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.  


Roswell 60: Valenti and Topolsky


The night is cold and colder and a fog moves with menace in the streets.  Malefic stirrings underfoot.  A foul breath rising visibly from pierced sewer grates.  Topolsky prowls the back alleys, fighting panic.  Homeless faces in the steam from the sewer vents.  Feral cats, bowbacked and starving.  Wet asphalt and gothic night terror.  From the shadows a sorry-looking, raggedy kid says, Smoke on the water!  As she passes.

Fuck you! She  hisses back at the scabrous leptosome.

This is all strange, they are so strange.  When you’re strange faces come out of the rain.  Faces look ugly when you’re alone.  This from Jim Morrison and the Doors.

Was she followed or not?  When she decides no one is watching she discretely breaks and enters the house of Sheriff Jim Valenti and waits for him.


When he enters he doesnt see her even though she is sitting in the shadows right in front of him.  When he sees her he flinches momentarily before he says, You left without saying goodbye, Ms. Topolsky.

She says nothing.  When she steps into the light Valenti says, U look awful.  RU okay?

She removes her hat and says, I will never be okay again.

RU here to tell me about it?

I’m here because they wont listen to me.

Who wont?

Max.  Liz.  None of them.

Then you’re finally admitting the FBI is investigating this case?

It’s much more than that, she says.

You look like you could use a drink, Suzanne.  Why dont we go…

No!  Everything stays a secret now.  I’ll never make it out of…

Make it out of what?

Did you really think you could kill Hubble without sending up a red flag?

What do you know about Hubble?  He demands.

He was a UFO nut.  They all get tracked.  He found out about Max and you killed him.  You’re protecting that kid, arent U?

Why dont you start at the beginning?

She says, When my cover was blown I was sent back to Washington.  That’s when I found out about the Special Unit.  Alien hunters.

In the FBI?

Yes.  I was the first agent to make contact with the subject.  I spent 4 weeks being debriefed by the Agent in Charge.  His name is Pierce.  And after what he did to me I’d hate to see how treated an enemy.  When it was over he told me I was theirs for life.  You never get out of that unit.

Sounds elite, he says.  So what’s the problem?

The problem is they kill people and no one can stop them.  And that is not why I joined the Bureau.

So the FBI thinks Max Evans is an alien?  Why dont they swoop in and pick him up?

Why havent U?  She says.  No solid proof?  Fear of how he might retaliate?  He’s not the only one, you know.

This is getting far-fetched, he says.

Hey!  She says angrily.  Your name is on that list and you wouldnt be the first person he’s destroyed over this.  I’m trying to save your life but if you dont want my help…She trails off and makes for the door.

Hey wait!  He says.  Maybe we can get you some help.

U cant!  It’s too late for that.  And if you dont believe me why dont you ask your friend Agent Stevens what happened to him when he tried to get out?  Pierce made Stevens an example to the rest of us.  Please get them to trust me.  All of them.  It’s the only way.

And with that she vanishes out the door and into a suddenly lily scented night.

Roswell 59 Three and Three


What’s wrong?  I say to Liz.

I talked to Topolsky last night.

You met her?  I say in agitation.

I thought I was meeting U.

She tricked U?

Stop it, Max.

What?  Dont U see what she’s doing?

Max, I really think we should just trust her.

She’s not trying to help us.  Stay away from her.

It’s not just about you guys anymore.  We should have a say in it.  Because all six of us are on that list.

What list?



Later.  All six of us meet beneath an overpass outside town.  A scene lifted from Breaking Bad.

She wore a wig, huh?

Alex, she was so scared.  I’ve never seen anybody so scared.

Have you looked at me lately?  Alex says.

Dont U get it?  Michael cries.  This is exactly what she wants.  She’s spooked you.  And now she’s waiting 4U2 deliver the three of us to the FBI.  They want three little gray aliens in a cell to experiment on.  U know that!

It’s not 3 and 3 anymore, Michael, Liz says.  It’s all six.  We need to start making our decisions that way.

There’s no decision 2B made, Izzie says.  We trust no 1.  Never have, never will.  Do U think U can even begin to imagine what it’s like to be one of us?

Izzie, I say helplessly, Liz does have a point…

There’s a hunter out there, Izzie says.  Who do you think he’ll be coming for first?

There is no hunter out there, Michael says.  This is insane.  Cant you smell a setup or am I the only one thinking straight?

