Posted by: nancycurteman | January 20, 2021

Origins of New York City’s Nicknames

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Readers of the Lysi Weston Travel Mystery series are familiar with one of my main characters, Grace Wright. She is a native of Harlem, New York. My next novel is set in New York City and Grace will visit her home town. In my novel she will often refer to New York City by its nicknames. I thought it might be interesting to share the origins of the city’s many nicknames. So here we go.

  • The Big Apple is the city’s most popular nickname. This nickname was first popularized in the 1820s by sports writer John J FitzGerald. Fitzgerald had heard African-American stable workers allude to New York’s racing industry as “the big apple.” Everyone from the 1930s Harlem jazz musicians to 1970 tour companies promoted the nickname.
  • The Concrete Jungle term was first used by a British zoologist, Desmond Morris in his book , “The Human Zoo.” The nickname was solidified as New York’s own in the 2009 worldwide hit, Empire of Mind.
  • The City that Never Sleeps originally referred to the bowery but in 1979 Frank Sinatra’s hit song New York, New York sang of the city that never sleeps and so did everyone else. The nickname stuck.
  • Gotham, in old Anglo-Saxon days meant “Goat’s Town.” The rather macabre nickname is also associated with Washington Irving, author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” of headless horseman fame. Irving created a nickname for New York that is now over two hundred years old. Also, we all know that Gotham is Batman’s hangout.
  • Metropolis is associated with Superman. Comic legend, Frank Miller explained that “Metropolis is New York in the daytime; Gotham is New York at night.”

New York City has many nicknames. Some originated among New Yorkers, some originated long ago. The nicknames all have interesting origins.


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Posted by: nancycurteman | January 7, 2021

Tavern on the Green: From Sheep to Chandeliers

Tavern on the Green, one of New York City’s unique restaurants, has a unique history. One could say it went from sheep to chandeliers. In fact, the spot where the restaurant stands was once a sheep shed It was designed by Calvert Vaux and built in 1870 to house the sheep that grazed in Central Park’s Sheep Meadow. 

After years of contented grazing, the sheep were banished to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park and in 1934 the building was transformed in to a restaurant and given the name: Tavern on the Green.

With the addition over the years of a large dance floor, an outdoor patio area and the glass enclosed Crystal Room with its sparkling chandeliers, the sheepfold became the jewel Manhattan. It also became the second-highest-grossing restaurant in the United States.

Tavern on the Green closed in 2009 much to the chagrin of New Yorkers. It was renovated and finally reopened in 2014. Closed during the Covid-19 virus, it will reopen when safe.

Posted by: nancycurteman | December 23, 2020

What is Nonfiction?

What is nonfiction? The short answer is this: If a writing piece is not a made-up story, then it is nonfiction. However, nonfiction writers will tell you that the answer is much more complex than that. Let’s delve into nonfiction a bit more.

There are four main nonfiction categories, each with their own collection of subcategories and writing style:

1. Narrative. This type of nonfiction tells a true story about a person, event or place. It uses literary writing styles and techniques to tell the story. Examples of this category include history, biography, autobiography and memoirs.

2. Expository. The object of this type of nonfiction writing is to explain or inform readers about a topic. It explains what something is, who someone is, what something means, how something works or why something is important. Examples include: guides, how-to manuals and self help books.

3. Persuasive. In order to convince readers to agree with a given perspective, this style of nonfiction writing uses carefully chosen words, and develops logical arguments and a cohesive summary of facts. Examples could include political perspectives, philosophical views (anti or pro death penalty, pro or anti marijuana legalization).

4. Descriptive. The goal is to paint a picture and evoke feelings in the mind of a reader through the use of sensory words.  This category of nonfiction may include: travel guides and travelogues.

The stories written in nonfiction form must: be true and include
• facts
• accurate and well-researched facts
• attempts to inform
• narration by an author who is a real person
• be infomed by the target audience and purpose (author’s reason for writing)
• intent to inform
Nonfiction is a complex writing style but it is plays an essential role in meeting the diverse needs of readers.

