Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Friday, December 21, 2007

So Bad

Today I finally received my copy of It Was A Dark And Stormy Night (The Very Worse Opening Lines in Fiction).

The hardbound tome is a compilation of the best or the worst (or maybe that’s worst of the best?) entries in the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, sponsored annually by San Jose State College and named for 19th century novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton, whose novel Paul Clifford contains the infamous opening line: “It was a dark and stormy night.”

According to the Bulwer-Lytton site, the contest is, according to SJSC professor Scott Rice, “a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels.”

Whimsical. Almost as good as quirky. (And some of the entries are pretty quirky, too.)

Through the years of the contest, I’d won a “Worst Western” division and had gotten a “Miscellaneous Dishonorable Mention.” A fellow Valley Writer, Dick Raymond, had also received some dishonorable mentions. (Hmmm. Since we’re both officers in Valley Writers, does that make Valley Writers the worst writers club in the USA?)

It Was A Dark And Stormy Night originally came out in September, but it was published in the UK by The Friday Project, so it wasn’t for sale in American bookstores, though it was available on Finally offered it, and I ordered my copy (which was considerably cheaper when I ordered than it is now) in early November. It took seven weeks to arrive.

The contest originated in 1982 with three entries. Now, tens of thousands of entries from all over the world pour in every year. I’ve been poring over the poor excuses for opening lines for the last hour. I knew that my 1996 “Worst Western” winner would be in it. I found it on page 103:

Following the unfortunate bucking of his horse when it was startled by the posse's shots, Tex—who now lay in a disheveled heap in the sagebrush—pushed back his sweat-stained Stetson from one deep-set eye, spat a stream of tobacco juice at the nearest cactus, and reflected momentarily that the men approaching him with ropes probably weren't just out for a skip, and—if they were—his freshly broken ankle would have to cause him to decline any entreaties to join them.

On page 23, I found my 1999 “Miscellaneous Dishonorable Mention”:

“Well, Mummy,” replied little Felicity in response to her mother's chiding, “I know for a fact you are lying to me and that I was not left on the doorstep by gypsies, as you are fond of telling me, for gypsies are not in the habit of abandoning infants on the twentieth floor of New York apartment houses, and furthermore there is absolutely no room on the street for them to park their horse and wagon, so—when you are old and in need of custodial care—we shall then see who has the last laugh as I abandon you in a substandard adult care facility.”

I found Dick’s entry on page 37 in the “Vile Puns” chapter. What surprised me, though, was that three more of my entries were included (pp. 11, 84, and 126)—three that didn't even get dishonorable mentions; I can't figure why they were included.

Mind you, I’m not complaining that I got more than I expected.

After all, I’m no Shakespeare—just a nationally-ranked really bad writer.


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11:15 AM  

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