Let’s put it to a vote, Maria says.  Do we see Topolsky again or not?

I say we meet and see what she has to say, Alex says.

I say we stay away, Izzie says.

I agree with Isabel, I say.

You know my vote, Michael says.

I think we need to meet her, Liz says.

I think we should stay away, Maria says.  If you feel that strongly about it who are we to tell you what to do?

Why did U vote not to see her?  Michael says.

I just want this to be over, Maria says.

They know where we all live, I say.  They couldve gotten us all any time they wanted but they havent.  It’s a war of nerves but IDK what kind of long game they’re playing.  Whatever you do, do not panic and leave town.  It might be the excuse they’re looking for.  That’s why I voted no.  I think she’s trying to spook us.  It’s Topolsky’s move now.


Roswell 58: Topolsky

At the Crashdown Maria is setting a basin of dirty dishes on a counter top when she sees a guy with a bouquet of flowers motioning to her.

I got a delivery for one of the waitresses, he says.

Really?  Maria says, gushing in spite of herself.  Is it for me?

Parker, the delivery man says.  Liz Parker.

Maria says, Oh I’ll take those, as she grabs at the flowers.

You’re Liz Parker?  He says skeptically.

What’s the matter?  Maria says.  Dont I look like a girl who gets flowers?

Your name tag says Maria.

Give me the flowers, she says as she extracts them from his grasp.  And no tip for you!

He gives her a poisonous look before he slouches away.

Hey, Gidget, Maria says to Liz.  U got some flowers from Moon Doggy.

Maria sets the flowers down and Liz starts to open the envelope to see the card inside but Maria is looking rudely over her shoulder.

Dont, Maria, Liz laughs.

Liz sees something written on the card but it isnt  Max’s handwriting.  It’s printed in block capitals and says: Meet me at Chow’s in an hour.  Come alone.

Liz is troubled about this.  She can see Max sending her flowers but not quite this way.  The writing is definitely not his.  Maybe for some reason the florist wrote on the card for Max.  And she is uneasy because of the state of flux everything is in right now.  But this sounds urgent.  And there’s the admonition to come alone.  Somehow that is not reassuring.

He wants me to meet him at Chow’s in an hour, Liz tells Maria.  Chow’s is where we had our first date.  Max just gets more wonderful every day!

Mr. Wonderful, Maria sighs hatefully under her breath.


In an hour Liz is at Chow’s, dressed to the nines.

Hello, Liz says to the girl.  She guides Liz to a seat with a great view of an aquarium full of tropical fish.  And she has a view of the front door so she can see Mr. Wonderful himself come in.

Before Liz can see her, Suzanne Topolsky sits down heavily on the seat facing her.  Topolsky’s blonde hair is tucked beneath a curly Bob Dylan wig.  Topolsky’s eyes are hooded and bloodshot, her demeanor that of a trapped, cornered animal.  Half resigned and half truculent, like someone about to be executed.  She continues to scan the room like they taught her at Quantico.  Her conspiratorial aspect wavering on the psychotic.

Dont look around, Topolsky says.  Smile like you’re happy to see me.  Stay focused, Liz.  It’s the only way we can all make it out of this alive.

Why RU following me?  Liz says.

You can ask questions all night or U can listen 2 me.  Maybe you’ll save all our lives.  You’re smart.  And I know U can keep a secret.

In spite of herself Topolsky moves her head casually and scans the room.  She says, I dont think they know I’m here.

Who is they, Liz says angrily.

The people I work for.

Yeah, yeah.  The FBI.

It’s more complicated than that, Topolsky says in a whisper.  Her face is a study in unfettered agitation.  She turns around and sees a man in a suit with sunglasses on even though it’s dark.

I’ve learned, Liz.  I have seen things that no one would believe.  I can hardly believe them myself.

Where have you been all this time?  Liz demands.

In hell.  And I’ve come up and out to warn U.  There is a hunter.  An alien hunter.  He’s part of a special branch within the FBI.  Even the president is need-to-know.  U understand what I’m saying?  This hunter answers 2 no one.  He’s different from the others.  He’s smarter, more obsessed, more relentless.  And he will stop at nothing to get what he is looking for.

Who or what is he looking for?

Max Evans.  And anyone the hunter thinks is involved with him.  All six of your names are on that list.  You have to believe me, Liz!

