Posted by: nancycurteman | August 29, 2019

Banshees: Malevolent or Benevolent?

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Banshees: Malevolent or Benevolent? The answer is both. We are well-acquainted with the legend of the bad banshee—the ugly one that is a harbinger of death. We are not so well acquainted with the good banshee. The good banshee is what this post is about.

In order to understand the banshee legend, we need to delve into its origins in the land of the Irish. The word banshee comes from the Irish bean si (pronounced ban-shee) which means woman of the fairy mounds. She is an Irish female spirit.

The origin of the banshee legend can be traced back to the 8thcentury and has its roots in the females who were paid to keen or cry at funerals. These women were paid with alcoholic beverages and many became worn-out drunks and were banned from villages. It is said they lived in wooded areas and wailed their hatred of the humans who had driven them from their homes. They were punshed for their sins by being doomed to become banshees.

Banshees are often depicted as ugly old crones with frightened red eyes and long  straggly hair. They dress in gray, green or white robes. When they wail, they are predicting a death.

Banshees are not dangerous. They do not kill, they only warn of a pending death. Malevolent  banshees relish the deaths of people who have harmed them in some way.

Benevolent banshees are different from the evil ones in many ways. Benevolent banshees are beautiful young women with lovely, long golden hair. They wear snow white shrouds. They come from families in which they were cherished and loved. Often death took them at a young age. Like the malevolent banshee, they wail in the night but unlike their evil counterpart they wail to express sorrow at the pending death of a family member. They even try to warn or protect their loved one from danger.

Not much is written about the benevolent banshee, but they do exist in Irish legend.Read more about banshees in my upcoming novel, “Murder on the Emerald Isle.”

More tips:

Taste a Bit of Ireland in San Francisco Johnny Foley’s Irish House

Waterford, Ireland’s Oldest City

Leprechauns: Are They Lovable?

Posted by: nancycurteman | July 12, 2019

What is a Beta Reader?

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As authors we know that preparing a novel for publication involves more than the tremendous effort of getting ideas on paper. It involves many hours of rewriting based on editing. We edit our  book ourselves. We join critique groups and present chapters for members to edit. Some of us hire copy, line and/or developmental editors. These strategies enable us to polish our stories. There is another important strategy for perfecting our novels and that is the beta reader.

A beta reader is a person who reads a completed novel before it is published, and shares his or her reaction to it from the standpoint of someone who might purchase your book. Sometimes the beta reader is a friend or relative. Typically their only payment is reading your novel free of charge.

The beta reader will evaluate your story from the standpoint of enjoyment, emotional impact, and general readability. Sometimes they will edit errors they find, but their main task is to help you identify problems with readability. They can help determine the saleability of a manuscript.

 A good beta reader will improve your novel by simply noting her reaction to specific sections of the novel—hilarious, slow, heartrending, suspenseful, not realistic. She can tell you what they liked  or disliked about the characters and whether they were believable.

 In selecting your beta readers, try to find people who can give an objective and unbiased opinion. Consider readers from diverse backgrounds, genders and occupations.

 Beta readers represent the people to whom you hope to market your novel—your reading public. As such, their kind of input is essential.

More Tips:

Strategies for Rewriting Your Novel

How do Developmental Editing and Line Editing Differ?

Revising and Rewriting a Novel is no Mystery

How to Get a Chapter Just Right

Writing is Rewriting is Revising: 7 Ways

Posted by: nancycurteman | June 15, 2019

How to Format Your Mystery Novel

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Every mystery writer should master the critical art of formatting a novel. Why? Because a well-written story will get lost in a poorly formatted writing piece. Instead of focusing on the twists and turns in your mystery, a reader will end up being distracted by inconsistent margins and fonts, unclear scene breaks, incorrect chapter headings and page numbers to mention a few common formatting errors. Here are some basic formatting tips:

Margins: Exterior margins (top, bottom, and outer edge of page) should be set at one half to three quarter inch.  The “gutter” (part of page that is bound) should be set at one inch so when the book is bound, all the inside print will be visible.

Font: Body text should be black, twelve point, Times New Roman font. Only use a larger font size for your title and chapter headings.

Page Numbers: Place your page number at the bottom on the outside each of the  page. No page numbers on the title page.

Headers: Place the author’s name on the left side of even-numbered pages and the book title on the right side of odd-numbered pages. No headers on the title page.

Title and Author Page: Center your title about half way down the page. Double space and add your author name.

Chapters: New chapters begin on odd-numbered pages. Use bold text.

