Peter J. Atwood fiction

I like words, and more, words that are used well. This is where I collect them. Most I come across with the help of other authors, but on occassion I find some in the wild myself.

Snippets

“He had raised his daughter with every detail of education and plastic surgery attended to.”

—Gene Wolfe, The Fifth Head of Cerberus

“[The girls] appeared, in the intermittent colored flashes, like the queens of strange suits in a tarot deck.”

—Gene Wolfe, The Fifth Head of Cerberus

“Alive, in the sense that he can’t legally be buried.”

—Geoffrey Madan (1895-1947)

https://www.futilitycloset.com/2017/09/06/unquote-572/

“His cold eyes operated on me, made neat, exploratory incisions.”

—Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany's

“And since gin to artifice bears the same relation as tears to mascara, her attractions at once dissembled.”

—Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s

“She was as lightheaded as a thistle.”

—Mary Lavin, "In the Middle of the Fields"

“Our Wisdom is no less at Fortune’s Mercy than our Wealth.”

—François VI, Duc de La Rochefoucauld (1613–1680)

https://www.futilitycloset.com/2017/05/20/unquote-565/

“The silence, helped by the slow iron tick of a massively decorated grandfather clock, gathered and crept nearer.”

—Ian Fleming, Goldfinger

“You know how you make pity? One jigger guilt, one jigger contempt.”

—Richard Stark, The Rare Coin Score

“In the next silence he could hear her taking out her pride and looking at it and deciding it wasn't worth the gesture and putting it away in a box till some time when she could tie the score. When next she spoke, her voice was level.”

—Richard Stark, The Rare Coin Score

“If Chester had a failing, it was that he believed people were what they thought they were.”

—Richard Stark, Hunter

“Sonorous song-birds cursitated about, vultures looming beyond.”

—Autumn Jade, https://magasam.ru

“cursitate” v. to run hither and thither

Eyes closed, he pursued sleep across the shoals of his cares.

“as a tubercular looks into his handkerchief, with fearful expectancy.”

—Ian Fleming, Diamonds Are Forever

“The tunnel of darkness through which the lighted train was burning its thundering path.”

—Ian Fleming, Live and Let Die

“He could hear the fog-horns lowing like iron cattle.”

—Ian Fleming, Casino Royale

“The fishing fleet from Dieppe [strung] out towards the June heat-haze followed by a paper-chase of herring-gulls.”

—Ian Fleming, Casino Royale

“Then the iron grasshopper rose into the air and rattled off into the dusk.”

—Ian Fleming, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

A helicopter departing.

“The man smiled a wide, charming smile that cracked his creased walnut of a face in two.”

—Ian Fleming, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

“The gay bathing tents marched prettily down to the tide-line in money-making battalions.”

—Ian Fleming, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

“Bond’s stomach crawled with the ants of fear.”

—Ian Fleming, Thunderball

eyes injected with blood.

A container ship stacked like Manhattan off in the fog.

Seen from the beach at Ain Sokhna, on the Red Sea.

Adam and Eve on a raft and wreck ’em.

Diner lingo for two scrambled eggs on toast. See http://www.futilitycloset.com/2014/05/29/diner-lingo/ for more.

Burn one, take it through the garden, and pin a rose on it.

Diner lingo for hamburger with lettuce, tomato, and onion. See http://www.futilitycloset.com/2014/05/29/diner-lingo/ for more.

She had a pleasant, chipmunk-like smile.

She had a redhead’s pale complexion and lips precise as a punctuation mark.

“In the heavy stormy sunlight, the mestizo stood, staring towards the hut, a little loose about the knees.”

—Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory

”Loose about the knees” perfectly conveys his sneaky, anxious readiness to flee.

The brewery smelled of fresh cut oats, and it returned him to the memory of every barn he had known.

Outside the restaurant, a sentry of shut patio umbrellas like a line of caped soldiers.

Whenever he mentioned how much he loved his children, his eyes moistened like a man who was having an affair.

“the bed, unruffled as a millpond.”

—Ian McEwan, Solar

“And then pulled the pistol’s foreskin back, and then enjoyed the orgasm of the crushed trigger.”

—Nabokov, Lolita

“And pity tires the heart.”

—Jillian Becker, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21336933

Jillian Becker looked after Sylvia Plath and her children as house guests just before the poet’s suicide.

“His hats were black, round of crown and straight of brim.”

—John Steinbeck, East of Eden

“Her clothes had the strained cleanliness that means poverty.”

—John Steinbeck, East of Eden

“The bills in their bales were in the safe-deposit box.”

—John Steinbeck, East of Eden

“She dug out a slender chain which hung around her neck and pulled the chain’s burden up from her bodice.”

—John Steinbeck, East of Eden

The primeval tree’s rising roots heaved a standing wave of paving brick.