I believe U, Liz says softly.

Topolsky looks back at the man in the suit and sunglasses and sees that two more thugs have joined him.

We cant be seen together, Liz!  U understand?  Tomorrow night meet me in the alley in back of the theater downtown.  Be there at eight o’clock.  I’ve got to go.

And with that Topolsky rises and hurries toward the kitchen so she can leave by the back door and get away from the men.

Roswell 57: Trouble


Alex sits with Izzie as they eat school lunches and flash desultory looks at Max and Liz making out on the other side of the piazza.

So you notice them too, eh?  Alex mumbles as he gives a cursory nod toward Max.

Yes, Izzie says.  Sucking face all over the place.

Face sucking aside, Alex says primly, It would be nice to have someone to hang out with…

She is barely hearing him.  The Suzanne Topolsky reappearance has her rattled and besides that the malaise and chiliastic dread she feels is usually a portent of disaster, large or minute.  And she believes that no matter how much Max sneers at such things as being superstitious and unscientific.

And here it comes.  Trouble.  And its name is Tess.  Izzie will later come to wonder if it was Tess’ doing that Izzie never connected her with the clairvoyant rage she was nursing.

May I join U?  A disembodied voice wafts toward Izzie, disembodied because Izzie is looking right at the sun because she’s been too lazy to move from her spot.  If only to get Alex to shut up Izzie is glad for the interruption.

When Izzie shifts her rear end a few inches she sees a blonde girl who looks to be a graduate of many trailer parks that somehow got sent to a finishing school where she was made gentile and polite and taught how to do makeup so she doesnt look exactly like a slut.

You’re the new girl, right?  Izzie says, blinking to get the sand out of her eyes.

The new girl says, If you’re too busy I can…

No, we’re not, Izzie says.  Please, do sit down.

The girl inserts herself {rudely or intentionally} between Alex and Izzie and says, I’m Tess.

Of course you are, Dear, Alex says, throttling the impulse to be rude.

I’m sorry, Izzie says.  I’m forgetting my manners.  Tess, this is Alex…

Hi, Tess says with a perfunctory nod at Alex.

…and I’m Isabel.  My friends call me Izzie but I hate it.  You may call me Izzie.

Welcome to Roswell High, Alex says diffidently.

Tess ignores him.  She says to Isabel, I hate the first day at school.

Done this before?  Izzie says in a tone that says she doesnt much care.

Only about 100 times.  Everyone’s always so…nice.

Tess seems oblivious to Alex’s malevolent stare as she makes a big show of extracting parts of her lunch from a plastic bag and arranging them neatly in front of her like an OCD.

Everyone’s so nice, Alex echoes.  And that’s a bad thing?

Tess replies directly to Isabel: Well, the guys are nice because they all want to jump my bones.  And the girls are usually nice because they want to know if I’m going to jump their boyfriends’ bones.

You’re so modest, Alex says actinically.  Is it because you have a lot to be modest about?

You must get a lot of that too, Tess says to Isabel obsequiously.

Or the girls that want to hang out with U because they want to meet a better class of guys, Izzie says, nodding.

And the guys who say they understand U and want 2B your friend when they just want to fuck you, Tess finishes.

Too much estrogen here, Alex says, trying hard not to be ignored.  They both go right on ignoring him.

Tess says, Even if it’s just a few minutes alone with you in the janitor’s closet.

We have an eraser room for that here, Isabel says helpfully.

Thanks 4 the warning, Izzie.

Tess opens a cup of yogurt and dumps a lot of sugar into it.

Oh, Lord, I do that, too, Izzie confesses.

Good!  Tess says.  I cant stand people who use fake sugar, she adds conspiratorially.

Nothing can ever be too sweet, Izzie says.

Alex stares at Tess and wonders seriously if she, too is an alien.



I only had to stay at Michael’s apartment for a couple of days until Dad caved.  I knew he would, after a lengthy speech that allowed him to save some face.  So I’m back at home talking quietly to Michael.  I’m moody and distractable and have trouble concentrating on what he is talking about.  When I focus again he’s saying, Maria says what we have isnt enough.  She wants more!

More?  You mean…

No, not that.  If it was would I be here talking to you?  She wants the romance thing.

Michael, consider.  Is that what you want?

I just want to make her happy.  And you’re going to tell me how to do it.