Scene breaks: Insert two or three blank lines for new scenes

Justification: Justified text adds a tailored look to your novel.

Indents: New paragraphs need half-inch indentions.

Formatting your novel will ensure the presentation of your novel will not include any errors that will distract your readers from enjoying your mystery. For a more in-depth explanation of formatting see: How to Format a Novel

Posted by: nancycurteman | May 30, 2019

Traditional Irish Cuisine

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In my seventh Lysi Weston mystery novel, set in Northern Ireland, my characters dine on traditional Irish foods. I spent two weeks in County Antrim Northern Ireland doing research for my book, and had the opportunity to try traditional Irish cuisine. Here are sone of the tasty dishes I tried:

Irish stew is considered Ireland’s national dish. It originated in the 1800’s. It is a delicious mélange of mutton, onions, potatoes, carrots and parsley simmered for about two hours into a thick stew.

Ulster Fry is a hearty dish often eaten for breakfast although there was so much on my plate that I didn’t need lunch or dinner. It consists of two eggs, lightly browned potatoes, beans, soda bread, pork sausages, crisp bacon, black and white pudding and a juicy red tomato.

Coddle, sometimes called Dublin Coddle, is an Irish dish which is often made to use up leftovers and therefore doesn’t have a specific recipe. The dish is braised in the stock produced by boiling pieces of bacon and sausage. It’s ingredients often include potatoes, onions and whatever from the pantry and fridge.

Colcannon is a dish that consists of mashing together buttery mashed potatoes with cooked cabbage and leeks. Colcannon has its roots in the 17thcentury when cabbage, potatoes and leeks were considered the food of the working class.

Boxty is a traditional potato pancake that consists mashed and grated potatoes. The Irish have a saying: Boxty on the griddle, boxty on the pan. If you can’t make boxty you won’t get a man.

Farl is a kind of soda bread very popular in Ulster. This was the quick way to make bread for unexpected guests who stopped by for a bit of craic (good fun).

Champ, brúitin in Irish, is a dish that combines mashed potatoes, spring onions, milk and cheese.

Needless to say, I gained a few pounds while in County Antrim but it was worth it because the food was so delicious.

More tips:

Blarney Stone, a Gift to Writers

Waterford, Ireland’s Oldest City
Durty Nelly’s Pub


Posted by: nancycurteman | April 20, 2019

Will Brexit Unify Ireland?

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Will Brexit Unify Ireland? This is a question  many people are asking. In recent years opinion on whether to unite the 26-county Irish Republic with the six counties of Northern Ireland has been about evenly split pro and con. With the advent of the Brexit vote, desire for unification has increased. For the majority of Irish, the dream of unity has become a possibility. Polling of Northern Ireland residents by LucidTalk found that desire for reunification with the Republic was greater (48%) than support for staying in the UK (45%).

In 1922 Ireland was split in two. The break-up eventually led to a period of unrest and violence known as “The Troubles.” The dispute was between the republicans, mostly Catholic, who wanted to unite with the Republic of Ireland and the loyalists, mostly protestant, who wanted to remain a part of the United Kingdom.  Thousands of people on both sides were killed with bullets and bombs. The Good Friday Agreement signed in 1998 was a step towards ending the violence.

Brexit has brought with it the fear of the creation of a hard border between Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland, a situation neither country wants. The possibility of the financial burden of border posts and physical checks on the 310-mile boundary  is driving a movement towards unification.

Many believe that if a vote was taken in the now 48% protestant and 45% Catholic country of Northern Ireland, the majority would support a united Ireland.

According to recent polls, 86% of people surveyed in the Republic prefer a united Ireland to a hard border. Sixty-two percent of people in Northern Ireland believe that Brexit makes a unified Ireland likely.

Unification would be a complicated process with many issues to resolve.

Will Brexit unify Ireland? We’ll have to wait and see.

