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A round peg in a world of square holes...

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest






A little background for those unfamiliar with this quirky contest:


It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness. (Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830))


Since 1982 the English Department at San Jose State University has sponsored the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels. The contest (hereafter referred to as the BLFC) was the brainchild (or Rosemary's baby) of Professor Scott Rice, whose graduate school excavations unearthed the source of the line "It was a dark and stormy night." Sentenced to write a seminar paper on a minor Victorian novelist, he chose the man with the funny hyphenated name, Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, who was best known for perpetrating The Last Days of Pompeii, Eugene Aram, Rienzi, The Caxtons, The Coming Race, and — not least — Paul Clifford, whose famous opener has been plagiarized repeatedly by the cartoon beagle Snoopy. No less impressively, Lytton coined phrases that have become common parlance in our language: "the pen is mightier than the sword," "the great unwashed," and "the almighty dollar."

Conscripted numerous times to be a judge in writing contests that were, in effect, bad writing contests but with prolix, overlong, and generally lengthy submissions, he struck upon the idea of holding a competition that would be honest and — best of all — invite brief entries.


The rules to the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest are childishly simple:

Each entry must consist of a single sentence but you may submit as many entries as you wish.

Sentences may be of any length (though you go beyond 50 or 60 words at your peril), and entries must be "original" (as it were) and previously unpublished.


2006 Results

GRAND PRIZE WINNER

Detective Bart Lasiter was in his office studying the light from his one small window falling on his super burrito when the door swung open to reveal a woman whose body said you've had your last burrito for a while, whose face said angels did exist, and whose eyes said she could make you dig your own grave and lick the shovel clean.

Jim Guigli
Carmichael, CA



RUNNER-UP

"I know what you're thinking, punk," hissed Wordy Harry to his new editor, "you're thinking, 'Did he use six superfluous adjectives or only five?' - and to tell the truth, I forgot myself in all this excitement; but being as this is English, the most powerful language in the world, whose subtle nuances will blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel loquacious?' - well do you, punk?"

Stuart Vasepuru
Edinburgh, Scotland


                                                                ------

WINNER: ADVENTURE

Christy, lounging in the gondola which slipped smoothly through the enveloping mist had her first inkling that something was afoot as she heard pattering hooves below (for our story is not in Venice but Switzerland with its Provolone and Toblerone) and craning her not unlovely neck she narrowed her eyes at the dozen tiny reindeer, pelting madly down the goat trail.

Irene Buttuls
Lytton, B.C



RUNNER-UP

She looked at her hands and saw the desiccated skin hanging in Shar-Pei wrinkles, confetti-like freckles, and those dry, dry cuticles--even her "Fatale Crimson" nail color had faded in the relentless sun to the color of old sirloin--and she vowed if she ever got out of the Sahara alive, she'd never buy polish on sale at Walgreen's again.

Christin Keck
Kent, OH



WINNER: CHILDREN'S LITERATURE

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe who had so much equity (because our story, dear children, is set in Miami's hot real estate market) that she upgraded the exterior to blue suede siding as a tribute to her idol, Elvis, moved her kids to a bootee out back, and then reopened the place as the "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" motel (but you'll have to wait until you're 18 to read any further).

Barbara Bridges
Sierra Madre, CA



WINNER: DETECTIVE FICTION

It was a dreary Monday in September when Constable Lightspeed came across the rotting corpse that resembled one of those zombies from Michael Jackson's "Thriller," except that it was lying down and not performing the electric slide.

Derek Fisher
Ottawa, ON



RUNNER-UP

The victim said her attacker was nondescript -- 5' 10 and 3/4", 163 pounds, with Clairol #83N hair (a hint of #84N at his temples) -- and last seen wearing Acuvue2 contacts, a white Hanes 65/35% poly-cotton t-shirt with a 3mm round Grey Poupon stain on the neckband, Levi's 501s missing the second button, and Nike Crosstrainers with muddy aglets.

Linda Fields
Framingham, MA



WINNER: FANTASY FICTION

It was within the great stony nostril of a statue of Landrick the Elfin Vicelord that Frodo's great uncle, Jasper Baggins, happened to stumble upon the enchanted Bag of Holding, not to be confused with the Hag of Bolding, who was quite fond of leeks, most especially in a savory Hobbit knuckle stew.

Camille Barigar
Twin Falls, ID



WINNER: HISTORICAL FICTION

While Hector and the heroes of Troy trembled behind the ramparts as cowboys below the walls raced up and down the beach, six-guns blazing and cries of "yee-hah!" filling the air, other cowboys across the sea were laboring gamely but in vain to throw a palisade around Wichita, Kansas, thereby adding veracity to the old homily of history that it is easier to cow a fortified city than to fortify a cow city.

Christopher Backeberg
KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa



RUNNER-UP

The McCain boys strode off proudly to fight in the Civil War, one for the Union and one for the Confederacy, neither of them giving a single thought to who would play them in the television movie of their story, which would be decided more than a hundred years later by 20-something casting agents who kept getting the Civil War and World War II mixed up.

