The Oxford Comma, Book Review — The Fateful Dance, Short Story – A Little Too Physical Training

The Oxford Comma and Other Editing Musings

This week I learned from the #writingcommunity what a final comma in a series is called:  the Oxford comma.  When I was back in school, way back when blackboards were a staple in all classrooms and school newspapers were mimeographed, I was taught that the Oxford comma is unnecessary except in situations where it was needed for clarity.  One such example put forth on Twitter this week was something like  “I had a discussion with two strippers, Washington and Lincoln.”  Without the comma, it could be taken that the strippers’ names were Washington and Lincoln.  (I know –what self-respecting strippers would choose such names!)  If the Oxford comma is added, the meaning is much clearer:  “I had a discussion with two strippers, Washington, and Lincoln.”  (Of course, the sentence is nonsense; although strippers have always been around, Presidents Washington and Lincoln are from different periods in time and couldn’t possibly  have engaged in the same conversation!)  If I were writing that sentence, I’d probably reorder the series, but the example does illustrate the point.   Today, some grammar utilities/apps such as Word’s editor, expect it always, and that has resulted in a fairly large debate among authors and editors.  When I write, I usually don’t use the Oxford comma, but when Word’s editor wants to put it in, I’ve been capitulating.  (I’m much more inclined to go to battle about removing a comma than adding one.  I figure I’ll choose my comma wars carefully.)

Grammarly says use of the Oxford comma is a personal choice.  (Along those lines, using deodorant is also a personal choice, but for polite society, there really is only one right choice.)  However, it also says that if you are working somewhere that uses AP Style, you absolutely do not use the Oxford comma; if you feel like it’s needed, then you need to rewrite your sentence.  (Years ago, I did work somewhere that claimed to use AP style.  I looked it up,, and they weren’t really.  When I pointed out violations, it didn’t go over well.  I think someone thought I was being a smartass.  She was right.)  The AP style does agree with what I was taught back when there were like two computers in the school – if you feel an Oxford comma is needed, you actually need to rewrite your sentence.  Wikipedia points out several style guides that mandate the Oxford, and seems to indicate that it’s more expected in the U.S. than in Great Britain or Canada.  Wikipedia also states that occasionally the Oxford comma can introduce ambiguity.  Their example of this is “To my mother, Ayn Rand, and God.”  The reader is left unsure whether Ayn Rand is the author’s mother or not.  Additionally, Wikipedia provides examples of sentences in which the addition of the Oxford comma doesn’t introduce ambiguity, but doesn’t provide clarity either.  In those instances, there’s no choice but to rewrite the sentence. 

I’ve now decided I will no longer let Word’s editor bully me into that extra comma.  Whew, I feel so liberated!

Barely related to the comma discussion, I also read a large Twitter debate  on whether punctuation and even spelling matter!  I was shocked at the number of writers saying that they do not think they’re important, and some even saying that if a reader gets caught up in poor spelling and punctuation, they’re not going to get the story anyway.  They’re, of course, right  When I read something full of spelling errors, I put it aside, and so I will never get that story or any other stories by that author.   Punctuation errors don’t usually make me decide not to read a story, but they are damn annoying, and if they’re hugely evident in one book written by an author, I am unlikely to read another book by that same author.

That takes me to editing.  In the past month, I’ve picked up eight  books by independently published authors.  Three of them, for me, were unreadable because they were so poorly edited.  (Okay, for one of these, it had problems that even the best editor would have been highly challenged to resolve.  It seemed like someone had an acid-induced dream about Scooby-Doo, complete with The Mystery Machine, and decided it should be a novel.  Well, it was marketed as a novel.  Novella is more like it, and that’s being generous.) One of these books had an excellent premise, but it was so poorly laid out, and read so much like a first draft, that the premise was wasted.  Two others that I did read completely could have been five star, WOW books, had they been better edited. 

Yet, a conversation in the #writingcommunity this week leaned almost completely toward professional editing being unnecessary.  Their view seemed to be that it was just fixing spelling, grammar, sentence structure and punctuation, and the writer or a utility such as Grammarly could do that.  (My reading experience over the past month would say that almost a third of writers cannot self-police in those areas, but my sample size would probably not be considered statistically meaningful.  I’m not a statistician and don’t even play one on TV.)   But, good editing is more than just fixing spelling, grammar, sentence structure and punctuation.  A good editor would tell you when you’ve missed the mark on the voice of one of your characters.  For instance, in a book I’m reading right now, the author has the antagonist saying supposedly popular phrases that the character he’s described would never say.  Actually, all the characters say stupid things, that, I guess, are meant to be funny.  I’m struggling to get past that because really the story itself is good.  My point is that a good editor would point out that the incongruent and sometimes ridiculous dialogue is preventing the book from being what It could be.