More Tips:

6 reasons to Fall in Love With Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland’s Treasure: The Glens of Antrim

The Tale of Cushendun’s Famous Goat

Craicntours, An Outstanding Tour Company

Posted by: nancycurteman | March 30, 2019

8 Internet Resources for Mystery Writers

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A believable mystery novel requires accurate detailed facts. Of course, real life, hands on experience is the best way to gather data, but that is not always possible. So, a mystery writer often has to acquire details through research. The internet is a great research tool. Here are some ways mystery writers can conduct research on the internet:

  • Googleis a powerful search engine, a good place to begin your research. You can refine a Google search by using Google Scholar where you will find more specific and detailed information on any topic you choose.
  • Google Maps  enables you to walk the streets of most places in the world. Helpful if you need to describe a location you are not able to visit.
  • Wikipediais a site you can use to initiate a search for information. Just be sure to verify that information on other sites.
  • You Tube is almost a hands-on research experience because real people video a wealth of different activities and post the videos on YouTube. You can find videos on everything from acupuncture to zither performances.
  • Ez2find is a Meta search engine that uses several search engines. It uses a filtering system that includes ranking to ensure the relevancy of responses to your question.
  • Magportal is a magazine search engine that provides access to most magazines including pay and obscure ones.
  • Encyclopedia Britannica is an excellent research tool that is regularly updated.
  • A Library Card from your local library can provide free access to most pay-for-view databases.

In addition to these search engines, I have also found information on Facebook and on blogs.

The internet is a treasure trove for mystery writers needing to research almost any topic needed to authenticate a novel.

More Tips

3 Research Methods for Novelists

Posted by: nancycurteman | March 16, 2019

Strategies for Pacing a Mystery Novel

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Pacing in a mystery novel is not just a strategy for racing through the story. It is a way of blending action, emotion, and tension. At times you will want a fast-paced scene. At other times you may need a slower-paced scene. Action requires fast pacing. Tension requires a slower pace. Here are some pacing strategies for each:

Pacing for action:

  • Shorten chapters, paragraphs, sentences, scenes and even words.
  • Ensure that something interesting is happening on every page.
  • Use short dialog coupled with quick action.
  • Move from one scene to another in a short amount of time.
  • Use active voice.
  • Keep setting and description to a minimum.

Pacing for Tension:

  • Slow down the action.
  • Add interior monologue. Have your character debate in his mind options for what to do next.
  • Leave something in the scene or chapter unresolved.
  • Ask a question in one scene and make the reader wait for the answer in a later scene.
  • Have your character slowly become aware of evidence of danger.
  • • Worry your reader.

In a mystery novel, pacing is as important as plot, character, and setting. Give it the attention it deserves.

More Tips”

Secrets of a Well-Paced Novel

How to Perfect Pacing

Posted by: nancycurteman | February 26, 2019

Strategies for Rewriting Your Novel

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You’ve finally written the words, “The End” on the last page of your novel. Great! Now the real work begins—editing, rewriting and polishing. Where to begin? Surprise! The first step is to set your novel aside for a couple of weeks. This provides time for you to gain a more objective view of your almost masterpiece. After this period of detachment the refining begins. Here are some strategies to guide your rewriting:

  • Read your novel aloud. You’ll detect clumsy narrative and dialog. Highlight the rough spots.
  • Use your word processing program’s search function to help you find repetitive words and phrases.
  • Check each adverb to see if it could be eliminated by a stronger verb.
  • Limit your use of words that end in -tion.
  • Delete cliché words, phrases and scenes.
  • Don’t over explain. For example: John slammed the door. Don’t add: He was mad.Slamming the door is enough to show he’s mad.
  • Avoid the passive voice except where appropriate.
  • Provide frequent paragraph breaks. Pages filled with print and little white space are tiring.
  • Check out character names. Don’t give characters similar names. Use only one name for a character.
  • Make sure your characters are distinct in behavior, voice, attitude and values.
  • Ask yourself if your characters’ actions comply with their attitudes and values.
  • Said is almost always the best attribution. People speak words. They don’t sigh, grunt, snort, breathe or wheeze words.
  • Watch out for changes of point of view within a scene or paragraph.
  • Make sure chapter beginnings and endings are strong. Don’t repeat the same style of beginnings and endings in all your chapters.
  • Vary the length of your chapters, scenes and paragraphs.
  • Make sure that each scene contains something your reader cares about.

The ultimate goal in rewriting your novel is to ensure that every word in every sentence either reveals character or advances the plot?

Note: Because rewriting and polishing your novel is so important, I’ve written several blog posts on the topic. See “More Tips” below.

At the moment, I’m in the process of polishing my latest novel set in Ireland . I review my previous posts as a way of making certain I cover every aspect of rewriting.


More tips:

Writing is Rewriting is Revising: 7 Ways to Do It
Polish Your Writing: Cut the Riffraff
Developmental Editing: How to do it
How to Edit Your Mystery Novel
Use Editing Tools With Caution

Posted by: nancycurteman | February 4, 2019

6 reasons to Fall in Love With Northern Ireland

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Northern Ireland is located on the island of Ireland but is administratively part of the United Kingdom. It comprises six of the counties of Ulster with Belfast as its capital. It is also the setting for my next novel in the Lysi Weston mystery series

The history of Northern Ireland has not always been one of peace. The country survived a civil war that lasted almost 30 years.

