Thursday, May 21, 2009

Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

A few weeks ago, General Manager, Keith Bergstrom had an idea for a blog post surrounding a little annual event called the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. I had never heard of it, but after doing a little research, I am a little bit in love with this quirky, tongue-in-cheek literary competition.

The line, "It was a dark and stormy night...," a facet of pop culture that is found everywhere from Charles Schultz's classic Peanuts cartoons to the "LOLcats" of, was written by Bulwer-Lytton. It is arguably one of the worst opening lines for a story in the history of mankind, and this contest is a chance for contestants to see if they can come up with a one-sentence opener that is more awful than the original.

To give you an idea of what a submission might look like, here are a few of the winners from 2008.

“Theirs was a New York love, a checkered taxi ride burning rubber, and like the city their passion was opne 24/7, steam rising from their bodies like slick streets exhaling warm, moist, white breath through manhole covers stamped 'Forged by DeLaney Bros. Piscataway, N.J."

Garrison Spik
Washington, D.C.

"Leopold looked up at the arrow piercing the skin of the dirigible with a sort of wondrous dismay -- the wheezy shriek was just the sort of sound he always imagined a baby moose being beaten with a pair of accordions might make.”

Shannon Wedge
New Hampshire

“Mike Hummer had been a private detective so long he could remember Preparation A, his hair reminded everyone of a rat who'd bitten into an electrical cord, but he could still run faster than greased owl snot when he was on a bad guy's trail, and they said his friskings were a lot like getting a vasectomy at Sears.”

Robert B. Robeson
Lincoln, Nebraska

“Bill swore the affair had ended, but Louise knew he was lying, after discovering Tupperware containers under the seat of his car, which were not the off-brand containers that she bought to save money, but authentic, burpable, lidded Tupperware; and she knew he would see that woman again, because unlike the flimsy, fake containers that should always be recycled responsibly, real Tupperware must be returned to its rightful owner.”

Jeanne Villa
Novato, CA

Since the first call for entries in 1982, the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest has been sponsored by the English Department at San Jose State University including creator Professor Scott Rice.

Rice first came across Bulwer-Lytton’s “dark and stormy night” line during graduate school research and after being “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 [Rice] struck upon the idea of holding a competition that would be honest and -- best of all -- invite brief entries. Furthermore, it had the ancillary advantage of one day allowing him to write about himself in the third person."

So in the spirit of Bulwer-Lytton, a handful of Prestwick House employees (myself included) ahve created a few openers of our own.

“There is the outer space that contains moons, stars, planets, black holes and such that we are all familiar with from watching TV, but there is also an outer space of the soul, with its own collection of emotional COMSATs and frozen cosmonaut urine in decaying orbit around our superego planets, and it was into this inner outer space that Crosby Lamont Burlingame was about to step, leaving the airlock of his daily routine, with only about ten minutes of emotional oxygen.”

Jason Scott


“On the first day, the teacher announced to her freshman, ‘In your English compositions while in my class, there will be no vulgarity, pornographic words, cursing, scatological references, smuttiness, indecencies, profanity, swearing, expletives, crude sexual comments, or redundancies unless you want to fail your English compositions while in my class.’”

Paul Moliken

Senior Editor

“Dobek Matthews—who had spent his entire life dreaming about creating a cinematic masterpiece titled Man Under Parasol, composed of exactly one hour and forty-three minutes of mental patients strolling with umbrellas in the midst of epileptic seizures, convulsing like banana-wielding raptor machines to the soothing sounds of classical music—was wholly disheartened when the big-shot producer, after insinuating that the only artistic endeavor Dobek was fit for was either drawing Hitler moustaches in permanent marker on unsuspecting victims or portraying the rear end of a panto cow, didn’t even take time to draw breath before launching into a pitch for own his stellar idea for a live-action, role-playing game entitled Sideburns Optional in which participants hobble through college campuses in paisley skirts posing as one-legged male prostitutes.”

Annie Rizzuto


“It was love at first site as I watched, LeRoy, the Marlboro Man look-alike stuff his cheek and gums with Redman and reveal to me his jail house tattoo of a rebel flag that waved on the side of his leather like neck as he mounted his swayed backed, geriatric, brood mare and made way to my single wide trailer with the polyester curtains to fill my golden harvest refrigerator with Pabst Blue Ribbon beer for me and my kids with his newly pilfered food stamps.”

Teri Mannering

Financial Operations Manager

“Johan McDougherty shivered, pulling a dirty cashmere sweater, the color of a lilacs trampled by a swarm of well-meaning toddlers trying to help in the garden, around his shoulders, as he realized that his two-week river safari down America’s most polluted river with the girl of his dreams was bound to be a disaster now that his flatulence had offended three of the four obsessive-compulsive personalities that shared a morbidly obese body with her.”

Keith Bergstrom

General Manager

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