the most dangerous blocks was on Pacific between Kearny and Montgomery labeled “Terrific Street.” It was the child of the 1849 California Gold Rush which brought thousands of opportunists into the Bay Area.

The area got its name in 1860 due to its similarity to the notorious Barbary Coast in Africa.

The Barbary Coast was a haven for carousers. They could choose from a variety of unsavory establishments—bars, dives, gambling halls, and houses of prostitution. Some of the worst cribs (as houses of prostitution were called) were located on what is now called Maiden Lane.

Serious drinkers could choose from a multitude of bars on every street including one of the toughest ones in San Francisco history, The Whale. The bars were frequented by criminals as well as locals. Black Bart, the famous highway bandit hung out at Martin and Horton’s where cheap liquor flowed like water.

After the great earthquake and fire, the Barbary Coast became somewhat touristy with variety shows designed to attract stars like actress Sarah Bernhardt , ballerina Anna Pavlova and poet John Masefield. New dance-floors gave birth to fashionable dance crazes such as the turkey trot, chicken glide and bunny hug.

Now to the Sydney Ducks, a name given to a gang of criminal Aussie immigrants. They favored looting and were known to use arson as a th-6means to ply their trade. They would light fires and loot the warehouses and stores while everyone else was off fighting the fires. Another of their pastimes was collecting payments from shopkeepers to ensure that their stores wouldn’t burn.

A citizen vigilante group formed to rid the area of the Ducks. If they spotted a Duck stealing they caught him, tried him in their vigilante court and hanged him a few hours later. After only three lynchings the Ducks got the message and waddled out of town.

The San Francisco Examiner under the leadership of William Randolph Hearst launched the crusade to clean up the old Barbary Coast. By 1957 most of the sex clubs were gone.

You can take a walking tour through the historic sites of the Old Barbary Coast. Bronze medallions and arrows set in the sidewalk guide you along the trail drawing you into a world of gold seekers, shanghiers and sinners.


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Posted by: nancycurteman | September 23, 2016

Subplots: How to Create and Use Them

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A subplot is a secondary strand of a story plot that supports the main plot. Subplots are comprised of the same elements as a main plot only on a much smaller scale—a character pursues a goal, encounters conflict and works to resolve it. Subplots are essential to the success of a novel. A subplot can add complexity, tension and dimension to a story. How do authors create and use subplots? Carefully.

Start by considering what is going on in a protagonist’s life? Explore personal and professional issues, relationships with secondary characters including colleagues, friends and family, past experiences and hopes for the future, troubles and conflicts. Each of these areas could give rise to a subplot.

Subplots may include: physical or psychological issues, romance, conspiracies, addictions and grief. These issues could impact the protagonist directly or involve her through friends or relatives.

Problems and needs of secondary characters can lead to subplots as long as they advance the story.

A good subplot will escalate the conflict by creating obstacles that make it more difficult for your protagonist to achieve her goal. Whatever side story you create it must impact your protagonist either immediately or later.

Subplots can begin in a new chapter and in a new point of view. Every viewpoint character adds a subplot with his own set of goals and obstacles. However, the characters in a subplot need to dip in and out of the main character’s quest.

Use subplots to bring realism to your novel because life is not a straight line. Lives are impacted by a myriad of goals, some long term (achieving professional fame), intermediate (prepare for and give a presentation) and short-term (fix dinner).

Subplots can add variety to a story. A serious story can be lightened up by a humorous subplot. An action-packed plot can be broken up by a more reflective subplot.

Treat all  secondary plots as mini-novels but connect them in some way to the main plot.

Never allow a secondary story line to overwhelm the main plot. Subplots are meant to enhance the main story, not compete with it.

Subplot resolutions can be treated in more than one way. You can cut back and forth between the plots throughout the story then converge at the end. Or, save a subplot wrap up for after the resolution of the main plot. This restores a state of normalcy in the mind of the reader.

Creating and using subplots stretches an author’s imagination, are fun to invent and, most important, are essential to a well-written novel.

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Posted by: nancycurteman | September 11, 2016

A Bushman in San Francisco?

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Fisherman’s Wharf consists of museums, sea lions, souvenir shops, old ships, sea air, delicious seafood and something else—a real live Bushman.
San Francisco’s World Famous Bushman dwells in the Western part of the Wharf where he lies in wait for unsuspecting tourists. He hides motionless behind five feet tall eucalyptus branches. When people approach he jumps up, shakes the branches and shouts primitive words like “ugga bugga,” and scares his surprised victims out of their wits. The real enjoyment happens across the street where crowds of people watch the show as Bushman’s startled victims jump a foot in the air.