Despite its violent history, Northern Ireland has maintained its position as a country known for beautiful glacial valleys, mountains, and coastlines. Its Christian, Celtic and Norman sites spread throughout the land and are steeped in history and legend. There are so many reasons to love this Irish jewel. I’ve selected six to share with you.

  • The Giants’ Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage site famous for its hexagonal columns of layered basalt. Science says it was created by a volcanic eruption 60 million years ago. Irish legend says it was created by the giant Finn McCool who built it to do battle with his enemy across the water in Scotland.
  • The Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge sways almost 100 feet above the ocean. It is 65 feet long and connects Carrick Island, an old salmon fishing spot, with the County Antrim mainland. Crossing it takes considerable courage but the stout-hearted will be rewarded with stunning views of Rathlin Island and even Scotland.
  • The Titanic Quarter in the capitol city of Belfast showcases the redeveloped dockyards where the Titanic was built. It also houses the star-shaped Titanic Museum which traces Belfast’s maritime history and the building of the Titanic.
  • Old Bushmills is the world’s oldest licensed whiskey distillery founded in 1608. The distillery offers tours and tastings. It’s a whiskey lovers paradise.
  • The Glens of Antrim are among natures loveliest gifts to Northern Ireland. On a drive through the nine glens you will see quiet lakes, tumbling waterfalls, forest trails and green rolling hills.
  • Carrickfergus Castle is a well-preserved medieval Norman castle. It has a recreated banquet hall that will take you back in time.

There are so many more reasons to love Northern Ireland. I plan to share many more of them. Watch this space

More tips:

The Tale of Cushendun’s Famous Goat

Taste a Bit of Ireland in San Francisco

Waterford, Ireland’s Oldest City


Posted by: nancycurteman | January 11, 2019

5 Ways Animals Can Add Humor to a Mystery Novel

Recently I wrote a blog post titled 5 Ways to Use Animals in a Mystery Novel. In this post I will refine my view of the role of animals a bit more. Most mystery novels no matter how dark can benefit from the interjection of a bit of humor. Animals make great vehicles for adding funny scenes to a heavy story. Here are 5 ways animals can add humor to a mystery novel:

  1. Alligator. On a swamp tour in Louisiana I encountered an alligator that followed our boat gobbling marshmallows our guide tossed to it. What if a bad guy threw a good guy into the swamp expecting our marshmallow-loving alligator to attack but instead the alligator waited for marshmallows.
  2. A family I knew had a pet parrot that they allowed to fly free about the living room. Unfortunately, the parrot was very territorial and would fly at and peck visitors. So the family had to keep it locked in its cage when friends came by. What if the family forgot to lock up their pet upon leaving one evening and a burglar entered. The intrusion of the burglar angered the territorial parrot and it viciously attacked the culprit.
  3. Dog. I read about an amorous Labrador that lapsed into a passionate state of arousal at the sight or scent of a man’s jeans. Upon the appearance of a jean clad leg it would rush forward and vigorously hump away on the man’s leg. Only its master could end the romantic interlude. What if a voyeur in jeans entered a yard planning to indulge his compulsion to peek through a bedroom window and the dog loped forward and satisfied its sexual appetite on the peeping tom’s leg. Would the voyeur lose interest in satisfying his own compulsion?
  4. Goose. My father always maintained that geese were great “watch dogs.” They not only sound a loud alarm when a stranger invades, they will also attack. If you’ve ever been bitten by a goose you know how painful it can be. What if an unsuspecting intruder sneaks into a geese-guarded yard and several geese honk furiously, fly at him and clamp their vise-grip bills onto his flesh. Did I mention geese don’t like to let go?
  5.  Skunk. I once knew a family that had a smelly skunk setting up housekeeping under their front porch and had to enter their home through the back door for fear of upsetting the skunk. They contacted a “skunk eradicator” to remove said skunk. What if a burglar approached the house through the front door, upset the skunk causing it to use its only defense mechanism. Skunk spray might cure the burglar of his penchant for stealing.

These are a few ways animals can add humor to a mystery novel. I had fun making up these scenarios. Try making up your own humorous scenes. Have fun.

More tips”

Can Dogs Play a Role in Mystery Novels?

5 Ways to Use Animals in a Mystery Novel

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