Posted by: nancycurteman | December 13, 2020

10 steps to Writing a Good Children’s Picture Book

As authors of adult literature, we sometimes think writing a children’s picture book would be a quick and easy task. Not true. Children are staunch critics with extremely high expectations and standards. Here are 10 steps to consider when writing a children’s picture book.

Step 1 Determine the age range of picture-book children you want to target. Picture books for 2 to 3 year-olds are different from those for 4 to 6 year- olds.

Step 2 Develop an understanding of what kinds of picture books are most appealing to the picture-book age children you wish to target. One way to do this is to survey titles of popular books on library lists. Another is to read aloud several picture books.

Step 3 Resist the idea to use a multitude of words to present the story plot. Most of the story will reside in illustrations. Write no more than 300 to 600 words.

Step 4 Write for illustrators. Give them interesting characters and simple scenes for which they can create child-appealing pictures.

Step 5 Personification of animals with kid-like problems, goals and solution strategies are popular with children. Characters the same age as your target audience are also popular.

Step 6 Open your story quickly with a problem that is very serious to the character. End your story quickly as well. The younger your target audience, the shorter your story should be.

Step 7 Write no more than three or four obstacles your character needs to overcome before she solves her problem. Make each obstacle more difficult than the previous one. Always have a happy ending to the story.

Step 8 Don’t wax poetic about the season, setting or character backstory. Remember, children have short attention spans and by the time you tell them the sun was warm and the grass was green, you’ve probably lost them. Leave the sun and grass to your illustrator.

Step 9 Experiment a bit with language. Repetition, rhyming and some nonsense words will make little children giggle.Use simple vocabulary, short sentences and lots of dialogue. 

Step 10 As a kindergarten teacher and mother, I always preferred stories written in third-person. Think carefully about mechanics like point of view, sentence structure and person.

Children’s books can be fun to create but they are definitely not simple to write.

Posted by: nancycurteman | November 17, 2020

An Irishman Worked on the Harlem Lyft Bridge

When I visited Cushendun, Northern Ireland to learn about the setting for my novel, Murder on the Emerald Isle, I met many wonderful people. One of them, John Robbin, recently sent me a story about his Great Grandfather. He thought this story might interest me because I’m setting my new novel in Harlem, New York. Here is his piece.

My great Grandfather, William Robbin’s nickname was “Oul’ Harlem.” He was allegedly a member of the “Invincibles,” the elite wing of the IRB, (The Irish Republican Brotherhood) the forerunners of the IRA. The goal of the secret IRB was to establish an independent Irish  Republic. This group was responsible for the “Phoenix Park Murders” and were ruthlessly hunted by the authorities. Through the use of informers those guilty were found and executed. Anger at the informers, the remaining “Invincibles” then went worldwide looking for the informers. It is believed my great grandfather was sent to New York to search for the informers among the Irish people living there.

While in New York, my great grandfather worked on the erection of the Harlem Lyft Bridge before returning to Ireland.He only told his story in his later years. He died in 1933 when my father was about 14 years old. He was I believe 79 years old. My grandfather ( Oul Harlem’s son) died in 1922 at age 34 leaving 3 children, my father and two girls so I think my great grandfathe was a strong influence on my father although he passed when my father was still young. I’m sure my great grandfather would have had a lot of stories to tell.

I really enjoyed learning about the IRB and about the role of John Robbin’s great grandfather in the construction of the famous Harlem Lyft Bridge.  Special appreciation to John Robbin for sharing this story.

Posted by: nancycurteman | November 8, 2020

New Lysi Weston Mystery Novel

In my last blog post I mentioned I had started writing a new Lysi Weston mystery novel. The story is set in New York City, specifically Harlem. I chose Harlem because that is the birthplace of Grace Wright, Lysi Weston’s business partner.

The story will take us and Lysi into the childhood and youth experiences of Wright that made her the interesting character she became.

