May I Quote You?

Jeffrey Cohen

I’m looking for sweet inspiration every morning, noon and night/
But these days, it just keeps on passing me by.
–Gerry Rafferty, “A Dangerous Age”

I come from a journalistic background (I know, previously I’ve said I come from a screenwriting background, but you’re just going to have to take my word for it–I was a reporter before I ever tried to write screenplays, just to prove I couldn’t make a living in many disciplines at once), and there isn’t anything a reporter likes better than a good juicy quote.

In spite of the cost of living, it’s still popular.
–Kathleen Norris

A quote is nutrition to a journalist: not only is it something that bolsters your article, but someone else already wrote it for you! There are now that many fewer words you have to come up with on your own. And sometimes, even though we don’t like to admit it, other people articulate a point better than we do. It’s a home run (I’m watching the Yankees/Red Sox series this weekend, so be prepared for inadvertent baseball cliches).

Being with a woman all night never hurt no professional baseball player. It’s staying up all night looking for a woman that does him in.
–Casey Stengel

For a novelist, a quote is something else entirely. We use them as epigrams: they start a book, a chapter, or a section to illustrate some point we’re too lazy or untalented to express on our own. They work like crazy, and we have a good time showing off how erudite and/or hip we are by quoting people who are cool.

I hadn’t used them up until now, but in the upcoming Some Like It Hot Buttered, which begins the Comedy Tonight series, I did sneak in a few epigrams, from people like Woody Allen, Mel Brooks and other authorities on comedy. I didn’t do it to bolster my word count–although it doesn’t hurt–but to set up things that are going to happen in the coming section of the book. Hopefully, readers will get the connection, and if they don’t, I chose the wrong quotes.

I quote others only the better to express myself.
-Michel de Montaigne

The point is: I definitely believe choosing those quotes was the most enjoyable part of the whole writing enterprise.

I probably spent more time looking for the right thing to set up a section than I did writing the section itself, and that’s saying something. It’s not that I couldn’t find a proper quotation to illustrate my point–it’s more that I had to narrow down the field. And even though I knew I’d probably use the first one that popped into my head before I touched my keyboard, I made sure to look through every possible source on comedy (and I have a few) I could get my grubby little hands on.

It was just too damn much fun to stop.

Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal. My strength lies solely in my tenacity.
–Louis Pasteur

In the end, I hope these were the proper quotations, and as I’m staring Book #2 in the series dead in the face, I have that to keep me going. Yeah, I have to come up with 80,000 words on my own, but in the midst of it, I’ll be able to thumb through every resource and comb my own mind for pithy quotes that might make the next part of the book come through a little better. It’ll be a long, tedious, time-consuming process that will undoubtedly tax my troubled brain for hours on end.

Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.
–Mae West

I can’t wait.

7 thoughts on “May I Quote You?

  1. B.G. Ritts

    Finding clever quotes is always entertaining. However, when actually looking for them, I rarely find really good ones.

    The Casey Stengel and Mae West quotes have long been favorites.

  2. Pari

    So, does anyone have any quotes to share with the commenters today?

    Here’s an inspirational one I’ve got hanging about my computer:

    “Don’t get it right. Get it written.” James Thurber

    And here’s the other quote on my wall . . . just to the left of the Thurber:”You try and you try and you fail, and then you go deeper.” Shunryu Suzuki

  3. B.G. Ritts

    One I often use for online signatures is:”What’s right isn’t always popular, and what’s popular isn’t always right.”–unknown (but frequently atributed online to Howard Cosell)

    Another, from J. C. Watts:”Character is doing the right thing when nobody’s looking.”

  4. Mark Terry

    There’s also the famous:

    “This author’s work is good and original. Unfortunately, what’s good isn’t original and what’s original isn’t good.”


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