“Footsteps on the flagstones accompanied me, filling the empty earth with the sound of my progress.”

—Joseph Conrad, The Inheritors

“He was a person of interminable and incredibly inaccurate reminiscences.”

—Joseph Conrad, The Inheritors

“Miss Churchill’s carriage whirled into sight, sparkling in the sunlight, and sending up an attendant cloud of dust that melted like smoke through the dog-roses of the leeward hedge.”

—Joseph Conrad, The Inheritors

“The party was a liquidation of someone’s social obligations.”

—Joseph Conrad, The Inheritors

Her thoughts inched across her memories like a measuring worm.

“Can we cross over into the quantum realm, where one bit of matter can be in two places at once, and still not believe in angels?”

—Kevin Kelly, What Technology Wants

He argued against the nihilism of the stars.

“His fingers got together in conference, talking to each other like ants.”

—Steinbeck, East of Eden

“I’m kind of like a cat up a tree so far he can’t come down.”

—John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Describes a man too far into a predicament, a love, that he knows is foolish.

“A flight of sparrows flew off like a gray scarf twisting in the light.”

—John Steinbeck, East of Eden

“a blanket of herring clouds was rolling in.”

—John Steinbeck, East of Eden

“When two men live together they usually maintain a kind of shabby neatness out of incipient rage at each other.”

—John Steinbeck, East of Eden

“[It] wound about like a flatland stream.”

—John Steinbeck, East of Eden

“The quiet was disturbed only by the slup of soup and the gnash of chewing.”

—John Steinbeck, East of Eden

“The russet pinpricks of sodium lamps from a small mining town sparkled in the distance.”

—Lee Billings, SEED magazine

“the gentle lines that accrue around eyes and mouth from years of smiles.”

—Lee Billings, SEED magazine

I like the use of the word “accrue”.

A discarded cigarette bleeding trails of smoke across the pavement.

The sun unfolded across the glass skyline in a Mercator projection of an orange diamond.

“It was something small that we foolishly made into something big.”

—Alex Payne, The Magazine

Writing about his marriage after his divorce.

She was as exotic and flavorless as dragonfruit.

Debt is a geometrically deepening pit.

flying among the sugar fields of the night sky.

“a clot of raw data.”

—Doctorow and Rosenbaum, True Names

A military pair stroll by, their at-ease pendulum arms falling into synchronicity.

“streets so congested that watching them fill up in the morning was like watching sausage casings being stuffed with meat.”

—Neal Stephenson

“simultaneously connecting and unweaving the world.”

—Lee Billings

Speaking of the Internet and modern communicationshm technology.

“[the books’] margins and interlinear spaces now caulked with notes.”

—Neal Stephenson

“Your pity is as well placed as a feather in a pig’s rump.”

—Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame

“I thought like clocks tick . . .”

—Lawrence Block, Grifter’s Game

“Daniel lies there spreadeagled for a while, staring up at the stars—white geometric points on a slate, gridded by shadows of rigging, an explanatory network of catenary curves and Euclidean sections, like one of those geometric proofs.”

—Neal Stephenson

“Few are as grown up as the young.”

—Mark Russel, The Pullocho

“Who pissed in your wine skin?”

The Scorpion King 3

“spending candles by the pound and ink by the quart, working their separate ways through Aristotle.”

—Neal Stephenson

“The blood [at night] looked like tar on the grass.”

—Neal Stephenson

The janitor at the ice rink skates figures. His arms arc over his head for a pirouette, then extend in practiced elegance for a glide—a dancer who disappears, one imagines, when he unties his skates and picks up his broom.

Perhaps he is not the janitor at all, but the incongruity of his fluency on the ice with his blue-collar attire provokes my imagination: a figure-skater who once won applause and medals and loved his art too much to forsake it when his limbs grew infirm. He accepted the job of janitor at a shopping-mall ice-rink so that he could continue to skate everyday. No audiences applaud or cheer, but the children with their mothers circling the boards turn their heads and stare—as do I—at the surprise of a solitary old man happy at play, dancing to a melody only he hears and remembers.

“The tail of Ursa Major was like the hand of a celestial clock, and [he] was studying how to read it.”

—Neal Stephenson

There’s something about the hush that comes to her voice that makes me check our surroundings. Outside our daughter’s karate class, along the tree-lined canal path—ah, yes, it’s safe to talk about her work here.

a file sneezes back and forth over a section of iron.

“Enoch had the same way with his memories as a ship’s master with his rigging—a compulsion to tighten what was slack, mend what was frayed, caulk what leaked, and stow, or throw overboard, what was to no purpose.”

—Neal Stephenson

“The stairs boomed and groaned like a ship in a squall.”

—Neal Stephenson

On a heavy person descending stairs.