San Franciscans think their Bushman serves an important purpose. He teaches tourists that in the big city you gotta watch out for the bushes. Bushman David Johnson has been at this prank for over 30 years and even has a class 7 business license similar to the many other street performers encouraged by the city—jugglers, dancers,
mimes, statues and musicians.

A visit to Fisherman’s Wharf should include the Bushman along with museums like Ripley’s Believe it or Not on Jefferson, the World War II Liberty Ship SS Jeremiah O’Brien at Pier 45, and Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. For shoppers and sea-lion lovers Pier 39 is a must.8400799289_a78eb9e88e_o-1

For a restful lunch, pick up some famous San Francisco sourdough at Boudin Bakery and some fresh Dungeness crab from a sidewalk vendor. Carry it to a bench on the quiet pier behind the Franciscan Restaurant and eat it while enjoying a view of the Bay and Alcatraz.

Finally, for a total recovery from the shocking fright you received from the Bushman, head for the Buena Vista Café on Hyde Street for the best Irish Coffee in San Francisco. Maybe in the world.

Yes Virginia, there is a Bushman in San Francisco.

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Posted by: nancycurteman | August 30, 2016

Writing is Rewriting and Editing

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th-1Writing is rewriting and editing. Every author has a personal procedure for tackling this important step in the writing process. Some complete their entire novel before editing. Some laboriously perfect each page before advancing their story. Some just hire an editor to review it then they rewrite their novel incorporating the suggestions provided by the professional editor. Some may use a combination of these strategies. Here is the process that works for me.

  • I begin by writing several chapters.
  • I submit one chapter at a time to my critique group.
  • All the members of my critique group review my chapter. They provide both line editing and developmental editing. They also make specific suggestions for improvements and clarity. They put this information in writing for me.
  • After my critique group returns the critiques to me, I do my first rewrite of my chapter. I follow this procedure for each chapter in my novel.
  • My second rewrite happens when I finish writing my novel. I do a rewrite of the entire novel on the computer.
  • The third step in the process is to print out the novel and read it making improvement notes on the hard copy. I then input these improvements into the computer document.
  • My final rewrite takes place after I have submitted the story to my publisher’s editor. The editor provides both developmental and line editing suggestions. I incorporate his suggestions into my novel then resubmit to my publisher.

This is one process for editing and rewriting. If you have other ideas I’d love to hear them.

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Posted by: nancycurteman | August 16, 2016

How to Create Characters Readers Can Relate to

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Readers like to read about characters they can relate to—characters who have experiences, problems and emotions similar to their own. Readers want to understand why a character does what she does whether good or bad. They need to think: I would have done the same or I wouldn’t have, but I get it. Readers need to feel they’ve known or heard of people like the characters in the story. Writers must give characters real feelings, looks and behaviors. In order to make this happen, authors must create relatable characters. Here are some ways to do it.

Write complex characters, not one-dimensional cookie-cutter story people. Not all good or all bad. Give them flaws and have them acknowledge those flaws.

Reveal your characters’ attitudes and values. Do they value education, success, family, freedom, fame? Are they biased, conservative, liberal, honest, religious?

Share some of your characters’ personal stories. Maybe they ended a marriage or a sibling died. Give your characters hopes, dreams and aspirations. These are universal. Readers can relate to them.

Create real life problems for your character. For example, he forgets his glasses, misplaces his car keys, loses his cell phone. Readers will relate to his frustration.

Have your character struggle against his vulnerabilities and weaknesses. Readers struggle against their own vulnerabilities and will relate.

Character physical details contribute to creating relatable characters. You might give your character scars, tattoos, freckles, high-pitched voice, piercings. Have him dislike some things about himself—large nose, big ears, moles, overweight.

Motivation is universal. Describe what motivates your character—money, fame, respect, pride.

Add details about your character’s lifestyle. What are his favorite foods, music, colors, hobbies?

Give your character pain and fear. Let him fail at something. Readers can relate to these experiences.

Give your character a sense of humor. Readers will appreciate a little levity in their lives.

When readers see situations a character faces as ones they’ve experienced they see themselves or someone familiar to them in that character and they relate immediately.

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