Award-winning author
Unusual times, remarkable places

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

17 March 2010

Of vice and virgules

What other people consider bad habits and simple grammar mistakes are to this copyeditor sins and vices. I've never compiled a list of the seven deadly writing vices, but if I were, I suspect misuse of the virgule would be on there.

Don't sigh in relief, thinking you could not have committed a sin of virgules because you don't even know what a virgule is. You type virgules dozens of times a day because the virgule—otherwise known as the slash, the slant, the solidus, or the oblique—is a component of every Web address.

So what are the sins of virgules? First, I'll describe some proper uses of the virgule:

1. In Web addresses: for example,

2. In fractions: for example, 1/2, 3/8, 1/100

3. In compound units: for example, miles/hour, milligrams/liter, feet/second

4. In the phrase "and/or" (although the phrase itself is inelegant)

5. In date abbreviations: for example, 03/12/2010 (although keep in mind that a European may interpret that date as December 3, 2010)

6. In some specialized scientific uses: for example, to show a person has two different alleles of a gene, such as G6PD*A/G6PD*B

7. In phrases showing alternative names or spellings for the same person or thing: for example, Inanna/Ishtar, Hercules/Heracles, Jekyll/Hyde

8. In running text to show the original line breaks in a poem: for example, "I think that I shall never see/a poem lovely as a tree"

But other uses of the virgule shriek like fingernails on a blackboard:

1. In place of a hyphen: for example, "the Boston/Washington train" instead of "the Boston-Washington train"

2. In lists: for example, "On my vacation I toured London/Paris/Rome/Venice."

3. In compound units with three or more units: for example, feet/second/second should be feet/second^2 (that is, seconds squared)

4. In place of the word "or" in most situations: for example, "he/she" (try "he or she" or reword instead)

5. In place of the word "and": for example, "The position is open to physicians/scientists."

6 (and most important of all). In situations in which it's unclear whether the virgule stands for a hyphen, "and," "or," or "and/or": for example, "The applicant shall take oral/written tests"; "The applicant must have an M.D./Ph.D."


Booksigning in Ohio

I'll be signing my novel Like Mayflies in a Stream on Saturday, 27 March 2010, from 2 to 4 pm at Dark Star Books and Comics in Yellow Springs. The store is located in downtown Yellow Springs at 237 Xenia Avenue. If you're in the area, please drop by to say "hi" or to pet Mr. Eko, the store cat.


I won't be posting next week. Please stop by again at the end of March for a new post.

05 March 2010

Return to high school

Later this month, I'll be going home to Beavercreek, Ohio, for the first time as a published novelist. All my family still lives there, so I'll be taking part in the usual family events—pizza for 20 at Giovanni's Pizza in Fairborn, a birthday party for one of my many nieces and nephews, and general hanging out, goofing off,and playing practical jokes.

But I'll also be doing some author events at Beavercreek High School, my former high school. ("Bite 'em, Beavers!" was our cheer.) The school's book discussion group will discuss Like Mayflies in a Stream this month, and I'll be there to listen to the discussion, answer questions, pass out bookmarks, award a copy of Stephen Mitchell's Gilgamesh: A New English Version to one lucky student, and admire the poster my sister made to advertise my visit, which I haven't yet seen.

Three of my nieces attend my old high school. I'll be talking to several ninth-grade English classes, which include two of my nieces, and to four Creative Writing classes.

I'm hoping to line up a booksigning as well, but so far, in a big blow to my ego, I've yet to find a bookstore willing to host me. But that's okay; I'll visit with a fellow Clarionite who lives nearby, meet in person one of my blog friends (yes, you, White Cat!), and see an exhibit of quilts made in honor of Barack Obama at The National Afro-American Museum & Cultural Center in Wilberforce. Fun!

Update 6 March 2010
I think I've found a bookstore to sign at. Once I nail down the details, I'll post more.


Somehow, I forgot to mention earlier that my novelette "The Hunt" was in the February issue of Jim Baen's Universe. Find it at According to the guidelines of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, this counts as my first professional sale!