With the relentless bad news lately, what better time for a little pick me up in the form of the Edward Bulwer-Lytton contest winners announced just this week?
For the last 29 years, San Jose State University has held the annual contest that asks contestants to submit opening lines for imaginary novels with the goal that they be as bad as possible. The contest was inspired by the great Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who penned the immortal “It was a dark and stormy night.”
So, without further ado, let’s enjoy the grand prize winner:
Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.
And the runner-up:
As I stood among the ransacked ruin that had been my home, surveying the aftermath of the senseless horrors and atrocities that had been perpetrated on my family and everything I hold dear, I swore to myself that no matter where I had to go, no matter what I had to do or endure, I would find the man who did this . . . and when I did, when I did, oh, there would be words.
The Bulwer-Lytton contests also chooses winners in genre categories.
From the limbs of ancient live oaks moccasins hung like fat black sausages — which are sometimes called boudin noir, black pudding or blood pudding, though why anyone would refer to a sausage as pudding is hard to understand and it is even more difficult to divine why a person would knowingly eat something made from dried blood in the first place — but be that as it may, our tale is of voodoo and foul murder, not disgusting food.
Sensing somehow a scudding lay in the offing, Skipper Bob tallied his tasks: reef the mains’l, mizzen, and jib, strike and brail the fores’l, mizzen stays’l and baggywrinkles, bowse the halyards, mainsheets, jacklines and vangs, turtle and belay fast the small cock, flemish the taffrail warps, batten the booby hatch, lay by his sou’wester, and find the bailing bucket.
Wearily approaching the murder scene of Jeannie and Quentin Rose and needing to determine if this was the handiwork of the Scented Strangler–who had a twisted affinity for spraying his victims with his signature raspberry cologne–or that of a copycat, burnt-out insomniac detective Sonny Kirkland was sure of one thing: he’d have to stop and smell the Roses.
Five minutes before his scheduled execution, Kip found his thoughts turning to his childhood– all those years ago before he had become a contract killer whose secret weakness was a severe peanut allergy, even back before he lost half of a toe in a gardening accident while doing community service– but especially to Corinne, the pretty girl down the street whom he might have ended up marrying one day if she had only shown him a little more damn respect.
Crime Dishonorable Mention:
The victim was a short man, with a face full of contradictions: amalgam, composite, dental porcelain, with both precious and non-precious metals all competing for space in a mouth that was open, bloody, terrifying, gaping, exposing a clean set of asymptomatic impacted wisdom teeth, but clearly the object of some very comprehensive dental care, thought Dirk Graply, world-famous womanizer, tough guy, detective, and former dentist.
Within the smoking ruins of Keister Castle, Princess Gwendolyn stared in horror at the limp form of the loyal Centaur who died defending her very honor; “You may force me to wed,” she cried at the leering and victorious Goblin King, “but you’ll never be half the man he was.”
Veronica, two months pregnant and attempting to get her boyfriend to notice, and Ricky, who wanted to end things with his expansive girlfriend, sat at a table-for-two around lunchtime at the Olive Garden in Columbus, Ohio, eying the bottle of house rosé which, unbeknownst to them, doubled as the portal key to Khrysandelt: The land where everything glitters slightly more than normal.
Winner: Historical Fiction
Napoleon’s ship tossed and turned as the emperor, listening while his generals squabbled as they always did, splashed the tepid waters in his bathtub.
Historical Fiction Runner-Up:
The executioner sneered as the young queen ascended the stairs to the guillotine; in the old days, he thought, at least there was some buildup, a little time on the rack or some disemboweling, but nowadays everyone wants instant gratification.
Winner: Purple Prose
As his small boat scudded before a brisk breeze under a sapphire sky dappled with cerulean clouds with indigo bases, through cobalt seas that deepened to navy nearer the boat and faded to azure at the horizon, Ian was at a loss as to why he felt blue.
Purple Prose Runner-Up:
The Los Angeles morning was heavy with smog, the word being a portmanteau of smoke and fog, though in LA the pollutants are typically vehicular emissions as opposed to actual smoke and fog, unlike 19th-century London where the smoke from countless small coal fires often combined with fog off the Thames to produce true smog, though back then they were not clever enough to call it that.
Purple Prose Dishonorable Mentions:
LaTrina—knowing he must live—let her hot, wet tongue slide slowly over Gladiator’s injured ear, the taste reminding her of the late June flavor of a snow chain that had been removed from a tire and left to rust on the garage floor without being rinsed off.
Like a bird gliding over the surface of a Wyoming river rippled by a gentle Spring breeze, his hand passed over her stretch marks.
