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Thoughts & Views: ‘Wretched writers welcome’

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The Bulwer-Lytton Contest winners for 2014 have been announced, and I feel compelled to share some of them with you. I have written about the contest before, but in case you have forgotten: Named for 19th-century British writer Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, it is “a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels.” (That is not as easy as you might think.)

It was launched by the English Department of San Jose (Calif.) State University in 1982 and today attracts entries from across the globe. As usual, many of my top picks were Runners-Up or Dishonorable Mentions. So be it. I shall begin with the category closest to my heart:

VILE PUNS 

• “Pet detective Drake Leghorn ducked reporters at the entrance to the small hobby farm and headed down to the tiny pond where a lone goose was frantically calling for her mate and he wondered why, when so many come to look upon the graceful mating pair, why would someone want to take a gander?” — Howie McLennon, Ottawa, Ontario

• “Dr. Fulton Crisp DMD, stoic superintendent of the prestigious Northwoods Dental College, entered the symposium for new students, took the dais amid the clamor of the first day of classes, produced a #6 dental pick from a pocket, held it aloft for all to see and spoke the immortal words, ‘May I have your attention please, this is not a drill, repeat this is not a drill.” — Jim Biggie, Melrose, Mass.

• “When the call came in for grammar expert Professor Leland Saige to analyze the President’s latest speech just five minutes after Saige’s indispensable assistant Mary Anne Detwiler had gone to bed (Mary Anne was notoriously impossible to awaken 15 minutes after she retired), the Professor’s receptionist hurriedly burst into his office and breathlessly announced, ‘If you’re going to parse, Lee Saige, rouse Mary in time!” — Chris Lovegren, Lynden, Wash.

ADVENTURE 

• “Finally after 97 long days adrift Captain Pertwee was rescued, mercifully ending his miserable diet of rainwater and strips of sun dried Haddock which was actually far ghastlier than it sounded what with George Haddock being his former first mate.” — Phillip Davies, Cardiff, Wales

 CRIME 

• “’One cannot easily shake off old habits,’ was all that retired Detective Tim O’Hara could say when, after rifling through the dead old man’s pockets (which, as he expected, were all empty), inspecting his throat, and forcing open his cold, stiff hand to get his fingerprints, he was gently but firmly pulled away from the coffin by his brother Harry and piloted out of the parlor under the perplexed stares of Uncle Mel’s friends and relatives.” — Jorge Stolfi, Campinas, Brazil

• “When the CSI investigator lifted the sheet revealing the mutilated body with the Ginsu Knife still protruding from the bloody chest, Detective Miller wondered why anybody would ever need two of them, even if he only had to pay extra shipping and handling.” — Brian Brandt, Lansdale, Pa.

PURPLE PROSE 

• “Cole kissed Anastasia, not in a lingering manner as a connoisseur might sip a glass of ‘82 La Pin, but open-mouthed and desperate, like a hobo wrapping his mouth around a bottle of Strawberry Ripple in the alley behind the 7-11.” — Terri Meeker, Nixa, Mo.

HISTORICAL FICTION 

• “With her interest in dime-store cowboy novels finally fading and Christmas just days away, little Lizzy Borden sat quietly in the corner and crossed ‘tomahawk’ off her Christmas list, writing instead the word AXE, carefully in her best penmanship, which made her mother and father so proud.” — Frank McWilliams, Telford, Pa.

MISCELLANEOUS 

• “Pine trees stretched as far as the eye could see, which wasn’t very far in Gerald’s case, since he was overdue for cataract surgery with the only ophthalmologist in town who still took Medicare patients, and their needles whispered gently in the breeze.” — Paul Bayley, Walnut Creek, Calif.

• “I will not repeat what she said when she came home and found out I’d been spraying Endust on her dog and throwing treats under the bed to get him to harvest the dust bunnies, but you wouldn’t think a young lady would even know any words like that.” — J. Andrew Cleland, Gray, Tenn.

• “In the bleak world of Detective Clive Pinch, the sight of dead bodies was no big whoop, but lots of little pieces of a whole bunch of different ones crammed into crude papier mache raccoons welded inside a rusty steel drum washed up on a moonlit Port Hueneme beach most certainly was a big one.” — John Glenn, Tyler, Texas

• “Fearing his subordinates were after his job, and having denied their requests for promotions, Edgar Bergen felt the first pangs of job insecurity upon discovering Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd poring intently over dog-eared and well-worn copies of ‘Ventriloquism for Dummies.” — John Tracy, Shoreline, Wash.

• “Roger proved unable to select a bedspread, due to his raging ennui; however, he was able to purchase an assault rifle, which is probably why his wife left him, although it may have been the ferrets.” — Betsy Dorfman, Bainbridge Island, Wash.

• “I was schvitzing like a mohel at his first bris — and one thing was for certain: that Rosetta Stone course in Yiddish was worth the gelt.” — Kelben Graf, Milwaukie, Ore.

(If you want to see all the winners and/or learn more about the contest, visit bulwer-lytton.com.)

– Karen Zautyk 

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