So, what I’ve learned this week boils down to I should stick to my guns on the Oxford comma, and I think I made the right decision to send Notches out for professional editing.  We’ll see what I think when it comes back bleeding red. . .

In other news, my dog Chico, who suddenly went almost completely blind last week, was the best boy ever at the vet’s on Friday.  That is, he was the best boy ever until it came time to pay the ginormous bill.  He first tried to pee on the reception wall, but I’d made sure he was outta juice before we went in, making that little protest less than what he’d hoped for. Always resourceful, he humped over, and with about eight people watching, took a big, and oh so fragrant, dump.   Yes, Chico, my love, that pretty much sums up how I feel about the whole situation, too.   

Book Review: The Fateful Dance by Natalie Demoss

Are you looking for a fantasy book filled with fae folk, magic, a princess who doesn’t know she’s a princess and a dragon, but you’re not so much into reading pages of world building description?  Well, The Fateful Dance by Natalie Demoss is the book for you!

Shortly after King Caelan and Queen Orlagh ascend to the throne of Aiheoven, a seer warns them that she’s seen a vision that the evil Malorra of Braydor plans to kill them and overrun their kingdom.  But, they can avert the disaster for their people by going into hiding until their line produces a Warrior Queen.  So, the king and queen cross the veil into a manor in Scotland.  Three generations later, the Warrior Queen, Isla, is born.  Luckily, time moves more quickly in the human realm than it does in Aiheoven, where mere days have passed.

The Scottish manor immediately becomes unsafe, and Isla’s parents move her via an Elven portal to Chicago to keep her safe until her 25th birthday.  In Chicago, Isla’s sister Teagan is born.  When the girls are quite young, Malorra’s creatures catch up to them and attempt to kill Isla.  Her father protects the children, but both parents die. The girls, who have no idea they’re Elven princesses endure a traumatic childhood and manage to avoid additional assassination attempts with assistance from other fae folk in the human realm. 

Then on Isla’s 25th birthday, they learn that she’s inherited the Scottish manor, and they immediately depart for Scotland.  A few days later, they find the portal to Aiheoven and step through.  From there, their lives change forever as they’re faced with the imminent attack by Malorra’s forces.

The story flows smoothly and quickly, and the characters’ personalities shine through.  This is an enjoyable read!

Short Story:  A Little Too Physical Training

Janet was engaged in self-torture in the form of 20 reps of the physical therapist’s designated  exercises, when she saw the woman walk into American Physical Therapy (APT). 

She was late middle-age, but her exact age was hard to pinpoint; she was well-preserved.  She had perfectly colored blonde hair, cut in a chin-length bob that flattered her chubby face.  Her eyes caught Janet’s attention immediately – they were a dark blue that shone like violets out of her tastefully applied makeup.  She wore a pink and purple track suit and a bucketload of gold jewelry. 

The woman walked up to the front desk, which was directly in front of Janet’s therapy station and said, “I’m Ronnie, and I have a therapy session with Angela.”   The receptionist told Ronnie that Angela would be right up to get her.  Moments later, an APT therapist walked up to Ronnie.  She was about the same age as most of the therapists at APT —  freshly out of college,

The therapist, said, “Ronnie?  Hi, I’m Angela.”

Ronnie replied, “Hi.  Nice to meet you.”

Then Angela handed Ronnie something and said, “Okay, you’ll need to go into the locker room and change into this.  Then, in the locker room there’s a door labeled “Private.”  Meet me in there after you’ve changed.”

Ronnie said loudly, “What is this?  A hospital gown?  Why are you telling me to put on a hospital gown?”

Angela said more quietly, “It’s to make you more comfortable.”

Ronnie laughed and said, “I’m comfortable enough in what I have on, thank you very much.”

Angela looked at her tablet.  “You’re here for pelvic floor physical therapy, right?”

“I’m here for exercises to help me stop peeing myself,” Ronnie answered loudly.

Angela stepped closer to her and said very quietly, “Yes, that’s what pelvic floor physical therapy is designed to help.”

“Why do I need to put on a hospital gown for that and go into a ‘private’ room with you?”

Angela said something to Ronnie that Janet couldn’t hear.  Apparently, Ronnie couldn’t hear her either because she said, “Please speak up; I cannot hear you.”

“Ronnie,” Angela said.  “Did your doctor not explain pelvic floor physical therapy to you?”

Janet heard Ronnie say in a voice that dripped with annoyance, “No, he did not.  We talked about scheduling me for surgery to tighten up my stuff, and then a week later someone from his office told me my insurance required that I first try physical therapy, and they set up this appointment with you.”

