Comma Gain?

Punctuation rules are confusing, particularly those surrounding commas, semi-colons, and dashes. In this post, I tackle the comma: when to use it, and how much is too much.

The Oxford Comma

The Oxford Comma refers to the comma used to separate items in a list, particularly before the “and”. The perfect example of this is

Image result for oxford comma meme

While common sense can help to sort out problems such as this one, when the reader must pause to engage critical thinking skills to sort this out, it pulls them from the narrative and spoils the experience.

Commas and Conjunctions

Use a comma before a conjunction with two independent clauses, but not when there is only one independent clause. For example:

Two independent clauses: I want to eat, and I want to sleep. [Both clauses on either side of the conjunction can stand alone as their own sentences.]

One independent clause: I want to eat and sleep. [Only “I want to eat” can stand on its own as an independent clause.]

Semicolons vs. Commas

In a long list, where there are already commas, use semicolons to separate items in a list:

Once Upon A Time has several subplots going: Rumplestiltskin and Belle, who also double as Beauty and the Beast; Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, which serves as the segue into the Land of Untold Stories arc; and The Dr. Whale/Dr. Frankenstein connection, which may wind up saving Storybrook from evil, once again.

Semicolons are also used to separate two independent, yet related clauses (without a conjunction):

Some fans might say that Rumplestiltskin is the quintessential villain; the Evil Queen comes in a close second.

With the exception of the list rule, a semicolon should never be used in place of a comma, or a colon, for that matter. Note: see example above for proper colon use (or the start of this sentence). In general, a colon denotes a list to follow.

Commas After Conjunctions

Commas should NEVER be used after conjunctions (this is one of my pet peeves). Though we often pause after conjunctions like “and”, it is not correct to put a comma there. Consider my horrible example from above:

I want to eat and, if I can ever find the time, I want to sleep.

If you were to read this aloud, it might sound right, but it’s grammatically incorrect. Per the rule above, the comma should come before the “and”.

I want to eat, and if I can ever find the time, I want to sleep.

This is correct as the phrase “and if I can ever find the time” is an aside. See note below regarding the use of commas and asides.

Is it ever okay to break the rules?

Sometimes, in dialogue, it is okay to break the rules. For example, in I Was, Am, Will Be Alice, Pete, Alice’s boyfriend, asks:

Could I see, like, dinosaurs, or travel to see how mankind evolves a couple a thousand years from now?

Though technically, this isn’t exactly rule breaking, as it is correct to put commas around an aside in a sentence (giving additional information without which the sentence is still an independent clause), “like” is more of a speech habit than an aside, but the commas work in this context.

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English is a Funny Language


As I write this post, I am going back and editing my recently published novel, I Was, Am, Will Be Alice, via Grammarly. I do this as a result of a review that claimed I had quite a few errors in my book, which I took as a personal affront, as I freelance as an editor. Grammarly tagged quite a few “errors” that really aren’t errors in the true sense of poor grammar and/or typographical errors (although, admittedly, there were a few, but I could count these on my fingers and still have a few left over). I’ve decided to write this and other posts to set the record straight with respect to grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

Here’s some of what I’ve learned:

OR vs. OUR

Both Canadians and Brits spell words like colour, neighbour, and favour (and a whole host of other words with similar endings) with an extra “u”, probably as a result of our French roots.

L vs. LL

Many words ending in “l” double the letter before adding the ending. Travelling is one of these words (as opposed to “traveling” in American English). There are exceptions to this rule, and “instalment” is one of them, spelled with a single “l” in Canadian but a double “l” (installment) in American. Weird.

The elusive E

It is perfectly acceptable to add an extra “E” in words such as “acknowledgement” and “judgement” in Canadian English (“acknowledgment” and “judgment” in American English respectively). Interestingly enough, the word “jewellery” is the proper, Canadian/British spelling of the American “jewelry”, contrary to what one of my reviewers criticized.

In Canadian English, “insure” tends to refer to issuing and insurance policy, whereas “ensure” means to make sure. Though some sites, like Writer’s Digest,  insist there is a difference, other sites, like The Oxford English Dictionary, say that while the primary meaning for “insure” is the insurance connection, it is sometimes used in American English to mean “to make sure”. It is for this reason that my American clients insist using “insure” throughout.

