Evolution of a Writing Style: Quotation Marks

Quotation marks

Quotation marks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy (Photo credit: alessio.sartore)

Sometimes on Xanga people would comment on how I don’t use quotation marks.  That is intentional.  It wasn’t until I read Cormac McCarthy that I realized how superfluous quotation marks are and that anyone who has mastered the basics of writing dialog can do without them.  McCarthy always writes in 3rd person, and it’s easier to do without them in 3rd.  It’s a little harder in 1st, which is what I use almost exclusively but in 1st it can be done.  As far as the reader is concerned it’s usually just a matter of getting used to it.

McCarthy doesnt stop there.  He omits apostrophes in common contractions that everyone knows such as dont, cant, wasnt, and so on.  He said he doesn’t like those little marks cluttering up the page.  I dont know about that but I do know it makes for a cleaner, more stark style of writing, which is nice if your style is minimalist like mine.

I took it even further.  In deciding to invent a style of writing for the internet I started using common internet acronyms such as IDK, WTF, IRL, TMI, and so on.  I used email style as a model for taking it further, the kind of careless writing people use when they’re in a hurry.  I used convenient misspellings such as “thru” for through, although I know how to spell.  And for another iconoclastic touch I dont capitalize “I” unless it comes at the start of the sentence.   In addition to writing in first person I wrote in the present tense, which gives an immediacy to writing that holds suspense very well.  I’d get comments such as, “I felt like I was right in that room.”

Sometimes after years of writing fiction you figure out how to do it right in a flash of inspiration.  The author of Bridges of Madison County had such a Eureka experience and went on to write more.  I’m not comparing myself to him but I understand what happens.  That summer I went on to finish an autobiographical novel and then the Dana series as well as Since Yesterday, Axel’s Travels, some others.  Suddenly, liberated from stylistic conventions I became prolific and wrote more than i’d have thought possible.

Not everyone likes this style of writing but it grows on you until you feel like why doesn’t everyone do it this way.  And any fiction writer who wants to try it will find it easier than it looks.  


The Beach 6

I come out of sleep slowly and when I am awake IDK where i am.  Then I remember.  Tonya is sound asleep and snoring lightly.  Not like a chain saw but just enough to call it a snore.  Not something you tell anybody unless they ask and maybe not even then.

Of course we had fucked.  It wasnt what I had in mind when I went home with her but we got just stoned enough that it seemed natural but now seems merely inevitable.  I have spent the night with someone young enough to be my granddaughter and I am still half asleep and do not know how to handle this.  That makes me a dirty old man but it makes her…IDK.  Something worse than just a dirty old man.  Depends on her.

I hate sexual politics.

I get up and dress quietly in the kitchen.  I had asked her to talk to me for a while and I would pay her.  Since I dont remember whether i gave her money I assume I didnt and put more than I owe her on the kitchen table.  This feels awkward.  I want to leave before she’s awake but I dont want her to feel like a whore.

I decide to leave her a note.  But what do I say?

I write, ‘Thank you for everything.’

But that seems stupid.  I dont want to tell her my name.  So I sign it ‘Me.’

Maybe a smiley face?

You’re an idiot, I tell myself.  I just leave her the note and the money.  I am about to leave when I see her at the kitchen door.

Hey, she says.  Were you about to leave?

Yes, I say.

Do you have to go?

No, I say.  I’d rather be with you.

Then stay, she says.  What’s that?

The money I owe you and a love letter.

Let’s see, she says, stumbling across the floor in bare feet.

I hate people who walk anywhere barefooted.

This is too much, she says, handing some of the money back.  What kind of a note is this?

I didnt know just what to say.  Do you eat breakfast?

Yeah, she says.  But I’m not cooking it.

I’ll cook it, I say.

Then here, she says, giving me back some of the money.

The Beach 5

Heading north on I-75 toward Macon.  The steep, rugged hills and the preponderance of heavy forest with its riot of green makes you think you’re in the north woods and the red clay soil makes the ground look like it’s bleeding.  My destination is not Macon; too many mean rednecks and rusty memories of the Allmans.there.  Not Atlanta either.  Just a satellite little city I’ll call X City.  It’s like Atlanta used to be.

Off the interstate at the Destiny Road exit.  But why name it that?  Maybe somebody had a dog named Destiny.  Or a wife with a face like a dog.  Down Avon Street to Lee street.  There are a lot of people here for this day and age.  Lee Street goes downtown where things always get interesting but not always pleasant.  I park the car in a secure lot, leaving my luggage in the car.  Then I start walking.

