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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Posted by: nancycurteman | August 2, 2016

How to Avoid Character Lookalikes

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In a novel every character, both major and minor, must be unique. If characters are cookie cutter copies of each other even a good plot will not save your story. Sometimes it seems like a formidable task to come up with a multitude of individual traits particularly if you have a large number of characters. Take heart, here are some approaches you can use to avoid character lookalikes.

Consider the different elements that make up a person–appearance, behavior, interests, background, goals, mannerisms, motivations, style, actions, reactions to story events—and work from there. You will not address all of these when creating every character, but they provide a treasure trove of possibilities. Let’s look at a few of them.

Actions create interesting story people. What they do can induce sympathy, affection or hatred in your readers.

Mannerisms make your character more human. You can have him stutter, limp, lisp, jingle coins, clear his throat, grit his teeth, bite his lip.

Style relates to how your character dresses, styles her hair, uses cosmetics. Is she a fashion model or a hippy or a cowbird?

Interests can provide insight into character personality. A stamp collector will be quite different from a rapper.

Background will influence how story people react to events in your story. A character brought up in a strict religious family will respond differently to a given event than one from a worldly free-to-be background.

When you avoid character lookalikes each character brings something different to your story.

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Posted by: nancycurteman | July 21, 2016

North Beach: An Historic San Francisco Village

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North Beach was the historic center of the beatnik subculture, a stereotypical group of intellectuals who wrote and read poetry and dressed in dark clothing and sported sunglasses. For 50 years bohemians hung out in establishments on North Beach’s Columbus Street.

In the 1800’s thousands of Italians moved into the area and brought with them Italian foods and wines. In fact, during the great 1906 fire Italians saved their village by opening wine barrels, dousing blankets in the good Italian red wine and draping them over their houses to keep them from catching fire. Ask any Italian they’ll tell you it’s the gospel truth.

th-4Italian restaurants abound in North Beach. I have three favorites. Capp’s Corner with it’s basic, old-fashioned Italian dishes and feisty servers. Another favorite is the wedge-shaped Michelangelo Restaurant, again good basic food. Finally I love the Stinking Rose. It specializes in garlic dishes. As they say on their Facebook page, “Follow your nose to the Stinking Rose.”

North Beach is a center of San Francisco nightlife where cafes and night clubs along with strip clubs line Broadway Street. On Grant Street you will find The Saloon, the oldest bar in San Francisco and famous for its blues music.

SFNL6BeachBlanketBabylonVAL300dpicolor_54_990x660_201404181451-1A trip to North Beach wouldn’t be complete without attending the great musical revue at the iconic Beach Blanket Babylon that has been performing satires on pop culture and politicians for more than 40 years. You’ll love the hats.

After you visit the small boutiques on upper Grant and the Beat Museum to learn a bit about Kerouac and his beat generation friends, end your tour in the tranquil Washington Square Park for a few quiet moments.

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The San Francisco Village of Chinatown


Posted by: nancycurteman | July 11, 2016

The San Francisco Village of Chinatown

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ff57401c412f63bea0e529c08ff0560eSan Francisco has been called a city of small villages. Each neighborhood has its own culture. Chinatown is one of those villages. San Francisco’s Chinatown is the second largest Chinese community in the United States. Established in 1848, it is the oldest Chinatown in North America. It is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the city. But it is also a community in which you will find people engaged in the tasks of everyday life—shopping, dining out, visiting and strolling. It is an enclave that retains its own customs, languages, places of worship and cultural identity.

The grand entrance to Chinatown is through the famous Chinatown Gate at Bush Street and Grant Avenue. A pair of guardian lions, one male and one female, provide protection from harm for the inhabitants. There are two main streets in the community. One is Grant street. It is lined with curio shops and decorated with red lanterns. These red and gold lanterns represent wealth, fame and prosperity. The streetlights along Grant are supported by golden dragons that represent strength, wisdom, intelligence and

Venture on to Stockton, the other main street, for a totally different view of the neighborhood. Here you will see the parade of daily life. Browse produce and live animal markets. Check out Chinese apothecaries and small restaurants. Enjoy the interesting art of people watching.