Janet stopped what she was doing and looked at both women.  Ronnie looked as annoyed as her voice sounded.  Angela looked nervous. 

“Okay,” Angela said slowly.  “One part of the therapy program is Kegels training.  That’s why we think you’ll be more comfortable in the gown.”

Ronnie laughed and replied, “Honey, I don’t need to wear a hospital gown to do Kegels, and I don’t need a private room for it, either.”

Angela said, “I assist you with doing the Kegels correctly.”

“I’m pretty sure I’ve been doing them correctly, and I think my husband will attest to that.”

Janet turned her head to the side because she couldn’t stop the smile on her face.

Angela said something very quietly to Ronnie, and Ronnie said, “You’re really going to need to speak up.”

The younger woman said very quickly, “In order to make sure you do them in a manner that strengthens your pelvic floor, I have to use my hand.”

“You have to use your hand to do what?” Ronnie exclaimed.

Janet stifled a giggle.

Again, Angela tried to speak quietly to Ronnie, but Ronnie wasn’t patient enough to even let her finish speaking.  “In case you somehow didn’t notice, I have trouble hearing low tones.  Just spit it out, girl.”

In a rush, Angela said, “I put my fingers inside you to gauge whether you are appropriately contracting the muscles.”

Ronnie stared at Angela like she’d said, well, like she’d said exactly what she did say.   “Inside me,” she replied.  “As in, inside me the way no one but my husband has been for 40 years.”

Angela said hesitantly, “In a clinical way.”

“Well, clinically, it sounds like you just said you’re going to finger me in a private room.”

Janet turned her back to both of them because she was shaking with laughter. This was the best physical therapy session ever!

“Ronnie,” Angela said.  “You could have another therapist in the room if you like.”

“What?!” Ronnie said in a shocked tone.  “No, I most certainly do not want one of your friends to come in and watch  It’s bad enough that I know you’re going to get together with all your buddies later and laugh about my old lady stuff and the way I haven’t kept the property pruned.”

“We are professionals,” Angela said stiffly. “We do not gossip about our clients.”

Janet looked at the women again.  Angela was trying to look offended, but her nervousness shone through.   She couldn’t really read Ronnie’s expression, but pegged it as sarcastic amusement when Ronnie said, “Oh, please.  I’ve been here before, and I know how you all gather up here and talk about people.”

Janet nodded to herself.  She, too, had witnessed that in previous visits.

At that moment, another APT employee, male,  stepped up to the women and said, “Hello.  Can I be of assistance?”

Ronnie looked at him belligerently, and said, “Are you offering to stick your hand up my twat, too?”

Janet couldn’t look away.  While she stood there with her hand covering her mouth, she saw the young man put both hands up and say, “Oh, no, that’s not what I meant at all.”

Ronnie turned back to Angela, “What credentials do you have for this type of ‘therapy’?  How do you study for this type of therapy?  Do all the therapists here do the twat therapy?”

The young man hurriedly walked away.  Janet, grinning to herself, didn’t blame him.

Angela sputtered, and finally said, “We all take courses in pelvic floor therapy.”

“So, it’s not a specialty.  How do you study to make sure you know what you’re talking about?”

Angela looked around nervously.  Janet followed her looks and found that several clients had gathered behind her to listen to the conversation between the two women.

Before Angela could attempt to answer, Ronnie continued, “So, APT is going to charge me and my insurance company hundreds of dollars for just whoever is available to ‘service me.’”  Then even more loudly she said “ Sounds like one of those backroom massage parlors.  Do I get a happy ending?”

Someone must have alerted the manager, because she walked up quickly to the women and said, “What seems to be the problem here?”

Angela, completely red-faced, started to speak, but Ronnie was louder.  “Seems that APT is giving twat massages without the appropriate accreditation to qualify as physical therapy.”

The manager said, “I assure you we only provide appropriate pelvic floor therapy.”

Ronnie, still as loudly, replied, “Uhm-hmm.  Seems to me that if there’s no specialty for the twat massage therapy, that the validity of the other therapies offered here is questionable, too.”

Janet heard murmurs behind her, and turned to find that most of the clients were now gathered to listen, and the therapists all seemed to have disappeared.

The manager said quietly, “You need to leave, please.”

Ronnie took the tablet from Angela and said sweetly, in a much quieter voice, “I’ll be glad to leave as soon as you sign and send the report saying that I don’t have the muscle control for therapy to provide any help for my incontinence.”

The manager took the tablet, tapped, and swiped, and showed the results to Ronnie.

“Thank you very much,” she said, and in turning to leave, she winked at Janet.