This neighborhood used to be a WASP El Dorado where the rich and privileged lived.  But I am appalled at how the place has deteriorated and become a  high crime and street drug and infected needles place that isnt safe to walk around in even in daylight.  Homeless people and pimps and pushers and I should go back to the garage and drive someplace else.  But I cant quite make myself do it.

I stop and wait for a bus.  There are street people here and a girl who is not so skuzzy that  belongs somewhere else.  I wonder if her parents kicked her out or her boyfriend kicked her out and she doesnt know how to live on the street.  I decide to talk to her.

Hi, I say.

Hi yourself, she says.  What do you want?

The pleasure of your company.

I’m not a prostitute, she says.

I didnt think so.  Where you from?

I used to live with my folks in Marietta but that place is…Shaking her head.

It isnt safe here, I say.

Yeah, I noticed.

Look, i’m lonely and just want some company, that’s all.  I’ll pay you to spend the afternoon with me.  That’s all.  We can do whatever you want.  Do you have a place to live or…

I have a hole in the wall apartment but it’s home to me.  Just me.  What did you say your name was?

I didnt, I say.

After a pause she says, Okay.  I’m Tonya.

Pleased to meet you.

How old RU anyway? She says.

Old enough to be your grandfather.  Does that bother you?

You’re not serious, she says.  You’re in your thirties or early forties and I have no problem with that.

I’m sixty-eight years old, I say.  Word.

Show me an ID, she says.

I hand her my driver’s license and she looks at it, then at me and at the license again before she hands it back to me.

It must be you have great genes, she says.

I must have something.  Will you spend the afternoon with me?  Your bus is coming.

To hell with the bus, she says, yawning and stretching.  I dont feel like going anywhere. Can we just go to my place?

Sounds good to me, I say.



The Beach 4

When I reach a point where I can safely move away from the sea and the dunes I slow down until i am walking and catch my breath.  I dont know how safe I am or whether that little incident will ever amount to anything.  But it’s too much at one time.  This place isnt safe anymore.  I need to get away for a while, maybe quite a while.  My breathing slows to normal as i reach a stone bridge that spans a little pewter colored  inlet.  I hear they’re really muddy on the bottom so it’s not a place to scuba dive.  I see gulls for the first time in months.  I was beginning to think they’d gone extinct too.

A sour wind stirs in the palm fronds and scrub pines and I recognize the smell of garbage.  Someone dumped a full garbage bag in the street and the sea birds are fighting over it.  It makes me uneasy because it’s not something I’ve seen for a while.  I get the impression that as deserted as this town seems there are all kinds of people in hiding.  It’s scary.  I do my share of hiding and being low profile but maybe not enough.  I guess with fewer people there are plenty of ways to hide.

When I get home it doesnt seem like it’s been disturbed.  I always put the car inside the garage because if I didnt it might end up on blocks when I got back to it.  The touch pad is a pain in this ass and my password is uninspired but it serves well enough.  I type my kung fu is good and hit enter and the sliding door opens and yawns politely.  I go inside and close and lock the door and go into the house thru the kitchen.

Everything looks okay but I’m too skittish to risk staying.  I wonder whether to eat something but am afraid to stick around.  I have a go bag in the closet and I take it and an already packed suitcase and a frame backpack and schlep them into the car.  Then I open the garage door and lock it from the outside and drive off.  I have to force myself to slow down so I dont attract attention until I am out of town.  I’m heading north but not to Savannah.  Farther north than that.

It occurs to me that I didnt even say goodbye to the house.  I know it’s eccentric to say goodbye to an inanimate object but I am nothing if not eccentric.  It happens when you live alone for as long as I have.  But that’s a bad thought that opens up a blast furnace door over a seething, writhing pit of memories that I am just able to close before I start crying.

The coastal plain of Georgia is flat as a pancake and depressing looking.  I head inland and as I am driving thru Swainsboro I see a hill.  A gorgeous little hill made all the more beautiful by the fact that i have not seen one in years.  There will be lots of them where I’m headed but they will be nothing like this one.  A cop behind me turns on his flashers and noise and I panic and slam on the brakes and pull over but it’s not me he’s after.  Looks like he’s pulled an old lady over for driving too slow but as i pass them i see he’s stopped an old man for Driving While Black.

And I am glad to see the city limits of this foul little town, hill or no hill.

The Beach 3

After I get back from Savannah I decide to take another beach walk, this time with ID in case the cops harass me again.  I am walking past the spot where the man had swum out to sea to commit suicide when I realize I’m being watched.