Deep into that particular wet Saturday night ugly blues screamed out from the old man’s horn like a hooker being hauled down a flight of stairs, regular thick loud thumps punctuated by nasty and erratic sharp barks.
She held my hand as if she were having a swollen barrel of fun which was off considering that my teeth were sitting on my bathroom cabinet (eight miles away, no less) and my elbow was peeling like a soggy coconut, the fine hairs of which were standing on edge in fear, as if the coconut had been reading “Dracula.”
As the dark and mysterious stranger approached, Angela bit her lip anxiously, hoping with every nerve, cell, and fiber of her being that this would be the one man who would understand—who would take her away from all this—and who would not just squeeze her boob and make a loud honking noise, as all the others had.
Deanna waited for him in a deliberate pose on the sailor-striped chaise lounge of the newly-remodeled Ramada, her bustier revealing the tops of her white breasts like eggs–eggs of the slightly undercooked, hard-boiled variety, showing a nascent jiggle with her apprehensive breath, eggs that were then peeled ever-so-carefully so as not to pierce the jellied, opaque albumen and unleash the longing, viscous yolk within–yes, she lay there, oblong and waiting to be deviled.
Meredith K. Gray
Romance Dishonorable Mentions:
They called her The Cat, because she made love the way she fought, rolling rapidly across the floor in a big, blurry ball of shrieking hair, fury, and dander, which usually solicited a “Shut up!” and flung shoe from one of the neighbors, and left her exhilarated lover with serious patchy bald spots and the occasional nicked ear.
She gazed smolderingly at the mysterious rider, his body cloaked in enough shining black leather to outfit an Italian furniture store, wrapped so tightly each muscle stood out like a flamboyant Mexican hairdresser at an Alabamian monster truck rally; and he met her gaze with an intensity that couldn’t have been matched by even a starving junkyard dog in the meat aisle of a suburban supermarket.
Winner: Sci Fi
Morgan ‘Bamboo’ Barnes, Star Pilot of the Galaxia (flagship of the Solar Brigade), accepted an hors d’oeuvre from the triangular-shaped platter offered to him from the Princess Qwillia—lavender-skinned she was and busty, with two of her four eyes what Barnes called ‘bedroom eyes’—and marveled at how on her planet, Chlamydia-5, these snacks were called ‘Hi-Dee-Hoes’ but on Earth they were simply called Ritz Crackers with Velveeta.
Sci Fi Runner-Up:
Sterben counted calcium bars in the storage chamber, wondering why women back on Earth paid him little attention, but up here they seem to adore him, in fact, six fraichemaidens had already shown him their blinka.
Winner: Vile Puns
Detective Kodiak plucked a single hair from the bearskin rug and at once understood the grisly nature of the crime: it had been a ferocious act, a real honey, the sort of thing that could polarize a community, so he padded quietly out the back to avoid a cub reporter waiting in the den.
Vile Puns Runner-Up:
Monroe Mills’ innovative new fabric-dyeing technique was a huge improvement over stone-washing: denim apparel was soaked in color and cured in an 800-degree oven, and the company’s valued young dye department supervisor was as skilled as they came; yes, no one could say Marilyn was a normal jean baker.
Vile Puns Dishonorable Mentions:
Convinced that the fabled Lost Treasure of Eggsbury was concealed within the statue of the beloved Sister Mary Francis in the village square, Professor Smithee would steal away in the darkest hour of each night to try to silently chip away at her impervious granite vestments – a vain and fruitless nightly exercise, he well knew, but it was a hard habit to break.
Milton’s quest for the love of Ms. Bradley was a risk but no sorry trivial pursuit, yet he hadn’t a clue why she had a monopoly on his heart’s desires — in fact, it boggled his mind and caused him great aggravation because, in his checkered and troubled careers, he had always scrabbled hard and it drove him bonkers that she considered life just a game
The laser-blue eyes of the lone horseman tracked the slowly lengthening lariat of a Laredo dawn as it snaked its way through Dead Man’s Pass into the valley below and snared the still sleeping town’s tiny church steeple in a noose of light with the oh-so-familiar glow of a Dodge City virgin’s last maiden blush.
Sunburned and lost, Jake tightened the noose around Randy’s diaper-white neck and growled, “Any last words, varmint?” to which Randy replied, “Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb, Jake–that’s where all the fruit is!” which marked the first and last time Jake and the boys hired a life coach to lead one of their cattle drives.
So, that’s this year’s contest winners, with the exception of an extensive list of more Dishonorable Mentions that you can find at the site I linked to above. Here’s what I’d like to know:
- Do you agree with the winner? If not, what would have been your choice?
- What did you think of the Romance winner and runner-up?
- Would you ever consider entering the contest?
– Sandy AAR