The child of a strong, respected African American father and a beautiful Puerto Rican mother, Grace is a product of two cultures. Her fraternization with both Black and Puerto Rican gang members made her the woman who fearlessly entered and graduated from university and continued to overcome racism and discrimination against women in pursuit of her profession.

When Grace is called home by her desperate mother, Lysi joins her in an adventure in which they will face gang vendettas, murder and a dangerous romance triangle.

So there you have it. As I move through the novel I will share adventures with you. Reminder, I am still working o mastery of the new WordPress format. Again, thank you for your patience.

Posted by: nancycurteman | November 5, 2020

Second Blogging Effort

This is my second blogging effort using the new WordPress format. The program uses something called blocks which are completely new to me. So, as you can see I’ve figured out how to use the title block and the paragraph block. Today I will try to find and use the image block. If I master that, I will be well on my way to returning to my regular blogging topics which are writing and travel subjects.

There, found the image block. Now i’m back with a paragraph block.. I need to find the sections for adding tags. We’ll see how this works out. This used to be so easy!! Thank you to all my followers for your patience.
Posted by: nancycurteman | November 4, 2020

I’m Back

You may have noticed that I haven’t posted to my blog in sometime. There are two reasons for my absence. First, I’ve been very busy working on my eighth novel set in Harlem, New York. Secondly, WordPress changed its format while I was gone. Now I’m back. However, I am still in the process of learning the new WordPress. It will take some practice before I gain mastery. Please be patient. So, this is my first try. Wish me luck.

Posted by: nancycurteman | May 9, 2020

Research Dividends

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As authors, we all engage in research in an effort to ensure authenticity in our writing. That is a given. However, I’ve found that research provides dividends beyond my search goals. These dividends contribute to my love of research.

Here are a couple of examples of research dividends I stumbled on while seeking information for my new novel set in Harlem, New York.

  • I needed to find out which area of Harlem was considered the most dangerous. I discovered it was East Harlem. I garnered two unexpected dividends in my search: 1. The actual most dangerous corner. 2. There’s a MacDonald’s fast food restaurant on that corner. Of course I worked these two dividends into my story.
  • For my novel, “Murder Down Under,” set in Australia I needed to add info about dangerous in the Outback. Two unexpected dividends resulted from this search: 1. The most dangerous snakes in Australia are the the Mulga, Gwarder, Northern Death Adder and the Brown Snake. Dividend 2. You can purchase snake venom from these snakes on snake farms in China.

 These are just two examples of research dividends I’ve encountered while writing my novels. Fascinating!

More tips:

3 Research Methods for Novelists
8 Internet Resources for Mystery

Posted by: nancycurteman | March 20, 2020

How to Beat Writers’ Block

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Writers’ Block can affect any author at any time. It can be of short or long term duration. It can happen at the start or in the middle of writing a new novel. Since most of us as authors are likely to experience it, the question is what to do about it. I know from personal experience that just wringing your hands won’t work. Each writer has her own strategy for dealing with this paralyzing problem. I will share mine and I invite you to share yours.


  • Keep writing. Continue writing something. Either your novel, a blog, social media comments, emails anything that keeps you at your computer for some part of your day. I usually focus on my novel.
  • I stick to writing my novel. I write anything related to my story—setting, dialogue, narration—it doesn’t matter because I will revise and even delete what I’ve written. My objective is to write.
  • I find writing dialogue between characters to be a very useful tool for getting me back on track. Dialogue is easy for me to write and often I can use it as a story skeleton that I plump out with more details later.
  • Another strategy that works for me is to conduct research on an element of my novel. In my research I always learn something new that I can use to broaden my story.
  • When I have writers’ block I forget about sequence. I may write a final chapter or I may create a scene that belongs in the middle of my story just because I like it. I can always reposition it.
  • Finally, I think about my plot when I’m on a walk or just before I go to sleep. I sometimes act out a scene in my mind. This is also writing. It’s just done without a pen or computer.


I repeat, the best way to break through writers’ block is to write. I’d love to hear your strategies for beating writers’ block.



More Tips:

How to Conquer Writers’ Block

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