I began paying attention to the annual, altogether whimsical Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest back in 2009. Sponsored by the English Department at San Jose State University, it’s named for George Earl Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873), whose 1830 novel, Paul Clifford, began with the oft-ridiculed phrase, “It was a dark and stormy night.” Ever since 1982, organizers have asked people to submit the worst opening sentences from never-to-be-completed books. This year’s contest featured categories ranging from Adventure, Crime and Children’s Literature to Historical Fiction and Purple Prose.
The 2014 grand prize winner was Elizabeth Dorfman of Bainbridge Island, Washington, who picks up the understandably pitiful sum of $150 for her groaner of an entry:
When the dead moose floated into view the famished crew cheered--this had to mean land!--but Captain Walgrove, flinty-eyed and clear headed thanks to the starvation cleanse in progress, gave fateful orders to remain on the original course and await the appearance of a second and confirming moose.Naturally, after such a start, I must highlight a few other category victors and runners-up. Here’s St. Petersburg, Florida, resident John Holmes’ first-place Historical Fiction entry:
In the late 1480’s, one of Henry VII’s spies in Milan picked up on what Columbus was up to, caught a gypsy caravan to Barcelona, a strawberry wagon to Lisbon, a crazy noble’s carriage to Marseilles, a worn stagecoach to Paris (which broke down), a hike to Calais, a rowboat to Southampton, arriving in London a year after Columbus landed in America, the imminent sailing for which the next year the spy, by now headless, had come to report.Terri Meeker of Nixa, Missouri, claimed second-best honors for this submission in the Purple Prose category:
Cole kissed Anastasia, not in a lingering manner as a connoisseur might sip a glass of ’82 La Pin, but open-mouthed and desperate, like a hobo wrapping his mouth around a bottle of Strawberry Ripple in the alley behind the 7-11.Winning this year in the Crime category was Carl Turney of Bayswater, Victoria, Australia. Here’s his submission:
Hard-boiled private dick Harrison Bogart couldn’t tell if it was the third big glass of cheap whiskey he’d just finished, or the way the rain-moistened blouse clung so tightly to the perfect figure of the dame who just appeared panting in his office doorway, but he was certain of one thing … he had the hottest mother-in-law in the world.Suzy Levinson of Sunnyside, New York, took the top prize for Science Fiction with this deliberately peculiar entry:
The spaceship hovered like a saucer, only rounder, deeper, the product of an unholy union between dessert plate and finger bowl, as any of the villagers familiar with traditional service à la russe dining could plainly see.And State College, Pennsylvania’s Stan Hunter Kranc captured the Grand Panjandrum’s Special Award for this excessive bit of writing:
As he girded himself against the noxious, sulfurous fumes that belched from the chasm in preparation for descent into the bowels of the mountain where mighty pressure and unimaginable heat made rock run in syrupy rivers, Bob paused to consider the unlikely series of events that had led him to become the Great God Vulcan’s proctologist.Click here to read (or groan at) all of this year’s top contenders.