C vs. S

Many American spellings favour “se” rather than “ce”. Examples of this include “licence” (Canadian) vs. “license” (American); “offence” (Canadian) vs. “offense” (American) ; and “defence” (Candian) vs. “defense” (American).

Commas Inside or Outside of Quotation Marks?

While we’re on the subject of Canadian vs. American, it’s important to note that in American English, the commas and periods go on the inside of quotation marks, while in Canadian and British English, they go on the outside. Note that this does not apply to dialogue. For example,

American: Canadian spellings are frequently tagged by American reviewers as “errors.”

Canadian: Canadian spellings are frequently tagged by American reviewers as “errors”.

Which Came First: The Chicken or the Egg?

“Dialogue”, as it is spelled above, is correct in Canada, with Americans preferring “dialog”. Some websites say that “dialogue” is to be used for conversation and “dialog” for a pop-up box to communicate with a computer. I also read that “dialogue” is gradually being replaced, primarily in America, for the shorter, “dialog”. I have to wonder if the reason the shorter spelling is used for the computer is because dialog boxes originate in the States, and therefore, the American spelling is used. Definitely a chicken or egg scenario.

Interestingly enough, Canadian English distinguishes between “blonde” for a woman with blonde hair, and “blond” for a man. This is largely due to ties with the French, as this is the rule in French grammar. While some sites say that “blond” is common for both men and women, others say “blond” is always used though it is still acceptable to use “blonde” for a woman in Canadian English. I would argue that this is not the case in Canada and that one should always use “blonde” for women, but with such a loosey-gooesy rule, one can hardly call this an error, unless you use “blonde” to refer to a male.

In Conclusion…

Keep in mind that I come at this from a uniquely Canadian perspective. Many of the “errors” Grammarly marked in my manuscript were simply the difference between American and Canadian spellings, and these should not be considered errors. As most of my clients are American, I’ve learned a few things regarding the differences between Canadian, British, and American English, and I’ve learned that one rule does not fit all, and just when you think you have it, there’s an exception to the rule, and you’ve broken it! Much of what I know about spelling American, is recently learned, as to me, spelling Canadian is the norm (and I’d like to think I’m quite good at it, having won more than a few spelling bees in my youth). An American can no more call the Candian and/or British spelling of a word an error, any more than a Canadian or a Brit can call the American spelling an error.–if you’re going to read, and/or review indie books, you simply

The bottom line is, if you’re going to read, and/or review indie books, you simply must be aware of the differences. Hopefully, my posts will help.

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Paleo Mug Muffins – Bonus Recipe!

paleo-mug-muffins-coverIntroducing Paleo, Gluten Free, and Low Carb Mug Muffins: A Baker’s Dozen of One Minute Muffins

Sweet tooth got your tongue?

It’s happened to all of us–we want to eat healthier, but then we’re sabotaged by cravings for sugar, salty, carb-laden snacks. Rather than reach for a chocolate bar or bag of chips the next time the carb craving hits, reach for a mug muffin instead. Paleo, Gluten Free, and Low Carb Mug Muffins are a healthy-ish alternative, great for breakfast, dessert, or just because.

Paleo, Gluten Free, and Low Carb Mug Muffins will show you how to make a baker’s dozen of different mug muffins from a single base recipe. Choose from Black Forest Cherry, Blueberry Crumble, Carrot Cake, Red Velvet, and Apple Fritter…and we’re just getting started! In addition to recipes, you will learn about the health benefits of the basic building block ingredients, such as the flours, sweeteners, and fiber options used to make the best mug muffins you’ve ever tasted!

Introducing: Snickerdoodle!

This summer, I vowed to get back on track with my diet by KOing popcorn and chocolate. The only thing that kept me going were my mug muffins. Turns out, a little bit of sweetness in the morning was enough to curb my sweet tooth and/or chocolate craving. Before I knew it, the cravings were gone!

Paleo, Gluten Free, and Low Carb Mug Muffins: A Baker’s Dozen of One Minute Muffins was the result of my summer experimentation–a girl can only eat so many double-chocolate and chocolate chip muffins before she gets bored. I decided to document it as I experimented with flavours and the result is my recipe book.

