The Bulwer-Lytton awards are out!
For the uninitiated, the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, launched at San Jose State University 29 years ago, invites contestants to conceive the worst opening line possible for a prospective novel. This year's much-anticipated winner is Sue Fondrie of Oshkosh, Wis. with this start to what I, for one, consider a promising novel indeed:
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.
A nice a contemporary nod to wind power, there, and delightfully succinct. At a mere 26 words, Fondrie claims the shortest winning entry ever.
Click here for all the winning entries, in categories ranging from romance to adventure to "vile" puns.
I must say, this year's yield fell a bit short of the gold standard. Which for me is a toss-up between these two 1987 entries:
The sun rose slowly, like a fiery fur ball coughed up uneasily onto a sky-blue carpet by a giant unseen cat.
It's that one word, "uneasily," that makes all the difference.
The notes blatted skyward as the sun rose over the Canada geese, feathered rumps mooning the day, webbed appendages frantically pedaling unseen bicycles in their search for sustenance, driven by cruel nature’s maxim, ‘Ya wanna eat, ya gotta work,’ and at last I knew Pittsburgh.
The winner that year was, deservedly, the latter, by Sheila Richter of Minneapolis. There's the Pythonesque absurdity, of course (Pittsburgh, whaa?), but also, again, the winsome contemporary touch, invoking the "you're on your own" ethic of Reagan's 1987 America,
There must be something conducive to the muse in the aching cold of adjoining Minnesota and Wisconsin - and of Canada, bagging three Man Booker nominations this year.
I've always thought Edward George Bulwer-Lytton got a raw deal from SJSU. He did give us "The pen is mightier than the sword," after all. To be fair, Peggy Noonan wasn't well known in 1982. It's just unfortunate that Bulwer-Lytton's publisher for the 1830 novel Paul Clifford let him get away with this opening:
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.