“The sun had been rolling along the horizon for hours, like a fat waterfowl making its takeoff run.”

—Neal Stephenson

“Gusts make the anchored ships start and jostle like nervous horses hearing distant guns.”

—Neal Stephenson

“a low green hill shingled with long slender hay-mows limned by dry stone fences.”

—Neal Stephenson

“The sails and rigging, spars and masts to his starboard combine into a tangle vast and inextricable, as characters on a page must do in the eyes of an unlettered peasant.”

—Neal Stephenson

“a lad, moving about like a drop of quicksilver that cannot be trapped under the thumb.”

—Neal Stephenson

“Flotillas of shavings from some carpenter’s block-plane sail down the stream like ships going off to war. Underneath them the weak current nudges turds and bits of slaughtered animals down towards the harbor. It smells accordingly. No denying there is a tallow-chandlery not far upwind, where beast-grease not fit for eating is made into candles and soap.”

—Neal Stephenson

In this description, Neal Stephenson describes one thing well, evoking other contributions to the surrounding and atmosphere. This is much better than the lists of things I keep trying to cram into my descriptions, describing three or four things in the setting.

“deep hissing booms, like handfuls of sand hurled against kettledrums.”

—Neal Stephenson

Redcoats firing their muskets.

“an old man with silver hair queued down to the small of his back.”

—Neal Stephenson

Nice use of the word "queue" in its original sense.

“a voice that carries forever on the wind, like the smell of smoke.”

—Neal Stephenson

“Her emotions had their truest existence in the telling of them.”

—F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender Is the Night

“They passed the Juan-les-Pins Casino, still sobbing and coughing with jazz.”

—F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender Is the Night

“The air was motionless. I could hear no insects, nor any birds. The fruit bats flew high, beating their wings in absolute quiet. It seemed simple and wonderful: the world as an enormous room.”

—Paul Theroux

In the morning, the monk visits each shop to trade a prayer or a blessing for a coin—a kind of extortion of the soul.

“No, I’m not really [complicated]—I’m just a—I’m just a whole lot of different simple people.”

—F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender Is the Night

“a cock splitting distant air.”

—F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender Is the Night

“Bring me addled brains, à l’Anglaise.”

—F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender Is the Night

She kissed at the sour taste.

“Dr. Dohmler spread his hands wide enough to carry a young pig.”

—F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender Is the Night

Yesterday, school children were lined up, ranked, stood in columns and rows on the school ground, on the printed pavement like on the Field of Mars, Champs de Mars, while an instructor drilled them. Today music played in fits as they rehearsed a martial performance as if they were a marching band.

A puppy beside me barked at nothing, girls laughed playing pick-up-stones behind me, and I stood watching the Himalayas until my feet ached.

Eating at a roadside café in the dark while the monsoon winds batter the Chinese lanterns on their cords.

A young woman in casual dress, studiously wrapped so as to accommodate her expensive, artfully selected jewelry.

A dim café, with every patron hidden in a corner, so that you had to search for them like trying to spot an exotic species in a seemingly empty cage during midday at the zoo.

He poured his beer with slow precision, as if it was the one task to perform correctly during the day.

“Finally there was a dull crack as Tenzing’s skull split open and the chanting rose to a crescendo.”

—Sir Edmund Hillary, View from the Summit

On the cremation of Tenzing Norgay.

Like a Frenchman pouting his indifference.

The quacking of home-made rickshaw horns.

Wearing a ticket like a head wound.

Drinking jerry cans of palm wine.

The room smelled like cordite.

After a gun has been fired.

Two white-haired Brits at the bar talking football and Thailand sex tours.

“Wraiths of breath folded themselves into the cold night behind them.”

—Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

The tireless plinking of a piano tuner about his task.

The peppery and acrid waft of gunpowder.

Remembering Chinese New Year in Beijing.

She answered everything with a tentative “yeah,” as if your question were a proposal she needed to consider.

He had a voice like gravel stirred in a bucket.

He had a dropped-chin scowl as if he were permanently disgusted.

“The graves lay like wolves under the trees, winking white eyes under the gloom of the evergreens.”

—Graham Greene, The Third Man

“He gave a grin which took five years off his age.”

—Graham Greene, The Third Man

“Surprise opened [inside him] like a wound over the inevitable.”

—Delaney

The bar looked like St. Patrick had stumbled in and puked all over the place.

For an over-decorated Irish pub. See: http://www.eater.com/2017/3/7/14839472/irish-pub-design

A pair of small-time skells.

Eau de corpse.

A silence hung in the air like gun-smoke.

“He cracked a hundred.”

—Lawrence Block, Grifter's Game

He got change for a hundred-dollar bill.

Sitting at a high round table, sipping draft, watching the kegs for the day being rolled in by the delivery boy.