Publishing the book isn’t the end of it, though. I’m still experimenting. One hot flavour nowadays is snickerdoodle. The more recipes I saw for snickerdoodle-flavoured things, the more curious I was to see what the hype was all about, and so I created a Snickerdoodle One Minute Muffin variation for my basic recipe. To find out the basic recipe, you’ll have to buy the book, which is available here, from my book page.

alien-1295486For the uninitiated who might be asking exactly what a snickerdoodle is, it’s not the name you might give to the drawing of a Snickers bar, nor is it some kind of crazy alien like the guy on the right. It’s a caramel-flavoured, nuttiness that can be infused into any cake, cookie, candy, or in this case, a paleo, gluten free, and low carb mug muffin.

Here’s how:

To the basic recipe, omit:

  • maple syrup


  • 1 tsp of your favourite nut butter
  • 1 tsp coconut sugar
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • handful of butterscotch or peanut butter chips

Now, I know that butterscotch and/or peanut butter chips are neither healthy, nor are they paleo. I am also aware that peanuts, aka legumes, are not paleo, and purists can omit this ingredient if they choose. However, if you don’t mind the odd “cheat” they make the caramel flavour really pop.

Mix and bake recipe according to instructions in the book.

For the basic paleo, gluten free, and low carb mug muffin recipe along with more than 13 variations on the recipe, buy Paleo, Gluten Free, and Low Carb Mug Muffins: A Baker’s Dozen of One Minute Muffins.

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The Power of Paying It Forward


Never underestimate the power of paying it forward.

When I launched my book two years ago, I had a small network of authors. I could count on a single hand how many connections I had with fingers still left over. When I planned my first blog tour, I was touched by the number of people who agreed to post materials for me, totally free of charge, and I was inspired to do the same.

Most authors already have their own blogs. If you don’t have one, I urge you to go out and get one (I have three–they’re great!). I purchased my own domain name, and pay a web server provider yearly to house my email and WordPress account. If you can’t afford to do that, you can still begin a blog, totally for free.

Creating  a secondary blog

If you already have a blog, contact your web server provider and ask how you can set up another. My site uses WordPress, and it was really easy to set up another web site, totally free of charge. Keep the site under your author’s domain name strictly for your self-promotion. Keep the second site strictly for promoting other authors.

If you have a blog with a free service, like  or, then you can create a second blog at no extra charge.

When someone offers to host your blog tour, offer to do the same for them when the time comes.

How to find stuff to blog about

If you’re worried about how you will ever find enough time to create posts for your promotional blog, simply sign on as hosts for services who promote blog tours. These sites are always looking for blogs to help them out. They often send emails directly to your inbox and you can pick and choose which ones you would like to post. You might even get a free book or two out of it if you sign up to write a review.

Here are a few that I’ve discovered over the years:

Call in a favour

The first thing I did when planning my blog tour was to contact everyone I had hosted on my promotional site a month in advance of the book’s release date, and ask if they’d be willing to host for my new blog tour.

I live in Canada, and there are strict rules for advertising via unsolicited email, and the last thing I wanted to do was to have the CRTC at my back, so I began with the following disclaimer (slightly edited):


Firstly, I want to thank each and every one of you for helping me to build Britbear’s Book Reviews into a success. Whether you have contributed by allowing me the opportunity to review your book, or by posting publicity materials, you have helped me to build my network and provide a platform for authors to help sell their books.

Now, I have a favour to ask.

I have my latest release scheduled for this July 12th, and I’d love it if you would be able to help me publicize my books, either by posting a review, or by posting publicity materials for me during the week of its release.

If you are unable to help, no worries. Britbear’s Book  Reviews remains open to each and every one of you as a venue to  help you publicize your future releases. If, however, you are able to help, it would be greatly appreciated.

Once more, a HUGE thank you to each and every one of you!

Elise Abram

This was followed by

alice email

  • a cover image
    • the title of the
  • the logline (one sentence summary)
  • genre list
  • number of pages
  • release date
  • blog tour dates
  • back cover blurb

The email went out to 46 people. Three people volunteered to post materials. Three others volunteered to post reviews (that I know of).

I know some of you will be doing a bit of math now–roughly 13%.

But remember that a week is only 7 days long. One email and 6/7 days are already taken care of.

Now do the math: one email and roughly 86% of my blog tour booked–those are numbers I can get behind!

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