Writer in Residence

Unsung Heroes of Literature: A "Great" Interview with Quotes

By Andrew Kaufman


I was leaving for my interview with Blurb when I got the text message, apologizing for the short notice but that, “our interview, that would redefine the modern interview,” would have to be rescheduled. So I am “thankful” that Quotes was able to fill in on such short notice. The interview took place in Quote’s basement apartment. Quotes answered my knock wearing jeans, a white collared shirt and a brown corduroy jacket: the exact same outfit I was wearing. I doubt this could have been accidental. The apartment was cluttered, messy and smelt strongly of “skunk.” During the interview Quotes smoked a hand-rolled "cigarette." What follows is a straight transcription of our conversation.


Open Book: How was your day?

Quotes: “Great.”

OB: Okay. That’s … I wasn’t going to start with that.

QU: With what?

OB: “Great.” What does it mean that your day was “great?”

QU: That my day was “great.”

OB: It’s a simple question …

QU: Don’t get stressed out, man.

OB: Just answer it then! Does “great” mean great?

QU: “Kinda?”

OB: Yes or no!

QU: Hey. Hey. It’s okay. Just chill. Go with the flow. We’re all in this together.

OB: It’s just that … this is kinda a pet peeve of mine. It would be … great …  if you could clear this up for me.

QU: “Great.”

OB: Maybe we should just … can we just move on?

QU: Whatever you need …

OB: Can we talk about how you came to be?

QU: I was there at the beginning, man. Library of Alexandria. Zenodotus, Aristarcus … the greatest librarians in the world put me together.

OB: But back then, you were more like a dash. Correct?

QU: They called me obelos. Means roasting spit. I’ve been a burn-out ever since man!

OB: How did you come to your present form?

QU: Well moveable type had a lot to do with it. People played around with me. The dash got embellished and really complicated, arrows, dots on the arrows. It was crazy. Somewhere in the 1500s somebody got the idea of using double commas before and after a quote. Then they turned them around so the commas faced and closed the quote. The revolution began, man!

OB: You made your first appearance in the format we use today in Bishop John Fisher’s, “Defense of the King’s Assertion against the Babylonian Captivity,” in 1515?

QU: Whatever you say man. The 1500s are basically a blur…

OB: Would you be offended if I ask a personal question?

QU: I’m a free country, man.

OB: Do prefer question marks and exclamation points to, ah … be inside you?

QU: Don't be embarrassed. It's important that people talk about these things. If the exclamation mark or the question mark is part of the quotation, I like them inside me. If not, they don't get in.

OB: What about periods and commas?

QU: I’m a dirty bird, man.

QB: What does that mean?

QU: They’re always inside me.

OB: Okay. Um? Thank-you?

QU: In North America, anyway. For the Brit’s? Same rules as for the Exclamation Mark and the Question Mark.

OB: Thank you for clearing that up.

QU: You’re doing “great.”

OB: Are you implying that I’m doing badly?

QU: I didn’t say that “exactly.”

OB: Okay. So I get it. I get it. When you put a word, a single word or phrase inside you, all your doing is merely calling attention to the fact that it’s being using as a euphemism?

QU: It’s called a “scare quote.” Is the truth scaring you, man?

OB: Why would you do that?

QU: Relax man. It’s cool.

OB: It’s not cool! It’s horribly unclear! Maybe it’s ... “cool.”

QU: That’s “mature.”

OB: Why wouldn’t you just say bad?

QU: Why wouldn’t you just say bad?

OB: Really? You’re just going to repeat everything I say now?

QU: Really? You’re just going to repeat everything I say now?

OB: You know I was supposed to be interviewing Blurb today! I didn’t even want to do you!

QU: You know I was supposed to be interviewing Blurb today! I didn’t even want to do you!

OB: The cool kids have already stopped using you!

QU: The cool kids have already stopped using you!

OB: I can show myself out.

QU: “Great.”


Unsung Heroes of Literature is a series of interviews with the most under-appreciated or routinely overlooked aspects of the book. Up next - we finally get to interview Blurb.


The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Andrew Kaufman lives and writes in Toronto. He was born in Wingham, Ontario, making him the second-most-famous Canadian writer to come from Wingham. He is the author of international bestseller All My Friends are SuperheroesThe Waterproof Bible, ReLit Award–winner The Tiny Wife, and Born Weird, which was named a Best Book of the Year by The Globe and Mail and was shortlisted for the Leacock award. His newest novel is Small Claims (Invisible Publishing).