Maybe when i filter out the noise of the surf there’s too much left over.  But I know!  I look anxiously at the empty houses a couple of hundred feet away.  I’ve never liked those things.  For decades there have been more empty houses than homeless people even now with the population at only one billion.  I look casually around me but see nothing.

I’ve almost written it off to paranoia as I am approaching a sand dune.  That’s when somebody steps out from behind the high weeds growing sideways from the dune and stands in my path about twenty feet away.  When I look behind me I see another figure running toward me and another from the side.  This is a way of doing a mugging called canyoning.  The one in front is to distract you and is usually the weakest.  I run right at him and knock him down and stomp on his face and stomach.  That leaves the other two.

The one on the side reaches me and I throw a handful of sand in his face and lay him out.  That leaves the one who was behind me.  He stops ten feet away and I look at him.  He starts running away toward the empty houses and I do not run after him.  I am glad I have shoes on.  I break into a jog and then a slow run.  I have got to get out of here before a cop sees me.  It was self-defense but it wouldnt come out that way in court.



The Devil, Jesus and Me

There’s voices in my head

That will never get out

Just when i think they’re dead

Is when they begin to shout


I see things all the time

That arent even there

They’re worse in the nighttime

Like a Satanic prayer


In the room is Jesus

But he wont look at me

His passion never seized us

But the devil’s the key


The more pills they give me

The crazier i get

They dont hear that you see

But i’m not dead just yet


They’re putting thoughts in my head

And i need a tin foil hat

I’m restrained in a bed

And here comes Jesus with a baseball bat

The Beach 2

Driving up I-95 to Savannah.  Havent been there in years, not that I expect there’s anything to see.  I got tired of the police harassment and just wanted to go somewhere.  You cant just block somebody IRL, unfortunately.

When I pass thru Darien I always get the creeps.  It’s a beautiful, picturesque little town with a pier and little sailboats tied to it.  I never had any idea why I react like this until I heard there were some awful Civil War atrocities in this town.  Something about the evil that men do and how it lives on.  Do I really believe that?  Absolutely not.  And if I seem overly emphatic it’s because of how I was really wondering what was possible that day on the beach and how I should have known better.  I’m just angry at myself.

Savannah has always been a strange town.  They’re Victorian about things nobody cares about anymore, like a couple living together that aren’t married.  They look down on Jacksonville and everything that isnt as close as Atlanta.  They look to that city because they think all of the south is shit except for Atlanta.  And they’re right.  But dont say that to a southerner.  It would be unconscionably rude.

I have old memories of a history class about when this road had bumper to bumper traffic jams.  Not anything like that now.  No cars full of dead folks.  No zombies.  No Ebola or Mobutu epidemics.  It’s just that there arent many people now.  The current world population is one billion.  It hasnt been that low since the late 19th century.  To give you some perspective, consider that the world population doubles about every forty years.  In 1970 it was four billion and the world was starting to show the strain, although the signs of that strain were laughed off back then.  In forty years it was 7.6 billion and doubled again before it started to mysteriously level off and then drop precipitously.  People just werent having kids although nobody’s sure why.  Maybe it was natural selection somehow saving our asses by lowering reproductive rates.  There were studies about low sperm counts in men and infertility in women but nobody’s sure what happened.

And the world became a better place because there were less people.  Crime rates, STD, teen pregnancy all did a nose dive.  But people are also ineffably unhappy.  Maybe it’s not our nature to be happy.  It’s always somebody else’s fault and everybody thinks that back then there was something that they are missing.  It’s like these women that read Jane Austin and watch movies about Mr. Darcy.  The 19th century was a horrible time for everybody and for women it was ten times worse.  Why glorify such an awful time?  What was so great about Victorianism anyway?  They built a ship that couldnt be sunk and Goddamn if it didnt go right out and hit an iceberg and sink.

The only worry is that it keeps dropping.  Some people think we’re going extinct but I doubt it.  I think it’s what a mathist would call an asymptote.  It will keep dropping and then stabilize until it starts increasing again.  I have no reason to care but I am curious.  And I’m hoping Savannah has a library still open.  I can never find anything I want on Google anymore; the internet isnt nearly what it used to be and things like libraries with books are making a comeback.

I guess I mightve been expecting a ghost town because I’m surprised to see so many people around the Municipal Library.  There are plenty of parking spots.  I sit in the car and think for a minute.  While I’m doing that I see a man and woman having a heated discussion.  Without warning she hits him in the face and knocks him down.  When she flounces away he gets up and walks after her.  Some cops are standing there watching but dont seem interested.  The man catches up with her and he puts a tentative hand on her shoulder.  When he does she throws her feet out from under her and lands on her ass.  Anyone watching would know these are just theatrics but she starts screaming for the cops and they come rushing over and throw the man onto the pavement and start beating him with clubs until I wonder if they will kill him.  The woman creeps away.  The cops throw him in the back of a police car and go roaring off.