I laugh a bitter laugh and say, There’s no cookbook for that.

I’m serious, Maximus.  She’s acting really icy all of a sudden.  She went to the French club meeting today instead of meeting me in the eraser room like we’d planned.  French club?  WTF is that about?

I think she’s fucking with your head, Michael.

I grasp that, he says.  So?

Alright then.  Romantic.  When you’re with her act like she’s the only girl in the room.

We’re usually the only ones in the room.

Well, that’s a good start, I guess, I say, scratching my head.  Try taking her out somewhere really nice.  Make it a surprise.  The chickies love surprises.  Slip a note into her book bag.  Give her a flower in the middle of the day.  You know…

How do you know so much about women?  A girl who is a step or two away from being slutty looking says to me.  Well, dont let me stop you.  This is fascinating!

Women all love me, I say.  Worship the ground I walk on.  After all, how can they help themselves?  And BTW who the fuck are you and what RU doing here?

Isabel has quietly followed her into the room.  Izzie says, She’s my friend.

How come we never met her before?  Michael says.

Jeez, Michael.  Could you be any more rude?  Izzie says.

Actually it’s kind of refreshing, the stranger says sweetly.

This is my friend Tess.  This is my brother Max and our friend Michael.

Nice to meet U, Tess says.

I say nothing.  Michael continues to stare at Tess rudely.  Isabel gives Tess a bottle of pop and says, Here.  I’ll meet U up in my room.

Dont forget the extra sugar, Tess says.

After Tess has left the room Izzie says, What’s wrong with you guys?  She just moved here and I’m helping her catch up.

She looks pretty caught up to me, Michael says.  Topolsky was a plant when she showed up at school.  This girl seems to be, too..

Aw, Michael she’s a transfer student, Izzie says.

She’s a stranger, I say quietly.  And this is the same heavy-handed penetration approach.  Is Topolsky here to draw attention from Tess?  Or the other way around?

Well, Izzie says with venom, It’s not like I fell in love with her and told her our secret and compromised our very existence.  I mean, we’re supposed to be acting normal, right?  Great job of it U2 just did.

Fuck you, bitch, I say as rage seizes me.  Fuck you and whatever broom U rode in on!  I made a mistake so it’s okay 4U2 deliberately make one?  That evens things out?  Is that really how you think things work?  Bullshit.  Your mistake compounds mine.  Is this revenge?  Is that what this is about?  Fuck you, you inchoate skank!

Isabel’s face turns icy and she flounces out of the room.  When she is gone Michael says, Chill, Max.  U make me nervous when you’re like this.

Whaddya mean?  I demand angrily.

I know when you’re short-tempered like this it means you’re really scared.  Like you were with Izzie just now.  Like you were last nite when you almost punched out Alex.  You’re really scared and IDK how to take that.

Watch out 4 that little bitch, I say.

Which one?

Tess, you fool.  The tart.  They’re coming at us both ways.  Divide and conquer.  Misdirection.  Get us to turn on each other.  Topolsky here, Tess there.  Surely you can see it’s no coincidence.  And maybe there’s someone else we dont see because we’re not looking behind us where the real attack will come from.  Until it’s too late.  I hate this town!  Everybody’s a spy and everything’s a secret.  A town of secrets and a town of leaks.  And worst of all we’re beginning to turn on each other.

You sound like Maria, Michael says.

That bitch is trouble, I say.  Mark my words.

Premonitions, Max?

Just watch the little bitch close and dont let Topolsky distract U.  Or vice versa.

Just worry about yourself, Maximus.

Now you sound like Maria, I say unhappily.


Roswell 56: Trust No 1

What doesnt kill us waits for another chance…Black Earth Rising


Buckley point is curiously deserted, maybe because of the time of year and the raw, soggy weather.  Dew falling.  Waxing moon reclining among the damp stars.  Making out with Liz until I am so frustrated I want to scream.  She senses this and says, RU ready, Freddy?

Here?  I say.  I’m not some slut.

You’re my slut, she says, sliding her skinny ass over until she is astride me here in the car.

I say, Did U…RU…

Yes I am on the pill!  I told U that.  Have a little faith.

Have your way with me then, I groan.

I am unzipping myself when a gnarly apparition with a flashlight starts beating at the window and I think, We are both so fucked.  We are busted.  It’s the cops.  They’ll never let us out this time.

