Oh, Brother! (and Sister): Naming Fictional Siblings


Naming characters is always a great deal of fun, like naming a baby but without having to go through nine months of pregnancy and a painful labour. Well, naming the first few is fun, at least. But what happens when you have to name hundreds? And what happens when you have to name a very specific group such as brothers and sisters?

Would Edwina ever have a brother named Lebron? It seems unlikely. And why does it matter so much? Let me illustrate with a couple of real life examples.

I have a brother-in-law named Timothy. Timothy has a younger brother. Perhaps at the time his parents were naming him they didn’t realise that calling his younger brother Thomas might draw a few guffaws later in life. But it did. Yes, they are Tim and Tom. And now fairly frequent namesakes in commercials featuring brothers advertising indigestion medication.

I also have twin nieces. Fraternal twins but arriving from the same womb on the same day nonetheless. Before they were born, my sister was contemplating names and mentioned she was thinking about calling them Olivia and Vivian. “Liv and Viv?” I piped up. I think it gave her pause and when they eventually came along, they were christened Olivia and Lexi. (Lexi is the name of one of my other sisters’ cat but at least that was just something we could joke about within the family, not something that would plague the little girls their entire lives like rhyming monikers.) Continue reading

Who Cares About the Oxford Comma?


Who cares about the Oxford comma? Plenty of people, it seems. Many writers, editors and language purists have strong feelings about whether or not the Oxford comma should be used. Some have even called it “a hill” they’re “prepared to die on”, both those who are for and against it.

Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State, has issued not one but two memos to his staff outlining his preference for the Oxford comma. And under the Trump administration, a preference must be considered an order for anyone wanting to keep their job. However, “[o]n semicolons, Pompeo remains silent; on long dashes — not a tittle.” (From “Secretary of State Pompeo Is Mandating His Oxford Comma Preference at State Department, Report Says” by Glenn Fleishman, Fortune, 19 September 2018)

So what is the Oxford comma? Called the Oxford comma because it is required usage according to The Oxford Style Manual, and also known as a serial comma or a Harvard comma, it’s the comma used after the penultimate (second last) item in a list of three or more items. Continue reading

Should I Stop Telling You What to Do?


Recently, I was scrolling through Twitter (as I do several times a day) when I came across a post from either someone I follow or someone who had been liked, retweeted or commented on by someone I follow. (It’s hard to tell sometimes.) The poster essentially said that unless you were Stephen King or some other bestselling writer, then he didn’t think he should read or follow any advice you might have about writing. Most of the comments agreed with him. Some even thought that the only way to improve was to write more (but not to listen to advice on how they might be able to write better).

I have no problem with Stephen King. I have his book On Writing. I’ve read it. I don’t consider it a Bible on the craft. I’ve written and published two books on writing myself. I’m close to completing a third. I don’t consider any of them definitive guides on writing. (Obviously, if one of them was a Bible on writing, I’d be a lot more successful than I am now and I wouldn’t have needed to write the other two.) I have many books on writing. None of them render all other books on writing irrelevant. Continue reading

Stop Telling Me What to Do


I don’t claim to know everything. I hope everyone who reads what I write understands that. I hope people who read what I write understand that I’m just trying to help by putting what I do know and more tenuously but less definitively what I think into words. I hope everyone else out there understands that they don’t know everything either. No one does. No one can.

And yet there are some who feel sure that their way is the right way with no room for deviation or difference. And they have no second thoughts about telling everyone who will listen and the vast majority who don’t want to. I get a bit tired of being told I’m living my life wrong. If it’s true, then I will be the one who ultimately suffers. If I’m not (and even if I am), I don’t want to listen to other people’s judgements on actions that only affect me.

So let me say this. (No, actually, I don’t care whether you let me or not, I’m going to say it anyway.) Stop telling me what to do. Continue reading

Book Review: See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt


This year, I’m doing twelve reviews of books written by Australian female writers, starting with See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt. Some would say writing by Australian women is having a renaissance but that’s assuming it was ever this good before. There are so many stories getting a lot of attention, some rightfully, some less so.

I wish I could say this is one of those Australian female writers who deserves all the attention the category has been receiving but I found the book disappointing. On the back it says, “You know the rhyme. You don’t know the story.” I knew the story and this book doesn’t add anything to it. Not to the real story anyway. In fact, it adds a lot of fictional elements that just muddy the waters. Continue reading