For a peek at the religious culture, visit a couple of temples such as the Tien Hau that houses a temple on the top floor dedicated to the Goddess of Heaven. Another temple is Kong Chow famous for its colorful altars.

Like Cantonese food? Try the Great Eastern Restaurant on Jackson Street. Another fine restaurant is House of Nanking on Kearny Street. After lunch, be sure to stop by the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory where you can watch the cookies as they are created. You can also sample fresh fortune cookies. Make a stop at the Red Blossom Tea Company. Taste imported teas and purchase some to take home.

The Chinese Cultural Center offers guided tours. For about $30 you can learn a lot of history about this unique and interesting San Francisco neighborhood. Chinatown is one of the most interesting San Francisco Villages.


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Posted by: nancycurteman | July 1, 2016

How to Write Flash Fiction

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flashfictioncartoon-300x300Art Carey, author of “The Gender War,” A Novel, and Flash Fiction writer extraordinaire, is my guest blogger. He offers a brief, to-the-point piece on the art of creating Flash Fiction, a style of writing that is very popular in today’s fast-paced world. As a former newspaper reporter and journalist instructor, Mr. Carey provides concise how-to-write information on Flash Fiction. Enjoy his piece below.

Learn How to Write Flash Fiction in a Flash

Why write flash fiction? Change of pace, less time required, no research, challenge, opportunity to be published.

Flash Fiction is story telling in a box. The box is the maximum number of words.
Micro—Fewer than 100 words
Extreme—Fewer than 500 words
Usual—500 to 1,500 words
Sweet spot—1,000 words

Minimum length: Whatever works. Ernest Hemingway’s classic six words: For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.
My six-word example: (Not a classic but published in penny fiction): My bad… The gun was loaded.

Characteristics—Often similar to longer stories with: protagonist, conflict, obstacles, and resolution.

Omissions—Anything wordy: monologues, flashbacks, prolonged description, digression.

Things to keep in mind:

Remember KISS: (Keep it simple, stupid)
Limit the number of characters.
Make something happen.
Have a strong ending.
Pick a single theme.
Surprise the reader.
Polish language.


Both print and the Internet offer possibilities. Consult Google for “flash fiction publishers.”

Internet sites to see:

Flash fiction—Wikipedia
Flash Fiction Online
Flash Fiction Magazine
Top 20 Places to Submit Flash Fiction
DuotropeFlash Fiction Online ($50 membership required. Valuable for active writers.)

Looking for a challenge? Write a story with an exact number of words. No more. No less.

Some online possibilities with word limits:

50-Word Stories
Blink-Ink 50
Prime Number Magazine 5
101 Fiction
200 CCs  185-215
Nano Fiction 300
Fewer Than 500
Spider’s Web Flash Fiction Prize 750
Word Count is your friend here. Add and subtract words to fit.

Final thoughts: Writing should be more than just work. It can be fun, too. Start by reading examples of flash fiction online. Then dive right in.

There you have it. Art Carey’s advice on writing Flash Fiction in a Flash.


Posted by: nancycurteman | June 19, 2016

5 Ways to Prop up the Droopy Middle of a Mystery Novel

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Contrary to common belief, the most difficult mystery novel chapters to write are not the beginning and ending ones. They are the middle chapters. The middle is the section in which the story often starts to droop. If the middle chapters droop then readers will either skip those sections or stop reading all together. Don’t allow your middle chapters to put your readers to sleep. Here are 5 ways you can prop up the droopy middle of a mystery novel:

  • Start by reviewing the chapters and cutting any sections that are boring.
  • Add a new challenge for your main character—another murder, increase the obstacles he must conquer or introduce a moral dilemma.
  • Add a new antagonist. Someone who creates problems for the protagonist. You might turn a trusted friend into an unexpected antagonist. Betrayal is always painful.
  • Have your protagonist discover that a truth he believed is false or a person he suspected was guilty was actually innocent or someone he thought was innocent is in fact the culprit.
  • Add some humorous or romantic scenes or subplots.

Remember, throughout the middle of your novel it’s essential to continue to increase the obstacles—emotional, physical, moral—that your protagonist must face and master.

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