But it’s not a cop.  It’s a face with matted blond hair that says, You’re all in danger.  All of U!

WTFRU talking about?  I yell back at her and then I recognize the hated face of Agent Suzanne Topolsky of the FBI.

She looks around herself, seeming to be on the verge of panic.  She giggles hysterically and smacks her lips and says, The best way to protect yourselves is to act like normal kids.

We are normal kids, I reply stolidly.

I think I was followed, she says, on the verge of a hysterical sob.

How the fuck did you know we were here?  I demand.  Did you follow us up here?

I think I was followed, she says, nodding to herself.

How did you get here?  I say.

She is acting like someone who is either drunk or under extreme duress.  I cant tell which because the window’s shut and I cant smell her breath.

Trust no 1, she says.  I will find U again.

And with that she peels off and melts into the seething night.  And I cant understand how she knew to find us here, since no one knew we’d be  here; Liz and I didnt know ourselves until we decided to come here and just got in the car and left.  She mustve followed us here and decided to make contact.  Which means she would have had to have a car and that when we got off the highway onto the dark side road she turned off her lights.  Followed us from Roswell but I never saw the car.  And I never bothered to even make a casual check for surveillance.  That complacency ends right now.


I am so rattled I forget to knock at the door to Michael’s apartment.  I just unlock it and walk in with Liz and Isabel.  Michael and Maria look like they were about to do the deed right there on the couch when he gets up off her and gasps, What RU doing here?

Topolsky’s back, Izzie says.

I cant help feeling a mean satisfaction that I am not the only one tonight who was interrupted.

She practically attacked us up at Buckley’s point, Liz says.

What were U2 doing at Buckley’s point?

Admiring the view, I say.

Everyone laughs nervously.

She said we were in danger.  All of us.  And just to act normal until she contacts us again.

I know I forgot to lock up when Alex walks right in and slams the door.

Just come in and make yourself at home, Michael says to Alex.  Everyone else does.

Alex pauses before he says, Does that mean alien normal or pretend we’re not the subjects of a manhunt normal?

Michael says, This is all wrong.  It’s a setup.

No, Michael, Liz says.  She was really scared.  I believe her.

Alex says, I hate to remind U of this but you believed her the last time.

You have a point, Michael, I say.  Both times she used this same stereotyped, deliberate penetration approach.  She could have made contact with us in any number of covert ways.  Why do it the way she did?  To stir things up and see if she could shake something loose?

Hey, Max, Alex says sardonically.  Where would you be if Liz and I hadnt stuck our necks out?  You didnt expose her, we did.

Furiously I walk up to him and stick my face right in his and say, RU flexing on me, boy?

Stop it, both of you, Izzie says sharply and pulls me away from Alex.  This could be exactly what she wants, getting us to turn on each other.

I walk away and look out the grimy window at the weary night street, half expecting to see a guy in a JC Penny suit trying hard not to be conspicuous.

Are U really, really convinced she was there to warn us, Liz?  Alex says.

Well, she…she really wasnt like the same person at all, Liz says carefully.  The way she was talking.  She wasnt the same smug, condescending bitch we all hated and feared.  She seemed as scared for herself as us.

They prob’ly give em acting lessons at Quantico, Michael murmurs.

Alex says, I say we listen.

Yeah?  And I say we dont!  Michael cries angrily.  This is just a new tactic.  She scares us, makes us think we need her help and all we’re doing is admitting what we are.  Alright?  I dont trust her and none of us should.

Whether we trust her or not it wouldnt hurt to take her advice.  Nobody uses the word alien and we dont talk about any of this in public.  Anybody could be watching.  The sky has a thousand eyes and the walls have ears.  And here is the safest place to hide this, I say, handing Michael the artifact or communicator or whatever it is that Liz and I dug up in the desert close to the ’47 crash site.

I cant believe she’s back, Maria says, rubbing a spot on her neck that will be a big hickey tomorrow.  I thought this was all over with.

Michael pulls Maria to him and holds her and I do the same with Liz, closing my eyes and thinking none of this will ever be over with.


The Wasteland

Flowers in rain, vermin in sunshine

Broken heart and bleach white smile

Out of my league, i lose every time

Seeing cinder blocks and broken tile


Broken glass on gravel drive

Daffodils and windy cold

Hold me till i come alive

And forget the hate of feeling old