Carmen Fought
Diamond Bar, CA



WINNER: PURPLE PROSE

A single sparkling tear fell from Little Mary's cheek onto the sidewalk, then slid into the storm drain, there to join in its course the mighty waters of the Los Angeles River and, eventually, Long Beach Harbor, with its state-of-the-art container-freight processing facilities.

Bill Mac Iver
Berkeley, CA



RUNNER-UP

Her angry accusations burned Clyde like that first bite of a double cheese pizza, when the toppings slide off and sear that small elevation of the oral mucosa, just behind the front teeth, known as the incisive papilla, which is linked to the discriminatory function of the taste buds except, where Clyde was concerned, when it came to women.

Pamela Patchet Hamilton
Beaconsfield, Quebec



WINNER: ROMANCE

Despite the vast differences it their ages, ethnicity, and religious upbringing, the sexual chemistry between Roberto and Heather was the most amazing he had ever experienced; and for the entirety of the Labor Day weekend they had sex like monkeys on espresso, not those monkeys in the zoo that fling their feces at you, but more like the monkeys in the wild that have those giant red butts, and access to an espresso machine.

Dennis Barry
Dothan, AL



RUNNER-UP

Sex with Rachel after she turned fifty was like driving the last-place team on the last day of the Iditarod Dog Sled Race, the point no longer the ride but the finish, the difficulty not the speed but keeping all the parts moving in the right direction, not to mention all that irritating barking.

Dan Winters
Los Altos Hills, CA



WINNER: SCIENCE FICTION

"Send a message back to Command Central on Earth and ask for their advice, which we will be able receive immediately even at this great distance, thanks to the ingenious manipulation of coherent radiation through a Bose-Einstein condensate and the bizarre influence of the Aspect effect, which enables us to impart identical properties to remotely separated photons," Captain Buzz told the feathered Vjorkog at the comms desk, "and tell them our life-pod is going to explode in eight seconds."

Christopher Backeberg
KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa



RUNNER-UP

It was just another day at the office aboard "StarCruise" until David spotted a tiny speck in his passenger window, approaching from the direction of the Masai Nebula and making a right angle with bisector of the isosceles formed if you joined Bendy's Star, Planet Anet, and White Hole 14437-5A, but sighed peacefully as it turned out to be the reflection of the fluorescent light swinging loose above Captain Mudlove's head.

Talha bin Hamid
Karachi, Pakistan



WINNER: VILE PUNS

As Johann looked out across the verdant Iowa River valley, and beyond to the low hills capped by the massive refrigerator manufacturing plant, he reminisced on the history of the great enterprise from its early days, when he and three other young men, all of differing backgrounds, had only their dream of bringing refrigeration to America's heartland to sustain them, to the present day, where they had become the Midwest's foremost group of refrigerator magnates.

Dick Davis
Circle Pines, MN



RUNNER-UP

Herr Professor Doktor Weiss' reputation was made when he conclusively proved the fraudulency of the Mayan codex that claimed to show that that ancient people knew the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter to an exactitude unknown until modern times, in his article, "Bye, Bye, Mesoamerican Pi."

John L. Drost
Barboursville, WV



WINNER: WESTERN

His mistake, Shut-eye McBlamaway reflected, was not in standing up to a gang of desperadoes and rustlers on the high country, but in standing up to a gang of desperadoes and rustlers who had just left the set of a Sergio Leone shoot, and were thus equipped with those guns that never run out of ammunition.

Samuel Goldstein
Los Angeles, CA



RUNNER-UP

Butch glared balefully across the saloon at Tex, who had been stone dead since the scorpion he had unwittingly sat on had bitten him on the butt some half an hour or so ago, little suspecting that this was going to be his toughest staring contest since the one against old Glass-eyed Juan, during the great sand-storm of '42, at the height of the Arizona conjunctivitis epidemic.

Geoff Blackwell
Bundaberg QLD Australia


                                                                ------

Grand Prize Winners from past years here.

For those hungry for more punishment, here's the first chapter of Paul Clifford (1830). Be glad, I had to write a 16 (or was it 18? I can't remember.) page paper on the entire book for one of my classes.

Each year, when the results are released, my mentor professor would carry around copies for distribution. At the end of class, we would file out teary-eyed, flushed, even perspiring, from an hour of non-stop laughter. Upon inquiries from clueless freshmen, we would mutter stone-faced, "The reading," and hurry away, leaving them at the mercy of their fecund imagination.

Ah, good times :-X

Oh, what the heck, let's all be masochists! One more :-)


Withdrawing his hand from her knee, the English professor stormed, "Ending a sentence with a preposition is the sort of nonsense up with which I will not put," although she had merely looked at his hand and asked, "What are you doing that for?" in a sentence intended to end the proposition.

Carl C. Partlow
Rancho Cucamonga, CA


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