Not everything about this time is better.  I wonder if things like this have always been like this.

I open the door and somebody is begging money for some antidrug charity.  She says to me, Give some money for drugs, sir?

Sorry, I say as I walk by her.  You’ll have to buy your own drugs.

Inside the big room is crowded.  An old silver-haired bitch scowls at the wall until she sees me approaching and gives me a dry, poisonous look.  And I see how this is going to go.

And why has all this been so hard?

The Beach

Walking on this deserted beach.  A urine colored sun over the ocean to my left, sand on my right.  Gnashing of weeds in the sands in the sullen wind.  Farther inland some broken Palms and empty houses.  It’s not just this beach that’s deserted.  Most places are these days but that’s another story.  Unfortunately that means the cop to citizen ratio is bad.  I’m ill and mean because a pair of them in a sand car stopped me and wanted to see an ID.  Told them i never take my wallet into the ocean and it almost turned bad but they said forget it.

When i say deserted i mean deserted.  No gulls or pelicans.  Some insects.  And of course no humans.  All this to establish atmosphere.

When i see the thing i stop dead and turn my back and cringe.  There’s no way what i saw could possibly be there but there it is.  When i sneak a look back it’s still there.

My mind screams and claws at me.  It runs thru the possibilities but they are all scary.  It just shouldnt be there.  It cant be there.  I could be dreaming.  That’s the best one.  But i’m sure i’m not.  The other is that i have gone mad and need antipsychotics.  I dont like that one.  The last is the worst: that i am sane and what is there really is there.  For that to happen requires complete renovation of what i know can be real.  And i am a rationalist so that’s very, very bad.

When i look back it has not moved, not made any threatening gesture at all.  It’s  just sitting at the edge of where the waves end looking politely at me as if waiting for me to walk over.

Things that die do not come back.

Yet there that son of a bitch is.  I had seen it die.  It was shot to death and then torn apart by attack dogs.  What was left was cremated.  So you see my dilemma.  There’s nothing for it but to walk on over because i will not turn my back on that thing and walk away and i dont fancy walking that far backwards.

I walk over and stop a cautious ten feet away and say, You’re supposed to be dead, you son of a bitch.

Well, i’m not, mate.

Dont call me mate.

Going for a swim, mate?

Drop that fake accent.  You were born and grew up in Augusta, GA.  The closest you ever got to Australia was Birmingham Alabama.  And you died.

Obviously not, mate.

I saw you die!

You sure, mate?  A dark, moonless night…

It was in broad daylight in July in Atlanta, i say.

And only then does a sane explanation occur to me.  

You found a ringer and set him up, didnt you?  How did you know when they’d come for you?  How’d you find that good a ringer that fast?

Maybe it helped that they wanted me dead so bad they didnt look close enough, he says.  If they hadnt brought those dogs they would have known from looking at who was dead that it wasnt me.  They just wanted me dead so much it never occurred to them.

You would be a very wanted man otherwise, i say.

RU going to rat me out, mate?

No.  I dont even care anymore.  But you should know the cops in the sand cars are all looking around here because they have nothing else to do.  I nearly got busted because i didnt have ID.  Who carries a wallet on the beach?

He doesnt say anything but i notice the apprehension in his eyes.

I say, Whatever RU doing here?

He pauses before he says, I was about to commit suicide.  Just swim out until i drowned.

Why?  Something missing in your life?

Something missing in everyone’s life, mate.  Not that there’s a lot of everybodys.  Or will be.

I dont believe you are going to…

You’re not going to stop me, he says.

Wouldnt dream of it.  Knock yourself out.

He says nothing but gets up slowly and walks out until the water is over his head and i see him doing a slow crawl out to sea.  Maybe he’ll stay dead now.

IDK how long i have stood here before i feel sobs and tears that i force back.  I hear a quiet rustle behind me and i turn and see a lone cop in a sand car.  He says, Could i see some ID, sir?


Author’s note: As i was writing this snippet it occurred to me that it could be an opening chapter to a new novel.  Kill Him Twice, a Jim Chones thriller.  Starring Colonel Jim Chones, everybody’s favorite assassin in a time machine trying to save us from people even worse than he is.  But time travel gives me a headache.