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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Tuesday, 20 July 2004

Topic: Oddities

The winners of this year's Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest are announced...
The results are in from San Jose State University, out here in San Jose, California.

The results of what? The 2004 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, of course.

The San Jose State University Department of English explains here -
An international literary parody contest, the competition honors the memory (if not the reputation) of Victorian novelist Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873). The goal of the contest is childishly simple: entrants are challenged to submit bad opening sentences to imaginary novels. Although best known for "The Last Days of Pompeii" (1834), which has been made into a movie three times, originating the expression "the pen is mightier than the sword," and phrases like "the great unwashed" and "the almighty dollar," Bulwer-Lytton opened his novel "Paul Clifford" (1830) with the immortal words that the "Peanuts" beagle Snoopy plagiarized for years, "It was a dark and stormy night."
Happens every year.

The grand prize winner this year is a local - Dave Zobel of Manhattan Beach (the first place I live when I moved to California back in 1981 - and fine place it is). Zobel is a forty-two-year-old software developer and former National Spelling Bee contestant - and now the uncontested winner of the 2004 edition of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.

He channels Martha Stewart -
She resolved to end the love affair with Ramon tonight . . . summarily, like Martha Stewart ripping the sand vein out of a shrimp's tail . . . though the term "love affair" now struck her as a ridiculous euphemism . . . not unlike "sand vein," which is after all an intestine, not a vein . . . and that tarry substance inside certainly isn't sand . . . and that brought her back to Ramon.
Yes, thoroughly disgusting.

The site above lists lots of the entries - like this from Pamela Patchet Hamilton of Beaconsfield, Quebec. Yes, the runner-up was Canadian.
The notion that they would no longer be a couple dashed Helen's hopes and scrambled her thoughts not unlike the time her sleeve caught the edge of the open egg carton and the contents hit the floor like fragile things hitting cold tiles, more pitiable because they were the expensive organic brown eggs from free-range chickens, and one of them clearly had double yolks entwined in one sac just the way Helen and Richard used to be.
Also disgusting, non?

You could got to the site and check out the Grand Panjandrum's Special Award, won by another Californian, Jeanne Villa -
She sipped her latte gracefully, unaware of the milk foam droplets building on her mustache, which was not the peachy-fine baby fuzz that Nordic girls might have, but a really dense, dark, hirsute lip-lining row of fur common to southern Mediterranean ladies nearing menopause, and winked at the obviously charmed Spaniard at the next table.
Check, please!

The winner of the Adventure Category was Siew-Fong Yiap of Kowloon, Hong Kong and it is odd. There is, of course, a Children's Literature category. And there are the three winners of the category where you actually have to do variations on the "Dark and Stormy" night theme.

1.) "It was a stark and dormy night--the kind of Friday night in the dorm...."

2.) "It was a dark and stormy night--actually not all that dark, but more dusky or maybe cloudy, and to say "stormy" may be overstating things a bit, although the sidewalks were still wettish and smelled of ozone, and, truth be told, characterizing the time as night is a stretch as it was more in the late, late afternoon because I think Oprah was still on. ..."

3.) "It was another dork and Stormy Knight--after snapping the last of his palm dampened dollar bills into the frazzled elastic of her G string...."

You get the idea.

The Detective entries are just as strange, Fantasy Fiction entries confusing, and there are items for Historical Fiction, Fiction for the Erudite and for Purple Prose -
The terrible news had whisked around the becolumned courthouse like a malevolent, stinking zephyr straight from the sewage works, and on the gum-besmirched footpath, the hunch of lawyers cackled and cawed like a group of very large, gowned, wigged, briefcase-clutching crows, or perhaps ravens since they are of course the larger bird and some of these lawyers were fairly sizeable.
That from Georgia Gowing of Largs Bay, South Australia - who doesn't seem to much like lawyers.

The winner for bad writing in the Romance genre was David K. Lynch Topanga, California -
Looking up from his plate of escargots, Sean gazed across the table at Sharon and sadly realized that her bubbly personality now reminded him of the bubbles you get when you put salt on a slug and it squirms around and foams all over the place, and her moist lips were also like the slime on a slug but before you salted it, though after all these years Sharon still smelled better than slugs, but that could have been the garlic butter on her escargots.
One thinks of Paris.

There was also a Science Fiction category and one for "Vile Puns" of course, and for Westerns. And there were the Miscellaneous Dishonorable Mentions - "The day dawned much like any other day, except that the date was different." (from Geoff Blackwell of Bundaberg, Queensland in Australia.)

Of those, my favorite is from Marx Prewett of Dallas -
Sheila walked into the room, flaunting the kind of body that made grown men wish they were teenagers, made teenagers wish they were grown men, made toddlers wish they were preteens, made preteens wish they were young adults, and made everyone wish editors swung blue pencils the same way she swung her hips as she crossed the threshold of both the room and bad taste, her breasts swaying like dual house-trailers on a windy overpass.

The Los Angeles Times covered the event printing a short AP item Tuesday - Martha Stewart Is a Good Thing for Bad Writing Prize - without much detail.

This AP item does point out that the winner, this Dave Zobel of Manhattan Beach, is the author of "Dave Zobel's Bent Book of Boatspeak: How to Sound Like a Sailor and Know Just Enough to Be Dangerous" and is working on a book about children's soccer and obsessive parents.
"I never won and wasn't expecting to this year, but to be honest I'm a little jealous of people who won dishonorable mentions because that title would look better on the resume," he said.

"If I could be assured that my boss weren't reading this, I would dump my day job in a heartbeat to write humor full time."
But he does systems work - a software engineer - so he'll be laid off pretty soon anyway. Then he can write all the humor he wants.

He can write for Just Above Sunset - but for the glory, as we have no budget at all to actually pay our writers.

As for this San Jose State University contest - well, you all have a bit less than a year to work on your entries for the 2005 competition.

Posted by Alan at 16:57 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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