Oxford comma Libel to Kill

https://www.balfour.com/Blog/Puncuation%20Matters

My long-awaited 4th book in the Digital Detective Mystery series, Libel to Kill opens with a hot debate about the Oxford comma between two wanna-be authors:

“No, no, no,” Bernadette “Bernie” Comer said sharply. “I’ve told you, the Oxford comma is vital for clarity.

Phyllis Buckley straightened in her chair. “Well, I have a brand-spankin’ new grammar book that says it’s up to the writer’s whether to use ‘em.”

“I was taught in school to always use them, and I stick by that.” Bernie sternly nodded her head once as if determining the matter was settled.

The weekly meeting of the Writing Alliance Circle, or WAC, was in full swing, as was evident from the argument that periodically resurfaced. During each meeting, writers have the chance to get feedback on their work-in-progress. It was sheer bad luck Phyllis had landed with Bernie this week.

“You were in school back when Moses brought the stone tablets down from the mountain. I hardly think we can go off that antiquated advice,” Phyllis’ voice grew loud.

I knew where this was leading, and it was nowhere good. I looked at the ceiling, gathering my patience. I stood and headed over to them. I needed to intervene before they came to blows.

Bernie huffed and crossed her arms over her ample chest. “Phyllis Buckley, you are older than me. How dare you bring my age into this. I’ll have you know my cardiologist recently told me I’d live another twenty years, regardless of my—”


So, what is the Oxford comma, anyway?

  • Alexandria is smart, beautiful, and talented. {Comma after “beautiful”}
  • Yesterday I planted tomatoes, lettuce, and peppers. {Comma after “lettuce”}
  • David loves to golf, read,and play computer games. {Comma after “read”}

Oh! THOSEcommas!

Right. The comma that comes before “and”  in a list.

You may already have an opinion on the Oxford comma but didn’t know what it was called. Don’t worry, you’re in good company. {BTW, they are also called serial commas.}

Do People Really Argue About Such Things?

Oh, yeah! Go on any author group or talk to an English teacher, and you will get an earful about whether the Oxford comma should always be used or if it should only be used when necessary.

Why Did I Start The First Scene This Way?

The theme for the book is overcoming societal conventions that make us miserable; ones that pen us down so we don’t feel like we can be our authentic selves and still be accepted by our “tribe.” {Being accepted by our tribe is important to our lizard brain–the part of our brain that hasn’t evolved since we lived in caves. Back then, if your tribe didn’t accept you, you’d be the first one eaten at the watering hole!}

When I was plotting the book, the idea of the Oxford comma debate came to mind, and I snagged it. I’ve been in these debates, both in person and online. They can get heated (I’m not making that up!) It was the perfect way to open the book–with a convention that has changed over the years. And one we are sometimes forced to use no matter our thoughts on the subject (students, writers, etc.)

To give the reader a further clue about the theme right from the first chapter, I included this towards the end of Chapter One:

I straightened from my hunched position. “In other words, it’s up to the individual writer. My only recommendation is you use it when it’s needed to clarify a sentence. Other than that, choose the convention you prefer and use it consistently.”

I looked pointedly at Bernie, “Sometimes there is no right or wrong.”

Below you’ll find some sentences from Libel to Kill that use the Oxford Libel to Kill Oxford commacomma. They will give you a fun taste of what’s in store!

  • This is what I’d hoped for when I’d started the group—an intimate band of wanna-be authors coming together to share our joys, frustrations, and feedback.
  • In the drainer beside the sink, Bernie had neatly stacked a couple of plates, a glass, silverware, and a teapot.
  • She [Ellie] slammed her fork down on the table, stood up, and dashed up the stairs.
  • Up close, I could see she [Marjory] had a rash on her neck, face, and hands.
  • Attempting to stay objective, I wrote the sins Bernie had assigned, along with any details about their motive, means, and opportunity, next to each name.
  • Evan, Ned, and Reverend Holt could lose their businesses or vocation if their indiscretions came out.
  • He [Ross] pulled himself heavily to his feet, picked up his glass, and drained the last bit of iced tea.
  • Making up my mind whether to investigate, stopping the nightmares, and getting a good night’s sleep was just what I needed to feel like my old self.
  • A double bed covered with a fluffy flowered comforter, a small bureau, and a nightstand were the only furniture.
  • Bernie had an ample supply of toilet paper, hand towels, and wash clothes under the sink, along with her disposable hypodermic syringes.
  • She [Phyllis] perked up a little, dragging out lists of possible caterers, swatches for bridesmaid dresses, and a list of songs they’d like the band to play.
  • The first couple of pages listed chapters, the characters, and their indiscretions bulleted underneath.
  • Both [Bernie’s kids] had sandy-brown hair cut in easy-to-maintain styles, were tallish, and dressed in basic jeans and plain t-shirts.
  • Feeling dejected after my discussion with Bernie’s kids, I pushed aside my plate, put my elbow on the table, and anchored my chin on my fist.

    Get your copy of Libel to Kill today to find out how Jade gets herself out of this mess.

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